England’s Euro 2020 qualifier with Bulgaria last night was played out amidst a barrage of toxic nationalism, fascist gestures and dehumanising racist chants in Sofia’s Stadion Vasil Levski. Waves of Nazi salutes sprung from the stands. Black-clad nationalists boomed dehumanising racist chants towards England’s players. As the Three Lions ran out as victors to the tune of six goals, the spectre of fascism loomed large. Like a shroud, it hung itself unwanted over Tyrone Mings’ international debut.
It should not have been this way for the Aston Villa defender - but it was the way. Monkey chants greeted him during his warm-up, and during his touches of the ball. This of course, taints Mings’ appearance.
While this match will be remembered for the first-half onslaught of white supremacist gestures and racist chants - it will also be remembered for how the English national team carried themselves. Mings is a perfect example of this, and is already iconic.
It was Mings who was caught on camera asking the Croatian officials whether they had heard the chanting. It is Mings who is at the centre of the storm. On his day, of all days, emboldened racists took a stand. They ignored the lecturing of their captain Iveliv Popov - who confronted Bulgarian fans in regards to their actions. They ignored the deployed protocol, with two temporary pauses acting as warning shots. They ignored the PA system. Some Bulgarian journalists questioned the extent of the racism. Some Bulgarian officials refused to acknowledge the situation. Others in the nation questioned this cowardice, others in the nation fought back. England and Tyrone Mings found themselves at the centre of a heated flashpoint, where the nationalism conversation emerged to the forefront of a football match, and they did themselves proud.
The English team had spoken about walking off the pitch in protest should racist chants emerge. The chants came out and England stayed on. In truth, whatever action they chose would’ve turned out to be correct - but when given the option, England’s players refused to leave. They carried on and scored more goals.
Hours after Tyrone Mings leaned towards an official to enquire whether he ‘had heard that’, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin stated that the football family must wage war on racists. Racism is a virus, and we must eradicate it, but it isn’t contained to football matches and it certainly doesn’t belong to Bulgaria. It is all around us. In some countries, it is covert. In others, it is overt.
By playing on and beating Bulgaria and forcing the spotlight onto a very uncomfortable truth, Tyrone Mings and England have put the ball in UEFA’s court. They have demanded action via action - but whatever happens, we cannot forget that racism is still an enemy on our own doorstep.
Mings didn’t score for England - but he didn’t have to. He was dominant against a weak opposition, but took nothing for granted. Facing pressure from the stands, he was composed and stood tall, transforming the perception of others. Tyrone entered Sofia as a good centre-half, who was doubted by many. He left as an icon.
Facing interviewers after the match, Tyrone knew the score - and knew that this was bigger than a single match - and bigger than him. The measure of the man played out across every TV screen in the country. The good-natured truth of his communication went viral.
The world now knows what Villa fans knew already.
That Tyrone Mings is a colossus of the soul.