Amid racist attacks and an array of backlash, what did England’s entry into the Euro 2020 finale mean to British Asians?

Shefali Saxena Tuesday 13th July 2021 11:29 EDT

"I'm Marcus Rashford, a 23-year-old black man from Withington and Wythenshawe, South Manchester. If I have nothing else I have that. For all the kind messages thank you. I'll be back stronger. We'll be back stronger,” said the player whose mural, painted on the side of a cafe in Copson Street in Withington, south Manchester, was graffitied on within hours of his missed penalty in the match. The graffiti was covered over with black plastic sheets and duct tape while Greater Manchester Police undertake an investigation to find the offender. In the meantime, Rashford’s fans went to the mural to stick paper hearts and notes to show their support. "Hundreds of people have taken the knee at a mural to Marcus Rashford in solidarity against the racist abuse he and others received following England's Euro 2020 final loss," ITV reported. 

Silence fell over the crowd as they took the knee, before chants of "black lives matter" came from the crowd.

“I can take critique of my performance all day long, my penalty was not good enough, it should have gone in but I will never apologise for who I am and where I came from. I've felt no prouder moment than wearing those three lions on my chest and seeing my family cheer me on in a crowd of tens of thousands,” he added.  The Euro 2020 final is over. We all know what followed. 

Police are treating it as a racist incident after Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jason Sancho, who all missed a penalty, have been targeted with racist abuse on social media. In over 850,000 tweets, 1,913 flagged as potentially abusive, specifically targeting Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling. 167 posts were considered to be "high risk" abuse. Twitter removed more than 1,000 posts, Facebook and Instagram re-instated tougher measures. Yet, from watermelon emojis alongside monkey and banana emojis to calling them ‘flag-waving piccaninnies’, Britain saw one of the most shameful racial attacks last week. 

UEFA has said that it is launching an investigation into events involving supporters inside and around Wembley Stadium during Sunday's Euro 2020 final.

After the Euro2020 finale, Shaista, Amna, Huda, of the #TheThreeHijabis group started an online petition on change dot org, demanding a ban on racists for life from all football matches in England. As of July 13th, the signatures were almost close to a million, making it one of the top signed petitions on change dot org. 

More than half of Gareth Southgate’s 26-man squad have at least one parent or grandparent born outside of the UK, according to the Migration Museum. Out of the 11 players who started for England in their thrilling semi-final victory over Denmark, a total of seven have a parent or grandparent from overseas.

Before the tournament Southgate, the England manager reportedly urged people to speak out against white privilege. He wrote, “Our players are role models. 

“It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate. It’s clear to me we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that.”

More than just a footballer 

In an exclusive comment for Asian Voice about Marcus Rashford’s work to support 1.3mn vulnerable children in the UK during the pandemic with free school meal vouchers during summer holidays in England, a spokesperson from The Akshaya Patra told us, “The Akshaya Patra Foundation UK shares a relationship of absolute respect and mutual admiration with Marcus Rashford. He has appreciated Akshaya Patra UK several times. Besides, on the matter of child hunger, Akshaya Patra UK strives to serve as many thousands of children in the UK and is pursuing further collaboration with the activist and English footballer.” Rashford was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Honours in 2018. 

19-year-old Bukayo Saka missed the penalty that gave Italy the edge, denying England its first international trophy since the 1966 World Cup. It is important to note that Saka made a powerful show of solidarity from Arsenal with the Black Lives Matter movement, where he sported a t-shirt that said: 'My skin is not a crime.’

20-year-old Jadon Sancho is known for leading Bundesliga players' show of support during BLM, where his t-shirt read, “Justice for George Floyd.”

Earlier last month, Manchester City and England player Raheem Sterling was named in Queen Elizabeth II's Birthday Honours list in recognition of his work to promote racial equality in sport. The 26-year-old, who has been heavily involved in anti-racism and anti-discrimination campaigns, has been made an MBE. 

TRH Duke of Cambridge, Prince William said in a statement that, “I am sickened by the racist abuse aimed at England players after last night’s match. It is totally unacceptable that players have to endure this abhorrent behaviour. It must stop now and all those involved should be held accountable.”

