For those about to look away…this is not just about football….
As ever a small group of people spoil it for the rest.
These days I will always want Scotland to beat England ( even though I am an adopted English- Scot) but I will give credit where it is due, England had a great tournament and fell just short. They are a team on the way up and they have brilliant young players who have a great future ahead of them . If not now they should , in time, look back with pride. Regret can strengthen you.
But there is a problem, and it is nothing to do with the young exceptional ambassadors for their sport and country that played with the three lions on their shirt. Some of them are the leading proponents for social change and role models in their country .
While people in England took understandable and appropriate pride in the performance of their team, others in a show of gratuitous xenophobia; booed other team’s national anthems, racially abused the players who missed penalties, idiots set off fireworks, fools tried to break into the stadium and thugs fought the police in central London and attacked and racially abused Italian and before that Danish fans in Central London . ( The latter was hardly reported.)
Outcome? England will probably need to forget the notion of hosting the World Cup in the near future, organisers are looking for something rather different as the face of football.
Football, its supporters its traditions are in some ways an allegory for a nation .
Italy were fantastic in the second half of the game while being in some cases , and to be charitable, “ pragmatic” in their “ they shall not pass “mentality. But the reality, the unacceptable reality to those who cannot process disappointment and who, express themselves through racism and violence, is that Italy were just, better . They deserved to win, and that is the problem with exceptionalism based on xenophobia and the hyped expectations that surround it . When it hits upon reality , then it has nowhere to go other than to explode.
Scotland has its own challenges so let’s neither be complacent nor focus our concerns solely down South, we have a sectarian poison that equally needs to be challenged , we have prejudices that we also need to address. . The difference I sense is that we have leadership that sees that as a challenge to be met and by and large a media that recognises it for what it is and a tendency to ( sometimes too much ) critical self reflection .
It took a long time for anyone in establishment to challenge the booing by the England fans of other’s national anthems and the fools and the racists who also abused the bending of the knee. Reporting media, were content to emphasise a spirit of understandable positive nationalist outpouring while ignoring the elements that tarnished “ Brand England .” Encapsulated within this footballing allegory we saw the two sides of nationalism, the positive and the negative . But media were slow to report the negative . Particularly the BBC. Is it not acceptable as a news narrative ? Why on the day were the commentators silent about the booing ? Why did politicians not pick up on it?
Probably for some time before that, but certainly since 2016 the unacceptable has been given an acceptable face . It was unfashionable and deemed inappropriate to aim the charge of xenophobia at some elements of the Brexit cause. The truth is that the vast majority of those who supported Brexit did not have that motivation, but some did. I met it on the streets , I heard it in the pubs, yet we are supposed to pretend it didn’t exist? We are supposed to accept that politicians did not exploit it for their own ends?
The genie in the bottle is oh so tempting .But have you forgotten? That is why it is in the bottle.
When we have a PM whose looseness of speech can be construed as casually racist in his references to certain groups and refuses to endorse the players own response to racism then we have a problem of leadership . When on politics shows we need ministers to “ interpret” his words, when those words are left hanging without clear meanings, then they are open to be used.
When politicians speak of being “ aggressive” towards immigration and while they treat those who have served in our NHS (Europeans and those from the Commonwealth and elsewhere ) as outsiders, then that problem becomes systemic.
There is nationalism and then there is Nationalism. It sounds odd to say that you can be nationalist for the right and the wrong reasons. When nationalism is based on xenophobia then there is a problem , when it is based upon self identity and uniqueness of expression then it is an asset . I saw much of the latter in England’s response to the excitement of the Euros. Ok I can do without again hearing “Sweet Caroline” or “ Its coming home” but then again they have rarely walked 500 miles…….
You could argue, and I do and with entitlement born of my place of birth that part of the problem around a refusal to understand Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish approaches to nationalism comes from a lack of confidence about self Identify in England .
Southgate and the boys gave England hope and a very positive reason to be proud, I hope they can build upon that. but as Southgate has done unequivocally with a sense of leadership that is lacking in many others, you need to criticise the negative to build the positives.
I find it odd that the most outspoken of people about the negatives over night were from football not politics. Gary Neville made a statement that unequivocally put some of the blame for this at the door of the PM linking his lack of willingness to support players taking the knee to what happened over night . Or to summarise, Genie – bottle – go figure.
John Barnes commented that you can’t expect football to right the wrongs within a culture, it is part of that culture and we all need to examine our approaches to; race, religion, gender and interestingly from his perspective , class.
In the same way as it takes a footballer – Rashford to make the issue of food poverty clear to a Prime Minister it is strange that it took a young girl on TV this morning to point out “ you don’t have to be black to miss a penalty .”
There are so many positives for England as a country to build upon; sporting, self identity, a sense of belonging and nationhood, but this process needs two things that have been seriously lacking; leadership and critical self- awareness . In the latter there is a real need for leadership in the media to call out the negatives for what they are rather than to ignore them because they do not play to the populist brand they consider it is profitable to associate with .
People who turn the blind eye have no right to criticise what others then see.
In the very unlikely circumstance that Scotland do not win the World Cup, I will be happy to give my support to the England team if they play with the commitment and humility they did this time round . They have done enough to deserve respect.
I forgot to use a word in this article …it is “ integrity “ I have every faith you can find a place for it.