England Lost and I’m Furious — With Myself
A need to fit in blurred my vision about the reality of British culture
England lost on penalties
Even before my timeline pinged with videos of post-match violence outside Wembley and inside Leicester Square, my first thought this morning was ‘Never again.’ Never again will I let myself drown in the televised fakery of an idealised England. Grabbing my phone, half asleep, I realised what a fool I had been a fool to think things could be fair, pleasant, even handed in crowds from a nation which elects governments on anti-immigration slogans. Chanting mobs who openly want to cut lose from what their PM calls ‘the yoke of Europe.’
The headlines ‘English football fans have been slammed for “disgusting behaviour” at the Euro 2020 Final’ didn’t surprise me. They just added more throat vomit to the gall bladder juice I’d been emotionally regurgitating, since the moment Italy won on penalties in the Euro 2020 final.
Football is the ‘Beautiful Game’
As a convert to Islam, who wears hijab in public, coming back to football after a long separation was never going to be psychological plain sailing. Just to be clear, it wasn’t Muslim-ness which originally made me withdraw from the sofa of my fandom. It was the constant flow of stories about England players outright racism, which spoilt it for me and my daughters. And before you can angrily type ‘few bad eggs’ let’s remember a few choice moments in a very long list of social fouls.
In 2011, John Terry, captain of England’s national team faced a criminal charge over racial slurs he made during a match, becoming the first player to be prosecuted for remarks said on the field.
The same year, the Uruguayan and sometime Liverpool forward Luis Suárez, was suspended for eight matches and fined about $63,000 for making abusive remarks in a game toward Patrice Evra, a black defender from France playing for Manchester United.
This isn’t a purely English league phenomenon. Fans in European countries have been known to throw bananas and peanuts, directing monkey chants, toward black players to this day. The stands at matches across the continent are hardly reflective of national make up, particularly in say, France where prosecutors have opened an investigation into a wave of racist comments posted on Twitter targeting members of the national football team. The French comments, mainly targeted black Paris Saint-Germain star Kylian Mbappe. And were posted after France was eliminated from the Euro 2020 tournament last week. Mbappe was the only French player to miss in the penalty shoot-out against Switzerland.
The insults in question were violently offensive and clearly racial. Sound familiar?
Being an England fan IS Cognitive dissonance
Unless you are white, beered-up , with a red cross tattooed onto your face, buying into an UEFA or World Cup campaign creates psychological hyprocrisy and underlying stress. Values I hold dear, had to be packed away deep in my subconscious. Drunk crowds jeering into the camera? As a non drinker who prays, I had to tell myself these were otherwise charming folk, just having a jolly good time.
What harm has a bit of nationalistic flag waving ever done?
I paid for a subscription app that allowed me access to the matches. Then Chromecast the Germany game onto our living room screen to a groan from my husband who does not swap ethical beliefs for a game of two halves.
‘One racist, white nation, playing the national team of colonisation before a stadium of drunk bigots. No thanks.’ He said.
I winced at the crowd vista of bare chested men, gurning their abhorrence that another team had the audacity to set foot on a pitch next to their (my?) never cup-winning, En-gur-land. I turned the sound down when the ugly whistles signalled the start of the others national anthem.
Let’s be clear here. I support Southgate’s squad. I respect Southgate. His young team are daring, with flashes of real talent. I grew up with a father known as the Scouse Git for the role he played on telly in the 1970’s. Tony Booth taught me EVERYTHING about football. I’d yell alongside him as Jimmy Case passed to Emlyn Hughes and later Keegan smacked it home week in week out for the blessed red shirts of Liverpool. I thought of him as the whistle blew for the game to start: England v Germany.
I was pulled along by every fluid passing sequence. I yelled loud enough for my husband to fear eviction. England struck twice late on, to give us the first knockout tie victory over Germany in my entire life! Amid scenes of huge tension and elation in my living room, I leapt up laughing, punching the air in a very good impersonation of Tony Booth, my dad. And in tandem with up with Linekar and Ferdinand on screen.
As the elation ebbed and tea was made. The not-quite-so-small voice in my mind was whispering a mantra I had learnt at Wembley in years gone by. But would never say aloud anymore.
‘Two world wars and one world Cup Dooh-dah! Dooha-dah!’
Did Basil Fawlty’s goose-step come to mind? Him shouting in the 1970’s sitcom ‘Don’t mention the war!’ Yes, yes, yes it did.
This is where my real discomfort lies, for every blonde girl in a cross of St George T-shirt who claps for the opposition, perhaps saying ‘Nice passing by the Danes, you have to respect their self control in mid field.’ For every one person who is that supporter - there are thousands of others steeped in racial superiority, bigotry and sexism.
