After the painful year we’ve all had, the Euros 2020 football competition taking place this year was something that many people were looking forward to. Football has a way of uniting fans from across the globe and many men, women and children watch the sport religiously. Supporting British football teams like Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool is one thing but supporting your national team is a whole other level. Especially this year. England were able to reach the furthest they ever have in the Euros; they got to the final with Italy and lost to them in a penalty shootout. Italy won 3-2 in penalties, with 19-year-old Bukayo Saka missing the last penalty which could have still given England the chance to be victorious. English football fans haven’t taken our nation’s loss very well and they have been sure to make their opinions heard. As you may have already guessed, social media blew up, and not in a good way…
Racism in football
Racial abuse in the football realm comes as no surprise to anyone. There have been numerous campaigns and movements by football players and organisations to combat the racism footballers face as a result of playing the sport. Some of these initiatives include the 2013 UEFA campaign ‘Say NO to Racism’, and the Premier League’s ‘No Room For Racism’ campaign, launched in 2019. Both campaigns aim to tackle the racism and intolerance football players and wider society face. However, just one year after the UEFA campaign, ex-Barcelona football player Dani Alves had a banana thrown at him during a match against Villarreal and today, two years after the Premier League campaign, England fans are turning against their own players due to our unfortunate loss. As previously mentioned, Italy won 3-2 in penalties against England in the Euros Final, meaning that England missed 3 out of 5 of their penalties. All three missed goals were by Black British players. Hence the overwhelming amount of racial abuse on social media being targeted specifically at Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka. But what exactly has been said to these players?
Racism on social media
Following the match, there was an overwhelming number of online users who wrote insensitive comments, used emojis with racist connotations and blamed England’s loss on these three young men. People didn’t hesitate to take to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to show the players exactly how they felt after the defeat. The comment section on all three players’ social media accounts was bombarded with monkey, gorilla and banana emojis.
According to a 2020 study from the Professional Footballers’ Association and data science company Signify, a study in 2020 found tweets sent to some players “there were more than 3,000 explicitly abusive messages, with 29% of the racially abusive posts in the form of emojis”. The English fans instantly turned against these young black men and racially targeted them. How can we be living in 21st Century Britain and still have overt racism in this way? What’s crazy is that throughout the competition, every time a black player scored, they were celebrated and identified as English, French, German, etc. However, as soon as these very same players mess up, they get treated as commodities… commodities that are only cherished and valued if they act correctly. If they don’t, their blackness or their migrant status becomes the topic of conversation. How is this fair? People are so quick to get behind their virtual screens and attack others because it’s easy to do so, and so more needs to be done to stop this from happening. I mean, Saka is only 19 years old. The vile racial abuse he has received is likely to affect his mental health and, potentially, his career as a footballer. The way in which England switched up on its black football players reflects a wider issue in our society: respectability politics. This term refers to how Western society places the onus on black people to earn the respect of others by working twice as hard and adhering to the unattainable standards of white supremacy. England is happy to accept people of colour when it suits them, especially in the football industry and the entertainment industry, but yet, the country hastily disregards black people when they fail to meet expectations and act in accordance with the ‘politics of respectability’. Along with the English public, I was rooting for England and hoping that the team really would ‘bring it home’, but now, a part of me is grateful they didn’t because now the world is able to see the nation’s true colours.
On the bright side...
Although the online racism that the players have received is disgusting and unacceptable, the way in which the public and other football players reacted has been positively overwhelming. Rashford, Sancho and Saka were racially targeted and viciously trolled by angry England fans, but the way the English public united to show them their strength and support has been heart-warming. There have been floods of positive and encouraging messages for all three of the players, including Boris Johnson publicly shaming the online abuse. He has stated that everyone guilty of the racist abuse that the three young men are facing online will be banned from future football matches. But is this enough? The answer is no. There is no justification for people racially targeting black players in the England team and just banning them from games is the bare minimum that needs to be done. The fans were distraught and instantly turned to racism. What does this say about England? Quite frankly, it’s just stupid and more ground-breaking measures need to be implemented to actually target these online trolls.
Nevertheless, one of the most memorable moments in the midst of all this chaos has been the redecoration of Rashford’s mural. Following the defeat, England fans had vandalised the mural of Rashford that was made in his hometown by covering it with black tape. As a sign of retaliation, fans in support of the boys decorated the mural with England flags, almost as if to affirm that Rashford is indeed British, and with beautiful messages filled with love and support for him. The artist who made the mural in the first place, Akse, repaired the damage made too. Seeing the outpour of love he has received gives me hope that maybe one day racism in the football industry would be a thing of the past. But I must say, it confuses me how people can hate Rashford, especially after the influential ‘Feeding Britain’s Children’ campaign he instigated to advocate for free school meals. It confuses me how at the start of the year, everyone was congratulating and thanking Rashford for his efforts with regards to the campaign and yet, he simply misses a penalty, and now everyone feels the need to unnecessarily bring up his race and skin colour negatively. It is not right nor fair and Rashford, along with Sancho and Saka, deserve more.
The harsh reality of being Black and British
If there ever was any question of it before last Sunday, now it is no secret that British football is rife with racism. From throwing banana peels at black players to filling their social media comments with monkey and gorilla emojis, there’s no insult that the ugly side of the British public has not fished out to their own players. If so many black men continuously contribute towards the success of British football teams, including the national football team, then why do some fans persist to slander them with racial slurs when their team loses? Surely, this sends out a message to the Black British community: that Britain only wants to claim and celebrate them when it suits Britain. That their ‘Britishness’ is dependent on how well they perform, not only in football but also in the workplace and the entertainment industry. Ultimately, they either fall in line, or risk losing their Britishness.
Andreia is our Society & Politics Editor and a third year student studying BA French & Politics at the University of Leeds. She is currently on a year abroad in Toulouse, France. She is pursuing a career in government and policy and is interested in foreign languages and cultures, pop culture and politics. Her Instagram handle is @_.adcb._.