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Euro 2020

13th Jun 2021

England at Euro 2020: A team to be proud of confronts a nation unwilling to accept its shame

Wayne Farry

England has rarely had a more likeable and brave group of players. That they are being targeted by their own fans is proof that many in this country are still not willing to accept the most basic facts about Britain’s past and present

On Sunday afternoon, the England national team will take to the field to face Croatia in their opening game of the European Championship. It should be a moment of joy, an overdue tonic to the world we have experienced since spring 2020.

That moment of joy will be sullied however, due to the selfishness and wilful ignorance of a portion of England’s own support.

For decades, the Three Lions were a figure of scorn for the media. They underachieved when it came to the big stage and misbehaved when allowed to let their hair down. The backdrop to this was often the sight of deck chairs being thrown across European cities, and water cannons throttling large topless men with St. George’s flag tattoos on their arms and anything but football on their mind.

This combination, in the eyes of many, was a source of shame.

Fast forward to 2021 and this group of England players, shame couldn’t be further from the equation. Almost to a man, they are relatable and likeable. They engage with supporters and speak candidly. They enjoy their football and relish the big occasion, seemingly unburdened by history.

The greatest source of pride, though, is that this group of players is one that stands up for what it believes in. Even if that is in direct opposition to some of the people who claim to support them.

It should not be difficult to admit that your nation has its flaws. Some would say that to truly love something, you must constantly seek for it to be the best it can be. The problem is that for years, day-in, day-out, legitimate criticism of England and its institutions has been met with immediate and vociferous opposition by certain quarters of the media and the political world.

The topic of racism is treated as a storyline, something to debate on talk radio and on national television, further fuel to the culture war fires that continue to rage.

In this environment, everything must be challenged and fought, rather than believed, considered and reflected upon.

England’s footballers will take the knee on Sunday. Those who will boo them will claim not to be racist, despite being openly and angrily in opposition to an act with a very implicit purpose: to highlight racism, discrimination and inequality.

As the booing happens, and it will – despite the FA’s best efforts to placate supporters acting in bad faith – we will be witnessing a group of people on the pitch who are acutely and painfully aware of what England in 2021 really is; its plentiful qualities and its myriad flaws.

On the sidelines, holding their hands over their mouths and lambasting the people they will later cheer, will be a group of people who view England through a poppy-hued prism, far removed from the reality lived by millions.

It is a direct confrontation between those who want to fight to make this country better and those who A) believe things are just fine as they are, and B) fear things getting better for others, lest it leave themselves worse off.

None of their opposition is about Marxism. Anyone who tells you that it is is either a liar or a moron, or perhaps both.

These players are not unpatriotic. These players don’t hate the Queen. These players love their country. They love it so much that they want it to be better.

Those who boo them claim to love it, but refuse to accept any of its ails.

That’s not love. It’s not patriotism. It’s a lazy, blind, dangerous and selfish ideology.