I know what you’re thinking. Hey Lauren, don’t besmirch the whole English game because of a few bad apples!
Live in a dream if you need to. I’m wide awake — finally. As awake and aware as the Danish family who described the “fear” they felt when they were assaulted by England fans after the semi-final. Eva Greene, 43, said it was “like a zombie movie.”
We were sitting with a sleeping child when a crowd of people spotted our Danish T-shirts through the windows…They started banging on the windows and the doors, screaming and yelling.
Men in England shirts then surrounded the bus she and her family were taking home from the game. Her nine-year-old child was forced to run away, as his father was punched in the stomach by an English supporter, she said.
“I’m telling my Italian friends to stay indoors on Sunday,” she added. Very wise.
The fans that kick Danish parents on a bus are a derivative faction of the majority, the MAJORITY of English voters who voted for and still want, Brexit.
They are a microcosm of the same electorate who vote against their community interests time and again. Why? Because the Tory party talks their racist code of blame-the-immigrants, aka immigration policy soundbites.
Dangerous when we win violent when we lose
As a Muslim, as a woman who has seen domestic violence brought on by alcohol, that culture excludes me, utterly. Worse it seeks to victimise me. I can wear a flag of St George hijab and spout the offside rule from the minaret of a mosque and it would make no difference to the fact that I can never fit in enough. I don’t drink or swear. I don’t think white skin embues a superior culture. According to too many British followers of my Twitter account, (which I don’t go near due to the abuse there), I am ‘a traitor to queen and country’ who should ‘F off to Saudi Arabia’.
All of which again begs the question. Why did I chase the dream so hard this time then and against my better judgement?
Temptation wears a 3 lions shirt
As a member of a faith minority, there is a sweet temptation, a hidden desire, to be part of the main body social, just for a bit. It sits, mostly hidden, but it’s there. Just for a day or two. Let us in guv’nor. Throw us a crumb wontcha? Oh the intoxication of not being seen as different for a moment in a crowd of people from your homeland all cheering your team. For a moment to just BE.
After the semi final, a video went viral. Taken at the Islamic boarding school Jamiatul Ilm Wal Huda, in Moss Street, Blackburn, it showed lads in white robes, clearly between religious classes, huddled around a laptop. They were watching the game. In the silent concentration a couple of whispers only Muslims would notice, were said, ‘Bismillah’. Meaning ‘If Allah wills’ — a short prayer for God’s help for the England team.
As Harry Kane scored the extra-time winner there was utter joy as the students begin to celebrate.
Blackburn comedian Tez Ilyas posted: “This is Southgate’s England.”
How would those teenage boys who spend their nights not in bars but studying the Holy Quran, have fared in the actual stadium do you think?
There I was too on my Istanbul sofa, desperate to fall into step, cheer the same group, stand for a moment shoulder to shoulder with abusers who can’t stand our existence. Or to hug an average Jane who would not abuse me but secretly thinks Muslims don’t ‘integrate enough.’
I bought myself an emotional ticket to ride the England train one more time with feeling. I began to notice my language changed to include sentences like: ‘that’s typical of the Ukranians.’ Having never in my life met a person from the region.
And then the Italy final. The automated racism of my London youth on the rise. ‘Vicious the Italians you know’ and tutting ‘that’s how they always play.’ My inner voice jeering me with words like ‘wogs’ or ‘I-ties’ that I used to hear sung in chants by fans in Wembley in the 80’s and 90’s.
The dream that was Rome
The irony of all this being that had we won, me and you, if you’re an England fan could have safely pushed these away in a wave of footballing pheromones and patriotic pride. I’d have applauded the Italians off the pitch, with graciousness, choosing to ignore the continued whistles of loathing from the ‘real fans’ in the stadium. I might have even been tempted to feel a warm glow at a new face of multi racial Britain reflected by the cheers for Rashford, Saka and Sancha.
Instead the same trio who, in the spirit of the game, had a nightmare night, failed from the spot on Sunday night as England went down on penalties. This happened to Beckham and to Southgate. Except they didn’t wake up the next day to social media pages flooded with racist comments.
The hate tweets against them began before the beer had dried in Leicester Square. Along with the moving calls of my friends and colleagues of colour to ‘stay safe tomorrow.’ As yet again the idiots run rampage yet again. Time to admit this is not just football after all. It’s England top to bottom.
Footballing nationalism is more than an embarrassing anomaly — it is a way of life, an entire culture.
And I am finally free of it.
You can sign a petition to ban racists from football stadiums here