England’s footballers deserve so much better from cowardly, tiresome politicians

First of all, it really shouldn’t matter that they are such nice lads.

It shouldn’t matter that Bukayo Saka was a straight A* student, the pride of his old school and the possessor of the type of fearless nature that puts the rest of us to shame at just 19.

It shouldn’t matter that Jadon Sancho is on the cusp of superstardom, about to take the Premier League by storm.

And it shouldn’t matter that Marcus Rashford does everything – EV-ER-Y-THING – he does.

Those that have dutifully been stressing the many, many positives about the trio in these past couple of days have been doing so out of support for them, but they shouldn’t have to do that. In an ideal world they wouldn’t need to.

But we are far from an ideal world.

We’re in the type of world where those who look at Saka, Sancho and Rashford and see only one thing, one other , have been emboldened by the actions of those that are supposed to lead us.

Rashford has faced racist abuse since his penalty miss on Sunday

And what’s more the footballers themselves know it.

Think about everything that comes with the pressure of taking a penalty in a shootout in a European Championship final, the walk up the ball, the glance at the goalkeeper, the deep intake of breath.

And then think about the fact that the pressure that was on Saka, Sancho and Rashford was much heavier than on the Harrys Kane and Maguire. That’s heartbreaking.

But this is England, 2021.

It is a country when politicians will fail to support your anti-racism message one week and then flip to criticising those who racially abuse you the next, all because the populism has shifted with a few good results.

Oh and they’ll have a fresh out of the packet England shirt on when they do it, too. Look at the creases.

And they do it because that’s where the votes are. That’s what’s convenient for them.

Fans have been leaving messages of support after Rashford's mural in Manchester was defaced
Fans have been leaving messages of support after Rashford’s mural in Manchester was defaced

It’s why they rush to jump into things that have nothing to do with them like the recent storm around the historical tweets posted by the England cricketer Ollie Robinson. “Quick, here’s something we can stir up this week. Dive in!”

With that in mind, it clearly would have been far better for Boris Johnson, Priti Patel et al if England hadn’t gone very far in the Euros.

They could then get some backbencher to trot out some nonsense about how they should have focused on defending set-pieces rather than taking the knee, all of the people who mattered to them would have a good chuckle and their little, cosseted lives would go on.

Instead England have done well and that has forced them to face their own actions, with criticism even coming from within their own party as per a tweet criticising Patel from Tory and House of Lords peer Sayeeda Warsi.

That England’s run to the final always seemed to carry this extra weight to it really shouldn’t have been on the footballers or Gareth Southgate, but they have taken it on so impressively.

They have demonstrated that it is okay to care for your country, to wrap yourself in the flag and yet also be an impressive and open human being.

Boris Johnson was more than happy to be seen in an England shirt when the team started winning
Boris Johnson was more than happy to be seen in an England shirt when the team started winning

It is there in the way Southgate talks, the way Rashford acts, the way Raheem Sterling has taken on the media, the way Jordan Henderson speaks up and supports those who don’t feel as though they should be included and the way Tyrone Mings gloriously takes Home Secretaries to account.

That’s your England. That’s your very impressive football team on and off the pitch and one that you should be proud of this summer.

But why should they also be the ones trying to make the country a better place?

There are people in elected office whose job that is, and they are failing much more miserably at that than a footballer who sent a penalty marginally wide or had it saved by one of the best goalkeepers in the world.

Yet here those footballers are, the ones facing the abuse.

It is dreadful, it is tiring.

And it really shouldn’t matter that they are such nice lads.

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