I’ve woken up this morning filled with an overwhelming, burning shame to be British. Last night’s football game is the perfect example of the deep seated issues England currently faces. I am nothing short of mortified by the behaviour I’ve seen demonstrated by ‘football fans’ in the last 24 hours, but sadly, not surprised.
Over the last year with Covid, BLM, Sarah Everard’s murder, and countless other national events, it’s become increasingly clear that the values of the British government, the police force, and a large population of this country do not line up with my own. With each wrong turn made it’s become increasingly difficult to sit quietly by and not comment on the way England is existing right now.
Let’s start by discussing the fact that there are oncology patients sat alone on chemo wards today, who had to watch 60,000 fans sit at Wembley stadium mask free to watch a game. Expectant mothers are still only allowed one birth partner with them. Patients undergoing major surgery are not allowed to have their family with them before being taken to the operating room. This government has made accommodations for football at the cost of public health, and left the vulnerable alone.
This doesn’t even account for the crowds that flocked places like Leicester Square to wreak havoc before the game even started. Remember when a group of mostly women gathered for a candlelit vigil to remember Sarah Everard, a woman who was murdered by a police officer, and the police were tackling women to the ground? Where were the police yesterday? Whilst men threw bottles and put lit flares in their body and broke into Wembley stadium and started throwing punches? I guess they weren’t doing anything truly awful like grieving, or laying flowers.
Let’s talk more about women in football. Aside from the fact that women have historically been violently excluded from football, and the years of misogynistic, patriarchal, get-in-the-kitchen-and-serve-the-beers bullshit we’ve all experienced, women continue to suffer when it comes to the sport. Despite the women’s football team in England continuing to demonstrate extreme skill – no this is not the first time England have been in the final, the women’s team made it to the final in 2009, they are still viewed as less than though. With reported domestic violence increasing by 26% in a win/draw, and 38% in a loss, women are a victim of football’s hooligan mentality. I personally have no interest in living in a country where prior to a football game we have to flood social media with advice for domestic violence victims.
This abuse isn’t limited to football, but we see again and again institutions ignoring violence against women and black people in the name of sport.
The deep rooted systemic racism in the UK has become glaringly obvious in the last years, and football is perhaps one of the most toxic examples. Fans pin their hopes on English footballers as if they are servants doing their bidding, and when the outcome isn’t what they hoped, they turn on them, spewing vile racist abuse at the team they claim to love. The comments targeted at England’s black players today are nothing short of abhorrent.
And when these same players take a knee to highlight racial inequality and discrimination, what do these ‘fans’ do? They boo the team.
We shouldn’t have to list the accomplishments of black footballers as reasons not to racially attack them. They simply shouldn’t be racially attacked for doing their jobs.
Considering the footage we’ve seen of grown men sucker punching other fans, and kicking them as they lie on the floor, it would be foolish to believe the violence and racism highlighted here is the end of it.
In a country where the NHS is on its knees, scientists are begging us to stay home to protect an overworked health service, continual excuses are made for those celebrating football. Add this to the gross wage inequality between doctors performing lifesaving medicine and footballers playing a game, the way we worship football doesn’t sit easy with me. We’ve seen no pay increases for the NHS staff that have worked tirelessly through the pandemic but now Boris Johnson want’s to pour money into a bid to host the World Cup in 2030.
This would be the same Boris Johnson who said he didn’t believe in ‘meaningless gestures’ like taking a knee, but who dangled hopes of a bank holiday to celebrate a win in front of the public.
I’m no longer willing to accept the continued ignorance of this violence, if you’re not angry at these issues you’re just not paying attention. We have a responsibility to call out the racism, no matter who is perpetrating it, to call out the misogyny and violence against women, to stand up for the injustices served in the name of football.
I have no interest in supporting a sport that idolises a culture rooted in toxic masculinity and violence.
I am exhausted by the excuses we make for football, there’s no ‘boys will be boys’ when it comes to a culture of violence and abuse. Football is a GAME and if as a nation we can’t be trusted to not destroy property or target racial slurs and physical violence at others because of its outcome, then we don’t deserve it.