I am a football writer who was sent to a football match to write about football, and had I been able to stick to that, I would have been much happier. It can be uncomfortable lapsing into politics in the end of the paper people flip it over to in order to escape all that.
But by doing nothing, saying nothing, we are not neutral, we are contributing to the problem.
Racism is a societal problem, an educational problem, a political problem but it was football – three England players missing penalties against Italy – which gave it such unedifying prominence again, so it again became a football problem.
So therefore football must act, and it has been trying to.
Since George Floyd’s murder, players have taken a knee before games to argue for racial equality. Football League clubs have done it sporadically, Premier League clubs consistently, but it really became a talking point when England did it before and during a major tournament. Initially it was more booed than applauded but as time went on, vocal support outweighed opposition.
England could have saved valuable energy and focus by doing nothing, as many rivals did, but are led by Gareth Southgate, Marcus Rashford Tyrone Mings, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and others who do not consider that an option.
Sport, together with fans and a media which, let us be honest, is far too white-skinned to be representative, tried a social media blackout in May.
The Premier League and other bodies have ploughed money and effort – admittedly not enough – into organisations such as Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card for years. Footballers talk to schoolchildren for these bodies.
Football taking this seriously only shows it needs more help.
But the Government is doing nothing.
The social media companies are doing as little as they can.
Actually, that is not entirely fair. This government is not doing nothing. When asked about taking the knee its Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said: “I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture politics.”
Patel likes posting photographs of herself on social media wearing an England shirt still bearing the creases from its packaging to support them on the eve of a final once she realises the weight of public opinion, but really dislikes gesture politics.
Like Boris Johnson, she defended those who booed taking the knee, albeit the Prime Minister changed tune when he felt the wind blowing in his face.
Mings tweeted of Patel’s words – her pre-tournament ones, not those from the bandwagon – “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘gesture politics’ and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”
It feels like more of this country’s most capable politicians work at England’s training complex than either side of the House of Commons.
Demanding “personal responsibility” means those whose job is looking after the country do not have to take any.
Johnson and Patel condemning indefensible abuse doled out to Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka for both missing penalties and being black as if they were somehow connected was the right first step, but the easy step. Doing something about it takes more than a few seconds.
Likewise, social media companies removing a welter of disgusting posts – over 1,000 tweets by Monday morning – was a good first step and although harder and more costly than speaking an intelligible sentence, really was the least they could do.
Many footballers do not want to leave social media. Harry Maguire spoke during the tournament of how it penetrated England’s Covid-19 bubble with goodwill. It gave Mings the platform to excoriate Patel.
Finding excuses to do nothing is not hard either.
Many who booed taking the knee argued it was promoting Marxist ideology – stop sniggering, I am serious – despite repeated public assurances from Southgate and his players, some of whom probably do not know who Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels play for, let alone their politics, that they were not.
If it was a pro-Marxist protest, it was the worst one ever. You can take the excuse of keeping politics out of football – say speaking out is someone else’s job, argue it is a societal problem, cite personal responsibility and freedom of speech, try to avoid giving lowlifes the oxygen of publicity – but the time comes when inaction is inexcusable.
If more people in positions of responsibility listened to football, maybe young men like Sancho, Saka and Rashford who have done genuine public service on, and especially but not only in the latter case, off the field would not have endured what they did, and the country’s reputation would not have been sullied as it has been.
Do something, Prime Minister – not slap-on-the-wrist words, meaningful, enforced laws.
Do something Facebook, Twitter and the tech companies, before this happens again, not after it has happened. Make users identifiable and accountable.
Do something because it is your job. There is only so much everyone else can do.