Southgate: Racist abuse in Bulgaria brought England players closer together

England's players "feel closer together" following the shameful events that unfolded in Bulgaria last month, according to Gareth Southgate.

England's 6-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win on October 14 was marred by a racist group of Bulgaria fans.   -  Getty Images

Gareth Southgate believes the racist abuse suffered by England's players in Bulgaria last month brought the squad closer together.

England's 6-0 Euro 2020 qualifying win on October 14 was marred by the actions of a group of home supporters, who targeted the likes of Tyrone Mings, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling with racist abuse.

Nazi salutes in home sections of the stadium were also witnessed, and the match was twice halted.

UEFA has imposed a two-match stadium ban on Bulgaria - the second of which is suspended for two years - and fined them €75,000.

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England manager Southgate is proud of his players for the way they dealt with the situation and hopes to never experience anything like it again.

"I'm sure any team going through a situation like that, you'll definitely feel closer together," he told a news conference on Thursday. 

"The players backed each other during the game. It's not an outcome we want to be pleased or shouting about because it's not a situation we want to ever go through again. None of us look back on it with great pleasure or want anyone to have to experience it. 

"The best thing we can do is to continue to work as we do as a team, see how close the team are, the diversity of the team from different backgrounds and see how they're a group of brothers who come together and want to play and enjoy each other's company. That in itself is a huge message to society.

"I'm still very proud of the players for the way they dealt with it.

"The ongoing issue is one of education, across the world, really. We've spoken about that more than I should have needed to in the last few years, but it's the situation we're in and we still have work to do."

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Many had called on UEFA to make an example of Bulgaria after the governing body's president Aleksander Ceferin vowed to "wage war on the racists", with anti-discrimination campaigners Football Against Racism in Europe dissatisfied with the sanction handed down.

Southgate took a more liberal stance, saying: "I think the punishment is really difficult. Whatever happens, we'll all have an individual view on it. 

"For me, the important thing was that the subject was highlighted, the importance of it and the fact that our players 'owned the moment', if you want."

England concludes its Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a home match against Montenegro on November 14 and a trip to Kosovo three days later.

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