Racism is the hot topic.
All the talk before the game wasn’t the usual tedious ‘can England beat yet another poor team to complete the typical ridiculously easy route to a finals, instead it was racism.
Bulgaria are one of those destinations repeatedly flagged as having the racism problem and England and the media were keen to talk the issue up beforehand.
I doubt it was with any kind of hope that this prevent any problems on Monday night, instead I think it was all about putting UEFA on warning, so that when the predictable behaviour did take place, the ball would be very much in their (UEFA’s) court for them to deal with.
As in…they were warned and now what are they going to do about it?
Ahead of the game, Bulgaria’s manager/coach Krasimir Balakov reacted to the worries by claiming that England had a worse racism problem than Bulgaria.
You can only ‘admire’ his determination to keep to the script when after last night’s 6-0 defeat in a game where the match was stopped twice due to the appalling behaviour of many Bulgaria supporters, Krasimir Balakov said:
“I personally did not hear the chanting.
“I saw the referee stopped the game but I also have to say the behaviour was also not only on behalf of the Bulgarian fans but also the English fans, who were whistling and shouting during the Bulgarian national anthem.
“During the second half they used words against our fans which I find unacceptable.”
Not making light of the issue but the ultimate Arsene Wenger-like ‘I didn’t actually see/hear the incident(s) myself…’
The only problem being, the Bulgarian coach COULD hear what England fans were saying but nothing from the home supporters.
The Vasil Levski Stadium was already subject to a partial closure for last night’s match after Bulgaria were sanctioned by UEFA for racist behaviour in qualifiers against Kosovo and the Czech Republic.
The Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov wasn’t following the same path as his boss of pretending there was no problem, he was praised by the likes of Marcus Rashford for trying to intervene, going over to talk to home fans at half-time.
The Bulgarian coach did though admit that if his hearing had been faulty…
“If this turns out to be true we are truly sorry and we as the Bulgarian Football Union and the Bulgaria national team are working very hard.
“We’ve had this problem ever since England were about to come to Bulgaria and all I’ve heard for three weeks is people talking about anything else but football. I don’t think this was the proper manner to prepare and play a football game.”
I think there would have been racist behaviour whatever had been said or done beforehand but what happened beforehand probably did make last night worse, as those who wanted to act up knew that they had the perfect opportunity and biggest audience (via TV) to get maximum publicity/coverage.
I totally disagree with those who say England should walk off and have the game abandoned if racism strikes.
Why punish all those England fans who have spent a lot of time and money going to support their team?
Yes UEFA should punish Bulgaria in whatever way(s) possible, whether it is points deduction, playing behind closed doors, banning them, or whatever.
However, that is also really avoiding the unavoidable truth.
This is not a football problem, it is a society problem.
Not all, or even a majority of, Bulgaria fans are racist. However, they have a society which is allowing it to openly happen.
Nobody pretends that racism has disappeared amongst Newcastle United fans, or any other English club’s supporters, they will always be there (Though hopefully in ever decreasing numbers) because there are racist people in the population.
The difference now is that through years and years of education thanks to the likes of Tyneside based Show Racism the Red Card: fans, clubs and the authorities are now well aware of what is right and wrong and what can’t be tolerated.
Last night you could clearly see the faces of home fans acting up, yet the police went in and arrested nobody and no doubt nobody will be charged with racist behaviour in the aftermath.
If somebody was acting like that at a Premier League match they would be identified and dealt with.
Imagine sitting inside St James Park and people next to you are persistently making monkey noises and/or racist chanting, most of those around them would be appalled and somebody would ensure that police and stewards were alerted.
If like me you grew up standing on the Leazes and then Gallowgate terraces in the 1970s and early 1980s, was it actually that different to what we saw/heard last night?
Police moving in to arrest Newcastle fans for racist songs/chanting? If it happened it certainly passed me by.
As a kid you knew no different and so many other (older) people doing it, you just joined in or at the very least, thought nothing really of it.
Society here in England has changed, certainly when it comes to what is deemed acceptable at football matches.
It might appear to be a bit of a depressing/defeatist attitude to some but maybe you just have to accept that in countries such as Bulgaria they are 40 years behind the times and there are no easy solutions. Simply a combination of both carrot and stick needed over a long period of time to drag them into the 21st century.