So, it’s been five days since the Euro 2020 finals when England lost to Italy in the cruellest, most lottery-like way: penalties. It was horrible, but we should be so proud of the team and everyone involved behind the scenes. What an achievement it was to get through to the final and what an experience for the whole country! However, it was a prime example of the beautiful game becoming the ugly game.
Inevitably, certain sections of England’s fanbase lived up to their reputation and put a dampener on what should have been a moment of celebration. It started even before we lost when they started trashing London, carried on when reports of Italians being mugged came in, and continued when they broke down the barriers outside Wembley Stadium and stormed into the ground. Then there was the booing of the Italian national anthem (which is banger, by the way), and the booing when the players took a knee. Depressingly prediction, all.
When the match went to penalties it could really have gone either way. Kane took a perfect penalty; Maguire blasted his in top bins (and I really thought he might miss). Then up stepped Rashford. Now cards on the table time: I love Rashford. I think he’s a great footballer, a top guy, and what he’s done for this country, and the children in particular, in the face of adversity from the government, is beyond what you could expect. He’s 23 years old, has played 46 times for England and 271 times for Manchester United, who, like it or not, are one of the best teams in world football, and he has 100 career goals. He had also been brought on specifically to take a penalty with less than 2 minutes of extra time to be played. I’m not sure, but there’s a good chance that his penalty kick was his first touch of the ball. Also, he spent the end of the season struggling with a shoulder injury that is rumoured to require surgery. To top this off, the whole country’s expectations added an extra lot of weight on his injured shoulder, and, like it or not, he must have known that if he was to miss, he would be subject to a lot of vitriol based on the colour of his skin. That’s a lot of pressure to deal with. I was praying for him to score, not because of England winning, but because I could see what would happen if he was to miss. I wasn’t the only one with crazy foresight because Bukayo Saka tweeted yesterday that “I knew instantly the kind of hate I was about to receive and that is a sad reality.” He’s not wrong.
Rashford, Sancho and Saka didn’t miss their penalties on purpose. There is nothing they would have wanted more than to score and win the Euro championship. They knew they would have been national heroes, probably knighted, although I’m sure a few of them would have turned the title down. They didn’t miss their penalties because they hated England. They didn’t miss their penalties because of the colour of their skin. Were all the players under pressure? Yes. Were Rashford, Sancho and Saka under more pressure because of the colour of the skin? Probably. Were they right to feel that way? Arguably, yes, given the way it played it out afterwards. This was why they players have been taking the knee before matches for the last season. Racism exists. Don’t call it ‘gesture politics’ because that just trivialises it. Call it out if you see it. Don’t stand for it. It’s not on. It’s for the benefit of everyone. Would those three players have scored if they weren’t feeling the extra pressure that racism brings? Who knows? But if I could eradicate all racism and replay the penalty shoot, I’d feel a hell of a lot more confident.
Football is meant to be the beautiful game, but booing your own team and then dishing out death threats and abuse doesn’t seem that beautiful to me.
Thank you Rashford, Sancho, and Saka. Thank you Mings. Thank you Southgate. Thank you everyone else involved in the England team. I’m so proud of everything you achieved and forever grateful for the memories of this tournament. I’ve loved (almost) every minute of it.
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