England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

Black football fans like me know the struggle against racism must be built from the ground up

We have received this piece from a member of Socialist Alternative, speaking on their experiences of racism in football and stressing the need for a fighting, working-class approach to fighting racist oppression. If you would like to join Socialist Alternative, leave your details with us today!

31 million people were reportedly watching the Euro finals across the UK on television last Sunday. This doesn’t include the millions more watching on streaming services and further numbers watching in pubs and clubs across the UK. It would be an understatement to say the excitement was tangible for many football fans across the country.

For those of us who weren’t around for the World Cup win of 1966 this was as close as any of us had been to seeing England win a major international trophy. Yet, I had felt increasingly disappointed and disconnected from the England squad year after year. As this tournament rolled on it became a whisper in the ear of many fans that it may be “coming home”. When we got to tread the promised land of the Euro Final, that whisper turned into a galvanising cry of pride.

I enjoyed watching the match in the company of friends and loved ones and while we were all thoroughly engrossed in the game of football where, despite some questionable tactics, Italy were overall the better team and got to enjoy a well-earned victory. The England squad should have nothing but pride in themselves for achieving so much more than those of the “golden era” of their footballing forefathers.

Watching the match, I received a text from a friend telling me that there were some England fans trying to break into Wembley arena and were behaving violently towards stewards and Italian fans. Too distracted with my own emotional investment in the game I naively ignored this possible warning of the toxicity and misdirected anger amongst these fans. When it came to penalties, like the rest of the 31 million plus we were on tenterhooks, and like the 31 million we were disheartened at the result. With football being ultimately just a game we counted our losses and didn’t think any further of it. 

With all the pubs and clubs being so full the wait for a taxi was long and during the wait, surrounded by England fans spilling out from these pubs we overheard some disgusting racist comments spewed up by several embittered England fans. Replacing the feelings of goodwill I had from an evening with friends, these bigoted remarks angered and sickened me. It dawned on me that this was going to be a huge issue and there would be more to come.

As a person of colour, I had begun to feel reconnected to the England squad this year and Marcus Rashford played no small role in this. His charity campaign In the Box helped the homeless with essential items over the Christmas period and personally visited homeless shelters with his mother to hand out boxes to those in need. More recently, he campaigned for free school meals for children who needed it after the government claimed they wouldn’t be giving these free school meal vouchers. It took a 23 year-old footballer to feed the needy where a cruel Tory government would let them go hungry. Rashford has shown that with enough grassroots effort and campaigning, change is possible and we can make this world a better place. 

The memory of the worldwide Black Lives Matter protests is still strong in the minds of many in and out of the sporting world as the cry for social justice and liberation is still heard from many oppressed people in our community and those overseas. England decided to take the knee in solidarity with Black Lives Matter before each match. The sports men and women fighting for racial equality is a tale many are familiar with. Mohammed Ali refusing to fight in Vietnam, seeing the Vietnamese as brothers with the American black man in a fight against tyranny, black sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising black fisted gloves at the 1968 Summer Olympics and American football player Colin Kaepernick taking the knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality. The Tory government encouraged the England fans to boo the team taking the knee, referring to it as gesture politics. What message does that send to the players and supporters, when those in charge of the country encourage the besmirchment of anti-racism? 

These comments from the government are not the direct cause of the racist football fans but put side by side along with the torrent of abuse our black players have faced are a grim indictment of a deep societal problem that has been with us all since before we were born and before our parents were born. It’s a sickness that has trickled down from the top of capitalist society and infected our neighbours and co-workers. The comments against our black players who have served our country proud both on and off the pitch have left me cold yet ultimately unsurprised as our culture is one with a rich history of racial injustice. 

You can be black and play so well at your country’s national sport that you make the national team; you play so well that you are as close as any team in decades to winning an international tournament, only to lose by a fraction in the final. Yet, when the opportunity strikes, you are reminded by this racist culture that you’re just an “other” and despite all you’ve achieved and fought for, you’ll never be anything more than that. 

The young black child living in a high rise may dream of becoming a footballer on the level of a Rashford, a Sancho or a Saka but seeing this display from the minority of fans can either subconsciously or consciously enforce the idea that he can move heaven and earth but he’s cursed to be black in a white world and cursed to be second class in the eyes of his white neighbours and classmates. To those of us already grown up, it just reminds us that we’re forever destined to be the “other” in a racist capitalist world.

Despite all this, the huge support given to the abused black English players from ordinary people all over the country and from all sections of the community is reminiscent of the Black Lives Matter protests. Then and now black and white have stood together to show the racists they are in a small minority. England and Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings has correctly called out Priti Patel and Boris Johnson who have condemned the racists, whilst refusing to support England players taking the knee. Even some Tory MP’s are openly questioning Johnson’s obvious hypocrisy. 

The reaction to the racist abuse suffered by England’s players shows there is a latent movement which can be mobilised to push back racism and begin to tackle the huge and glaring racial inequalities in society. This will not come from Keir Starmer, who described the BLM protests last year as a ‘moment’. Far from being temporary, there is a long  lasting legacy in society and especially amongst young people, to tackle racism head on when it rears its ugly head. Socialist Alternative will continue its work to assist in bringing together this disparate majority into a mighty movement which can not only sweep away racism but the capitalist system which feeds off it.

Socialist Alternative says:

  • Black Lives Matter! Organise a mass united struggle against racism in all its forms. Rashford stood up for disadvantaged children. Now we must stand in solidarity with him and all football players facing abuse 
  • Kick racism out of football! Supporters’ groups need to get organised and discuss how racists can be tackled and kicked off the stands 
  • Racist Tories out! End the scapegoating of migrants and BAME people. Fight for decent jobs, homes and services for all
  • Trade unions must take a lead in the struggle against racism, actively building it in our workplaces, communities and on the streets!
  • End capitalism – a system founded on racism and oppression. Only the bosses win when workers are divided 
  • Fight for socialism – Public ownership and democratic planning to build a society for the millions not the millionaires

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