Southgate: English football must solve its own racism issues

By Sports Desk October 10, 2019

Gareth Southgate admits English football needs to resolve its own problems with racism and understands why Bulgarian Football Union president Borislav Mihaylov was left so aggrieved by recent comments from the England camp.

England boss Southgate stated last month his squad will need to "prepare" for possible racial abuse ahead of Monday's Euro 2020 qualifier in Bulgaria, which will be played at a partially closed stadium following racist behaviour at June's home qualifiers with Czech Republic and Kosovo.

Tammy Abraham this week urged his team-mates to leave the field if they are subjected to racist abuse, comments which Mihaylov described as "offensive and derogatory".

Former goalkeeper Mihaylov has written to UEFA to express frustration at the remarks and wants the European governing body to sanction England if they walk off the pitch rather than abide by the three-step protocol already in place.

That system can see a referee stop a match, then take players off the pitch, and if the problem persists an abandonment can be declared.

Southgate insists he and his players did not intend to upset their Bulgarian counterparts with their remarks and acknowledges English football has its own racism issues to deal with.

"I can totally understand why the Bulgarian president feels as he does, because we have purely been responding honestly to questions we've been asked by you guys," Southgate told reporters at Thursday's news conference ahead of the qualifier with the Czech Republic.

"That will then be relayed, however it may be relayed in Bulgaria, and the way that that's pitched could appear provocative or appear that we're the people who are laying the subject on the table.

"If I was him, and I was only reading those quotes and not knowing the context of why the things were said and the responses were said, then I would feel probably as he does.

"We are not trying to create a situation at all, far from it. We're all hoping that over the next 72 hours, we're just talking about two football matches.

"I think both countries would have a strong desire for that and I have to say again, we don't look at other countries in a way that we don't shine a mirror on our own."

A National League match between Hartlepool United and Dover Athletic last month was stopped for more than 10 minutes amid accusations of racist abuse aimed at a visiting player.

Citing that incident, Southgate said: "What happened there a couple of weeks ago was probably worse than things I've seen or heard about in many other countries in the world.

"I think we have to be very careful in how we cover everything."

Should England's players ignore protocol and walk off the field in Sofia, the match could be awarded as a 3-0 victory to Bulgaria.

Raheem Sterling, who was racially abused during England's 5-1 win over Montenegro in March, echoes Southgate's views on having faith in UEFA getting things right.

"As a player, with the situation that happened in Montenegro, I don't think as a team we were quite prepared and knowing there was a protocol in place," Sterling said.

"As a team, we had a meeting and Gareth sat us down and explained there was a UEFA protocol. Now as players we have got to kind of give UEFA a chance to take that responsibility on board and deal with that situation.

"At this moment in time, we have to have full faith in UEFA."

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