Beginning to See the Light: This isn’t about individuals
This isn’t about individuals; it is a culture of intolerance that has spread across the country.
‘Nella tua fredda stanza
Guardi le stelle che tremano
D’amore e di speranza
Ma il mio mistero e chiuso in me..’
Alas, it wasn’t to be. But, losing on penalties to an exceptionally good team is still an outstanding achievement, and one that we can hopefully build-on in next year’s World Cup.
However, this talented and culturally diverse squad can, hopefully, be a step-forward for the country. For too long we have looked backwards, not least in football and our World Cup win in 1966.
Despite the government this diverse team can become a catalyst for change. This change could have started with the 2012 Olympics, where we showed the cultural and organisational excellence and flair of which we are capable.
The event went-off without error, even the new stadium was completed on time, regenerating what was then one of the country’s poorest districts. The opening show, conceived and directed by Danny Boyle, was a celebration of youth, creativity, and diversity.
For some this was too ‘politically correct’ (the term ‘woke’ had yet to be coined), representing everything they didn’t like or felt threatened by, whilst for the more progressive it was, perhaps, a snapshot of the modern nation we would like to be.
Since that occasion we have had the ‘hostile environment’, Brexit, the Windrush scandal, and the ceaseless and calculated demonisation of Black Lives Matter and all things ‘woke’, a country encouraged by politicians to embrace regressive rather than progressive, riven by divides.
In such a hostile environment the diversity of the England team shines out like a beacon of progressiveness; it’s southern, it’s northern, it’s black, it’s white, it is of mixed heritage, it’s young, it’s experienced.
Other than England loosing on penalties, what was sadly inevitable was that some would shame us all. There was fighting throughout the day; a large crowd breached security and stormed into Wembley; parts of London have been trashed; and then, of course, the three England players who didn’t score their penalties are now being racially abused online.
There will be the usual arguments that it was only a small minority of fans, who don’t truly represent England. The truth is that, sadly, they represent this nasty, post-Brexit England; thuggish, self-entitlement, and a total lack of care for others are becoming national traits, some actually take pride in it. This isn’t about individuals; it is a culture of intolerance that has spread across the country.
‘Do you know when I realised we were going to win? When I heard the England fans booing the Italian national anthem,’ said Carla Gasperini, 50, a Palermo resident. ‘It fuelled our players. It wasn’t only disrespectful, it was counterproductive. I mean, you can’t kneel for the Black Lives Matter movement and then boo the national anthem of another country.’
This comes from the top, a home secretary endorsing fans who booed the England players for ‘taking the knee’, a PM who dismisses this global symbol of anti-racism, claiming that he doesn’t believe in ‘gestures’. This is the England we inhabit.
Once the furore dies down, nothing will change, because the government doesn’t want it to. Remember, that this is about staying in-power, Johnson must pander to the bigots he has helped create. He contented himself with a quick tweet, saying, ‘Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.’ Whereas previous comments about ‘piccaninnies’ and ‘watermelon smiles’ tell us far more about his true priorities.
‘nothing will change, because the government doesn’t want it to’
This time around the racism was caused by football, but only caused, the reality runs much deeper: it’s about England and racism. Previous causes have been Brexit, asylum seekers, statues. Whatever the cause it just highlights our nasty, little England tendencies.
Brexit has taken a country that was already populated by a jingoistic people and has become a catalyst for all their worst tendencies, fighting, booing other countries anthems, on-line racial abuse. This, unfortunately, is England, led by a PM who has done more than any other person to enable division and stupidity, supported by a home secretary who employs cynical and divisive rhetoric which she is ‘disgusted’ to find people have taken seriously.
Baroness Warsi; ‘Priti -we as govt, as @Conservatives need to think about our role in feeding this culture in our country. If we ‘whistle’ & the ’dog’ reacts we can’t be shocked if it barks and bites. It’s time to stop the culture wars that are feeding division. Dog whistles win votes but destroy nations.’ Or, you reap what you sew.
In a manner typical of the populist politics of this shameful government, they hijacked the football for their own ends. Before the match with Ukraine, a giant St George’s Cross was laid out in Downing Street, Johnson himself attended the semi-final against Denmark wearing a Three Lions top over his business shirt and tie, but under his suit jacket, and look similarly stupid attending Sunday’s final. Remarkable for a man whose love for the great game have previously been hidden, in favour of ping-pong, the Eton wall game, and street rugby where he famously flattened a 10-year-old.
True to form members of his horde were equally quick to grasp the nettle; Priti Patel neglected to have the package creasing ironed out before she stuck on the shirt, while Rishi Sunak forgot to snip off the sales tags. Long forgotten was their opposition to ‘bringing politics into football’.
If we ‘whistle’ & the ’dog’ reacts we can’t be shocked if it barks and bites
In fairness the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, did release a photo of himself celebrating the victory over the Danes while declaring that the team have ‘shown the best of England’. The Labour leader at least has a true claim to being a football fan.
The fact that this tournament has been more politicised isn’t a surprise, the relationship between the beautiful game and the ugly one played in Westminster has changed, as politicians have become more anxious to associate themselves with footballing success, and footballers have become more politically engaged in the decades that have passed since England lifted the Jules Rimet trophy in 1966
The England squad do not look like Tory voters, a number come from modest or challenging family circumstances. Several of the squad are effective social activists for progressive causes. Marcus Rashford is a powerful campaigner for an end to child hunger, twice forcing the government to U-turns over free school meals.
Natalie Elphicke, the Tory MP for Dover, who said; ‘‘They lost – would it be ungenerous to suggest Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics.’
