Written by Frankie Rudland (@RudlandFrankie)
England vs Bulgaria – a fixture that should have held such minor significance in football. A routine win that we all would expect to fade into the archives and get lost amongst the similar thrashings of so-called minnows.
Yet all too predictably, last night will forever be remembered as the night that UEFA lost the battle against racism.
For 90 minutes, both players and staff were subjected to unrelenting torrents of abuse. There was no line left uncrossed by the Bulgarians in attendance; monkey noises, Nazi salutes, racial slurs – a full on assault of bigotry from start to finish.
Yet even more tellingly, t-shirts with the slogan ‘no respect’ were caught by the camera as it panned round the shameless faces that swamped the terraces. This was of course a crude satire of UEFA’s ‘respect’ campaign, a proverbial two-fingers to footballing authorities.
If there ever was a sign that the powers that be in the footballing world had lost their ill-fought battle against racism, then this was it. The official response from within the ground was to sound three stadium announcements threatening to abandon the game if the chanting didn’t stop, which unsurprisingly fell on deaf ears. After all, why would a side that found themselves 3-0 down after 32 minutes care about the match being halted.
Perhaps even more telling of the nights events was the response from Bulgaria’s manager, Krasimir Balakov. In an act of astounding defiance, he claimed that he heard no racist chanting from the Bulgarian fans, and that the unacceptable behaviour was in fact from the travelling England faithful. An institution that is clearly rotten to the core, allowed to compete and spread hate by a hapless and passive UEFA.
However painful to admit, an incident of this magnitude has been coming for quite some time. Just glancing back on UEFA’s previous sanctions on cases of racism tells you all you need to know about how seriously this issue has been taken.
In 2018, Greece were handed a partial stadium ban and fined £8,500 after racist behaviour against Estonia. Rather comically they were also ordered to display a banner with the wording “#EqualGame”.
Another instance in 2018 saw UEFA order Poland to close off at least 1,000 seats during their next competitive home match following racist chants against Italy. Again, they were made to display the “#EqualGame” banner.
Similarly in 2018, Zenit Saint Petersburg, who are infamous repeat offenders, were fined £42,700 for the racist behaviour of its supporters in a Europa League match against RB Salzburg.
To put these figures into context, Leeds United were fined £200,000 by the EFL for ‘Spygate’, an amount which Marcelo Bielsa personally paid out of his own pocket. Just to add another quantifier into the mix, Daniel Sturridge was fined £75,000 by the FA for breaching betting rules whilst playing for Liverpool.
In these two cases alone, one man paid more money that two entire nations did for breaking rules that are far more jovial than the ongoing presence of racism in the beautiful game. What sort of message does this send out to the fans we are trying to deter? Or more so to the players who fall victim to this abhorrent abuse week in, week out.
Until UEFA starts banning countries and teams from competing, or imposing sanctions that stretch beyond the average appearance fee of their best players, then we will continue to see racists gain the confidence to hide in plain sight. Last night should serve as a stark wake up call to UEFA, they have lost the battle against racism, but they can still go on to win the war.