Bulgaria sure does get a bum rap, doesn't it?
English cities go up in flames as feral youth go on an orgy of mindless violence and looting. An Eastern European woman is forced to jump out of a burning building in an affluent area of the once civilised British capital. A Malaysian boy is viciously mugged and then robbed again as he reels from his injuries. To name but a few incidents out a few days of hair-raising savagery and sadism. And yet nobody demands that the UK be thrown out of the EU for its indecent behaviour.
And then...during the England V Bulgaria match a few Bulgarian fans – high on testosterone and adrenaline, doubtless pumped up with anger at the hiding their team was taking on the pitch, shout at some black players and allegedly make Nazi salutes. All hell breaks loose. Hundreds of comments in the UK tabloids demand that Bulgaria is thrown out of international competitions.
Others attacked eastern Europe in general for being hideously white and racist – note the subtext that cultural and racial homogeneity is a crime in 2011. Others even resurrect World War 2 and remind us that Bulgaria was on the side of Hitler in the war. (Bulgaria, it seems is irrevocably totalitarian in some people minds, either communist of fascist, it simply can't win!!)
Some well-intentioned Bulgarians –- who probably were not even there – write grovelling comments excusing their compatriots' behaviour. Nice people, but who should be doing the apologising?
The reality of what I saw on Friday night was very different. Before the game England fans took over some of the pubs and bars in Sofia. Ok, nothing wrong with that but it was irritating to see how they draped their flags over every available surface. Then things took a turn for the worse. In one bar in Shipka Street a mother and daughter sat outside drinking coffee on the pavement.
I bet they wished they were somewhere else. A group of England fans came by, swigging from beer cans. They stopped in their tracks and proceeded to gawp at the couple for 10 minutes, pointing at them and making obscene comments. "Look, it's a mother and daughter and the mother's ....... hotter than the daughter!" (Probably the idiots assume that no Bulgarian would understand English). The tattooed louts came up to have a closer inspection, virtually peering down at the mother's cleavage. The mother and daughter looked away and pretend they weren't there.
At the game itself England fans booed at the Bulgarian national anthem. (That, of course is no surprise to me. I'll never forget in Euro 2004 how they did the same whenever the Portuguese national anthem was played in the Algarve).
Then, during the match itself the English fans then kept up a barrage of abuse – "Where's your caravan?" "Bulgaria is a ****hole" being just sample of the milder terms of endearment.
English people sitting in predominantly Bulgarian sections received a generally warm welcome. Would the opposite have been the case? Like I say, Bulgaria sure does get a bum rap. Congratulations to the UK press for doing a wonderful PR campaign on behalf of your distinguished clients. But some of us saw a rather different story.