Tyrone Mings interview: Coming through adversity of racism in Bulgaria has made England squad stronger

Malik Ouzia
·4-min read
 (FA)
(FA)

Some England players announce their arrivals on the international stage in a blaze of tournament glory, a la Michael Owen in ’98 or Wayne Rooney in ’04.

Others have taken more lowkey, but no less personally significant, opportunities to make their mark; take Ollie Watkins’ debut goal as a substitute in the thumping of San Marino only a fortnight ago.

Few though, have been thrust into the international limelight in such trying circumstances as Watkins’ Aston Villa teammate Tyrone Mings, whose England debut in October 2019 was marred by the vile racist abuse directed at him and other black players by Bulgaria fans during the Three Lions’ 5-0 win in Sofia.

It was Mings who first reported the abuse to officials, eventually prompting the game to be halted. A remarkably composed performance followed when it resumed, but it was the maturity and perspective with which the centre-back spoke at full-time that did just as much to confirm his readiness to represent his country.

“We represent a lot of people and we have to not just make a stance for ourselves but make it clear these things won’t be accepted,” Mings said. “It was obviously bigger than me and bigger than what I felt.”

Getty Images
Getty Images

Eighteen months on, the 28-year-old unsurprisingly reflects on that night in Sofia as a formative moment in his still relatively brief international career.

“Bulgaria was early on - it was my debut, my second camp,” Mings tells Standard Sport.

“It’s great coming here training but you nail the respect of your teammates when you play in games and you play in difficult circumstances.

“Going through things like that, feeling the support of your teammates, the support of the [England] fans in the stadium, and then the fallout of what happened after and the support we had as players, made me feel a big part of it.”

Championing diversity has, for some of England’s national sports teams, become not merely a duty but also a genuine strength. During the 2018 World Cup, Southgate spoke of his young team reconnecting with fans by representing a “modern England”, while a year later cricket captain Eoin Morgan hailed his team’s “diverse backgrounds and cultures” as instrumental in their own World Cup success.

Mings believes the experience of Bulgaria has only strengthened the appreciation of diversity within the England squad, fostering a togetherness that will stand them in good stead going into this summer’s European Championships.

“Everybody is respectful, everyone is a good teammate but it’s only, I guess, in moments of difficulty that those qualities are really highlighted,” he says. “We’ve been fortunate enough to come through that, be better teammates, be more understanding of each other, show support to one another.

“I think we’re a better squad for going through that adversity, whether it be those incidents of racism or just a poor result. Any time of crisis or adversity gives you an opportunity to come out of it stronger and with a tighter group of players.”

The FA via Getty Images
The FA via Getty Images

Mings is one of a number of players launching the FA and Nationwide’s new Coin for Respect campaign, which will see more than 20,000 coins, designed by schoolchildren, distributed to amateur referees for use at the toss ahead of grassroots matches as a symbol of respect.

The campaign’s message is a broad one, but the issue of racism is sure to be to the fore, with the kind of abuse hurled from the stands in Bulgaria still an all too common sight on social media.

“We’ve all got a role to play,” Mings adds. “Respect in football is so prominent at the moment, whether it’s a referee who has been in the news recently or respect on social media and discrimination.

“We’re humans before we’re footballers and respect should be the bedrock of your personality, it’s something you take in and out of football to try and live by everyday. It makes society better and it makes our game better.”

Mings did not start any of England’s three World Cup qualifiers during last month’s international break, coming on at half-time against San Marino before Southgate opted to give the recalled John Stones as much time as possible to re-establish his partnership with apparent first-choice Harry Maguire.

However, the Villa skipper seems certain to be part of this summer’s Euros squad, having been called up for every camp since making his debut - even if he is taking nothing for granted yet.

“Every time I come here I feel like I’m on trial, I don’t think that ever leaves you,” he says. “Speaking to John Terry at Aston Villa, who has obviously been to many, many camps and many, many tournaments, it’s something that he always felt as well.

“We’ve got a wealth of talent, people coming back into the squad, people playing well in the league, people playing well for their country.

“I’m quietly confident of my chances but I wouldn’t say I’m super-confident.”

FA
FA

The FA and Nationwide Building Society have launched a new initiative to promote mutual respect on and off the pitch, with a national competition to design the first ever Coin for Respect.

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