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Southgate: English football must solve its own racism issues

The Bulgarian FA chief was upset with remarks made by the England camp but Southgate has tried to defuse to the situation.

Southgate and Sterling at this evening's press conference in Prague.
Southgate and Sterling at this evening's press conference in Prague.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

GARETH SOUTHGATE ADMITS English football needs to resolve its own problems with racism and understands why Bulgarian Football Union president Borislav Mihaylov was left so aggrieved by recent comments from the England camp.

Tammy Abraham this week urged his team-mates to leave the field if they are subjected to racist abuse, comments which Mihaylov described as “offensive and derogatory”.

The game will be played behind closed doors as a result of racial abuse during Bulgaria’s game with Montenegro and Southgate has said his team must be prepared for racism.

Mihaylov has written to Uefa to express frustration at Abraham’s remarks and wants the European governing body to sanction England if they walk off the pitch rather than abide by the three-step protocol already in place.

That system can see a referee stop a match, then take players off the pitch, and if the problem persists an abandonment can be declared.

Southgate insists he and his players did not intend to upset their Bulgarian counterparts with their remarks and acknowledges English football has its own racism issues to deal with.

“I can totally understand why the Bulgarian president feels as he does, because we have purely been responding honestly to questions we’ve been asked by you guys,” Southgate told reporters at a press conference on Thursday.

“That will then be relayed, however it may be relayed in Bulgaria, and the way that that’s pitched could appear provocative or appear that we’re the people who are laying the subject on the table.

“If I was him, and I was only reading those quotes and not knowing the context of why the things were said and the responses were said, then I would feel probably as he does.

“We are not trying to create a situation at all, far from it. We’re all hoping that over the next 72 hours, we’re just talking about two football matches.

“I think both countries would have a strong desire for that and I have to say again, we don’t look at other countries in a way that we don’t shine a mirror on our own.”

A National League match between Hartlepool United and Dover Athletic last month was stopped for more than 10 minutes amid accusations of racist abuse aimed at a visiting player.

Citing that incident, Southgate said: “What happened there a couple of weeks ago was probably worse than things I’ve seen or heard about in many other countries in the world.

“I think we have to be very careful in how we cover everything.”

Should England’s players ignore protocol and walk off the field in Sofia, the match could be awarded as a 3-0 victory to Bulgaria.

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