Should England have walked off after racist abuse in Bulgaria?

England ran out 6-0 winners in Sofia but the game was marred by the torrent of racist abuse directed at their players

Marcus Rashford and Gareth Southgate

Gareth Southgate says England considered walking off after suffering racist abuse in Bulgaria. Do you think they should have?

England ran out 6-0 winners in Sofia but the game was marred by the torrent of racist abuse directed at their players with the game twice halted during the first half.

Sky Sports News understands that under UEFA's three-step protocol for racism, Monday night's match failed to reach stage two - where players are taken off the pitch for 10 minutes.

Because the referee had not heard the second incidence of racism, a discussion was held with England players and Southgate as to whether they wanted to escalate it to stage two. The players did not want to, Southgate agreed, and the game was played until half-time.

Much of the talk pre-match had been about the protocol and whether it would be followed if there was any racial abuse, and Southgate says the guidelines actually helped in the situation.

"The players were keen to finish the half and then have the discussion at half-time," said Southgate. "I'm incredibly proud of the players and all the staff. Of course, we could be criticised for not going far enough. But I think we have made a huge statement and, frankly, we were in an impossible situation to get it right for the satisfaction of everyone."

Should England have walked off? Have your say in the vote above, and read the thoughts of others below

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'We've made a major statement'

Gareth Southgate - "The players were keen to finish the half and then have the discussion at half-time. We all felt, there were four minutes to be played, to go off for 10 minutes, come back for four, go back off for half-time, wasn't what my players wanted. Throughout this, I know that whatever we do might be perceived as not being enough but I think we've made a major statement. I don't think a game of this magnitude has ever been stopped twice.

preview image 2:13
Sky Sports News' reporters Rob Dorsett and Kaveh Solhekol discuss the press reaction to England players being racially abused

'The lads wanted to carry on'

Harry Kane - "The lads decided to stay out. They wanted to play. They wanted to carry on."

'Players didn't want racists to win'

Greg Clarke, FA chairman - "When it happened again [a second time], and the ref said to Gareth: 'Do you want to go off?' and Gareth said: 'No, we are four minutes out, let's get to half-time.' He spoke to the team, they got together and said: 'No, we want to finish, we want to win the game, we don't want the racists to win.'"

Harry Kane celebrates after scoring for England against Bulgaria 2:03
FA chairman Greg Clarke says the England players opted to finish the match in Bulgaria because they did not want the racists to win

'England should have walked'

Henry Winter, The Times - "Racists 0 England 6. Gareth Southgate's dignified, fired-up players made what he called a "big statement" last night, but really this game should have been ended the moment the monkey chants started. England should have walked. They could have made an even bigger statement."

'Yet again, we've left it to the authorities'

Darren Lewis, Daily Mirror - "For now - yet again - we've left it to the authorities. Let's find out what they actually do. They should have walked off. The England stars in Bulgaria later explained they wanted to continue the game. The widely-held view, however, it that it is bigger than them. It is about drawing a line in the sand for all of us."

PODGORICA, MONTENEGRO - OCTOBER 11: Coach of Bulgaria Krasimir Balakov prior the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier between Montenegro and Bulgaria at Podgorica City Stadium on October 11, 2019 in Podgorica, Montenegro. (Photo by Filip Filipovic/MB Media/Getty Images) 0:59
Bulgaria head coach Krasimir Balakov says he did not hear any racist chanting

'England won on and off the field'

Steve McClaren, England manager 2006-2007 - "I think England won the game on the field, and off the field. If you could write the script, it was the perfect script for England, to go to the edge, the limits, that they could, two warnings with a third that would have abandoned the game. They didn't want to do that, and rightly so, I think it's up to UEFA and the officials, referees, assistants to make that decision to abandon the game."

'Walking off when winning would be a real statement'

John Barnes, 79 England caps, The Independent - "Pardon me for being cynical, but there have already been two abandoned games when the teams facing abuse were losing, and I questioned whether they would have walked off had they been winning. When a team does that, then it truly would be a real statement of support for the fight against racism in football. I wasn't surprised to see another game where the team that was winning suffered racist abuse, but decided to play on so as "not to let the racists win" Why does football try to have it both ways?"

