England boss Gareth Southgate attempts to defuse Bulgaria racism fury before trip to Sofia | Football | Sport

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Bulgaria reacted with fury on Thursday at their fans being branded racists by England – and Gareth Southgate agreed with them.

Borislav Mihaylov, the Bulgarian FA president, wrote an angry letter to UEFA on Thursday accusing England players of “offensive” and “unjust” comments about his fans, after England striker Tammy Abraham said on Wednesday that his team would walk off the pitch if subjected to racist abuse.

England coach Southgate, on the eve of a match in Prague on Friday night against the Czech Republic that would see his team qualify for the finals on Euro 2020 if they win, tried to defuse a tense situation, insisting his team would stick to UEFA’s strict protocols if any problems occurred on Monday in Sofia.

Bulgaria have had part of their stadium closed following racist behaviour by their fans in qualifying games against Kosovo and the Czechs in June. England’s players suffered racist abuse earlier in the campaign in Montenegro.

Gareth Southgate said: “I can understand how the Bulgarian president feels. We have purely been responding honestly to questions.

“The way that that’s pitched could appear provocative. If I was him, not knowing the context, I would feel probably as he does. We are not trying to create a situation.

“The most important thing is that players know that they’re supported. Because we suffered a situation in Montenegro, we wanted to be clear what might happen.

“We’re very clear that there is the UEFA process. We need to have faith in that process.

“We experienced a huge number of questions. Anybody that gets one slight nuance that’s adrift is going to be flagged as a possible disagreement. That’s absolutely not the case. Everybody is very clear. We’re 100 per cent united.”

Sterling said: “In Montenegro, we were not prepared. Gareth then explained UEFA’s protocol. I have full faith in UEFA.”

Former Bulgaria international Mihaylov wrote in a furious letter to UEFA general secretary, Theodore Theodoridis: “We are extremely shocked at efforts to mark out Bulgarian spectators as potential troublemakers. We find it offensive.

“The Bulgarian FU’s energy in battling racism has proven effective. Our fans are being made subject of public reprimand and scrutiny. I demand this demeanour ceases so as not to cause unnecessary tension.

“The Bulgarian public has in no way committed infringements that deserve it to be stereotyped as ‘racist’ or ‘hostile.’ These accusations are not only unjust but are attempts to disrupt the atmosphere.

“I cannot allow such derogatory claims to be spread – and suggest that UEFA take measures.”

Mihaylov suggested that if England players do walk off the pitch then they should be subject to UEFA disciplinary measures – which could see the game awarded to Bulgaria 3-0.

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