Stuart Rayner - Boo boys have dragged football to its knees heading into Euro 2020

“It’s something I’m going to cherish for the rest of my life,” said Rotherham United winger Chiedozie Ogbene of the night he made history and yet he had to spend much of it talking about morons. You had to feel for him.

Republic of Ireland's Chiedozie Ogbene (right) and Hungary's Andras Schafer (centre) and Janos Hahn battle for the ball in their friendly match.
Republic of Ireland's Chiedozie Ogbene (right) and Hungary's Andras Schafer (centre) and Janos Hahn battle for the ball in their friendly match.

Welcome to the depressing state of 2021 football and buckle up for more to come in the European Championship.

Ogbene’s substitute appearance in the Republic of Ireland’s friendly against Hungary made him the first African-born player to appear for the country, but more focus was on the home fans who booed Ireland’s players “taking the knee” before kick-off.

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England’s players received the same treatment before last week’s Middlesbrough friendlies against Austria and Romania.

Rotherham's Chiedozie Ogbene. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Some said they were booing because they objected to the Marxist politics of the Black Lives Matters movement. England said – before and after, again and again – they did not support those politics, they were only protesting against racism. It makes you despair that anyone could object so strongly to that.

It will happen again on Sunday. This time, though, it will be at Wembley in a competitive game broadcast across the world. If the boos are not drowned out by applause it will be a national embarrassment.

Ogbene has called for UEFA to take stronger action but, as my colleague Chris Waters outlined this week when talking about the offensive tweets sent by England cricketer Ollie Robinson, this is about changing mindsets even more than actions.

There is surely a very real danger if this happens it will be more than just shameful for the country but costly for the national football team.

England's Jack Grealish and Kalvin Phillips take a knee. Picture: PA

International football is a hard sell at the best of times and many of those players excited by it have alternatives.

With few exceptions, club managers do not want their star players jetting off playing for their countries because the one thing Chris Wilder and Jurgen Klopp agreed on as they bickered over substitutes last season is that club managers are selfish.

Many is the player dubiously pulled out of international matches only to have made a remarkable recovery the next time the Premier League’s cheesy anthem blares over a stadium tannoy. The list of premature international retirements is long, and will be longer by late July.

Plenty of fans only really give a monkey’s about international football between mid-June and mid-July every even-numbered summer (though that timescale has gone to pot for 18 months).

So would it be a great shock if a top England player, being leant on by his club manager to “rest up” during international breaks, thought that actually he would rather not wear the Three Lions if it meant being booed by numbskulls for having the temerity to show he thought racism was bad? Maybe, just maybe, it might not be his idea of fun.

Ogbene could have played international football for Nigeria. He still can because a friendly for someone else does not make him ineligible.

He is not unusual in that respect. Maybe had it been Irish, not Hungarian fans booing, switching sides might even have crossed his mind.

Budapest will host four potentially cringeworthy matches over the coming weeks.

Of course some people do not have a choice. Whatever their passports say, wherever their grandparents are from, they are English, Welsh, Liechtensteinian or whatever through and through. But in the real world, plenty will have decisions to make.

According to research by a national website this week, 169 of the 622 players picked for the European Championship have dual nationality, 23 triple nationality and former Sheffield United loanee Ethan Ampadu quadruple. They admit it is a big under-estimate because it is only the ones they – never mind the players – know about.

Declan Rice is one of five to have played for another country (Republic of Ireland in his case) but this summer’s poster boy is Manchester City’s Aymeric Laporte, the French youth international called up by the senior side last season but unable to play through injury. Last month he was granted Spanish nationality and on Friday he made his debut.

Rice is reckoned to be one of 14 England squad members who could have qualified for someone else but by the same token 16 English-qualified players are in other squads. Yorkshiremen Liam Cooper and Dan James are with Scotland and Wales respectively.

A huge number of players – match-winning players – could turn their backs on England or international football altogether if this disgusting open hostility to opposing racism continues.