Emotional Stoichkov calls for tough sanctions on Bulgaria after England clash

By Sports Desk October 16, 2019

Bulgaria great Hristo Stoichkov fought back tears in a TV appearance as he demanded action over the racist abuse England players suffered in their Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia.

The former Ballon d'Or winner suggested "heavier punishments" than stadium closures could be required in response to the shameful scenes that marred Monday's match.

A section of Bulgaria supporters aimed monkey chants at Raheem Sterling, Tyrone Mings and Marcus Rashford and were also seen performing Nazi salutes.

Bulgarian Football Union president Borislav Mihaylov stepped down amid the fallout and UEFA has opened disciplinary proceedings against the organisation.

The abuse witnessed at Vasil Levski National Stadium moved 53-year-old Stoichkov during an appearance on TUDN programme Futbol Central.

"People don't deserve to suffer," Stoichkov said, before becoming emotional and hanging his head.

Play was twice halted in the first half on Monday before a group of fans were ejected from the ground.

Asked about about a suitable sanction, former Barcelona forward Stoichkov said: "That fans are not allowed in the stadium, or even heavier punishments, like in England a few years ago."

Stoichkov did not specify a particular incident involving punishment in England. He may have meant the ban from European club competitions imposed after the 1985 Heysel Stadium disaster, when English clubs were barred from UEFA competitions for five years, and Liverpool excluded for a further year.

The Sofia stadium that hosted Monday's match had already been partially closed as a result of racist behaviour from fans during qualifiers against Kosovo and the Czech Republic in June.

Bulgaria head coach Krasimir Balakov issued an apology on Wednesday and condemned the racist abuse after initially stating he did not hear it occur during his team's 6-0 defeat.

"I would like to say very clearly: since there were cases of racial discrimination in Sofia, I would like to sincerely apologise to the English footballers and to all those who felt offended," Balakov said.

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