Despite the racist trolls, the evidence is clear: England is becoming a kinder place to live

에프ootball’s fairytale summer ended on a sour note. The final itself was lost on penalties. But it was the ugly scenes of Wembley disorder, 그만큼 online racism directed at three young players who missed their penalties and partisan arguments over who was to blame that signalled a return to Earth.

Gareth Southgate has emerged as a bridging leader, able to blend tradition and modernity. His young team wore the badge with pride, belted out the national anthem and held firm on taking the knee. The inclusive pride in the country was celebrated by the #EnglandTogether campaign, which rallied civic voices across all faiths and none behind the simple message “football is coming home – and it’s a home we all share” coined by imam Qari Asim.

To stand up for that vision, we need vigilance – without alarm – to face down the toxic racist fringe. So we should talk about how post-tournament anti-racism had a more than 99:1 share of the argument online. There is nothing contingent about Marcus Rashford’s place in people’s affection. He does not become any less English because the ball hits the post.

So it was moving to see the hundreds of messages of pride and protection left for Rashford as people in Manchester responded with deep affection to the disappointment of the missed penalty and the idiotic and abusive way his mural was vandalised. This coincided with online racist abuse. That the graffiti was not overtly racist made it no less important to counter with love and pride.

The reaction in Manchester showed us that 영국 is probably a kinder country than it was when David Beckham’s petulant red card at the 1998 World Cup provoked a torrent of abuse. The national media stoked that anger, but red tops and broadsheets were kinder this time.

But I find calls to ignore the online racist trolls tone deaf too. Despite the retreat of racist attitudes across society, I receive more racist abuse than 30 years ago – there are far fewer bigots, but social media has emerged. Anybody from an ethnic minority background who speaks publicly about race is just a click away. For prominent political and sporting voices, this is incessant, giving them a different, unequal experience of public life.

There is a hypocrisy in Twitter and Facebook’s media statements declaring that racist abuse has no place on their platforms while they maintain pro-racism rules. When I reported a tweet sent to me – “you will never be British, racism is the basis of the nation” – I was told it was not in violation of the rules.

Footballing success helped the players win the symbolic argument about taking the knee, with the boycotters routed and the booing drowned out as a growing majority of fans supported the gesture, with a third still opposed. Having stood their ground, the players could decide to show the bridging spirit in victory that has largely gone missing in national politics in the Brexit era.

They could choose to retire the gesture – as an advance, not a retreat – by securing substantive investments in anti-racist reporting offline and online, grassroots inclusion and commitments to tracking how the level playing field on the pitch can transfer to the dugout, boardroom and press box.

It would be naive to think that Euro 2020 could end the “culture war” but it has usefully drawn some boundaries on the pitch. The right discovered that “anti-woke” identity politics are a liability when they take on not some crazy student scheme, real or imagined, but target, from a minority position, young national heroes. MP Steve Baker’s call for his fellow Conservatives to show more empathy across generational and ethnic divides on racism mirrors efforts on the left to appeal across towns and cities, generations and ethnic groups.

England is an unusual country, a stateless nation with no public recognition in our more consciously multinational United Kingdom. Having cheered for England, Scotland and Wales at 유로 2020, sports fans will back Team GB at the Olympics and – four nations again – at Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games next year.

That intuitive understanding of most sports fans that we have more than one flag and more than one national identity is much rarer in politics and civic society. But Southgate should not remain the main public champion of an inclusive England. If we want the England football manager to focus on how to deploy his attacking talents with more confidence, it is time for civic England to find its voice in speaking for England too.

There are more opportunities to use sport’s power to connect – the Rugby League World Cup in England this autumn will be a big deal in the north, while England’s Lionesses will try to win the European Championship on home soil next summer.

Those of us working for social connection need a much clearer public story of how to join the dots and use such high-profile moments to help forge a broader movement to bridge divides. Without that, efforts to celebrate what we share may risk being received as an establishment-led endorsement of the status quo. As the major Talk Together research report, led by Jill Rutter, sets out, narratives of unity need to be combined with a clear account of the need to change policy and practice to bridge our ethnic, faith and social class divides.

I have always believed that England will win the 2026 월드컵. This young team will peak at the right team to end 60 years of hurt, with perfect symmetry, 30 years after Euro ’96. So we sang Three Lions again in the car on the school run on Friday morning. It already evokes nostalgia and regret for our Euro 2020 summer, but it is still a song of anticipation too. Let’s speak out for a shared England of hope, but we can’t rely on football to do all the work.

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