Tyrone Mings revealed he heard racist abuse in the warm-up ahead of his England debut as a 6-0 thrashing of Bulgaria was overshadowed by abhorrent behaviour from the home fans.
There were two breaks in play during the Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia after abuse was reported to the match officials.
Following UEFA’s anti-racism protocols, an announcement was made in the 28th minute warning fans that any further incidents could result in the match being abandoned, while there was another pause before half-time.
England decided at half-time to play the remainder of the game as braces from Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling and goals for Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane ensured a thumping win for the visitors.
Mings was audibly targeted in the early stages of his first England cap, with television cameras picking him up asking the assistant referee if he had heard the abuse aimed in his direction.
But, speaking in the bowels of the Vasili Levski National Stadium after the game, the Aston Villa defender revealed the issue had started even before kick-off on Monday night.
“I heard it before I even got to the other side of the pitch for the warm up,” he said.
“We then spoke about it when we came in after the warm up and, obviously, I don’t need to spell it out.
“I think everybody heard the chants, but we stood together and we made certain decisions.
“Just before half-time we were contemplating coming off the pitch because that was the next step after a stadium announcement but there were a couple of minutes to go to half-time.
“So we thought we’d play the couple of minutes, go into half-time and talk about it then which we did and we made a collective decision.
“Everyone was happy to continue, everyone was happy to see if things improved in the second half and I think it was important that we allowed the correct protocol to be followed and things were better in the second half.”
Mings insisted he was not personally affected by the abuse, which he said was the first time he had been targeted throughout his football career.
“It did not affect my feelings one bit. I felt a bit sorry for the people that have these views,” he added.
“I feel it is not a reflection of the views of the whole country and I feel that the appropriate steps were taken.
“It didn’t affect my feeling but I was aware that we had to follow the right protocols, and not think it does not affect me so I won’t report it.
“I have a duty to people that don’t have a voice or that perhaps are abused and it does hurt or get to them. I don’t know why it does not affect me, it just doesn’t.”
While step two of UEFA’s protocol was not initiated, Mings was satisfied with the process and pleased with how the players stuck together.
When asked if he felt the protocols had worked, he said: “They did, yes.
“I didn’t hear anything in the second half. I can’t speak for everybody, but I can speak for myself. So I think fans were removed and if that was the case then I think the protocol has definitely worked.
“We were here to play football, so we didn’t want to really be having these conversations but it was important we made a collective decision.
“We represent a lot of people and we have to not just make a stance for ourselves, but we have to make it clear these things won’t be accepted. So it was important to consult everyone at half-time and everybody made the decision, and we played on the whole game.”
Having found out he was in line to make his debut, Mings flew out some of his family at short notice to cheer him on – a decision he does not regret despite the events of the night.
“I’m immensely proud, it is a dream come true for sure,” he said of his debut.
“It is the pinnacle of English football, everybody dreams of representing their country, everybody knows my journey. I was extremely proud and had my friends and family in the crowd, so I don’t think they will let it overshadow this.
“I was absolutely happy they were here tonight and it will be a memory we will talk about for a long, long time – a good memory.”
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