Don’t be surprised at the racist abuse of Bukayo Saka – this is England, after all

You can argue that only a small minority of fans were involved, that they don’t represent England – but you’d be lying to yourself

Rupert Hawksley
Monday 12 July 2021 14:27
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Scuffle appears to break out between paying fans and ticketless at Wembley

It was inevitable. This is England. We knew that, whatever happened on the pitch, some fans would shame us all. And so it proved to be. 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. What a country.

You could argue that only a small minority of fans were involved, and that they don’t represent England, but you’d be lying to yourself. Thuggishness, entitlement and a total lack of care for others seem to be national traits now, and plenty of England fans take a lot of pride in that, too. We’re not all like that, perhaps, but let’s not seek solace there – for this is not really about individuals, rather a culture of intolerance that has seeped across the land.

Clearly not everyone would kick an Asian man in the head (as a number of England fans at Wembley did yesterday) or post a monkey emoji on Bukayo Saka’s social media pages. But we all exist in a society that has emboldened this sort of behaviour. Wash your hands of it, blame it on a few bad apples, and you are part of the problem. This is England – and you live here. Let’s at least be honest about it.

Forget the yobs for a moment, though. Forget all the people whose support for England so quickly curdled into racism last night. Look higher up the food chain and you find a home secretary endorsing fans who booed the England players for “taking the knee”. You find a prime minister who breezily dismisses this global symbol of anti-racism, claiming that he doesn’t believe in “gestures”. Do you see now? This is not about a few pissed-up football fans. This is England – and these are our leaders.

There will be a period of outrage. Lots of decent people will condemn the fact that a mural of Marcus Rashford in Manchester has been defaced. Plenty of others have already expressed their horror that Saka, Rashford and Jadon Sancho are being attacked online by racists, despite helping to lead England to their first major men’s football final in 55 years. But nothing will change. These are stains that can’t so easily be washed out. Our prime minister isn’t interested in that; he would rather just write a meaningless tweet. A quick rinse should do the trick. “Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves,” he says. Yes indeed, prime minister. Now tell us more about “piccaninnies” and “watermelon smiles”.

It’s no good reminding everyone that this tournament was a huge success. That we have a young, exciting squad and a brilliant manager to lead us into next year’s World Cup. That we lost by the narrowest of margins in the actual final of Euro 2020. This is all true – but this isn’t about football. It’s about England and racism – football just happened to be the enabler on this occasion. Previously it has been Brexit. Or asylum seekers. Or statues. Whatever, really. Our nastiest, little England tendencies will always emerge.

I suppose it’s sad to spend the morning after the final writing about racism and violence and intolerance, rather than Luke Shaw’s brilliant strike or the courage of young Saka to step up and take that penalty. But what did you expect? Have you not been watching these past few years?

We have let something out that can’t simply be put back. This little island with its already jingoistic people has been reduced, boiled down to nothing. A Brexit broth. And we are surprised when crowds of men in England shirts fight? Or when Saka, Rashford and Sancho are racially abused online? Don’t be. This is England – get used to it.

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