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'You don’t get to stoke fire...then pretend to be disgusted'

Hit with abuse, England soccer stars take on racist fans, their own government

Before Euros, minister bashed ‘gesture politics’ of taking knee, said it was up to fans if they wanted to boo; with Black players targeted after defeat, condemnations ring hollow

  • England's Tyrone Mings reacts following defeat to Italy at the Euro 2020 soccer championship final at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, July 11, 2021. (John Sibley/Pool Photo via AP)
    England's Tyrone Mings reacts following defeat to Italy at the Euro 2020 soccer championship final at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, July 11, 2021. (John Sibley/Pool Photo via AP)
  • An England fan, injured by a flying bottle, poses for a photograph on the edge of Trafalgar Square during a live screening of the UEFA EURO 2020 final football match between England and Italy in central London on July 11, 2021. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)
    An England fan, injured by a flying bottle, poses for a photograph on the edge of Trafalgar Square during a live screening of the UEFA EURO 2020 final football match between England and Italy in central London on July 11, 2021. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)
  • In this photo taken on June 22, 2021 (L-R) England's defender Harry Maguire, England's midfielder Kalvin Phillips and England's midfielder Declan Rice take the knee prior to the UEFA EURO 2020 Group D football match between Czech Republic and England at Wembley Stadium in London. (NEIL HALL / POOL / AFP)
    In this photo taken on June 22, 2021 (L-R) England's defender Harry Maguire, England's midfielder Kalvin Phillips and England's midfielder Declan Rice take the knee prior to the UEFA EURO 2020 Group D football match between Czech Republic and England at Wembley Stadium in London. (NEIL HALL / POOL / AFP)
  • A line of police officers are the target of beer can throwers as England supporters stand around the edges of Trafalgar Square during a live screening of the UEFA EURO 2020 final soccer match between England and Italy in central London on July 11, 2021. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)
    A line of police officers are the target of beer can throwers as England supporters stand around the edges of Trafalgar Square during a live screening of the UEFA EURO 2020 final soccer match between England and Italy in central London on July 11, 2021. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)
  • Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic in Downing Street, London, January 21, 2021. (Matt Dunham/ap)
    Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel speaks about the COVID-19 pandemic in Downing Street, London, January 21, 2021. (Matt Dunham/ap)
  • England's Kalvin Phillips, left, and Luke Shaw, right, comfort teammate Bukayo Saka after he failed to score a penalty during a penalty shootout after extra time at the Euro 2020 soccer championship final match between England and Italy at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, July 11, 2021. (Carl Recine/Pool Photo via AP)
    England's Kalvin Phillips, left, and Luke Shaw, right, comfort teammate Bukayo Saka after he failed to score a penalty during a penalty shootout after extra time at the Euro 2020 soccer championship final match between England and Italy at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, July 11, 2021. (Carl Recine/Pool Photo via AP)

LONDON (AP) — There wasn’t just missing out on the European title for a crestfallen and weary Gareth Southgate to contemplate.

The fallout from England fans’ boorish behavior was proving as painful for the coach and the nation on Monday as the previous night’s Euro 2020 final loss to Italy.

Crowds loaded with alcohol on the rampage sang offensively. Ticketless fans stormed past barricades into Wembley Stadium.

And Black players who missed penalties in the shootout were attacked with racist abuse on social media.

Whereas England players have used their platforms to project compassion, advocacy and inclusion in recent months, those ideals are far from being universally adopted by some fans still wanting to latch onto and celebrate their footballing successes when it suits them.

“We can’t control that,” Southgate said. “We can only set the example we believe we should and represent the country in a way we feel we should when we are representing England.

England’s manager Gareth Southgate embraces Bukayo Saka after he failed to score a penalty during a penalty shootout after extra time during of the Euro 2020 soccer championship final match between England and Italy at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, July 11, 2021. (Carl Recine/Pool Photo via AP)

“Everyone has to remember when they support the team that they are also representing England and they should represent what we stand for.”

Even when the government was cautioning the players against “gesture politics,” they continued to take a knee. When the government failed to condemn fans for booing their own players, the anti-racism gesture continued to be performed just before kickoff and was adopted by the opposition.

