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England fan in Bulgaria: 'I've never known racism so bad'

PUBLISHED: 15:20 15 October 2019 | UPDATED: 16:11 15 October 2019

England fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, has condemned the racist abuse he witnessed in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian Odgers

England fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, has condemned the racist abuse he witnessed in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian Odgers

PA Wire/PA Images

An England supporter has told of the toxic atmosphere which saw Bulgarian fans target players with monkey chants and Nazi salutes.

England fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, has condemned the racist abuse he witnessed in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian OdgersEngland fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, has condemned the racist abuse he witnessed in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian Odgers

Ian Odgers, from Dereham, follows England around the world and was in Sofia on Monday night for their Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria.

The Three Lions may have enjoyed a comprehensive 6-0 win, but it was a victory that paled into insignificance as players including Man City's Raheem Sterling were subjected to abhorrent racist abuse.

Bulgaria fans after an announcement over the PA system during England's Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia. Picture: Nick Potts/PA WireBulgaria fans after an announcement over the PA system during England's Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire

With half of the Vasil Levski Stadium already closed following previous racist incidents, the match was twice halted by officials as the threat of abandonment loomed.

Mr Odgers, who has missed just two away games in five years, sensed a feeling of toxicity even before kick-off.

England fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, has condemned the racist abuse he witnessed in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian OdgersEngland fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, has condemned the racist abuse he witnessed in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian Odgers

"The atmosphere beforehand was awful," said the 50-year-old. "Through the FA, we'd been warned not to go anywhere alone, keep English club badges covered up, and get to the ground early.

"We had reports of groups of lads hanging around the ground with knives and baseball bats. There's a park near the ground which is full of Nazi stickers."

England fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, has condemned the racist abuse he witnessed in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian OdgersEngland fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, has condemned the racist abuse he witnessed in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian Odgers

By the time debutant Tyrone Mings highlighted abuse directed towards him in the 28th minute, away fans were well aware of the chants.

"Some lads in front of me said something along the lines of 'it's every time Sterling gets the ball,' added Mr Odgers. "Then you start to notice it.

Referee Ivan Bebek speaks to England manager Gareth Southgate and Tyrone Mings regarding the racist chanting from Bulgarian fans during the Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia. Picture: Nick Potts/PA WireReferee Ivan Bebek speaks to England manager Gareth Southgate and Tyrone Mings regarding the racist chanting from Bulgarian fans during the Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia. Picture: Nick Potts/PA Wire

"Between 25 and 50 Bulgaria fans were evicted from the stadium, but they should have been arrested on their way out. It is just so obvious - you can see their faces.

"What we saw was simply unacceptable. I've never known racism that bad in a football stadium.

England fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, has condemned the racist abuse he witnessed in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian OdgersEngland fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, has condemned the racist abuse he witnessed in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian Odgers

"I travel a lot and always bear in mind that people have their own beliefs, but to see that last night just made me feel numb."

Despite those responsible for the chants being ejected from the stadium, Mr Odgers highlighted a deep-rooted acceptance of racism within Bulgarian society.

England fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, met Norwich City legend Bryan Gunn in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian OdgersEngland fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, met Norwich City legend Bryan Gunn in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian Odgers

"A couple of Bulgarians were telling us the place is 30 years behind everywhere else," he said. "They said if a person of colour walks through the centre of Sofia, they are going to be subjected to monkey chants.

"Until they recognise they have a problem, the problem will not go away."

England fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, has condemned the racist abuse he witnessed in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian OdgersEngland fan Ian Odgers, from Dereham, has condemned the racist abuse he witnessed in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian Odgers

A large convoy of Norwich City fans travelled to support England in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian OdgersA large convoy of Norwich City fans travelled to support England in Bulgaria. Picture: Ian Odgers

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