As the Euro 2020 tournament came to an end last weekend with England narrowly missing out on their first ever European Championship with a penalty shootout defeat against Italy we saw the positives and the negatives of English society. I wanted to explore what we have seen in the last 4 weeks and what it means for English culture moving forward.
Bringing the country together
There is no doubt that Euro 2020 was an enormous lift for the country and helped unify divisions that have been widening within British society since way before Covid hit our shores. Let’s face it, the country has been divided ever since the 2016 Brexit referendum and gaps between different fractions of society have been growing ever since. Throw in a year of lockdown because of the pandemic and what you have is a deeply divided country with tensions at an all time high. Indeed it was going to take something really big and powerful to reunite the country once again. I’ve always said that football unites people unlike any other sport in the world, people may say that I’m biased because I am a football fan, but I honestly believe this to be the case, especially when it comes to this country. Whether people like it or not the sport of football is deep rooted within English culture and yet again we’ve witnessed the power of football in these last 4 weeks. Yes, the English Football Team played their part by getting all the way to the final, the boys did incredibly well and by doing so left an entire nation feeling very proud of what we have accomplished. However, even before the knockout stages and while we were still in the group rounds you could feel the nation really getting behind the team, more and more people were tuning into football, some for the first time. As England’s momentum in the competition grew so did the overwhelming support of the country and in doing so we witnessed a unified England for the first time in about 6 years. All of a sudden it didn’t matter what your political views were, or what your opinion on Brexit was, or whether you agreed with the Covid vaccination, race, religion, politics went out the window as people all begun to unite for a common cause rather than against one.
Fathers and sons
What I found really interesting about this Euros is people were beginning to fall in love with football for the first time, one of my good friends Patrick, his son Tom really got into this tournament and really started supporting England. After going round their house for the final and seeing the way father and son were interacting and both getting into the final it took me back to when I first fell in love with the game at Euro 96. Maybe it was because both tournaments were held in the country or maybe it was something else, but as the penalty shootout begun and I saw Tom sitting on Patrick’s lap, both of them glued to the screen it reminded me of that quarter final in Euro 96 when we played Spain and me sitting on my dad’s lap doing exactly the same thing and falling in love with the game in the same way Tom did with this Euros. Not only was it a beautiful side, but it just reiterated to me the power that football has.
The ugly side
The England team hadn’t even arrived at Wembley for the final when we started to see videos on social media of supporters rioting in the streets of London with bottles and glasses, even outside Wembley people were fighting with stewards trying to get in without tickets. Now the reality is most of these people probably wouldn’t have been football fans, they would’ve probably been EDL idiots just wanting to pick a fight, however it’s still demonstrating the ugly side of English society and confirmed to the world the stereotypical image of English football fans as being hooligans. As if this wasn’t bad enough things were going to get worse after the game as 3 English players, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka all missed their penalties in the shootout. Ordinarily, this shouldn’t have been an issue, however because the players were black in skin colour we again saw the deep rooted divisions within the society that let’s be honest has plagued this country for over a 100 years. When you hear Gary Neville saying that he knew the minute all 3 players missed their penalties that we were going to wake up to headlines about these players getting racist abuse on Monday morning, you know that there is a serious racism problem within our society. Now people can be in denial about this as much as they want, but the facts are clear, all 3 players receive a barrage of racist abuse on their social media accounts all directed at the ethnic origins. Even the Marcus Rashford mural was vandalised with racist slurs all over it. However much we hate this behaviour, and believe me I hate it with a real passion, the fact of the matter is this has become engraved into our society and racism is now becoming a part of modern day language. How many times will you hear someone say “I’m nipping to the Paki shop” or making jokes about “Polish plumbers?” These are racist terms that are used in everyday language within British culture and we need to stop using them, by condoning these phrases what we are actually saying is it’s okay to be racists which it isn’t. The amount of time I’ve heard people asking “why should Black Lives Matter more?” The fact that we are living in a society where that question is being asked when it’s clear as day what the Black Lives Matter movement is really about tells you everything about British society right now.
So where do we go from here? Well, in my opinion it all starts at the top, you cannot battle racism when our own Prime Minister is an outgoing racist. Boris Johnson only 4 weeks ago told people it was alright to boo the England players while they took the knee, he has also made several Islamophobic comments that have been well publicised, one of the most offensive being when he referred to Muslim women who choose wear the vail as looking like letterboxes and bank robbers. Now I know people are going to say he did come out and condemn the racist abuse that the 3 English players got, but because of his racist comments in the past this was a little bit like the pot calling the kettle black, pardon the pun. Boris is the pin up boy for all these right wing extremist group who are at the heart of this racism issue within our community, when you’ve got the likes of Tommy Robinson publicly endorsing Boris to be elected as Prime Minister then you know you’ve got a serious racism issue if the man gets into power, which he did. If you’re really serious about ending this racism issue in the country, we need to elect a Prime Minister that actually believe in equality for all and isn’t just doing lip service.
We also need to think about revamping our education system, especially the history subject. Kids get taught all about the good that the British empire did, but conveniently we don’t get taught about the negative impact the empire had on the rest of the world, this needs to be addressed. I’m not asking for us to scare little children about how barbaric the empire was or how they slaughtered millions of innocent people all over the world just because of the colour of the skin, what I’m saying is we need to educate our children about the mistakes this country has made so that the next generation of politicians, Prime Ministers and general society do not make them again. It’s all well and good Boris saying we need to be proud of our past and we should not edit our history regarding the protests about the statue of Winston Churchill, but yet again these comments demonstrates how Boris is not fit to lead this country, he’s unable to understand the concept of racism and is unwilling to unite us all. People don’t want to edit British history, what we want is recognition that a lot of what the empire did during the slave trade was completely and totally wrong and it is only through the acknowledgment of this that you’re going to be able to move forward and finally have a real attempt of combating racism in this country.
Gareth Southgate has done in 4 weeks what no Tory leader has been able or willing to do in the 11 years they have been in power. Southgate and the players have managed unify the country even if it was only for 4 weeks, they managed to pull everyone together and demonstrate to the world the best of English society, and while people are calling for him to get knighted why not go on better, why not give him Boris’s job? He’s done a better job of it in 4 weeks than our so called Prime Minister has done in the last year and a half.
A lot of good came out of having part of the Euros in this country and I really do hope that we can use the positives to move forward and build a country that we can all be proud of. No matter your race, religion, gender or sexuality we should all learn to live in harmony with one another. That’s what football is all about, bringing people together and healing the divisions. To misquote a famous Liverpool manager, it’s much more important than just a game