Bul­garia coach dis­misses crowd abuse as ‘nor­mal’

Eng­land play­ers fu­ri­ous over al­leged com­ments Hen­der­son: We played on to make ri­vals suf­fer

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Football - By Matt Law FOOT­BALL NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Eng­land play­ers were fu­ri­ous that Bul­garia coach Krasimir Balakov al­legedly told them “this is nor­mal” as they com­plained about the racist abuse that al­most caused the Euro 2020 qual­i­fy­ing game to be aban­doned.

The match in Sofia was stopped twice be­cause of racism and, on the sec­ond oc­ca­sion just be­fore half­time, Eng­land play­ers, in­clud­ing Kieran Trip­pier and Jor­dan Hen­der­son, could be seen ex­chang­ing words with Balakov.

Hen­der­son chose not to re­veal the de­tails of the con­ver­sa­tion, but sources close to the row have al­leged that Balakov had at­tempted to tell Eng­land’s play­ers there was noth­ing to get up­set about. Mean­while, the Liver­pool mid­fielder has re­vealed there was a col­lec­tive de­ci­sion to make Bul­garia “suf­fer” by play­ing on, rather than walk­ing off.

Balakov claimed af­ter the game that he had not heard any racist chant­ing on the touch­line and that would seem­ingly tally with what he is be­lieved to have said to Eng­land’s play­ers. As they spoke with ref­eree Ivan Be­bek and the Uefa delegate about the mon­key chant­ing com­ing from the stands, the play­ers be­lieve Balakov told them: “What is wrong? This is nor­mal.”

That en­raged some of Gareth South­gate’s squad and Hen­der­son said: “I wasn’t happy with the sit­u­a­tion that we were in, it wasn’t nice to be in­volved in and it shouldn’t be hap­pen­ing in 2019, it is very dis­ap­point­ing. But, at the same time, though as a team we dealt with it so well, we touched on it be­fore we came here just in case it did hap­pen and un­for­tu­nately it did.

“So, we spoke to­gether and the de­ci­sion was that we car­ried on be­cause if you leave the pitch and stop the game they win. That is how we looked at it. It is what the mes­sage was in the dress­ing room at half­time and we wanted to go out in the sec­ond half and make them suf­fer and make their team suf­fer on the pitch, and we did that.”

Asked what Balakov had said to him, Hen­der­son added: “I don’t re­ally ... I will let you ask him that.”

While a col­lec­tive de­ci­sion was made to play on, there was con­cern that at least one mem­ber of the Eng­land squad had been af­fected by what he had heard from the stands.

A num­ber of Eng­land play­ers ex­pressed their feel­ings on so­cial me­dia af­ter the fi­nal whis­tle, with Mar­cus Rash­ford post­ing a mes­sage on Twit­ter: “Not an easy sit­u­a­tion to play on and not one which should be hap­pen­ing in 2019. Proud we rose above it to take three points but this needs stamp­ing out.”

Hen­der­son praised the Eng­land play­ers’ re­ac­tion and re­it­er­ated his anger at what was aimed at them. Asked to sum up how Eng­land had dealt with the sit­u­a­tion, Hen­der­son said: “Out­stand­ing. Ev­ery­body – pro­fes­sion­al­ism, class, dis­ci­pline. Ev­ery­thing was out­stand­ing and I was an­gry. It was dis­gust­ing, it shouldn’t be hap­pen­ing and some­thing needs to be done about it but the lads were out­stand­ing and if I was an­gry, I’m sure they were an­gry as well. We let the foot­ball do the talk­ing and we made them suf­fer, that is what we wanted to do.”

Ty­rone Mings and Cal­lum Wil­son were the first two play­ers to hear and re­port racist chant­ing be­fore the warm-up. Hen­der­son was im­pressed how Mings han­dled his Eng­land de­but. “He dealt with the sit­u­a­tion so, so well,” he said. “It was a top per­for­mance for his de­but. He was mag­nif­i­cent and han­dled

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