Sta­dium staff sus­pected of racist chants

Ob­servers say ‘of­fi­cials’ took off bibs to join fans Abuse could have been to hurt Bul­gar­ian union ‘The sup­port­ers have a nick­name for Mikhailov. They call him pe­ruka, which is The Wig’

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Football - By Ben Rumsby

The scan­dal over the mon­key chants and Nazi salutes aimed at Eng­land play­ers dur­ing their match in Bul­garia deep­ened last night amid sus­pi­cions sta­dium staff had been among the per­pe­tra­tors.

In­de­pen­dent ob­servers em­ployed to mon­i­tor Mon­day’s Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship qual­i­fier in Sofia wit­nessed about 20 peo­ple re­mov­ing of­fi­cial-look­ing bibs be­fore join­ing home fans in racially abus­ing Ra­heem Ster­ling, Mar­cus Rash­ford and Ty­rone Mings.

Uefa’s anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion mon­i­tor­ing part­ner, Fare, con­firmed yes­ter­day that the ob­servers had seen, but not videoed, bibs be­ing re­moved, claim­ing it was “quite com­mon” for clubs and na­tional as­so­ci­a­tions in East­ern Europe to em­ploy known hooli­gans in roles such as sta­dium se­cu­rity.

“We can spec­u­late that peo­ple among them were ac­tu­ally work­ing in se­cu­rity, which would be ex­treme neg­li­gence on be­half of the Bul­gar­ian Foot­ball Union,” Pavel Kly­menko, Fare’s east­ern Europe devel­op­ment of­fi­cer, said.

Kly­menko said that even if the in­di­vid­u­als in ques­tion were merely dis­guised as sta­dium staff – per­haps to sneak into the ground un­de­tected – the BFU was still to blame for “in­suf­fi­cient checks” at the gates.

Fare yes­ter­day joined Kick It Out, English foot­ball’s anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion watch­dog, in call­ing for Bul­garia to be ex­pelled from the re­main­der of the Euro 2020 qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign over Mon­day’s sick­en­ing scenes, which took place de­spite the coun­try al­ready serv­ing a par­tial sta­dium ban.

Kly­menko re­vealed Fare’s ob­servers wit­nessed Nazi salutes be­ing per­formed in a stand hous­ing “ul­tras” from Levski Sofia, a club de­scribed as one of the worst he had en­coun­tered in terms of “neo­nazi in­fil­tra­tion”.

Also present in that sec­tion were hard­core fans of Loko­mo­tiv Plov­div, who, like Levski, are serv­ing a par­tial sta­dium ban im­posed by Uefa for racist be­hav­iour or ban­ners.

Mon­key chants were heard sep­a­rately in another sec­tion hous­ing sup­port­ers of CSKA Sofia dur­ing Mon­day’s game.

The first-half abuse of Eng­land’s black play­ers prompted the his­toric ac­ti­va­tion of Uefa’s three-step pro­to­col for deal­ing with racism from the stands.

That prompted what Fare es­ti­mated was be­tween 20 and 30 home fans to leave the ground with, it ap­peared, very lit­tle re­sis­tance, some­thing Kly­menko said fu­elled sus­pi­cions that the sup­port­ers’ ac­tions had not been spon­ta­neous.

He said: “There is an el­e­ment want­ing to make a state­ment and leave but also they prob­a­bly would have been asked by the stew­ards or se­cu­rity, who would have known them, I’m pretty sure, per­son­ally as well. It’s pretty ob­vi­ous that they were there to show their worst.”

Fare ob­servers also re­ported that abu­sive chants from the home crowd af­ter half-time were fo­cused mainly on the BFU and its pres­i­dent Borislav Mikhailov, who was forced to re­sign af­ter the match. “Most of the chants you could here were f--the BFU and f--- Mikhailov,” Kly­menko said, re­fus­ing to rule out the pos­si­bil­ity some of the ear­lier racism was mo­ti­vated by a de­sire to hurt the union.

“Bul­gar­ian ul­tras, both at club and na­tional-team level, have been in very long con­flict with the Bul­gar­ian FA pres­i­dent and the FA in gen­eral over poor per­for­mances and other things,” he said. “So, they hate the FA pres­i­dent as well.”

Kly­menko added of for­mer Read­ing and Bul­garia goal­keeper Mikhailov, who fa­mously wore a wig in his play­ing days: “They have a nick­name for him. They call him ‘pe­ruka’, which is ‘The Wig’.”

But Kly­menko said it would be “too much of a con­spir­acy the­ory” to put all of Mon­day’s abuse down to a de­sire “just to hurt the FA pres­i­dent”. The BFU did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

Ul­tras: Fans turned their anger on Borislav Mikhailov, for­mer pres­i­dent of the Bul­gar­ian union, af­ter abus­ing Eng­land play­ers

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