This past weekend saw the England football team come second place in the Euro 2020. I watched as the team and the country’s dreams of winning were over in a matter of seconds as the young Bukayo Saka failed to make the last penalty shot. Over the course of the tournament, my timeline was filled with tweets filled with such excitement, support, pride and happiness for the England team as they won game after game. This match was particularly special as it was the first time England was playing in any final since they won the World Cup in 1966. Despite England flags displayed everywhere I turned, both online and offline, I was in mixed emotions.
Although I’m British-Nigerian, I have never supported England or Great-Britain in any sporting event, but this was the first time that I felt that perhaps I should have been celebrating too. I didn’t share the same energy that a lot of my peers had for the team, but then again, much of the England team’s success stemmed from their Black players. A mere half an hour after the final I was reminded exactly why I’ve always kept the stance that I have as racist posts flooded the Instagram comments of the three Black players’ who missed the penalty shots in Sunday’s match. One minute, the whole of the nation was cheering these men on, the next some were hurling racist abuse. A mural of Marcus Rashford, one of the penalty shooters, was even vandalised in his hometown. It’s because of such behaviour and attitudes that I find it hard to affiliate myself with England supporters. While this doesn’t reflect all of them, it’s enough to make me feel disassociated and disconnected from the whole thing.
The problem with the British is that they can support you and encourage you and even claim you when you’re winning. The second you lose or do something to disappoint, that’s when they remember you’re not one of them. It’s the speed and ease at which they are capable of switching sides that is extremely discomforting and is perpetuated not only by sporting fans, but across all spheres of the society, especially the media. The sad part with all of this, is that my fellow Black Brits and I knew this abuse was coming. We knew the way in which the media and pundits could potentially shape the story. We’ve seen it time and time again before. We knew what was riding on 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 weight of knowing that there were millions sitting at home and across the country hoping they would shoot and score.
One of the most frustrating things to witness from this rise of abuse has been the need by some to validate the Black players and all that they do, as though to say that because they’ve 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 lockdown amongst many other causes. Jadon Sancho helped build a new state-of-the-art football pitch in South London where he’s from. Bukayo Saka has become a voice for the younger generation. Each young man is inspiring and commendable in their own right, but must their good work be highlighted to humanise them? Surely them being human alone shouldn’t warrant the racism they have endured. It’s just yet another example of how in the UK as a Black person you must be deemed extraordinary to gain the respect that would be given to you if you looked different.
So, when it comes to sporting events, which team do I support? Well, of course Nigeria is always my number one. Super Eagles, D’Tigers, Super Falcons, you name it. If they’re rocking green-white-green, I’m supporting. It’s through things like this that I can really connect with my heritage, my people and my identity. Despite what some people try to tell me because of my upbringing in the UK, I am Nigerian through and through and I wouldn’t have it any other way.