Caitlin Palmer O'Shaughnessy, Second Year, Social Policy and Sociology
It’s (maybe) coming home! England is through to the Euro semi-finals and will be playing Denmark tonight to fight for their place in the competition final.
This unexpected success has seen the country go football mad. Suddenly, as we all crowd around our TVs or gather in pubs to watch the match, we seem to all be in it together; we are all English, after all. But is that really the case? Does football have the potential to bind together a polarised nation or is this sense of national solidarity nothing more than superficial?
Undeniably, our shared national identity has grown as England have gradually progressed through the Euros. You can ask anyone what they’re up to tonight and I can guarantee you they’ll be watching the England match (if not then what are you thinking? An international semi-final does not happen all too often!).
England vs. Ukraine quarter-final was the most watched live TV event of the year with 20.9 million viewers and there are suggestions that tonight’s match could blow that figure out of the water.
However, the plethora of England flags and memorabilia strewn across local pubs or houses, and the feeling of togetherness we all feel when watching England play mean nothing when going up against the fervent racial and political divides that serve to dominate the game, and polarise this country.
Black and Asian football players face mass racial abuse on a daily occurrence online and in real life. Kick It Out, the anti-racist football body, reports that the 2019-20 football season saw a 53 per cent rise in racial abuse at professional football matches, and a further YouGov poll of 1000 fans showed that 30 per cent of fans heard racist comments or chants at matches.
There is no place for anyone to be an England fan unless they conform to the stereotype of straight, white and male
This deep-seated racism suggests that any sense of national unity brought about by England’s Euro success is nothing but a façade. A recent move by football players to ‘take the knee’ prior to kick off in order to shine a light on racism and the Black Lives Matter movement has been criticised, with some fans choosing to boo rather than support the action.
As put by Southgate in response to disapproving fans “It is time for the country to unite. Full stop!”.
A recent picture shared on Twitter by left-wing journalist Owen Jones of himself, fellow journalist and activist Ash Sarkar, and friends watching England vs. Ukraine quarter-final received a torrent of racist and homophobic abuse and several generally unpleasant comments. Retweets suggested that because this group of people is LGBTQ, left-wing and critiques our government they cannot be true England fans and that there is no place for anyone to be an England fan unless they conform to the stereotype of straight, white and male.
Sport provides us with a pre-packaged universal culture and the community’s opportunity to come together and strengthen. Sadly, it seems as if deep-seated racial and political divisions are preventing this solidarity from growing beyond our shared support for the same football team.
With the Olympics coming up this summer and next year’s World Cup just around the corner, perhaps we have the opportunity to use these sporting events to bolster our sense of community beyond the sporting world.
Featured Image: Unsplash / Habib Ayoade
What are your thoughts on the Euros? Let us know!