Image Credit: William Brawley
Although England did not win the Euros on Sunday, I was not disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it would have been nice to have won, but I felt that no matter the result, the England team had achieved something. They had brought the country together. There was a feeling of hope in the air that couldn’t help but make you smile. It brought us all a little bit of joy, whether you were a football fan or not.
I thought this feeling would continue. When we lost, I thought that there would be a coming together where we commiserated and licked our wounds for a bit and then came back fighting, stronger and together as a nation. Perhaps I was being naïve, or maybe I was just too hopeful. All the same, I was wrong.
I woke up on Monday morning and, as I always do, I went onto the BBC. Unsurprisingly most of the headlines were about football. However, they were not about the success of England in getting to the final. They were about the racist abuse that players had received after the game, the defacing of a mural of a man who had launched a successful campaign to feed children and the ‘fans’ that broke into Wembley Stadium without tickets. England’s men had just played in their first final of an international tournament in 55 years – which was also their first ever Euros final – and this is how the nation chose to mark the occasion.
Both as a team and as individuals, the players have done so much for us as a country, with each one being socially aware and active. The team have taken the knee at the beginning of every Euros game. Marcus Rashford launched an overwhelmingly successful campaign which raised £2.7 million (as of January 2021) to help children who receive free school meals. Raheem Sterling has called out the racist media coverage of players of colour in comparison to white players, notably playing a game four hours after he had been racially assaulted.
I could go on and on. This England team are a group of role models who I am proud to have representing our country. I am proud that Bukayo Saka, who is 19, will continue to represent our country for years to come. These players have improved our country – not just for the month of the Euros – and this is the way that we have thanked them.
Many people saw this coming. Gareth Southgate himself wrote a letter before the competition started titled ‘Dear England’, condemning prior and future abuse of any kind towards his players. He also reminded us that “beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact [the players] can have on society”. The impact of the players has certainly been highlighted over the past few weeks with stories of players’ small acts of kindness towards fans. Mason Mount gave his shirt to a girl in the crowd, Harry Kane recorded a video message for the family of a boy with cancer and Jack Grealish gave his football boots to a young fan after the loss in the Euros final. The team selflessly gives not just money, but their time, and uses their platform to help and bring smiles to those who look up to them.
I have heard a lot of fans and commentators say that the England team will take the next year to learn from their failure, so that at the World Cup they will come back better. That might be true, I am not knowledgeable enough about football to give my verdict on that. What I do hope is that we take the time now to learn from our failure. To look further inside our country and address the racism that is still ever-present in society. I hope that the next time England play and the feeling of unity returns, the bubble does not burst. I hope that a person of colour’s life does not depend on whether a ball ends up in a net.
I am devastated that after the England football team has done so much, we have reacted in this way. They went above and beyond. They have stepped forward as role models for a new generation of children. They have taken on responsibility for changing football culture in this country. They have used their platform in a positive way. They have launched campaigns, changed society for the better and we have taken the society which they are building only to throw it back in their faces. We have done all this whilst demanding that they win next time: hardly a statement of support.
We have not honoured their achievements and given them the respect that they deserve. We were so quick to attack them because we discovered that, like most of us, they fail sometimes. We repaid them for their success by abusing those who brought us so much hope and joy.
The England football team did not let us down.
We let them down.