Inside Bulgaria’s ‘Lauta Army’: The radical hooded hooligan gang who abused England’s black players

They were at the centre of the shameful scenes of England’s black players being racially abused in Sofia on Monday night, proudly boast of fighting rival fans and have a history of violence and racism.

This is the Lauta Army – the radical Neo Nazi group of racist football thugs who marred Monday night’s victory for England in Bulgaria. 

Dressed in black, members of the group directed vile racist abuse towards England’s black players and were also seen making the Nazi salutes during the overshadowed Euro 2020 qualifier.

England players were subjected to such a torrent of abuse that two of the three protocols part of UEFA’s new approach to combat racism were activated. But the culprits are used to this.

***WARNING: BELOW VIDEO CONTAINS SCENES OF PHYSICAL VIOLENCE*** 

An image of members of the Lauta Army at the Bulgarian Cup final last year, where they beat their rivals Botev Plovdiv

An image of members of the Lauta Army at the Bulgarian Cup final last year, where they beat their rivals Botev Plovdiv

An image of members of the Lauta Army at the Bulgarian Cup final last year, where they beat their rivals Botev Plovdiv

Videos posted on YouTube show members of the Lauta Army meeting up to fight in fields away from their team's matches

Videos posted on YouTube show members of the Lauta Army meeting up to fight in fields away from their team's matches

Videos posted on YouTube show members of the Lauta Army meeting up to fight in fields away from their team’s matches

The footage shows men, some of them shirtless, fighting in brutal violent scenes in Bulgaria across recent years

The footage shows men, some of them shirtless, fighting in brutal violent scenes in Bulgaria across recent years

The footage shows men, some of them shirtless, fighting in brutal violent scenes in Bulgaria across recent years

There are several videos on YouTube of the Lauta army clashing with supporters of Lokomotiv Plovdiv's fierce rivals Botev

There are several videos on YouTube of the Lauta army clashing with supporters of Lokomotiv Plovdiv's fierce rivals Botev

There are several videos on YouTube of the Lauta army clashing with supporters of Lokomotiv Plovdiv’s fierce rivals Botev

Linked to Bulgarian top-flight side Lokomotiv Plovdiv, the Lauta Army group of supporters have already faced UEFA sanctions for racism once this season at club level before Monday night’s game. 

Lokomotiv were ordered to close their stadium for their next home European fixture due to racist behaviour from supporters during a 1-0 defeat against French side Strasbourg in the Europa League qualifiers. 

The punishment from UEFA prompted the Lauta Army to declare their opposition to them, which is why one of their members were seen holding up a UEFA top which read: ‘No respect,’ on Monday night.

This is a group with a history of involvement in violence and racism. The Lauta Army is believed to have around 500 members and is almost exclusively made up of males, many of whom formerly served in the Bulgarian army. 

The gang adopted their name from the surrounding park of Plovdiv’s 13,000-seater home, Lauta – which is the venue for some of their pre-planned fights.

The Lauta army have been bringing terror to the terraces for over 25 years, having been founded in 1992 by ex-soldiers, and runs their own gymnasium, where members lift weights, are provided with training in boxing and martial arts and can take part in yearly boot camps.

Members of the gang often dress up in all black – as they were seen on Monday – for arranged fights with rival firms, which are often filmed and bragged about on their social media sites.

On Monday, while watching their national team play, an announcement warning fans about their behaviour was first made over the PA system before play was temporarily suspended minutes before half-time, which prompted the Lauta army to take their leave.

The Lauta Army pride themselves on a love of football and violence - and are linked to the Bulgarian club Lokomotiv Plovdiv

The Lauta Army pride themselves on a love of football and violence - and are linked to the Bulgarian club Lokomotiv Plovdiv

The Lauta Army pride themselves on a love of football and violence – and are linked to the Bulgarian club Lokomotiv Plovdiv

The 'Lauta Army' were in Sofia on Monday night and involved in the abuse of England players as they beat Bulgaria

The 'Lauta Army' were in Sofia on Monday night and involved in the abuse of England players as they beat Bulgaria

The ‘Lauta Army’ were in Sofia on Monday night and involved in the abuse of England players as they beat Bulgaria

Fans wearing hoods performed Nazi salutes in the stadium, while England's black players were subjected to monkey chants

Fans wearing hoods performed Nazi salutes in the stadium, while England's black players were subjected to monkey chants

Fans wearing hoods performed Nazi salutes in the stadium, while England’s black players were subjected to monkey chants

The Lauta Army banner was on show in front of a section of Bulgarian fans where the offensive chanting originated

The Lauta Army banner was on show in front of a section of Bulgarian fans where the offensive chanting originated

The Lauta Army banner was on show in front of a section of Bulgarian fans where the offensive chanting originated

Gareth Southgate confirmed after the 6-0 victory that the game would have been abandoned if there was another incident, but no discriminatory language was reported in the second half.   

The Lauta Army had earlier met outside a nearby metro station, marching to the ground in an organised formation while singing and performing Nazi salutes, according to witnesses.

The gang of extremist right-wing thugs have established a reputation as one of the most violent football organisations in Europe over the years and are also understood to be involved in running protection and extortion rackets.

There are several videos on YouTube of the Lauta army clashing with supporters of Lokomotiv Plovdiv’s fierce rivals Botev – one of which shows them chasing the Botev fans down the motorway and making them surrender after they refused to agree to an organised fight.

Extreme violence has become a staple of the Plovdiv derby. In 2009, players and coaches from both teams started fighting after the final whistle while fans invaded the pitch, throwing bottles and smoke bombs.

In 2014, the derby game had to be abandoned in the first half due to crowd trouble.

Lokomotiv Plovdiv fans climb fences during their Europa League game against French club Strasbourg in August of this year

Lokomotiv Plovdiv fans climb fences during their Europa League game against French club Strasbourg in August of this year

Lokomotiv Plovdiv fans climb fences during their Europa League game against French club Strasbourg in August of this year

The Lauta army are known to travel to Lokomotiv Plovdiv's home and away matches in huge numbers

The Lauta army are known to travel to Lokomotiv Plovdiv's home and away matches in huge numbers

The Lauta army are known to travel to Lokomotiv Plovdiv’s home and away matches in huge numbers

Here, they are seen clashing with police after trying to storm into the opposing fans' end during a game against Marek

Here, they are seen clashing with police after trying to storm into the opposing fans' end during a game against Marek

Here, they are seen clashing with police after trying to storm into the opposing fans’ end during a game against Marek

In the same year, the Lauta army attacked Beroe fans with baseball bats as they made their way towards the away entrance before clashing with police.

In a game against Marek a few years ago, they were also embroiled in a huge tear-up with police after trying to storm the end of the opposing fans.

One Lokomotiv Plovdiv season ticket holder who did not want to be named told MailOnline: ‘Everybody who follows our team is scared of the Lauta Army because we know what they are capable of.

‘They are more than just football hooligans. They have political connections and use their power to make money. Nobody at the club or within Bulgarian football does anything about groups likes these and that’s what is killing our game.’

Their aggressive and racist behaviour during games has resulted in Lokomotiv Plovdiv being fined and forced to play behind closed doors on numerous occasions in the past. 

Now, not only have their actions caused friction between the government and the Bulgarian FA, but they have also embarrassed their entire nation.

But even that seems unlikely to stop the Lauta army.

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