In a post yesterday, I expressed my disgust at the online racist abuse that was dished out to the three English players Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho who could not score on their penalty attempts and that resulted in Italy’s victory. I had not followed the tournament and so had not known about what happened earlier. Apparently the English team had earlier in the tournament, like Colin Kapernick in the US, taken a knee to protest racism and injustice and, again like with Kapernick, had been booed by some fans. Both UK prime minister Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel, racism enablers like their hero Donald Trump, took the opportunity to pander to racists and had not unequivocally condemned that earlier display and had even seemed to excuse it.
[B]oth Patel and Johnson have repeatedly stopped short of criticising fans who booed England players for taking the knee in a stand against racism. Patel has said taking the knee represents “gesture politics” and whether to boo the England players was a “choice” for fans to make.
As the players were subjected to a barrage of online abuse, one Tory MP had to apologise for suggesting Rashford should have concentrated on football rather than “playing politics” in an apparent reference to his campaign for free school meals.
Natalie Elphicke, the Tory MP for Dover and Deal, made the comment in a WhatsApp message to fellow MPs, suggesting Rashford should not have spent time on his successful campaign for free school meals for low-income pupils in the school holidays.
In comments first reported by GB News, Elphicke said: “They lost – would it be ungenerous to suggest Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics?”
Johnson and Patel are now trying to argue, like Trump would do, that they did not bear any responsibility at all for what happened after the final. But others are not buying it, saying that their earlier stance contributed to it, with criticisms coming from even within their own party accusing them of being hypocrites.
Responding to Patel’s statement on Twitter, the England player Tyrone Mings said: “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.”
Sayeeda Warsi, a Conservative peer and former co-chair, sent a public message to Patel, the home secretary, calling on her and all Conservatives to “think about our role in feeding this culture in our country”.
“If we ‘whistle’ & the ‘dog’ reacts, we can’t be shocked if it barks & bites,” Lady Warsi tweeted. “It’s time to stop the culture wars that are feeding division. Dog whistles win votes but destroy nations.”
Sir Peter Fahy, the former chief constable of Greater Manchester and vice-chair of the body representing police chiefs, told the Guardian that some politicians had “wilfully” misinterpreted why the England players were making the protest gesture.
Fahy said: “You need to take a very clear stance on anti-racism. I do think you cannot be passively anti-racist. You have to resist it [anti-racism] being a political issue and be clear it is a moral issue. You have to make your position crystal clear.
“There is a connection. Politicians being ambivalent about their support, choosing to wilfully misinterpret what the England players are doing. That means that minority will see that as tacit support. They are giving them room to operate, especially those trying to make out that [taking the knee before games] is a political issue.”
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, was even more explicitly critical, saying Johnson and Patel “gave licence to the racists who booed the England players and are now racially abusing England players”. She said they were “like arsonists complaining about a fire they poured petrol on – total hypocrites”.
The former England defender Gary Neville joined those questioning Johnson’s authority on the subject of racism, telling Sky News: “The prime minister said it was OK for the population of this country to boo those players who were trying to promote equality and defend against racism. It starts at the very top. I wasn’t surprised in the slightest that I woke up to those headlines; I expected it the minute the three players missed.”
Labour seized on the message, with Rayner saying Elphicke had been “sneering at an inspirational player who stepped up to feed hungry kids when [Tory MPs] voted to leave them without food”.
Elphicke released an apology shortly afterwards, saying: “I regret messaging privately a rash reaction about Marcus Rashford’s missed penalty and apologise to him for any suggestion that he is not fully focused on his football.”
Responding to Elphicke’s message, her fellow Tory MP Simon Hoare said: “Would it be ungenerous? Yes. Unwarranted? Yes. Wrong? Yes.”
I feel really sorry for Rashford, Saka, and Sancho. Even without the post-final abuse, they would have likely had many sleepless nights anguishing about letting down their team mates, coach, and fans, going over in their minds their failed attempts, and wondering what they might have done differently. Having to deal with this kind of racism on top of that must be almost unbearable.
And if all that was not bad enough, there was apparently bedlam before the match as crowds of ticketless people overwhelmed the gate keepers and security forces and forced their way into the stadium. It looked like the January 6th Capital insurrection in the US.
Police can’t stop the England 🏴 fans without tickets storming the ticket entrances at Wembley – not enough riot police to deal with the weight amount of the crowd – kicking off !!! pic.twitter.com/ZM7KpbMmQJ
— Paul Brown 🇬🇧 Browns fan🏈 London News 🎥Vlogger (@PaulBrown_UK) July 11, 2021
— Dan Dicker (@dandicker83) July 11, 2021
Even before Wembley was stormed by hundreds of ticketless fans, the approach to the stadium resembled a war zone. “Walking along Wembley Way was one of the worst experiences of the night,” said Francesco, an Italian fan. “It looked like a battleground: trash everywhere, trees being pulled and England fans forcing their way up stairs to the stadium and causing crushes.”
Fans were not allowed into the stadium until 5pm, and by this stage huge queues had formed, with some people standing on broken glass and other debris as tensions mounted.
Jon Wilson, an England fan, said it was “the worst football match I have ever experienced – raw aggression the whole way through”. He added: “Wembley Way was appalling. There were no Covid checks to gain entry as staff were too busy dragging a number of people who were forcing the barriers. My 15-year-old son said afterwards: ‘I don’t think I like football.’”
The Covid checking seemed to have collapsed under the pressure. Health experts were worried that this match might turn out to be a superspreader event even with the checks. They must be even more worried now. Somehow, the kind of people who are willing to engage in this kind of behavior are also the ones who are unlikely to be conscientious about the health and safety of others.