After Defeat, England’s Black Soccer Players Face a Racist Outburst
LONDON – England wrapped their arms around their national football team the morning after their historic run ended in a heartbreaking defeat. But a nasty eruption of racist taunts against some of its young black players was a reminder that not everyone prides themselves on the diverse portrait of the country this team reflects.
London Metropolitan Police said on Monday they would investigate “offensive and racist social media comments directed at footballers” following the game, which England lost to Italy after three players – Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka – missed shots on goal.
The three players, who are black, are among the youngest members of a young squad that had captured the national imagination over the past four weeks as they qualified for the final match of the European Football Championship, England’s first victory in a major tournament. in 55 years.
The racist attacks – which have long plagued European football, prompting England’s top league to participate in a weekend social media blackout earlier this year – were immediately condemned by leaders such as Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William, the grandson of Queen Elizabeth, who is president of the English Football Association.
“To those who have directed racist abuse against some of the players, I say, ‘Shame on you, and I hope you will come back under the boulder from which you came out,” “Mr Johnson said at a press conference at 10 a.m. Downing Street. “This whole team played like heroes. “
Others called on Twitter and Instagram to crack down on the use of their platforms to traffic in racist language and tropes. Some pointed out that England players had made the campaign for a fairer and more equitable society a central part of their message, kneeling before matches to protest racial injustice.
“This is why we are down on our knees,” David Lammy, a black Labor MP, said on Twitter. “Pray for a better future – worthy of the values, beauty and respect exemplified by every English player.”
In another era, this type of loss – so familiarly numbed by long-suffering English fans – could have fueled a series of grievances beyond the nooks and crannies of social media. But UK newspapers were united in their support, focusing as much on the team’s inspiring run as their crushing defeat.
“It hurts… but we’re so proud of you,” the Daily Express said. “The pride of the Lions,” said The Sun, playing on the nickname derived from the team’s emblem, the Three Lions. “It all ends in tears,” said the Daily Mail, which like rivals posted a full-page photo of manager Gareth Southgate consoling distraught Mr Saka after the Italian goalkeeper saved his kick .
Mr Southgate took responsibility for the loss, saying he made the substitutions that sent two of the young players onto the pitch just minutes before the end of extra time to deal with the immense pressure of a shoot to the net.
“We decided to make the changes towards the end of the game, and we win and lose together as a team,” he told broadcaster ITV. “This is the order we arrived at. But this is my call.
For Mr. Southgate, it was a haunting and familiar ending. In 1996, as a player for the England squad, he missed a fateful penalty against Germany in the semi-finals of the European Championship. His misfortune has taken its place in a litany of near misses, early exits and missed opportunities that plagued England.
There were other reminders of the rougher side of English football history. Two hours before the match, as the excitement outside Wembley Stadium soared, hundreds of people broke through a security barrier and slipped through the turnstiles without tickets.
Security guards and police, some on horseback, tried to hold back the crowd but seemed powerless to stop them from invading the premises. This was another cause for criticism for a police department that was recently criticized for a series of tactical blunders and questionable conduct.
“There was a breach of security at Wembley Stadium, which resulted in a small number of people entering the stadium without tickets,” a police spokesperson admitted, after authorities in the stadium initially denied that this had happened.
During the second half, a spectator ran onto the pitch and had to be approached by four security guards before being escorted off the grass. Earlier, during the Italian national anthem, there were boos from the crowd – a nationalist display that marred several matches played in London.
To some public health experts, the 60,000-plus people who packed Wembley looked like a potential super-spreader event, at a time when Britain is already reporting more than 30,000 new cases of coronavirus a day.
In the aftermath of the loss, Mr Johnson prepared to tell the country on Monday that while the government moved forward with plans to lift most of the remaining restrictions on July 19, it would urge, but not force , people continue to wear face masks in confined spaces like buses and subways.
For much of the country, England’s performance in the tournament has been a unifying event – a much needed balm after 16 months of lockdown and four and a half years of Brexit wrangling. From Mr Johnson to the Queen, the team drew expressions of support, enthusiasm and sheer delight.
Yet his players, who have used their notoriety to take political positions, have also aroused mixed emotions – and not just among the racist subculture lurking online. Mr Johnson’s Home Secretary Priti Patel has refused to condemn people for booing them when the team kneels before games.
Lee Anderson, a Tory MP elected in 2019 amid a wave of pro-Brexit support for Mr Johnson’s party, vowed not to watch England games while the players kneeled, which they did again on Sunday, joined by the Italian team.
“I am a big supporter of England, I made a statement, I stand by my words,” he told conservative news channel GB News. “I’m not going to watch the game but I will support the team.”
Mr Rashford, a Caribbean-born Manchester United striker, waged a campaign that forced Mr Johnson to back down on a plan to end free lunches for children from poor families during the pandemic. After the game, some on social media urged Mr Rashford to focus on penalties and not politics.
Mr Southgate, however, has relentlessly supported his socially conscious players. In a “Dear England” letter posted to a sports website last month, he wrote that young people would inevitably have a different outlook on English compared to people of his generation.
“On this island we have a desire to protect our values and traditions – as we should – but it should not come at the expense of introspection and progress,” Mr Southgate said. “It is clear to me that we are moving towards a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our guys will play an important role in it.”
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