PM and Home Secretary under scrutiny

Anti-racists called for a demonstration at Rashford mural and said that Gary Neville was correct in calling out government racism and racist abuse towards, Rashford, Saka and Sancho. The demonstration was held on Tuesday 13 July at 6 pm in Withington. Stand up to Racism Co-Convenor Sabby Dhalu told Sky: “Boris Johnson failed to condemn the booing of England footballers taking the knee and MPs such as Home Secretary Priti Patel, Lee Anderson and Brendan Clarke-Smith who attacked England for taking the knee. This gave succour to far-right racists and fascists. Therefore, the torrent of racist abuse since the final is not surprising. Racism starts from the top.”

In a press statement, Lee Bloomfield, Chief Executive of Manningham Housing Association said, “As a BAME association which stands for equality and diversity and against any form of racism or prejudice, it is critically important that public figures and public-facing organisations with the ability to speak out against such appalling behaviour now take a stand. Turning a blind eye to unashamed racism will lead our country towards an abyss. Instead, a spotlight must be shone on this cancer and those individuals who have committed crimes of hate must be harshly dealt with by the criminal law.” 

“The Prime Minister said that it was okay for the population of this country to boo those players who were trying to promote equality and defend against racism,” Gary Neville - football pundit, coach and the former player said. 

After being heavily criticised for letting in ‘racist idiots’ inside the Euro2020 finale at the Wembley Stadium, at a Downing Street press conference, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, “To those who have been directing racist abuse at some of the players I say shame on you and I hope you will crawl back under the rock from which you emerged. Because this entire team played like heroes and I'm sure that this is just the beginning of their achievements, and I say bring on Qatar next year and let's also dare to start, together with Ireland, how the United Kingdom can host the World Cup in 2030.”

Groups of Indians were seen taking photos outside Wembley Stadium, treating it almost as a sacred and holy grail. Homes across London and other parts of England donned windows and doors with English flags, with Indians seen doing aarti in front of the English squad photo, putting tilak on Harry Kane. Photo of a home mandir with idols wearing England’s jersey and flags in the backdrop made rounds. Captain Mike Patel installed the flag of England in his prayer room at home after his relatives suggested that they must pray as people back home in India do during cricket matches. 

Did you know, there are about five most common Football Fan Superstitions and Rituals, which include Wearing a lucky shirt (23%), Having your lucky number on your shirt (14%), Wearing lucky socks (11%), Wearing lucky pants (9%) and Kissing the badge/Sitting in the same seat when watching at home (8%). Who would have thought that there should have been a sixth superstition, a ritual to keep racist abuse at bay. 

Asian Voice reached out to members of the community and experts to know their take on this unfortunate incident. 

Social media companies need to do more 

 Tony Burnett, Kick It Out CEO, told this newsweekly, “When it comes to online abuse, we need better regulation and enforcement, and we need social media companies to be part of the solution. The social media companies are in the best position to have an impact – they have the financial resources, the technology and the people. They need to ensure their resources are allocated consistently to solve this problem and they need to show determination to solve this problem. The changes we’d like to see include applying preventative filtering and blocking measures to stop discriminatory abuse being sent or seen; being accountable for safety on platforms and protecting users by implementing effective verification; and ensuring real-life consequences for online discriminatory abuse, such as banning perpetrators, stopping account re-registration and supporting law enforcement. We will continue to work with our partners in football to drive discrimination out of the game, but we call on those with the power to act now. The social media companies need to do more to stamp out abuse on their platforms, and the government also need to step up and keep its promise to regulate. The Online Safety Bill could be a game-changer and we aim to help make that happen.”

England team was an extension of ourselves

Jasvir Singh, Co-founder of South Asian Heritage Month told us, “The England team is the most diverse ever. Its progressive views and approach represent modern Britain in a way unlike any other national team to have represented us before. To the millions who made this country their home from the 1950s onwards and their children and grandchildren, this has made us feel that the England team was an extension of ourselves. It's as simple as that.” 

Speaking to the newsweekly, Cllr Ameet Jogia, Co-Chairman of the Conservative Friends of India, who he attended the semis against Denmark at Wembley said, “The current England team reflects modern-day Britain. We are all proud of how far the team got under the fantastic leadership of Gareth Southgate. It is a young, dynamic, and reformed team that show great promise ahead of the World Cup and future competitions. I think the racial abuse suffered by players afterwards was deeply sickening and disappointing. This goes against our British values, and I hope those inflicting such abuse will be reprimanded.”

