So, in the end, it didn’t actually ‘come home’.
A valiant effort, growing into the tournament as it wore on, yet inevitably (perhaps) unravelled by a penalty shootout. So very England. We’ve seen it all before.
We can debate long and loud about exactly why we tripped up at the final hurdle – Gareth Southgate’s natural caution (which got us to the final in the first place)? Italy, the tournament’s best team, having too much for a plucky England? A highly questionable sequence of penalty takers?
In the end, we just didn’t seem to want it enough, and from a personal standpoint, some bizarre (and bizarrely timed) substitutions did nothing to help our cause. Taking off our best player Declan Rice? Leaving Jack Grealish kicking his heels until the 100th minute? Bringing on Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho purely to take a penalty, with no time to get anywhere near the game itself?
(Full disclosure: I’m a Villa fan and although I don’t believe much of the hype surrounding Jack Grealish, his effect on most of his international games cannot be overstated, particularly at a time when we needed to keep the ball and give the Italians a fresh set of problems to think about).
Anyway, t’was ever thus. Plucky losers. A nation celebrating and rolling out the red carpet simply because we actually the final, instead of falling at the semi-final stage, which is the default England setting. So very England.
Notwithstanding the (inevitable) failure when it mattered most, the campaign to reach the final of the strangest of tournaments – COVID, matches being spread across the continent instead of the usual single (or sometimes dual) host nation – had built up a head of steam and sense of national pride.
Surely this was finally, finally our time? Surely football was finally coming home?
It was not to be. And despite the sense of hope, determination and togetherness the England team had fostered as the tournament progressed, it didn’t take long for two fingers and self-obsession to rear up.
Maybe these fans would always try to do this. Maybe the effects of lockdown, and the emotion and anticipation of the within-touching-distance ‘Freedom Day’ were just too much for some. Either way, England ‘fans’ wasted no time in showing the world what we’ve been missing. It’s little wondered we are almost universally hated.
Ill-fated penalties – again…
Worse, of course, was to follow. Three Lions stepped up and took penalties in the ill-fated shootout. Those three Lions failed to convert. And those three young, talented and crestfallen Lions also happened to be black.
Social media inevitably went into meltdown and did social media-like things. Rashford, Sancho and Saka were subjected to racist abuse and the sense of pride and celebration at finally making a major final after 55 years evaporated almost instantly.
“The FA strongly condemns all forms of discrimination and is appalled by the online racism that has been aimed at some of our England players on social media.
“We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behaviour is not welcome in following the team. We will do all we can to support the players affected while urging the toughest punishments possible for anyone responsible.
“We will continue to do everything we can to stamp discrimination out of the game, but we implore government to act quickly and bring in the appropriate legislation so this abuse has real life consequences. Social media companies need to step up and take accountability and action to ban abusers from their platforms, gather evidence that can lead to prosecution and support making their platforms free from this type of abhorrent abuse.”
Government bandwagon jumping?!
It did not take long for some of the UK’s highest-profile politicians to seize the opportunity to bandwagon jump (despite stating pre-tournament that the booing of taking the knee was a personal choice).
England defender Tyrone Mings is among the more intelligent, thoughtful and nuanced of players when he’s interviewed, and fortunately, as a prominent voice in the anti-racism movement, he was happy to clarify the situation.
As much as social media can operate as a force for good, a catalyst for change, it can also serve to provide a platform for the very worst humanity has to offer.
So utterly depressing
Watching the shootout unfold on Sunday evening, the ethnicity of the penalty takers never crossed my mind. Nor, I would desperately hope, the minds of the overwhelming majority of England (in fact, ANY) fans watching.
Social media to the rescue, however, and normal service was resumed.
It’s all so utterly depressing (and sickening) that this kind of thing is still happening. I vividly recall going to matches in the 1980s where racism was rife and overt – monkey chants, bananas thrown onto the pitch at throw-ins and corners and the like – yet it seemed, over the years, that this sort of sickening behaviour was virtually eradicated.