England’s Euro final defeat brings back into focus football’s troubled tryst with racism

Soon after Bukayo Saka was denied from the spot by Gianluigi Donnarumma plunging to his left, much of the euphoria translated into familiar dismay and later gave way to racist abuse.

Hours after England fell at the final hurdle, losing on penalties to Italy in the final of Euro Cup 2020, there were reports of racist abuse being directed at the Black players.

The build-up to the final was beset with ecstasy over England having made it to a final for the first time in 55 years. There was much anticipation in the air as England fans packed pubs and drove to Wembley singing ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Football’s Coming Home’. Many hoped that the long wait for a trophy since the World Cup win in 1966 would be over. Southgate’s men were on the brink of history and set to break the jinx — a feat which even the golden generation comprising the Beckhams and Lampards could not achieve.

But the script did not go according to plan and England’s penalty voodoo came back to haunt them.

And soon after Bukayo Saka was denied from the spot by Gianluigi Donnarumma plunging to his left, much of that euphoria translated into familiar dismay and later gave way to racist abuse.  The backlash on social media was venomous and vitriolic, with England’s three black players who missed penalties— Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Saka — being targeted.

Much of the initial criticisms that poured in on social media targeted Southgate for not being adventurous enough with his tactics, adopting a more conservative approach and underutilising the attacking prowess of Jack Grealish and Phil Foden. But that soon gave way to racist abuse, with spiteful and rancorous invectives being hurled at the Black players. A mural of Rashford in Manchester — the graffiti had been commissioned in recognition of the striker’s work to tackle child poverty — was defaced shortly after the defeat.

Ed Wellard, the co-founder of Withington Walls, a community street art project which had collaborated on the mural, was unequivocal in his criticism. “I’ve come out to fix what I could immediately and cover up what I couldn’t and hopefully we will get the artist out to come and fix it…We dared to dream yesterday and our hopes were dashed but to wake up to this is more depressing. Racism seems to be more and more prevalent,” he told the BBC.

The condemnation of the widespread racism on social media in the aftermath of the defeat has come in from all quarters, with football bodies, the government and even the Duke of Cambridge denouncing the comments.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the racist jibes directed at the players was nothing short of “appalling”. “This England team deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media. Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves,” he tweeted.

Queen Elizabeth’s grandson Prince William, who is also the president of the Football Association, said he was “sickened” by the racism. “It is totally unacceptable that players have to endure this abhorrent behaviour…It must stop now and all those involved should be held accountable,” he tweeted.

Criticising the abuse, Labour MP David Lammy tweeted, “This is why we take the knee. Praying for a better future – worthy of the values, beauty and respect exemplified by every single England player.”

The Metropolitan Police in London has said that it would investigate the bigotry and hatred being spread on social media.

In a statement, England’s Football Association (FA) said, “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.”

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