UEFA Euro 2020 qualifiers: England consider walking off pitch in bold stand against racism

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England are on high alert for racist fan behavior at Monday's UEFA European Championship qualifier match against Bulgaria.

Players say they will consider walking off the pitch if they are subjected to racism, threatening to buck UEFA's protocols for dealing with those issues.

'If one person is abused then we all are': Raheem Sterling and Kieran Trippier after losing to Czech Republic at Sinobo Stadium. They will consider leaving the field if any of the England team are subjectd to fan racism against Bulgaria.

'If one person is abused then we all are': Raheem Sterling and Kieran Trippier after losing to Czech Republic at Sinobo Stadium. They will consider leaving the field if any of the England team are subjectd to fan racism against Bulgaria.Credit:Getty Images

"If it happens to one of us, it happens to all of us," England striker Tammy Abraham told the BBC.

"[England captain] Harry Kane even said that if we're not happy, if a player is not happy, we all come off the pitch together."

Racism has plagued European football for years. The sport has seen fans direct racial epithets at players, hold racist banners in the stands and hurl objects at opposing players and fans.

England has not been immune from the problem. Chelsea banned six fans, one for life, after racist abuse was directed at Manchester City striker Raheem Sterling, who also plays for the national team. Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford, also a national team member, said last month football was "going backward" when it came to race relations within the sport.

UEFA has punished Bulgaria with a partial stadium closure for the match against England because of racist fan behavior during recent matches against Czech Republic and Kosovo. The organisation's three-step protocol calls for stadium officials to warn fans to cease any racist behavior upon a first offence. If the behavior persists, the referee is to stop the game and remove the teams from the field. Finally, the referee is to halt the game if the abuse continues.

But Abraham told the BBC the team had agreed to walk off the field together and disregard the UEFA process on perhaps the first or second incident of abuse, which could result in an English forfeit.

"We did speak about that [the protocol]," Abraham said. "Harry Kane did ask the question about instead of going through the three steps, if we decide that we want to stop the game – no matter what the score is – if we're not happy with it, as a team we'll decide whether or not to stay on the pitch.

"If it happens and let's say there's a warning or whatever in the stadium, then it happens again, we have to make a decision as a team and with the staff."

Wary: England manager Gareth Southgate next to Harry Kane during a press conference a day before the Euro 2020 group A qualifying match against Bulgaria at the Vasil Levski national stadium, in Sofia.

Wary: England manager Gareth Southgate next to Harry Kane during a press conference a day before the Euro 2020 group A qualifying match against Bulgaria at the Vasil Levski national stadium, in Sofia.Credit:AP

Defender Trent Alexander-Arnold, of club team Liverpool, said if fans went after one England player, the entire team would respond.

"Nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable on the pitch," he said. "Everyone should be given the chance to play in a fair environment. We are a team. If one person is abused then we all are, we are one big family."

But English Manager Gareth Southgate told reporters: "There is the UEFA process and we have to have faith in that process. Then everything else is hypothetical. We want the players to be able to concentrate on football, they want to be judged on football. What I've got to do is provide a secure, safe environment for them to play."

This is the first time England's team will play in Bulgaria since 2011, when English player Ashley Young was repeatedly called a "monkey" by sections of the crowd.

"As a player, with the situation that happened in Montenegro, I don't think as a team we were quite prepared and knowing there was a protocol in place," said Sterling, via Agence France-Presse. "As a team, we had a meeting and Gareth sat us down and explained there was a UEFA protocol. Now as players we have got to kind of give UEFA a chance to take that responsibility on board and deal with that situation.

"At this moment in time, full faith in UEFA."

Those comments proved disconcerting for Bulgarian officials. The president of the Bulgarian Football Union, Borislav Mikhaylov, wrote to UEFA, asking the organisation to discipline the English side for spreading "derogatory claims" that the local spectators were "people inclined to discriminatory behavior," according to The Guardian.

UEFA has ordered Bulgaria to close at least 5000 seats in its stadium, according to the AFP, and display a banner that reads "#EqualGame."

The Washington Post