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Racist chants and Nazi salutes at the football must be watershed moment

PUBLISHED: 18:41 16 October 2019 | UPDATED: 18:41 16 October 2019

Bulgaria fans in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying match against England on Monday. The game was stopped twice because of racial abuse towards players

Bulgaria fans in the stands during the UEFA Euro 2020 Qualifying match against England on Monday. The game was stopped twice because of racial abuse towards players

PA Wire/PA Images

Rachel Moore says Monday's crowd trouble during the England v Bulgaria match must never happen again

Was there a more pathetic sight than the gaggle of far-right meatheads sloping out of a Sofia stadium before half-time, their Nazi salutes withered by the courage and derision of our footballers?

Players get so much stick for extravagance, empty-headed showiness and telephone number salaries, but they deserved a standing ovation for the dignity, focus and integrity they displayed on Monday in the face of sickening racist abuse.

On his England debut, Tyrone Mings heard the monkey noises and abuse during the warm-up. Sadly, for Mings, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, it was hardly a shock. They have faced it all their lives, and it's getting worse.

To have refused to play would have let the feeble gang triumph. By standing beside the pitch, in full view of the abusers, cool headed, not reacting and wanting to play on worked. The abusers slunk off like the cowardly inadequates they are.

But we can't be hypocritical, shining the accusatory light on the international scheme. We must take responsibility because football at home is as infected by racist abusers, with the game providing an easy gathering ground for the extreme right.

This movement is gathering momentum. Home Office figures this week showed a 10pc increase in recorded hate crime in England and Wales in the last year, with race hate crime accounting for about 75pc of those offences.

Here in Norfolk, still a predominantly white county, intolerance to what I've heard described as "invaders", "immigrants" and "outsiders" - told to "go home to where you come from" because of their colour - is still a horrible very real issue.

There's deeply unsettling double standards to in condemn Bulgarian "fans" when it goes on unchecked in our own communities and clubs.

In the last year, a Tottenham supporter was handed a four-year football ban and a £500 fine for throwing a banana skin towards the Arsenal forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang last December.

Manchester United supporters have been involved in more football-related arrests where racism was an aggravating factor than any other club in England in the four seasons to 2017-18, the Home Office data showed.

Kick It Out reported last year that 520 reports of discriminatory abuse were made during the 2017-18 season, an 11pc increase on the previous campaign and the sixth year in a row where the figure had risen.

Southgate gave a nod to his players' endurance of racist abuse. "Sadly, because of their experiences in our own country, they are hardened to racism," he said.

"I don't know what that says about our society but that's the reality."

I know what it says about our society. Abusing a person on his or colour is still part of our culture, too widely tolerated, and we are a population resigned to accepting it.

It makes me ashamed to be part of a nation, population, county, society, that accommodates people who believe it right to abuse ordinary people every day going about their daily lives to revolting abuse simply because their skin is a different colour to theirs.

A revived far-right attitude, politics, and movement of hate is a swelling international issue. Our prime minister might have been quick to condemn Monday night's behaviour, but he described Muslim women in burkas as looking like "letterboxes". Hardly conducive to acceptance and tolerance.

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Children would have been watching that match. Home is where tolerance and acceptance begin and is embedded.

FA chair Greg Clarke described it as one of the most appalling nights in football.

It must be a watershed moment.

Clubs must be more vigilant, using television coverage of matches, plus local knowledge, to give a lifetime ban to the individuals involved.

Mings was eloquent: "It didn't affect my feelings. I think I'm quite lucky in that way because I don't feel like it is a personal assault. I feel sorry for the people who have those views. But I also have a duty to represent people that don't have a voice, so it didn't hurt or harm my feelings one bit. It was obviously bigger than me and bigger than what I felt."

Our responsibility is to support him. Until then we all share the blame.

The pale, exhausted and grief-stricken face of Charlotte Charles has been etched on my mind all week.

Mourning her 19-year-old son, she should be at home with his devastated and broken twin, Niall.

Instead, she was ambushed in a Jeremy Kyle-style stunt in the White House on her quest for justice, and an explanation of
how he died and an acknowledgement for his death, with Donald Trump.

Diplomatic immunity was not designed to protect wives of diplomats from the British legal system.

But Anne Sacoolas - whose car, reportedly on the wrong side of the road, collided with Harry's motorcycle - was flown back to the US after telling UK police she would engage fully in their investigation.

Like any mother, Charlotte wants answers about her son's death.

But, dignified, measured and strong, she's not vengeful. She doesn't want Sacoolas locked up.

A suspended sentence so she is not taken away from her children will suffice, but she just wants Sacoolas and Trump to do the decent thing.

This is an issue about people, not politics. Decency, not diplomacy. Trump and Sacoolas owe Harry that much.

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