Express & Star comment: Only changing attitudes can drive out racism

The events surrounding this week’s game between England and Bulgaria in Sofia will live long in the memory – for all the wrong reasons.

No respect – Bulgaria fans mock anti-racism campaign
No respect – Bulgaria fans mock anti-racism campaign

At this point we should be savouring the Three Lions’ magnificent victory, in what was a scintillating display of attacking football that put them on the brink of qualifying for next year’s European Championships.

The story of the night should be about Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings’ impressive debut, and Ross Barkley and Marcus Rashford answering their critics in fine style with well-taken goals.

Yet events on the pitch were overshadowed by the shameful behaviour of sections of the home support.

The lead up to the game had seen the England camp voice concerns about the potential for racist chanting – Bulgaria have had problems in the past – and sadly, those fears were realised.

Few will forget the shocking sight of Bulgarian thugs proudly giving the ‘Sieg Heil’ salute as they hurled sickening racist abuse at England’s black players.

At first glance it was like a scene from the hooliganism of the 1970s and 1980s. But this was no flashback, and the distressing events in the Bulgarian capital were a stark reminder that racism remains a very real problem in our society.

Great credit must be given to the England players, manager Gareth Southgate and his staff for the way they dealt with the whole sorry episode.

Contrast their dignified reaction with that of Bulgaria manager Krassimir Balakov, who laughably claimed that his country does not have a problem with racism, or goalkeeper Plamen Iliev, who accused England’s players of overreacting.

We can only hope that Uefa’s three-step protocol, used for the first time on Monday night, heralds a new dawn when it comes to dealing with racist abuse.

No one should be under the illusion that racism is a problem that only happens in football games abroad.

There have been enough dreadful incidents on these shores in recent months to make a mockery of such an assertion.

Only by changing attitudes can we hope to drive racism out of football.

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