The Month of Joy the Enabled Tried to Ruin!

Posted on July 13, 2021

As I looked around the dejected faces of the cricket club on Sunday night, I felt sad for the young people feeling what I did 31 years ago after a dramatic night in Turin. The sick part of me also felt glad that these people should be subjected to the misery I once endured. But mostly, I felt empathy.

I felt miserable too, but like many of my age group, I am battle hardened, so it didn’t last more than an hour. I have witnessed no fewer than seven England penalty shoot-out defeats in tournaments since 1990. Add to that four play-off final defeats for my domestic club, Reading. You can’t hurt me or my kind.  We are like the football equivalent of those poor souls in ‘Band of Brothers’ who walk past exploding land mines like they are not there.

Resilience & Perspective

Being resilient to sporting misery also allows me to put perspective on big events. I can enjoy them more. My support is always for England but being less partisan allows me to enjoy other games and the way teams set up to play. A one-eyed view of your own team stops the brain engaging in the talent, team ethic (or lack of it with France) and audacity of others.

For England, the team ethic moulded by Southgate was there for all to see. Of course, team spirit becomes increasingly unbreakable when a system works. Southgate chose pragmatism and refused to bow to those who knew better, whether from their armchairs, or the offices of the news group pushing them hard for juicy headlines.

Southgate’s meticulous planning allowed England to overcome Germany in a rousing tactical masterclass. Ukraine, a poor but willing team were duly hammered, and an inspired Denmark were eventually worn down. England took advantage of a decent path to the final with ruthless efficiency. Southgate now, stood way above any criticism. England, in a final at last.

Praise & Criticism

In the aftermath of another penalty shoot-out defeat, praise has been rightly heaped on Southgate and the young, decent, and honest players who represented England. But he should not be free from any criticism. Southgate’s wildest Saturday night dreams would have not included a rousing opening goal that took the roof off Wembley and the pubs and clubs up and down the land, on a wet summer evening.

Italy, like Croatia in 2018, were rocking. Panicked and on the ropes, they were almost begging to be knocked out. England jabbed but never punched before retreating as the fear of conceding overwhelmed the desire to finish off a robust but ageing Italian defence.  Credit must also go to Italy. They steadied themselves into a state of parity, then dominance, before the inevitable, albeit scrappy equaliser.  

Thereafter, Italy dominated possession and looked like the inevitable winner. The England defence, superb once again, stayed firm. But were not rewarded with a counterattack by the rapid front line who are supposed to strike fear into anyone. A flurry of extra-time English dominance showed a vulnerability to Italy that, for reasons better tacticians than me cannot explain, was not exploited enough.

The penalty shoot-out was painful. Especially for those lads who missed. As a useless Sunday footballer, I once missed an open goal in a game we were drawing 2-2 in the final seconds. I can still replay it in my head like it was yesterday. That was in 1988, so I can’t imagine what these players who missed, keep seeing in their minds eye, and always will.

Hate & Vitriol

To then receive the hate and vitriol they have endured, is beyond the comprehension of anyone who isn’t insane. The enjoyment so many people have had over the last month, tarnished by the irony of the beautiful game attracting the ugliest members of humanity. Vile disaffected trash who sees it as their right to connect skin colour to the missing of a penalty. It is time that anyone who sympathises with these guys, to understand why this is happening, and is allowed to happen. Why as a society do we allow it to happen?

Gary Neville and Tyrone Mings have called it right. They have shown the way to make people try to understand what this is all about. It is about a nationalist government dog whistling to racists because they require their votes. The Conservative Party are losing the conservatives with a small ‘c’, so they are looking to the far-right to consolidate their power. They are now in a position where they cannot criticise the type of voters that they have played a tune to.

Anyone who really wants this to stop and for football to be a carnival and not a cesspit, needs to be brave enough to look at who at the top is helping to enable racism. They need to look at the people who are leading the United Kingdom and say, “That’s it, I have had enough of this dog whistling”. It won’t stop racists right there, but it will be a starting point.

People must look themselves in the mirror and ask whether they are going to hold people like Priti Patel and Boris Johnson to account, or conveniently deny that there is a problem at government level. Pretending otherwise is cowardly and avoiding the issue.

Empty gestures are pointless.   


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