I wanted to give it a day or so to dust down and evaluate the events of Sofia on Monday night as the aftermath of what happened during the Bulgaria verses England UEFA European Championships Qualifier is just as important to me as what went off during the game.
We all know what happened, we all know it’s wrong. Fans racially abusing players down to nothing more than the colour of their skin has to stop. The UEFA protocol is now in place to give the power to those on the field to make the decision on halting or stopping a game, but show me a team leading by two, three or four goals that will want to come off?
I actually admire the England players and officials for their stance on the night, I admire the fact that they stood up to it, I admire them for coming together as one in the face of adversity, I admire the fact that their actions lead to a number of racists being ejected from the Vasil Levski Stadium and I admire them for the professional way they handled the situation and in playing thereafter by destroying and embarrassing Bulgaria as a nation on the pitch in a thumping 6-0 win (their heaviest ever at home).
My gripe however is that UEFA have since delayed their stance of issuing any statement on the seriousness of the situation (other than to defend themselves in all this) despite clear pictures showing fans abusing their very own respect policy. My gripe is with Bulgarian Manager Krasimir Balakov who I admired as a footballer but no longer as a human by completely Arsene Wengering the situation despite his own captain Ivelin Popov commendably confronting his own angry fans during half time to simmer down and behave with respect. My gripe is also with those that said England shouldn’t of carried on.
I don’t personally think ‘the players’ should have the power to decide themselves whether they should ‘walk’ or ‘not’ as this may lead to losing teams abusing similar situations to gain advantage rightly or wrongly, but what I do think is the BOOK needs to be thrown at the countries, fans, clubs and associations that continue to abuse the ‘respect’ campaign of UEFA.
If fans misbehave they should be punished, their teams and countries should be punished and they need to have the very thing they rely on to misbehave (ie football) to be taken away from them to ensure they stop doing what they do.
What needs to happen now is a 3 year mandatory ban for Bulgaria in ALL international competition.
UEFA need to get tough and the protocol of ‘reporting racism in game’ followed by ‘stadium announcement’ followed by Referees discretion to take players off the field before finally having the option to cancel the match after discussion is too long winded, too light weighted and too open to exploitation.
In what would be my 3 point protocol UEFA can take a leading stance on racism here from first deducting points, then closing stadiums and if all else fails complete bans from all UEFA competition for a set period of time.
With strict measures clubs and associations will take racism and respect more seriously whilst fans will know that their actions will hurt their teams should they fail to obey a simple request to be polite and behave in a way expected not just by UEFA’s respect campaign, but by humanity in general.