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racism in English football could be having its last hurrah

Hooliganism just isn’t cricket

By Ricky Browne

When it comes to race relations, the result of the much-hyped England-Italy EURO 2020 final was really the worst possible one.

English fans and much of the population of the United Kingdom – except maybe for a large group of Scots – were hoping and even expecting the greatest English football victory since winning the World Cup at Wembley against West Germany in 1966.

In fact, the English team did amazingly well to get to the finals, and always seemed to have more in the tank, so that they would potentially beat whoever they faced in their next match.

While it seemed clear to some that the public in general and the media at large may have had a preference for the white players over the black players, as the games progressed there was less negativity over Raheem Sterling, and a much more apparent national feeling of support for the whole team.

Kane and Rice take a knee before Wednesday’s game against Austria Photo: RYAN BROWNE/NMC POOL

The team had been “taking the knee” at the beginning of each of their games, to highlight the need for removing racism from the game. Some people took offense at this being too political an action – given its links to the Black Lives Matter movement originating in the United States – and had even booed the players for the act.

But as England progressed and the players continued to take the knee, fans seemed less bothered – saving their booing instead for the anthem of the opposing side.

Football, it must be said, is not known for its genteel supporters. Its hard to imagine cricket fans, or Wimbledon’s tennis fans or even rugby fans from taking on the extreme boorish behaviour of many football fans. Who’s ever heard of a cricket hooligan?

But the point is that the racist undertones seemed to be less apparent as England progressed and as it started to look like England could actually win this thing.

Had England won – even with penalties – with the majority of the goals being scored by black players, the outpouring of national celebration would have obliterated any racist comments that might have been floating around.

Marcus Rashford after missing his penalty during the England-Italy Euro 2020 final. Photograph: Frank Augstein/Reuters

Had England lost, but with a good showing by the team’s black players, the ensuing racism might have been limited.

Or if it had gone to penalties, and three white English players instead of black ones managed to miss the goal – there would have been perhaps lots of support for the black players who had given it their all.

So win, lose or draw (not that that last one was a possibility) any result could have helped to reduce racism towards black players.

The only result that would cause the kind of nastiness we have seen, would be the one where three talented and admired black players failed to hit the back of the net during penalties – any football player’s worst nightmare. And one where the two remaining white guys struck it.

This unfortunately gave some invisible racists the opportunity to blast off some racist memes which spread over social media like wild fire through a parched forest. The memes – wherever they came from – were spread by people who found it funny, people who found it true and people who supported it and wanted to up the racial tensions in the UK.

Gareth Southgate consoles Bukayo Saka after his missed penalty

Unfortunately the memes were also spread by people who were disgusted by them. A friend of mine sent the meme to me via WhatsApp about an hour after the game – showing the speed and diligence that the meme-makers worked with. Her sending me that meme in a personal message was not so bad, because the meme would get no further than my eyes.

But another friend posted it on her Facebook page saying “Look how disgusting this is” thereby displaying the admittedly disgusting image to all of her hundreds of Facebook friends, who could then pick it up and put it on their Facebook pages ad infinitum.

That image could have been created by some racist white English person with an axe to grind. Or, it could just have likely been created by a Russian bot – designed to inflame racial tensions in Britain. Or it could have been created by some ignorant person from another continent who dislikes black people. Both have happened before.

England’s Jadon Sancho was one of three players to miss his penalty in the shootout

So the majority of these memes may not have been English-based, though t in all likelihood many of them were.

But if the rationale behind the racist tweets was to increase the racial divide, it looks like it hasn’t worked – and may even have achieved the opposite.

The racist graffiti that was painted over a mural of Marcus Rashford in Withington, Manchester, is a case in point. Just two hours after the act of racist vandalism, a resident had covered up the insult, and later hundreds of people came to the mural to put on post-it-notes of admiration and love for Marcus.

In conversations I had with young, white men in my town near London, they all gave their support to the black players and denounced the behaviour of the racists. Not only of the racists, but also of the hooligans who had beaten anyone they thought might be Italian or an Italian supporter.

Better luck next time? Photo: PA

In the focus on the terrible racism experienced by the black players, it is this aspect that has been largely overlooked.

Italian fans in Italy didn’t take too kindly to England supporters booing during the singing of the Italian national anthem – and they let loose with their own images on social media, with placards that insulted the Queen.

The internet can be a nasty place. And so can football stadiums.

It will be interesting to see how this will effect support for the English team going through to the World Cup in Qatar next year. Will a large group of English people say they want nothing to do with the support or the hooliganism it creates? Or will people support the English team even more, to show their support of players no matter their race?

At the end of the game, it could be that this was the last hurrah for racism towards black English players from English supporters. That kind of behaviour just isn’t cricket.

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