July 29, 2021

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I may be English, but I can’t support them

This past weekend saw the England football team finish second at Euro 2020. I saw the team and the country’s dreams of victory were over in a matter of seconds as young Bukayo Saka failed to make it. last penalty shot. Over the course of the tournament, my timeline filled with tweets filled with excitement, support, pride and happiness for the English team that won match after match. This match was particularly special as it was the first time England had played in a final since winning the World Cup in 1966. Despite England’s flags being displayed everywhere I turned, both online and offline, I was in a mixture of emotions.

Although I am Anglo-Nigerian, I have never cheered England or Great Britain in any sporting event, but this was the first time I felt that maybe I should celebrate too. I didn’t share the same energy that many of my peers had for the team, but then again, much of the English team’s success came from their black players. Just half an hour after the final I was reminded of exactly why I always held the stance that I saw racist posts flooding the Instagram comments of the three black players who missed their penalties in Sunday’s match. One minute, the whole nation was cheering on these men, the next minute some were throwing racist slurs. A mural of Marcus Rashford, one of the penalty shooters, was even vandalized in his hometown. It is because of such behaviors and attitudes that I find it difficult to affiliate with England fans. While this doesn’t reflect them all, it’s enough to make me feel dissociated and disconnected from the whole thing.

The problem with the Brits is that they can support and encourage you and even claim you when you win. The moment you lose or do something to disappoint, it is when they remember that you are not one of them. It is the speed and ease with which they are able to switch sides that is extremely disheartening and is perpetuated not only by sports fans but in all spheres of society, particularly in the media. The sad part of all of this is that my fellow black Englishmen and I knew this abuse was coming. We knew how the media and pundits could potentially shape history. We have seen it over and over again before. We knew what was happening to each of those players as they stepped forward to take their shot. There was the pressure from their team, the expectations of the 60,000 people at Wembley Stadium watching them and the burden of knowing that there were millions of people sitting at home and across the country hoping to shoot and score.

One of the most frustrating things to witness from this increase in abuse has been the need for some to validate black players and everything they do, as if to say that because they have done good, you shouldn’t be racist towards them. Marcus Rashford emerged during the pandemic as an activist, campaigning for free school meals for primary school children during the lockdown among many other causes. Jadon Sancho helped build a new state-of-the-art football pitch in South London, where he comes from. Bukayo Saka has become a voice for the new generations. Every young person is inspiring and commendable in and of itself, but does their good work need to be highlighted to humanize them? Surely their being human alone should not justify the racism they have suffered. It’s just another example of how in the UK as a black person you have to be considered extraordinary to get the respect you would get if you looked different.

So when it comes to sporting events, which team do you cheer on? Well obviously Nigeria is always my number one. Super Eagles, D’Tigers, Super Falcons, you name it. If they sound green-white-green, I’m arguing. It is through things like this that I can truly connect with my heritage, my people and my identity. Despite what some people try to tell me due to my upbringing in the UK, I am a Nigerian through and through and wouldn’t do it any other way.

Disclaimer: The mail I may be English, but I can’t support them was first published by Aisha’s corner on leadership.ng.

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