Gareth Southgate feels the England players have made a “bigger statement” than any team ever has in having their 6-0 win over Bulgaria stopped twice for racist abuse and choosing to play on, and believes it is an illustration that the approaches to the issue might finally work.
The England manager accepted the view that many felt the team should have walked off, and that previous sanctions like partial stadium closures haven’t worked, but stated this is something they have been preparing for since facing similar problems in Montenegro in March.
Such incidents also saw Uefa introduce the new three-step protocol for dealing with abuse, which was enacted for the first time shortly after Tyrone Mings became conscious of monkey chants in the 27th minute of the match in Sofia.We’ll tell you what’s true. You can form your own view.
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The game was subsequently stopped a second time but, given the choice by the referee Ivan Bebek, decided to continue. Southgate feels this is key.
“I think we’ve made a bigger statement than any team ever has done within international football,” the England manager said. “So I think we’ve tried to maintain some dignity, we’ve had the game stopped twice and we’ve made everybody in Europe and around the world aware that this is an issue that we weren’t prepared to accept, and the players have made a massive statement with their football as well.”leftCreated with Sketch. rightCreated with Sketch.
Southgate admitted that the feeling in the England dressing room at half-time was that the game wouldn’t be finished, and the players were prepared to walk off.
“We were very clear on that at half-time. We felt we were giving the authorities an opportunity to, which I think they did, 50 or so supporters got thrown out. But, the conversations amongst ourselves were look, we weren’t confident that we would be finishing the game. You know, we were sat [there] 10 minutes from half time, Steve [Holland] and myself saying: ‘I don’t think we are going to finish this game.’
“We knew that if we came off the pitch, we probably wouldn’t be going back on and we were very clear, as a group at half time, that if anything happened in the second half, we would discuss this with the ref and he was also clear that everyone was going off.
“The problem with fans and racist issues, in the past it hasn’t worked and tonight it has worked.
“I think I have to give our organisation credit in that right from the moment we walked off the pitch in Montenegro, we reviewed what happened there, we knew that we needed to be better prepared as a group of staff to support the players the best we could. So, I couldn’t have felt more strongly supported by the chairman, chief executive and federation, and I think the players have felt that.
“Uefa were definitely on alert tonight and the fourth official and the referee and linesmen were on alert. So I think it’s as big an operation as there has been. The sad reality is that we weren’t able to stop incidents happening, and so now something clearly within the investigation has got to take that next step with regard to that, because it’s remarkable to have such a spotlight on a game and for that all to happen. But sadly, from a societal perspective, that seems to be what we’re dealing with.”