Like many, I have been fairly avidly watching England’s progress in the Euro2020 championship. Since being a teenage supporter of Ipswich Town when they were in their glory days under Bobby Robson I have always enjoyed good football. And, odd matches apart, the Euros have supplied that.
They have also done two other things. One is that they have supplied good refereeing, the quality of which has usually been exemplary, although Sterling was lucky to be awarded that penalty. The benefit of excellent regulation has been very apparent in this tournament.
The other delight has been the very obvious consistency in England’s approach to inequality throughout the tournament. The government thinks Southgate ‘deep woke’. I think they are right. He is. And rightly so. He leads a deeply multicultural team representing a deeply multicultural country. Many have done that. But Southgate clearly believes that this imposes a special responsibility on him, over and above that to deliver results on the field.
The result is obvious. The team take the knee because Southgate sets the tone, I am sure. But he liberates them to show their commitment to each other. In turn that liberates Harry Kane to show his support for Pride, which was so powerful. And it provides Marcus Rashford the confidence to become the spokesperson he is becoming.
Don’t dismiss Gary Lineker’s comments either.
And in case that is thought to be the woke BBC at work this was Gary Neville on ITV last night, taking a direct swipe at Boris Johnson and the poor quality of his leadership.
Gary Neville speaks for the nation. pic.twitter.com/bZ0PTaw7kI
— Kevin Osborne (@skinoverbone) July 7, 2021
It’s easy to criticise the racism, homophobia, populist nationalism and English exceptionalism of some football supporters, and I will. Some idiots booed the Danish national anthem last night without apparently appreciating that if the Danes had not turned up, and been worthy opponents (which they were) there would have been no match. That sort of small mindedness deserves to be condemned.
But what Southgate has done that must really irritate these people, and their friends in Whitehall who encourage their booing of the players when they take the knee, is that he has shown that this is a minority activity. His stand shows that people are in favour of equality. They do oppose discrimination. They want justice. He makes very clear that the nonsensical claim that to do so is Marxist is simply drivel. But he also undoubtedly promotes a politics based in civility at the same time, and unashamedly so.
My guess is that this is a very big reason why so many people are watching these matches. They are wanting England to win for reason that they never imagined possible, which is what they actually stand for. And what they do stand for is unambiguous. They stand for a country that is inclusive of us all when the government is deliberately creating disunity, division and chaos as a mechanism for control.
No wonder the government hates Southgate. He and his team are showing them up.
That’s a very good reason for hoping England win against Italy in the final. I will be watching.