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 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