There is something unifying, almost tribal about the game of football. Football brings together different age groups, genders, races, even classes. Whether you like the beautiful game or not, nobody can deny the passion the football fans have for their team. The fact that so many millions of us tune into the big games to watch our town/city/country score goals shows how much the game is rooted in the fabric of our society.
When I found out that England has qualified for the Euro 2020 final I did find myself wondering if this might be the healing our nation so badly needs. It was great to see a team of focused energetic players, as passionate about the people they share a country with as they are about the game itself. A team who young people can really look up to as role models.
Individuals like Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling stand out as genuinely philanthropic people who use their high profile as International footballers to do charity work and put something back into their communities. Indeed the entire England team had confirmed they would be donating a sizeable part of their prize money to the NHS, a selfless gesture that would have been a gift of around ten million pounds. These are good men doing good work.
After the carnage of Brexit and the long weary months of Covid 19 the football championship was a welcome respite from the gloom. A high point of the summer. As the England team edged closer to the trophy and as competitors like Spain and Germany dropped out there was a real sense that football might finally, at long last, be ‘coming home’ to English shores.
For those of us more interested in politics than sport the success of the England team offered a victory of a different kind. A chance to unify communities who had been bitterly divided since Brexit. Even a chance to reclaim the English flag from thugs and right wing nationalists. It was our opportunity to come together as a country. United, strong and proud.
Unfortunately the promise of unity was not to be. After the sad defeat of the team during penalties, the country woke up to some of the most prolific and vitriolic racism I have ever seen so publicly expressed. Despite the fact that these talented lads and their manager had made it all the way to the final, many of the racist moronic thugs who have given English football fans a bad name for so many years decided to blame the three missed penalty takers for the defeat.
To most football fans or casual observers of the game, the three missed penalty players were young lads on the team. I doubt any normal person even clocked that it happened to be three black men who missed the penalties. But sadly there was a large number of racists who not only tried to make a connection between lost penalty and race but who also resorted to extreme racial abuse and hatred, targeting these three men not for their footballing ability but for the colour of their skin.
It got so bad on social media that at one point the racist ‘N’ word was actually trending on Twitter.
All the usual tropes were trotted out and threats were made against the players. A wanton act of vandalism was committed against Marcus Rashford’s image. ITV reported that within minutes “the trio’s social media pages were quickly flooded with racist comments.“
And thinking this low IQ racist mentality comes from the unfairly stigmatised working class would be a big mistake. The hatred was also seen in the peeople we have elected to represent our country.
Three young men, all of whom had worked hard to represent their country at the height of their profession were subjected to racial abuse, harassment and hatred because of their skin colour.
To put the racism in context, it got so bad that even Tommy Robinson called it out.
And the racism wasn’t the only way the England fans disgraced themselves. Brawling in the streets, storming Wembley prior to the match, throwing bottles at each other, attacking Italy supporters and even beating up the father of a nine year old boy in front of him.
We were also reminded (again, trending on Twitter) that domestic violence surges in the wake of big football defeats. Some thugs are such snivelling little cowards that they go home and beat their partners up because their football team lost. Pathetic.
England team captain Harry Kane posted on Twitter today:
He’s right. We don’t want you. We don’t want the thugs, the yobs and the racists. We don’t want people who post the N word at players who have given it their all for their country. We don’t want kids to have to see fighting in the streets or be denied the chance to go to a match because a small minority make the environment so toxic and dangerous that parents are frightened to expose their kids to it.
No matter how well that team played, no matter what an excellent job the coach Gareth Southgate did England did not deserve that trophy.
And until we start to realise football isn’t just about kicking a ball it is about kicking the undesirables out of the sport and kicking racism out of our culture then I don’t blame that trophy for not coming home.
Would you want to come home to this?
(Photo posted Anton Ferdinand who clearly has the right view.)