'It's a fantastic moment'

Ian Wright, 33 England caps - "It is a seminal moment, it is a fantastic moment. I feel for the Bulgaria people I genuinely do, but you have to look at the banners the stadium half-closed down, it does nothing. We have said it for many years. UEFA do not really deep down care about the punishments they've put out. This should have been in place 10 years ago, 20 years ago. It was not done and now we have seen what has happened. It's a great day. It's a great day, whatever anyone says. It's a terrible day for the Bulgarian people and how they've been represented, but it's a great day in trying tackle racism."

Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane 1:02
England captain Harry Kane says he is proud of the togetherness shown within the squad

'Officials should be responsible for abandoning game'

Bobby Barnes, deputy chief executive of PFA - "The players are a real credit. If you think about the way they went through that storm, they didn't let their standards drop, continued with the game. I've always held the view that officials and match organisers hold the responsiiblity for stopping the game. Having said that, on a personal level, for me nothing would please me more than seeing a referee lead all 22 players off the pitch, irrespective of colour."

'Walking off would have been unforgettable'

Sam Wallace, Daily Telegraph - "An England team walking off the pitch in protest at racist abuse, with the support of a UEFA referee would have been the image that reverberated around the world. It would have been unforgettable. But then football rarely plays out the way the movie studios would write it if they could. In the dressing room Southgate encountered a team playing so well that they wanted to carry on, regardless of what might have been going on around them. And as they weighed up their options, it was that which was uppermost in their minds."

'It's easy to say: You should have done that'

Sven-Goran Eriksson, England manager 2001-06 - It's easy to say afterwards: 'You should have done that, or that.' But it is not easy. If it happens to you, you are sad, angry disappointed, and you don't know what really is going on. Is it the best way, to walk off the pitch? I don't know.

England's Tyrone Mings and Harry Kane during the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier vs Bulgaria at the Vasil Levski National Stadium in Sofia 2:02
Former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson says it is a 'shame' racism still hasn’t been eradicated from football, 15 years after he experienced it during an international match against Spain

'Mixed feelings about abandoning game'

Rob Dorsett, Sky Sports News - "I have mixed feelings about whether England should have abandoned the game, on the second occasion when the players alerted the referee to the racist abuse. And I think Gareth Southgate feels the same.

"For a start, Southgate told me that the squad and coaching staff had agreed at half-time: one more racist incident in the second half, and they would refuse to play on. I don't think they, or any of us, expected the special security team to go in during the interval and evict 50+ neo nazi supporters from the stadium, so I think Southgate and his players still expected the game to be abandoned in the second 45.

"It's also true to say England did take a stand, and made a significant statement to world football. Never before have they stopped playing to alert the referee to racism - they did this twice in Sofia.

Team captains Ivelin Popov of Bulgaria and England's Harry Kane speak with referee Ivan Bebek during the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia 0:59
Shadow Sports Minister Rosena Allin-Khan says tougher sanctions are needed and called UEFA’s response to racist abuse by Bulgaria fans 'not good enough'

"And yet, I can't help feeling that on that second stoppage, if England had refused to play on, it would have forced the hand of UEFA (and the wider football world) to deal with the issue head on. England were 3-0 up at the time, and it would have been a huge statement.

"Nevertheless, it felt like a key moment in this young England squad's demand for an end to racism, and the players deserve huge credit for the way they behaved under intolerable circumstances."

'England stuck to their plan'

Kaveh Solhekol, Sky Sports News - "England had a plan and they stuck to it. Gareth Southgate and his squad agreed at a team meeting last Monday they would all follow the UEFA protocol if they were racially abused in Sofia. It was a collective decision.

"As journalists we saw and heard what happened in Sofia but it is not our job to lecture players on what they should and should not do. They decided to carry on playing. They showed faith in UEFA. Now UEFA has to show that faith was not misplaced."

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