On Sunday night I was, to use footballing parlance, gutted. By Monday, after witnessing the horrific response from a mindless evil minority, I couldn’t have cared less whether we had won or lost. And today I will go even further. Here is my view on England losing the final of Euro 2020.
Better to have lost and exposed the hateful racism that followed than to have won and kept it hidden. And as long as we do something about it, losing a football match is a small price to pay.
Now is the time for a more important victory, because this is not who we are as a country. Those vile individuals who hid from view under the anonymity of social media do not speak for you and me. The bigots who defaced a mural in Manchester in honour of a football player who changed this country for the better by highlighting food poverty among children did not win.
We did as a nation, because we showed the world that this is not England and that we are bigger than a game of football.
Forget what happened on the pitch. Forget the disappointment. Events of these past few days have made me prouder than I could ever be of both our team and our country, because together the vast majority of us have shown the nation’s true spirit and humanity.
But the depressing reality is that such hatred was there in the first place. Even sadder that this hatred was over a game of football. I think I am still in shock, not at the result, but at the fact that three young black footballers could suffer such abuse. The harsh truth is they expected the racist vitriol that came their way. And that is what broke my heart.
Last week I wrote in this column that this was more than a game of football. And indeed it has proved so. It is a wake-up call to us all that racism must be defeated. How, is the question?
Firstly, social media. How lame are their excuses? They can bleat on about how they are trying their best but their best is not good enough and I can prove it. On a good friend’s post in support of our team in defeat there was written an obvious racist comment. I will not repeat it here.
Suffice to say it encompassed slang words about race and the colour of someone’s skin. I reported it. Facebook promised they would review it and come back to me. It could take 24 hours, they said. Well, it is now 30 hours and I am still waiting, while someone else who did report it got the formulaic message back that it didn’t go against their ‘Community Standards’.
Well it did and it does. As a result the comment, as I write, is still writ large. Not good enough, Facebook. I can view an advert on bed linen and within minutes my feed is bombarded with companies wanting to sell me some. But you can’t review either quickly or efficiently a racist comment? Or rather a human being can’t and your algorithm cannot recognise misspelled slang racism, for that is what it was.
Secondly, anyone can set up an account and hide behind the anonymity of online activity. This has to end. Yes, I understand the impact in countries where regimes will track down and punish those fighting for social justice. But we have to deal with our problems in this country and deal with them now. And that means there is no hiding place for evil intent.
Now to collective responsibility. It is up to each and every one of us to call out racism when we see or hear it. It is often said that what is written online, or indeed on a brick wall, is written by cowards who would never dare say it in person. But many do, whether it be from the football terraces or in everyday conversation. It is up to all of us to show the same guts those
penalty takers showed and tell any perpetrators in no uncertain terms that what they have said is unacceptable.
We should be proud of our England players. Never before has there been a team with such a social conscience. Never before has there been a team that reflects the best of us, in all our multicultural glory. Never before have we learned the lesson in such a shocking way that to be black is OK when you are winning but not if you
are deemed to be losers.
And if that means, and I don’t like the term, positive discrimination in the workplace, then so be it.
As events on Sunday have shown, we still have anything other than a level playing field.
It broke my heart to see these players lose. But it broke my heart even more to realise that though we have come a long way, people are still being judged by the colour of their skin in 21st century England. It is not acceptable.
In my view, those who booed the national anthems of other teams are part of the problem, as are those who booed players who took the knee.
I leave you this week with the words of Marcus Rashford, a fine young man who has done so much to change the lives of young people in this country.
“I can take critique of my performance all day long. My penalty was not good enough. It should have gone in. But I will never apologise for who I am and where I came from... I’m Marcus Rashford, 23-year-old black man from South Manchester. If I have nothing else, I have that”.
Well, Marcus, you, along with Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka have so much more than that. You have started a conversation that we are reminded is desperately needed. You have made me understand, once again, the pressure you go through, not in a penalty shootout, but in life.
You have made us all proud. You stood tall for your country and in doing so won more than all the glittering trophies you will lift one day.
And this gives me hope that you, and indeed anyone of colour, will 2never walk alone again.