Bulgaria coach dismisses crowd abuse as ‘normal’
England players furious over alleged comments Henderson: We played on to make rivals suffer
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