The Football Association has called for an urgent UEFA investigation after England’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria was halted twice due to racist abuse aimed at the visiting players.
The referee, Ivan Bebek, spoke to Harry Kane midway through the first half after England staff had alerted match officials to the abuse.
The match was duly stopped in the 28th minute and an announcement, calling for the racist chanting to stop, was made over the public address system in the stadium.
However, the abuse continued and the match was halted for a second time in the 43rd minute before resuming and reaching half-time, at which point the visitors led 4-0 thanks to goals from Marcus Rashford, Ross Barkley (two) and Raheem Sterling.
England manager Gareth Southgate spoke to the fourth official with around five minutes of the regular 45 to go, while defender Tyrone Mings was seen asking an assistant referee, ‘Did you hear that?’ during the first half and Nazi salutes were seen among a section of the home fans.
Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov was in a heated debate with a section of home supporters near the tunnel as the rest of the players headed for the dressing rooms at half-time.
The stadium announcer said when the first chanting was reported: “This is an important stadium announcement, because of racist behaviour which is interfering with the game, the referee has indicated that he may have to suspend the match.
“Racism in football stadiums will not be tolerated. Please be in no doubt that the game will be suspended and may be abandoned if racist behaviour continues amongst spectators. Help everyone enjoy the game and say no to racism. Thank you.”
The Levski Stadium was subject to a partial closure for this match after Bulgaria were sanctioned for racist chanting during qualifiers against Kosovo and the Czech Republic.
Despite further chanting in the second half, the match was not stopped again and England went on to close out a 6-0 victory, with Harry Kane getting on the scoresheet and Sterling adding his second of the night.
The Football Association released the following statement after the match: “The FA can confirm that England players were subjected to abhorrent racist chanting while playing in the Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria.
“This is unacceptable at any level of the game and our immediate focus is supporting the players and staff involved.
“As we are sadly aware, this is not the first time our players have been subjected to this level of abuse and there is no place for this kind of behaviour in society, let alone in football.
“We will be asking UEFA to investigate as a matter of urgency.”