England’s game in Sofia had to be stopped twice in the face of what the FA described as “abhorrent racist chanting”.
Around 50 Bulgarian fans dressed all in black and reported by FA chairman Greg Clarke to have been making “political fascist gestures” left the ground just before half-time.
But the match was only completed after England players decided as a group they wanted to continue, after telling manager Gareth Southgate they did not want the racists to win.
Late on Monday night England players were giving witness statements to specially-trained operatives as part of what Clarke is demanding will be full UEFA investigation, “to make sure this appalling scene of terrible racism is treated appropriately.”
We are in that impossible situation that we can’t give everyone what they want
Immediately after the game, Southgate locked players and staff together in the dressing room to check on their well-being, with Clarke revealing that some of the multi-racial backroom staff were “visibly emotionally upset”.
Kick It Out claimed that the match should have been abandoned, but Southgate explained: “Nobody should have to experience what our players did.
“We followed the protocol. We gave two messages – one that our football did the talking and two, we stopped the game twice.
“That might not be enough for some people but we are in that impossible situation that we can’t give everyone what they want.
Gareth Southgate said England did not want the racists to win
England’s game in Sofia had to be stopped twice
“But we gave the players what they wanted and the staff what that they wanted. Remarkably, after what we have been through, our players walked off smiling and that’s the most important thing for me.”
Captain Harry Kane had initially drawn the referee’s attention to the problem initially after debutant Tyrone Mings seemed to be subjected to abuse 27 minutes into their 6-0 win over Bulgaria.
“I went to Harry Kane first,” Mings confirmed. “He spoke to the manager, who then spoke to the fourth officials.
“Stopping the game was effective. There was an announcement so whatever the protocol was and the correct steps taken definitely helped. We made the decision at half time to come out and I felt it was the right decision.
“My debut was slightly overshadowed by a few disappointing chants but I think we showed a great togetherness and hopefully let football do the talking.”
That announcement in Bulgarian and English warned that the game could be “suspended or abandoned”.
Bulgaria manager Krasimir Balakov said he was concentrating on the game and did not hear anything
But after a second stoppage in the 44th minute, play resumed again after some earnest discussions between Gareth Southgate, the England players, referee and UEFA match.
Clarke explained: “I talked to Gareth at half time to establish the facts. He said: ‘The players heard monkey chanting.’ Then it happened again.
“The ref said to Gareth, ‘Do you want to go off?’ Gareth said: ‘No, we are four minutes out, let’s get to half time and let me talk to the players.’
“He talked to the players at half time and they got together and they said, ‘No, we want to play, we want to finish, we want to win the game, we don’t want the racists to win!’”
Bulgaria’s captain Ivelin Popov spent the interval pleading with home fans to behave and Rashford later wrote on Twitter: “Not an easy situation to play in and not one which should be happening in 2019. Proud we rose above it to take three points but this needs stamping out.
“Also been told what the Bulgaria captain did at half-time. To stand alone and do the right thing takes courage and acts like that shouldn’t go unnoticed. #NoToRacism.”
Raheem Sterling scored two goals in England’s 6-0 win
Bulgaria manager, Krasimir Balakov, who said before the game that England seemed to have a worst problem than his own country, still appeared to be in a state of denial.
“I was concentrating on the game and did not hear anything,” he said. “If this is proven to be true, we have to apologise and be shamed. But only if it is true.”
Raheem Sterling, though, was willing to make it an issue only for the mindless minority.
“Feeling sorry for Bulgaria to be represented by such idiots in their stadium,” he tweeted.