Whilst she hurriedly tried to retract the statement, the response from Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner was wonderful:
‘While the country was commiserating [with] our great team, Tory MPs were sneering at the inspirational players who stepped up to feed hungry kids when they voted to leave them without food.’
Raheem Sterling has displayed moral leadership in the fight against racism. Harry Kane wore a rainbow-coloured armband to mark Pride month during the match against Germany.
Their manager, Gareth Southgate, published a superbly written ‘Dear England’ letter just before the tournament began, in which he expressed his belief in an England united not in an angry and ugly nativism, but a positive patriotism at ease with and enriched by the country’s diversity.
‘Our players are role models,’ he wrote. ‘It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.’ He celebrated the idea that ‘we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society’.
Leader such as Tony Blair would have embraced this sentiment, David Cameron would have tried to. Keir Starmer retweeted the Southgate letter as he expressed values Starmer would like to call his own. What this did highlight is how Starmer is struggling ‘to find a persuasive way to articulate a progressive patriotism on behalf of his party.’
‘struggling ‘to find a persuasive way to articulate a progressive patriotism on behalf of his party.’
The response from the Tories was a predictable put-down, saying that the England manager ‘shouldn’t be getting political’, or, you don’t share our views so ‘shut-up’. One Tory strategist suggested to the Financial Times that the letter was ‘suspiciously well-written’, insinuating that football people are too dim to be allowed to express views of their own.
No matter how he tries, Johnson and his mob, can never justify this on-field success as due to their politics, or Brexit. The diversity of the team defies their politics, of English exceptionalism, displaying the benefits of homegrown talents, with lessons and coaching from overseas managers such as Marcelo Bielsa, Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. The team has a diverse ancestry, as the sportswriter Jonathan Liew has pointed out, 13 of the 26-man squad could have chosen to play for another nation.
This diversity is at grips with current Conservativism mind, as exemplified by their views on taking the knee, which the team embraces as a collective declaration of solidarity against racism. The Conservative MP for Ashfield, Lee Anderson, issued an absurdly self-aggrandising proclamation that he would not watch ‘his beloved England team’ for so long as the players knelt at the beginning of games.
This runs deeper in the Conservative party than just one asinine backbencher. Priti Patel, the same Priti Patel who is now a replica fan, scoffed that taking the knee was ‘gesture politics’ and defended the minority of fans who booed at the players. The prime minister didn’t rebuke the home secretary and only said that he did not want fans to boo when he grasped he was on the unpopular side of that argument.
This type of politics practised by Johnson and his hordes fuels the fires of racism, or in the words of Tyrone Mings (England and Aston Villa),
‘You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.’
In truth, the team and the manager have displayed traits for more appealing than ‘the narcissistic mis-manager at Number 10 and his inept cabinet.’
This was endorsed in a report by the thinktank British Future, which found that two-thirds of white and non-white citizens agree that the team is a positive symbol of an England that ‘belongs to people of every race and ethnic background’. The inclusive England showcased by a diverse and harmonious squad with its emphasis on collective endeavour is the antithesis of the exclusive and reactionary England represented by Tories waging divisive culture wars.
It is too much to expect that the team, even in victory, could ‘unite’ a country with such profound structural and social divides, stripped of pride and aspiration and personal investment and simple joy, and treated with grubby disdain by its politicians.
‘Football is just football. Winning matches is not a shortcut to education, decency and fit leadership elsewhere.’
‘This is England
What we’re supposed to die for
This is England
Never gonna cry no more..’
- ‘In your cold room, Look at the stars that tremble, Of love and hope, But my mystery is closed in me.’
Philip’s copy arrived early this week; only one topic, no need to cogitate over it any longer. And its fair to say that no punches are pulled.
Possibly the saddest part of the aftermath of England’s defeat to Italy is how few column inches are devoted to the very many positives to come out of the run put together by Gareth Southgate and his diverse and callow band, compared with the shame and embarrassment of yet another inglorious episode from Engerland’s firm.
I suppose the ‘drinking electric soup, weeing in the street, throwing bottles and fighting all day’ headlines would have written themselves; storming the ground may have taken the less jaded and cynical by surprise, but when there are depths to be plumbed, England’s moobed, bullet headed army are your ‘men’.
Whilst this column may confine itself to the football, the familiar themes of division and hatred are never far away; the PM has struggled to distance himself from arguably racist comments made in the Hellograph, but tweets calling out the Home Secretary for feigning disgust at the online abuse aimed at three England lads is something of a nadir.
And just how smug and clever did Natalie Elphicke feel after she hit ‘send’ on her spiteful email – before it was presumably leaked by a trusted colleague; its quite a country that leaves children to go hungry whilst those convicted of sexual assault get three square meals a day in chokey.
Philip has often shared his thoughts about Mr Johnson in the past, and it is fair to say that recent events have done little to temper them: ‘Johnson is supported by a lot of ‘respectable’, ‘middle-class’ types falling for the same politics of hate their forefathers did when Mosley was strutting around in the ‘30s’.
‘The truth is that this jingoistic nationalism, is part of the English character. Deep down we are exclusive, not inclusive, regressive not progressive; Brexit just gave it space to express itself once more.’
We can only wonder what might have been if the result had gone the other way; the Italians were certainly good for their five yellow cards, and clearly garroting opposing players is no longer a sending off offence, but victory for a thoroughly decent and principled bunch of young men would not have been inappropriate.
However, it wasn’t to be, so compare and contrast Luciano Pavarotti with ‘Nessun Dorma’ and The Clash with ‘This is England’. Enjoy!
Philip is a great believer in meritocracy, and in the belief that if you want something enough you can make it happen. These beliefs were formed in his formative years, of the late 1970s and 80s