Analysis: England stars extol values at odds with some fans

Jul 11, 2021, 10:41 PM | Updated: Jul 12, 2021, 1:17 pm

LONDON (AP) — There wasn’t just missing out on the European title for a crestfallen and weary Gareth Southgate to contemplate.

The fallout from England fans’ boorish behavior was proving as painful for the coach and the nation on Monday than the previous night’s Euro 2020 final loss to Italy.

Crowds loaded with alcohol on the rampage sang offensively. Ticketless fans stormed past barricades into Wembley Stadium. And Black players who missed penalties in the shootout were attacked with racist abuse on social media.

Whereas England players have used their platforms to project compassion, advocacy and inclusion in recent months, those ideals are far from being universally adopted by some fans still wanting to latch onto and celebrate their footballing successes when it suits them.

“We can’t control that,” Southgate said. “We can only set the example we believe we should and represent the country in a way we feel we should when we are representing England.

“Everyone has to remember when they support the team that they are also representing England and they should represent what we stand for.”

Even when the government was cautioning the players against “gesture politics,” they continued to take a knee. When the government failed to condemn fans for booing their own players, the anti-racism gesture continued to be performed just before kickoff and was adopted by the opposition.

When the government tried to shame players at the start of the pandemic to “play their part” in the national crisis, the stars led by England vice captain Jordan Henderson gathered backing across Premier League squads to donate to the National Health Service.

When the government refused to extend the provision of free meals for deprived children, it was England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford who lobbied Prime Minister Boris Johnson until the policy was reversed to feed the needy.

When Raheem Sterling complained about racism in society, including the portrayal of Black players in headlines and the lack of diversity in coaching, the England and Manchester City forward sparked difficult and challenging conversations for the sport’s white-dominated leadership and media.

Queen Elizabeth II used her birthday honors list last month to award an MBE to Sterling for his efforts to promote racial equality and Henderson also became a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his fundraising. The Liverpool captain has also worn rainbow laces at Euro 2020 to show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.

“We have, I think, had a positive effect on lots of areas of society but we can’t affect everything,” Southgate said. “We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together and people being able to relate to the national team.”

While inspired on the run to the final by the energy of fans, the England team still had to plead with a minority to show more respect to them and opponents.

The message struggled to get through. The sound system at Wembley Stadium, where England played six of its seven games, had to be turned up to drown out the booing of teams taking a knee with the tournament song. The national anthem of the opposition was always booed, leading to a fine from UEFA.

Offensive songs about World War II and shooting German planes out of the skies continued to be bellowed out in and around the stadium, and not just at the last-16 meeting with Germany. The soundtrack to Tube journeys to Sunday’s final and walks to the stadium was derogatory songs about Italian products goading the few fans of the opposition.

Even songs about their own players reflect the macho culture around England fans. Harry Maguire is serenaded with: “He takes the vodka, he takes the jaeger.” Another chant boasts of cocaine use.

Little surprise then that, with scarce visible policing at Wembley, mobs felt emboldened on Sunday t o charge past stewards and low fencing into the stadium, barrelling past fans with tickets.

The mix of alcohol, high emotions and disappointment can bring out the worst of fans even as a new generation embrace the idealism of the players.

“You have this England team that expounds positive values,” said Piara Powar of the anti-discrimination Fare network, “and some will disagree because they don’t relate to those values and feel left out, and the team is not representing them in that way.”

While there was government condemnation of the abuse faced online by three Black players who missed penalties — Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Rashford — Johnson does not have an unblemished record on racism. The prime minister once said that burqa-wearing women looked like “letter boxes” and bank robbers.

Home Secretary Priti Patel called on the police on Monday to take action against those subjecting players to “vile racist abuse” just weeks after saying it was the choice of fans whether to boo the squad kneeling.

Patel’s words seemed hollow to England defender Tyrone Mings.

“You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens,” tweeted Mings, who is Black.

As it headed off dejected after being unable to win the country’s first trophy in 55 years, England’s squad felt emboldened in the mission to triumph at next year’s World Cup and also to continue calling out intolerance — however close to home.

“Will never get bored of saying that more needs to be done,” forward Jude Bellingham tweeted.

___

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Analysis: England stars extol values at odds with some fans