Today
Thu 29 July 2021

The England football team, under its exceptional manager, has come to embody tolerance, fairness and unity, says Gary Gowers

Most of the country is united behind the England team managed by Gareth Southgate, which has managed the incredible feat (at least in domestic footballing standards) of reaching its second consecutive semi-final in major competitions.

Yet, there is a small, grumpy minority that still seeks to besmirch the players and their coach, as a means of bolstering their own niche political causes.

I am referring to the individuals who object so strongly to Southgate’s men taking the knee before every game – an act that has rendered them practically incapable of supporting their own country at the European Championships. Today, the Financial Times reported how “some seem to believe that Southgate is becoming a tool of deep Woke”.

The self-appointed ringleaders of this as yet nameless boycott are actor-turned-activist Laurence Fox and Conservative MP Lee Anderson, both of whom have been happy to shout about their intention not to watch any England games – the former going one step further by offering his support to all of England’s opponents.

“For the first time in my life I will not be watching my beloved England team whilst they are supporting a political movement whose core principles aim to undermine our very way of life,” Anderson said, after the players decided to partake in a simple, short anti-racism gesture before each of their tournament matches.

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Indeed, faced with ongoing booing and heated debate prior to the tournament, an official statement was released by the Football Association to explain the decision to take the knee and to make it clear that it is done as an anti-racism gesture and a mark of solidarity between the players – nothing more.

“They are doing this as a mechanism of peacefully protesting against discrimination, injustice and inequality,” it said. “This is personally important to the players and the values the team collectively represents.”

This all seemed fairly clear until the Prime Minister, with his usual array of mixed messages, failed to condemn the booing – preferring instead, via his spokesperson, to laud the right to free expression.

“The Prime Minister fully respects the right of those who choose to peacefully protest and make their feelings known” was Downing Street’s official line, albeit adding that Boris Johnson wanted the “whole country” to get behind the England team.

There were no such mixed messages from the Home Secretary. Speaking to GB News, Priti Patel accused England’s players of “gesture politics” – adding: “I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture.”

When asked if she considered it to be acceptable for fans to boo the England players, Patel would only go as far as to say: “Well that’s a choice for them frankly.”

Unsurprisingly, both Johnson and Patel have put any differences with Southgate and his squad aside now that they have progressed meaningfully through the tournament; both hopping aboard the England bandwagon as the national fervour reaches fever pitch ahead of the semi-final against Denmark tomorrow.

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Both were quick to hit Twitter after England’s quarter-final victory over Ukraine, desperate to squeeze every last drop of nationalism out of the event, with the Prime Minister photographed awkwardly ‘celebrating’ the England goals in a way, presumably, only familiar to former members of the Bullingdon Club.

Yet, to their credit, both Patel and Johnson are at least feigning interest in the success of Southgate’s men – unlike Fox and Anderson.

In their view, so they claim, the act of taking the knee directly correlates with support for the Black Lives Matters movement, which they claim is Marxist. Yet, what probably riles Fox and Anderson even more, is that Southgate is a studious, thoughtful, measured individual who espouses fairness, equality and compassion. He has built a squad made up of players from various minority backgrounds, who have played good football and epitomised the principles of their manager and modern Britain.

For those whose raison d’être is to divide and conquer, this must be galling in the extreme. Yet, as a result, perhaps we shouldn’t stoop to their level. If the England team does progress and makes it to Sunday’s final, maybe we should do it the Southgate way and offer these lost souls a route back in. They may even enjoy it.

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