Let's face facts, on Sunday 11th July, the England national football team lost the Euros 2020 final to Italy in the penalties of the game. In the penalties, Italy won 3-2. For England, Harry Kane, Harry Maguire, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were chosen to compete in the penalties. Kane and Maguire were the only ones that scored. I mean... With the history of race in football in England, who wouldn't guess that Rashford, Sancho and Saka (three black players) would experience football's up and coming trademark, racist abuse. The impact of this final in the space of 3 days have been vast. But let's look deeper into the history of division and unity in football of all kinds.
From as far back as the 1960s when players such as Clyde Best and Ade Coker were exposed to "monkey chants" and had bananas thrown at them during West Ham games. And in the 1980s, when racist abuse to football players increased rapidly and players like Garth Crooks, Paul Canoville, and Cyrille Regis were the victims with Regis recalling being sent a bullet in the mail. In 1987, John Barnes was pictured back-heeling a banana off the pitch during a match for Liverpool against Everton, whose fans chanted "Everton are white". Even in the early 2000s, clubs like Millwall and West Ham were investigated and even charged over racist behaviour by fans.
There are more modern divisive aspects to the ever-popular sport. More recently the racist abuse of the trio from the Euros. Most of this abuse was unsurprisingly spewing from Twitter, a social media platform notorious for cyberbullying, racist abuse, and most notably, "cancelling". All three experienced this with Saka having his Instagram flooded with monkey emojis. In real life, the mural of Marcus Rashford in south Manchester was defaced after the loss, and both Rashford and Sancho have spoken out about their resilience against this. Even people that are in positions of influence like comedian, Andrew Lawrence, who formerly had a loyal following decided to not show his support for the trio but to instead to use racist language in his comments like:
"All I'm saying, is the white guys scored" "I can see this has offended a lot of people, and i'm sorry that black guys are bad at penalties"
As well as other offensive comments like: "I'd rather he'd practiced his penalties, and the kids had gone hungry" - In reference to Marcus Rashford
"Equality, diversity, s*** penalties"
Random attacks on Italians have increased to brand the Euros 2020 as the worst ever tournament for crime. During the Euros, a laser light was shined in the Danish goalkeeper's eyes, and obviously boos occurred when the 'taking of the knee' took place. People are in shock that all of this has happened. Why? It's the great English hypocrisy! The hero is the hero until the hero's team fails, then the hero is the scapegoat. The other team is always the enemy and if they win it's their supporters that transform into punching bags. Black players are heroes until they lose then their just 'monkeys' and 'useless'
Yet despite all of this it would be ignorant to ignore the unusual unity that comes with football. When a group of people support a team, of course they would be glad for the team to win. But it also helps strengthen relationships between people as football is today the most common interest between people. Strong friendships often occur between players as well and all of this support and unity creates efficiency on the pitch by players and in the stadium for fans. People in positions of power have long endorsed the sport and supported different teams, encouraging and modelling the sport as well. It was impossible to ignore the unity that erupted during the Euros from the knockouts to the final and how people from all walks of life were doing everything they could to support the English football team. After the abuse of the trio came to light, people took the knee in support beside the Rashford mural and people in positions of power have condemned the racial abuse. Somehow, this has brought people closer in a different way. Not as patriotism for their favourite team but as joint frustration at this abuse of the players.
I took a poll to see what people think about this issue to:
As you can see the majority agree that football is both unifying and divisive. 6 people said it is just unifying but this cannot be true. Sadly, the overwhelming evidence says football has divisive aspects as well but there are solutions to fix this:
Bans for any person who shouts racist abuse at players during a match.
Tougher social media regulations (An updated user guideline and more people looking on social media platforms to pick put people who are breaking these guidelines)
Bans for people that boo when players take the knee (It's not the fans' decision of what is appropriate or inappropriate during a game).
And finally just more regulation on who enters a stadium. If there is anything the Euros taught us is that this what happens when fan service reaches the peak and fans have too much control.
Overall, football has divisive and unifying aspects but somewhere in the near future is a sign that the divisive could overpower the unifying.