Bulgaria vs England showed the dark side of football

It’s a game I’m sure will live in infamy amongst fans of the sport for many weeks and months to come.

No doubt it was a shock to many; when I turned on the TV to watch two groups of men kick a ball around, I certainly wasn’t expecting to witness racial slurs, monkey chants and Nazi salutes.

Last Monday’s game has been hailed as a victory for the UEFA three-point system. Whilst I applaud the England team for playing on under such conditions, all I saw from this powerful sporting institution were two match breaks where officials simply asked the offending parties to not be quite so awful.

A shout-out has to go to the Bulgarian team captain, Ivelin Popov, who was seen in heated debate with a group of Bulgaria fans near the tunnel during half time.

As England player Marcus Rashford said, “to stand alone and do the right thing takes courage and acts like that shouldn’t go unnoticed.”

And it must be said that it would be ludicrous to assume all that Bulgaria supporters were represented by the actions of these men, but it makes those actions none the less shocking.

Even more troubling to learn, was that the England players were used to this kind of abuse after experiences they’d had playing domestic matches.

Football has had a problem with its fans for a long time now. In August three people died during a riot by fans in Honduras. There is footage of riots and clashes between different groups of fans all over the internet, from Millwall fans in 2009, to England and Germany fans in 2015.

The term ‘football hooliganism’ has been in the pop-culture subconscious ever since spectator sport really hit the stratosphere in the 1960s.

I am a firm believer that sport can bring people together. Whenever the Olympics is on the TV, it gets the whole family together, and in the same way it rallies everyone in the country to urge on our representatives abroad.

But whilst these events rally people together, there are few sports as divisive as football. Unlike athletics, where athletes compete more passively to see who is fastest, team sports offer two distinct sides doing battle with one another.

Where there are events like this, it naturally breeds competition between teams, and the fans that support them. But we never (or very rarely) hear about rugby riots, or tennis doubles riots, or boxing riots, and I’m not sure why.

I don’t think the organisations that govern football are particularly unique, so I assume it must be the fans.

The events at last week’s match reflect not only the specific problem of racism in football, but a larger problem with aggression in the sport. And it certainly will not be resolved by a couple of time outs and politely requesting fans to calm down.

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Jamie Hose