Southgate: England players keen to move on from Bulgaria racism incident

England manager Gareth Southgate hopes a line can now be drawn under last month’s racism in Sofia so his players can focus on football matters again.

Bulgaria have been ordered to play two matches behind closed doors – one suspended for two years – for their fans’ racist abuse of England players in the Euro 2020 qualifier.

The Bulgarian Football Union was also fined £65,000 by UEFA for the incidents in England’s 6-0 win in Sofia, which was stopped twice by the referee.

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Debutant Tyrone Mings talked eloquently about it post-match and several other players have been quizzed on the subject, but Southgate wants his squad to be able to move on now.

He said: “I spoke with a couple of the players after. I spoke with all of the players immediately after the game and then I spoke with a couple of players in the couple of days following. I think the players will want to move on, really.

“I think, for all of them, they dealt with it brilliantly and it would be wrong not to discuss it at all but I know that they want to get on with the football.

“They would feel that they’re having to talk about those areas more than they want to and, for all the bits of regret, a really good performance was overshadowed for them, especially someone like Tyrone.

“His debut was unique and he’s talked brilliantly after the game in every aspect but for him, I’m sad that he had to talk about other things than his performance which was excellent, so I think they will feel ‘on with the football as quickly as possible’.”

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England will be back at Wembley on Thursday and will reach a landmark in their Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro.

It will be the country’s 1,000th men’s international and the occasion will be marked in a number of ways, including recognising the notable contributions of former players as well as managers while the current crop will wear individual ‘legacy numbers’ on their shirts.

Terry Venables, Southgate’s old boss, will be in attendance and remains a key figure for the Three Lions manager.

“We’ve had some great nights in the last few years but, for all of them, they’ve had those nights in their own era or generation and Terry was a brilliant manager for me,” he said.

Terry Venables will be at Wembley as England celebrate their 1000th international (Ian Nicholson/PA)

Terry Venables will be at Wembley as England celebrate their 1000th international (Ian Nicholson/PA)

“Great tactical knowledge, great man-management, developed a fantastic spirit with the group. Every player – youngest to oldest – loved working with him and one of our, well, by far our best European Championship performance.

“Our record isn’t illustrious but he was brilliant to work with and inspired me in terms of coaching and managing.

“I saw the level that he was at and having been manager of England and FC Barcelona, you knew that’s the level of detail and the fact that he was prepared to be challenged and had somebody like Don Howe with him and he didn’t mind Don challenging him.

“He was very open to that so I thought he was very forward-thinking and a really impressive guy.”

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Southgate added: “Everybody should be very proud of the moment they’ve had wearing the jersey or managing the team.

“I know the pride and I know they will love the fact they’ve been invited back.

“Sometimes you feel that you’re not welcome anymore or you feel a bit awkward coming in, so I know for those guys that will be very special.”

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