Bulgaria goalkeeper praises home fans and says England players 'overreacted'
Plamen Iliev says Bulgaria supporters behaved well
The Bulgaria goalkeeper Plamen Iliev has said the home fans “behaved well” during the Euro 2020 qualifier against England at the Vasil Levski Stadium on Monday night, suggesting that Gareth Southgate’s players “overreacted a bit”.
The match, which England won 6-0, was twice halted for racist chanting but the Ludogorets goalkeeper said he had not heard anything, echoing comments made by his manager, Krasimir Balakov.
“If I am honest, I believe they [the fans] behaved well today,” Iliev said. “There wasn’t any abuse [as far as I could hear] and I think they [the England players] overreacted a bit. The public was on a good level – I didn’t hear any bad language used towards their or our players.”
Balakov, who had suggested before the game that England had a bigger problem with racism than Bulgaria, said after the defeat: “I personally did not hear the chanting. I saw the referee stopped the game but I also have to say the behaviour was also not only on behalf of the Bulgarian fans but also the English fans, who were whistling and shouting during the Bulgarian national anthem. During the second half they used words against our fans which I find unacceptable.”
On Tuesday evening the former Bulgaria international released a statement saying: “I strongly condemn any act of racism – it is a form of prejudice coming from the past and should be eradicated.” He added: “Considering there was racist abuse last night, in my role as Bulgaria manager, I would like to apologise to the England players and everyone who was offended.”
The comments by Iliev and Balakov’s initial statement contrasted heavily with those of the captain Ivelin Popov, who had tried to calm things during the game by speaking to some of the fans. “First, I tried to talk with the stewards who were supposed to control the situation,” the Rostov midfielder said. “We’re all suffering from that kind of behaviour. Do you think a foreign player would like to come and play in Bulgaria after what happened tonight? Racism is a world problem that needs to be eradicated. We’re all people regardless of the skin colour.”
The racist chanting dominated the headlines in Bulgaria on Tuesday morning. “There’s no light! It’s been buried beneath six goals and tons of shame,” read the headline of the sports website Gong.bg, with the accompanying piece saying: “Bulgarian football and the country as a whole suffered one of the most shameful nights in its entire history – not only was the national team beaten 6-0 by England but the game was twice stopped for racist chants. A handful of fans stained not only Bulgarian football but Bulgaria as a country after racially abusing the England internationals.”
Another sports website, Sportal.bg, went with “Such a shame! A historic humiliation”, while one of the most famous TV pundits in Bulgaria, Borislav Borisov, said: “Every country’s national team is an institution but on Monday night our national team was destroyed. With the way England reacted to the racial abuse they wanted to make a statement – they wanted to stand up against racism and they did it.”
Euro 2020 qualifier was twice halted for racist chanting