England stars to discuss walking off if racists abuse them away to Bulgaria
England stars will discuss walking off the pitch in Bulgaria if they are targeted by racist thugs.
Three Lions boss Gareth Southgate and his players are bracing themselves for racist abuse when they face the Bulgarians in a Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia on October 14.
Bulgarian fans have a reputation for being racist and 5000 seats in the Vasil Levski National Stadium will be closed for the clash after UEFA took action when home supporters were found guilty of chanting racist abuse during games against the Czech Republic and Kosovo in June.
It has also emerged Raheem Sterling was targeted by a racist Bulgarian fan at Wembley last weekend during England’s 4-0 before being ejected from the stadium and arrested.
Southgate admits he is concerned some of his black stars will be targeted in Sofia – and has ordered a squad meeting to discuss it before leaving.
The idea of the talks is to establish a ‘united and collective stance’ on what to do beforehand in case there is abuse – with one option being to walk off the pitch.
It is understood Sterling, who has suffered countless incidents of racial abuse, is not keen on the idea because he doesn’t believe it is the answer.
Southgate’s stars will also be governed by the match referee, who has to impose UEFA rules that include giving him the power to lead both teams off himself should appeals to stop racist chanting be ignored.
Southgate said: “It is a concern and it’s something that we’ve already planned. We’ve already planned what our schedule looks like and we’re going to discuss it with the players before we go.
“We’re aware that there is history there and we want to make sure that we’re all prepared for what might happen – and how we want to respond.
“So we are going to address that when we all get back together. We didn’t think it was right to do it this month because it’s too far away from the games. We have to hope – but we’re not confident that we’ll go there and nothing will happen.”
Southgate, meanwhile, has warned his own fans to behave and not continue wrecking the reputation of the nation with drunken behaviour when England face the Czech Republic in Prague – just 72 hours before heading to Sofia.
Prague is the stag capital of Europe and Southgate doesn’t want to see a repeat of the problems in Portugal in June, when travelling fans clashed with riot police in Porto during the Nation’s League finals.
He added: “It’s sad we have to appeal to people going to follow us to behave. So many thousands of fans went to Portugal in the summer. So many of them represented us so well – and yet some of them let themselves down and let their country down.
“Sadly we are going to a place where people go, travel anyway for nights out from our country. What we don’t need to see is behaviour that I am afraid happens on our own high streets.
“So, it is not something that is just England supporters, I’m afraid that it is a societal issue of people with alcohol unable to control themselves. But we certainly don’t want to be taking that abroad and that being a representation of our country.”
The FA have successfully increased the ticket allocation for the Czech game from 1,100 to 3,800 in the hope that it helps security deal with fewer ticketless fans and those looking to get into the area.
But those who do cause trouble will be dealt with in a serious manner by both Czech and British police, who have vowed to adopt a no nonsense approach.
Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, National Football Policing Lead Officer, said: “As with all England away games, a team of officers will be working with Prague police to advise on England fan behaviour.
“An operation will also be in place to ensure those subject to football banning orders surrender their passports. Other fans should be aware they will be subject to fines for drinking in the street, which will be enforced by local police.”