A guest blog by Greg Bonsu
On Saturday night I, like many, went to bed with hope and optimism that the English national football team could do something that very few people experience in their lifetime – win a major championship final; bring the trophy home and celebrate with the people, bringing everyone together and giving the nation something to cheer about after 18 months of uncertainty, anxiety and loss.
Over 24 hours later, that hope turned to despair, not because football wasn’t coming home, but instead because some of the players that had been lauded for their sporting and social endeavours, over the last 18 months had now become scapegoats for the failure of a team.
Football may just be a game, but it’s a game of fine margins which unfortunately has such a stranglehold on life – win and you’re immortalised; lose and not only are you the scapegoat, but finger pointing, and slurs come out of the woodwork – some of which you wouldn’t believe unless you see it and read it with your own eyes.
What does the colour of your skin have to do with taking a penalty? Why does missing a penalty result in a barrage of online abuse, i.e. derogatory racial slurs, doctored images, monkey and banana emojis? Why does one unfortunate moment left to chance negate all the previous good work you have done professionally, socially and politically? And finally…why are we no further forward 15 months on from the death of George Floyd, which at the time felt like a turning point.
It feels like we’re in an endless cycle, and the only conclusion I can come to is that there is an extra penalty for being black.
In the last 30 years, England have been in 10 penalty shoot outs – winning 3 and losing 7; among those players to miss are Lampard, Gerrard, Batty, Pearce, Waddle, Carragher, Southgate and Beckham. The same David Beckham that was sent off against Argentina for kicking out at Diego Simeone but is now a hero to many and will no doubt gather more honours over the next 20-30 years. The same Gareth Southgate who was the fall guy for the Euro 96 loss to Germany, but had he successfully steered his team to victory on this occasion there would have been calls for him to get a knighthood.
Fast forward to present day, and we have Marcus Rashford who single handily took on the government forcing a U-turn to ensure that all school pupils were guaranteed a ‘meal a day’ and extend free school meals to children from low–income families during the school holidays. The same Marcus Rashford who struck the winning penalty in the October 2020 to help Man Utd win 1-2 at Paris Saint Germain. Most likely, some of those people who praised him for pushing the government to provide free meals for their children are now posting these vile messages.
Social media may not have been as widespread 30 years ago, but ask yourself, would Beckham and Southgate have received the torrid amount of abuse that Sancho, Saka and Rashford are receiving today? No, but at the same time, the power of social media has never been more evident.
In the 48 hours since the defeat, the support shown for the England national team, and the three young lions in particular, has been overwhelming. Thousands of people have reported abusive posts and accounts, sent messages of support to the players and ignited a fire, that racism of any kind will not be tolerated. Public figures have come out in support, political statements and social media platforms have been challenged, petitions have been signed and in the mightiest show of solidarity, hundreds of people across the UK gathering for an anti-racism demonstration at a defaced mural dedicated to Marcus Rashford – parents and children of all races turning out to show vocal support for Rashford and the wider black community.
For 120 minutes, we were a country united behind one team, one hope and within 30 seconds of it ending, we were one country, divided with an outpouring of hate and racial slurs. But the difference this time, is that the championship final attracted an estimated 31 million viewers in the UK vs the less than 2500 racist Twitter tweets and Instagram posts posted on social media. This time, there is a national outcry that the actions of a racist minority do not represent the thoughts of the many and will not define the state of race relations in this country, what we feel about our national team and how we feel about our black players.