All eyes were on the EURO 2020 finals as the two national football teams of Italy and England took the stage. With a scoreline of 1-1, the game had gone past full time and extra time to a penalty shootout. To say the pressure on the players is massive would be an understatement — a win would give England its first international trophy since their 1966 World Cup, while it could give Italy their first EURO title since 1968. What came next would bring up a powerful discourse on a continuous issue in the footballing world: racism.
One by one, the players took their spots. While Italy missed their second penalty, the two that were scored for England brought hope for the Three Lions. However, their nightmare came true when the next three penalties were missed as Italy’s Giorgino Donnarumma saved the biggest penalty of his life. While Roberto Mancini’s men celebrated their long-awaited trophy, attention shifted to the people’s worry of the inevitable — racial abuse of the three English players who missed their penalties.
While frustration is understandable, racism is not.
In the biggest game of their lives, three out of the first five penalty takers that England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, had chosen were “bench players” with very few minutes played throughout the tournament. They were not over 23 years of age, and one of them had never taken a penalty in his senior career. While all this decision-making was questionable, the emotions that ran through certain football fans took control over their rationality and cast out their anger towards Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka. While frustration is understandable, racism is not.
Wrong. Disgusting. Unacceptable.
This HAS TO STOP. pic.twitter.com/iZfgbxl5dT
— GOAL (@goal) July 12, 2021
Football Isn’t Coming Home, but Racism is?
The words and actions aimed at the three were harsh, to say the least. To be given much hope after 55 years of waiting for a trophy expecting “football to come home”, the disappointment from English fans is obvious. However, the centre of the abuse quickly moved away from football, but towards the colour of the players’ skin. People went as far as using racial slurs, sending death threats, and using demeaning emojis. As the final took place in Wembley Stadium, London’s Metropolitan Police had to come in and investigate the racist comments on social media.
While there were uncountable messages spouting hate for their race, a few of the culprits behind it stood out. A children’s football coach is being inspected for sending a tweet to Rashford telling him to “go back to your own country”, as he claims that he was intoxicated when doing so. It sparked rage as it was found that he had been benefitting from the footballer’s school meals campaign that allowed millions of kids across England to still have access to food during the pandemic (which gained him the title as Marcus Rashford MBE, mind you). Although he was not exactly a big name, he was still a part of the grassroots football community that played a role in determining the futures of young footballers who dream of playing for their country, just as those three players did.
Love for the Three Lions
For the thousands of people that spewed abuse, a thousand more sent their love and support.
Rashford, Sancho, and Saka each posted a statement on social media days after the final, all expressing their apologies, gratitude, and acknowledging the racial abuse they got. Amidst the hate and the upset in the replies and the comments, the people still came through. For the thousands of people that spewed abuse, a thousand more sent their love and support. The three youngsters received overwhelming support from the fans, their fellow England and club teammates, other footballers, and even celebrities.
"The communities that always wrapped their arms around me continue to hold me up.
"I'm Marcus Rashford, 23-year-old black man from Withington and Wythenshawe, South Manchester.
"If I have nothing else, I have that."
— GOAL (@goal) July 13, 2021
The love may have seemed the strongest on social media, but it did not stop there. When a mural painting of Marcus Rashford in Withington was defaced with swear words after the final, the surrounding community did not hesitate to take action. They covered the vandalism by posting messages of love and support for all three players. The mural has since been fixed by the artist, and the decorations posted are planned to be preserved in the city’s library archives. The 23-year-old footballer took notice of the gesture and said he was “overwhelmed. Thankful. Lost for words.”
No Room for Racism
Watching the racial abuse be seemingly overcome by the support means it’s a happy ending, right? Not even close. Even though there has been an overflow of public support through transit advertising or billboards across England, some have pointed out an overcompensation. Authorities have come out to show their support for the three boys, but it’s all generally performative. It reminded me of something Malcolm X said: “The white man will try to satisfy us with symbolic victories rather than economic equity and real justice”.
Footballers are never immune to any sort of criticism, but do not ever deserve any form of racial abuse.
Even if the footballers ended up receiving love, it hadn’t changed anything systematically. Racial abuse in football has never been properly handled despite the many instances in the past. The rightful authorities, such as the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), the Football Association (FA), and the respective governments in which the racist acts take place, need to uphold better regulations and strengthen their execution. Moreover, they should be taking concrete actions to genuinely support the communities hit with racism. The same should be said for social media companies, in which Saka called them out in his apology. In a sport that is followed, played, admired, and watched by millions across the world with the biggest names in sports history, it should have no room for racism whatsoever.
If there’s one thing to remember from the EURO 2020 final, it’s this: footballers are never immune to any sort of criticism, but do not ever deserve any form of racial abuse.
Cover: Robert Anderson on Unsplash
Edited by: Kim Bron