England fan in Bulgaria: ‘I’ve never known racism so bad’
- Credit: 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.
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.
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.
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"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."
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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.
"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.
"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.
"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."