Snide remarks for England residents supporting Italy 

Atrayee Bandhopadhyay was supporting Italy, not England. She had to face snide remarks for not supporting the country of her residence. Talking to Asian Voice, she said, “A Bengali’s fascination with football is well known and I’m no exception! I’ve grown to love the spirit of the game since childhood and the euphoria transcends all ethnic or religious barriers! I was supporting Italy, a childhood favourite, in the final match of the Euro Cup and for the first time came across snide remarks about my loyalty to the country I inhabit! Though driven by passion, to me sports is not about nationality or patriotism, it goes beyond the field and is a valuable source of inspiration and sustenance for the mind! Political or racist references only tarnishes the image of the game. We should be thankful to all the players to have given us a reason to rejoice and unite in such difficult times and stay away from any negativity.”

Wembley resident Bharat Vaswani shared his two cents with the newsweekly and said, “In 2019, people born outside the UK made up an estimated 14% of the UK’s population or 9.5 million people. The England 2021 squad is more racially diverse than the country and that to me is acceptance and importance of the diverse racial fabric of the UK.  As a person of Indian origin every single day I deal with people of different ethnic heritage at work and outside. In the UK, migration defines who we are, where we have come from and where we are going. The racial abuse faced by some of the team members has undone the spirit of oneness of the past weeks in one single day. There is a need for deep introspection at this time. The reality of football in the UK is that is a diverse team with predominantly white followers.”

Bizarre events 

Amid all the chaos, Nina Farooqi, 37, made an excuse to dodge work so she could go to Wembley after getting a last-minute ticket. She was fired by her boss spotted her cheering on TV at the stadium at 6 am the next day. Britons wanted a bank holiday if England won the Euro 2020 finale. A petition was started to support this demand with over 300,00 signatures. Alas, instead we all need a break from the rampant racism and open intolerance towards people of colour. 

British Bangladeshi Dipul Miah who drives a Black cab on London’s streets told us that he decided to take a day off on the day of the finale because he pre-empted the ruckus that hooligans created for drivers, cabs and public transport. WhatsApp and social media videos of vandalism went viral post the match. 

The award-winning family-owned chain of Kushi restaurants and takeaways in East London and Essex had announced that customers would get free vindaloo if England won the UEFA Euro 2020 Final on Sunday. Meanwhile, fans have started petitions calling for England vs Italy rematch. They never lose hope. 

_____ BOX_____

Instances of domestic abuse increase 26% when England play and 38% if they lose

Amidst total chaos and orchestrated racist attacks, the National Centre for Domestic Violence rolled out a campaign that said: “Not everyone is looking forward to the match tonight...instances of domestic abuse increase 26% when England play and 38% if they lose.” 

Speaking exclusively to Asian Voice, Sharon Bryan – Head of Partnerships and Development, NCDV (National Centre for Domestic Violence) said, “The link between domestic abuse, racism and football is, I suspect, that many perpetrators who are domestically abusive to their partners and/or former partners, those that cause trouble and are abusive at or about football matches are also abusive to people of colour.  I have worked in the field of domestic abuse for 23 years, mainly front line, and this has been my experience.  

 “I am also a survivor of domestic abuse and my ex-husband was all of the aforementioned things.  He regularly caused trouble at football matches.  He was racist and I have lost count of the times he assaulted me when either his football team or England lost a match.  There is a correlation between Domestic Abuse and Racial Abuse.  

“Football does not cause either.  Neither does alcohol.  But both these things will be used as excuses for abusive behaviour, whatever form that abuse takes.  Football, on its own, is a national sport and as a country, we have every right to be proud of our team and be excited by a possible major tournament win.  

“But put football with someone whose identity is entirely intertwined with the game – someone who feels the need to be in control of a situation, someone who sees every tackle, every red card, every penalty missed as if it were happening to them personally – and then you have someone who when the game is over, needs to ‘get control back.  Because abuse is never about being out of control.  It is always about being in control”. “

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