England’s Marcus Rashford reacts after missing a penalty in a shootout against Italy at the Euro 2020 soccer championship final at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, July 11, 2021. (John Sibley/Pool Photo via AP)

When the government tried to shame players at the start of the pandemic to “play their part” in the national crisis, the stars led by England vice captain Jordan Henderson gathered backing across Premier League squads to donate to the National Health Service.

When the government refused to extend the provision of free meals for deprived children, it was England and Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford who lobbied Prime Minister Boris Johnson until the policy was reversed to feed the needy.

When Raheem Sterling complained about racism in society, including the portrayal of Black players in headlines and the lack of diversity in coaching, the England and Manchester City forward sparked difficult and challenging conversations for the sport’s white-dominated leadership and media.

Queen Elizabeth II used her birthday honors list last month to award an MBE to Sterling for his efforts to promote racial equality and Henderson also became a member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his fundraising. The Liverpool captain has also worn rainbow laces at Euro 2020 to show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community.

An England fan, injured by a flying bottle, poses for a photograph on the edge of Trafalgar Square during a live screening of the UEFA EURO 2020 final football match between England and Italy in central London on July 11, 2021. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP)

“We have, I think, had a positive effect on lots of areas of society but we can’t affect everything,” Southgate said. “We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together and people being able to relate to the national team.”

While inspired on the run to the final by the energy of fans, the England team still had to plead with a minority to show more respect to them and opponents.

In this photo taken on June 22, 2021 (L-R) England’s defender Harry Maguire, England’s midfielder Kalvin Phillips and England’s midfielder Declan Rice take the knee prior to the UEFA EURO 2020 Group D football match between Czech Republic and England at Wembley Stadium in London. (NEIL HALL / POOL / AFP)

The message struggled to get through. The sound system at Wembley Stadium, where England played six of its seven games, had to be turned up to drown out the booing of teams taking a knee with the tournament song. The national anthem of the opposition was always booed, leading to a fine from UEFA.

Offensive songs about World War II and shooting German planes out of the skies continued to be bellowed out in and around the stadium, and not just at the last-16 meeting with Germany. The soundtrack to Tube journeys to Sunday’s final and walks to the stadium was derogatory songs about Italian products goading the few fans of the opposition.

England’s Harry Kane takes a knee in support of Black Lives Matter movement prior the Euro 2020 soccer semifinal match between England and Denmark at Wembley stadium in London, Wednesday, July 7, 2021. (Laurence Griffiths/Pool Photo via AP)

Even songs about their own players reflect the macho culture around England fans. Harry Maguire is serenaded with: “He takes the vodka, he takes the jaeger.” Another chant boasts of cocaine use.

Little surprise then that, with scarce visible policing at Wembley, mobs felt emboldened on Sunday to charge past stewards and low fencing into the stadium, barrelling past fans with tickets.

The mix of alcohol, high emotions and disappointment can bring out the worst of fans even as a new generation embrace the idealism of the players.

“You have this England team that expounds positive values,” said Piara Powar of the anti-discrimination Fare network, “and some will disagree because they don’t relate to those values and feel left out, and the team is not representing them in that way.”

While there was government condemnation of the abuse faced online by three Black players who missed penalties — Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Rashford — Johnson does not have an unblemished record on racism. The prime minister once said that burqa-wearing women looked like “letter boxes” and bank robbers.

Britain’s Home Secretary Priti Patel. (Matt Dunham/ap)

Home Secretary Priti Patel called on the police on Monday to take action against those subjecting players to “vile racist abuse,” but just weeks earlier she had said it was the choice of fans whether to boo the squad kneeling. Asked about the players taking the knee, Patel said prior to the tournament that she “did not support” those engaging in “that type of gesture politics.” Asked if fans had the right to boo it, she said: “That’s a choice for them quite frankly.”

Patel’s subsequent criticism of the racist abuse seemed hollow to England defender Tyrone Mings.

England’s Tyrone Mings reacts following defeat to Italy at the Euro 2020 soccer championship final at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, July 11, 2021. (John Sibley/Pool Photo via AP)

“You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens,” tweeted Mings, who is Black.

As it headed off dejected after being unable to win the country’s first trophy in 55 years, England’s squad felt emboldened in the mission to triumph at next year’s World Cup and also to continue calling out intolerance — however close to home.

“Will never get bored of saying that more needs to be done,” forward Jude Bellingham tweeted.

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