Bulgaria’s national team goalie claims that the home fans “behaved well” when his side played England on Monday – in a match that had to be paused at least twice because of an onslaught of racist abuse and Nazi salutes targeting the away team’s black players.
Plamen Iliev – who allowed in six goals – praised the home fans during the Euro 2020 qualifier and suggested that the English players “overreacted a bit.”
Plamen Iliev of Bulgaria during the UEFA Euro 2020 qualifier between Bulgaria and England on October 14, 2019 in Sofia, Bulgaria.
“If I am honest, I believe they [the fans] behaved well today,” he told reporters after the match, according to the Guardian. “There wasn’t any abuse [as far as I could hear] and I think they [the England players] overreacted a bit. The public was on a good level – I didn’t hear any bad language used towards their or our players.”
England manager Gareth Southgate, right, speaks with Referee Ivan Bebek during the Euro 2020 group A qualifying soccer match between Bulgaria and England, at the Vasil Levski national stadium, in Sofia, Bulgaria, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Andreea Alexandru)
The match was twice halted in the first half because of fans directing monkey chants at English players, doing Nazi salutes and holding up shirts with the UEFA logo and the text “No Respect” – a reference to the European governing body’s “Respect” campaign aimed at curbing racism in the sport.
The English FA issued a statement saying that England players “were subjected to abhorrent racist chanting,” which seemed to be aimed mainly at black players like Raheem Sterling and Tyrone Mings.
“As we are sadly aware, this is not the first time our players have been subjected to this level of abuse and there is no place for this kind of behavior in society, let alone in football. We will be asking UEFA to investigate as a matter of urgency,” the FA said.
England fans celebrate during the Euro 2020 group A qualifying soccer match between Bulgaria and England, at the Vasil Levski national stadium, in Sofia, Bulgaria, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019.
Despite this, Bulgaria’s manager, Krasimir Balakov, claimed that he did not personally hear the chanting.
“I saw the referee stopped the game but I also have to say the behavior was also not only on behalf of the Bulgarian fans but also the English fans, who were whistling and shouting during the Bulgarian national anthem,” he told reporters after the game.
Iliev and Balakov’s comments contrasted heavily from those of Bulgarian captain, Ivelin Popov, who tried to calm things down during the match.
“We’re all suffering from that kind of behavior,” he said. “Do you think a foreign player would like to come and play in Bulgaria after what happened tonight? Racism is a world problem that needs to be eradicated. We’re all people regardless of the skin color.”
On Tuesday, Borislav Mikhailov, the president of Bulgaria’s soccer federation resigned amid the controversy. The soccer body said in a statement that he will present his resignation to the federation’s executive committee on Friday.
A few hours later, Bulgarian special police forces raided the federation offices. It was unclear what they were looking for.
EDS NOTE OBSCENE GESTURES – Bulgarian fans gesture as they stand in the stadium to watch the Euro 2020 group A qualifying soccer match between Bulgaria and England, at the Vasil Levski national stadium, in Sofia, Bulgaria, Monday, Oct. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)
Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov condemned the racist behavior.
“It is unacceptable that Bulgaria, one of the most tolerant countries in the world where people of different ethnicities live in peace, to be associated with racism and xenophobia,” Borissov wrote in a post on Facebook.
FIFA has rules protecting soccer federations from government interference, including suspension as a possible punishment.
Fox News’ Ryan Gaydos and the Associated Press contributed to this report.