TWENTY years after making his international debut in Sofia, Jonathan Woodgate has called for Bulgaria to be banned and those who directed racial abuse towards England’s players this week to be jailed.

Woodgate, now the head coach at Middlesbrough, had fond memories of his first cap when he appeared alongside Sol Campbell at the heart of the England defence during a 1-1 draw in June 1999.

That is why it saddened him to hear and see the events of Monday night when a number of England players, including debutant Tyrone Mings, were subjected to abuse from a number of Bulgaria fans. Bulgarian police have identified 15 supporters they suspect are responsible for the abuse and arrested six of them.

“Firstly, I think it is absolutely disgusting what they faced in Bulgaria,” said Woodgate. “England had a protocol to go through and stood up to them really. It could have gone two ways, you could have taken the players off or let the football do the talking.

“Bulgaria should be banned. Any fan who has done it should be jailed for racial abuse. The team should be banned by UEFA. It is appalling. Full credit to the set of England players because I thought they handed it really well.

“It was Tyrone Mings’ full debut, so to handle that on his full debut … I don’t know what the world has come to. In some countries it seems to have gone back quite a few steps to be honest with you.

“It needs UEFA to ban them, take those guilty to prison, it’s disgusting. It should not happen in this modern era, this game. It is sad it is still in the game. If one of our fans racially abuses someone I’d expect them to be put in prison.”

Middlesbrough have a zero tolerance towards racism and actively promote an anti-racism campaign called Riversidebyside.

Woodgate recalls that night in Bulgaria in 1999 when he appeared for England for the first time as being fine, but he insists he would be happy to take his players off the pitch if it happened now – while still praising the decisions made by Gareth Southgate and his squad.

He said: “You go to games and bad things have happened. It’s terrible. It should be banned. It has got worse in some countries. There have been half empty stadiums, fines but they should be banned by UEFA. Get them out of the competition, do it. Why are we letting certain countries give players racial abuse? Get them out of the competition.”

Middlesbrough and EFL clubs have been given fresh advice and information about the protocol inn place should such issues occur during club matches.

Woodgate said: “I’d like to take my players off the pitch and stand up to it. We are showing this can’t happen that way. If we do that, what happens then?

“We do need to stand up to them and that is a way to stand up to them. By the way I thought England’s performance was top drawer on Monday night. But it needs to stop.”