There’s no point me even trying to talk about anything other than the football. No longer am I someone who cluelessly gazes at the screen, waiting for the cue from the proper fans to get excited before I join in with the whoops, the way tiny children laugh when adults do, not understanding the humour but by God, wanting to be a part of the fun.
No, I have been rapidly learning the ins and outs of the game, hugely helped by my son, a defender in his Sunday league team. He barely made an effort to stifle his laughter as he answered my amateurish questions early on in the tournament: “No mum, they don’t use the same ball every time it goes out. This is a multimillion-pound business and they can afford a new one each time. Harry Kane doesn’t shuffle up to the crowd and ask if he can have his ball back.” Well, who knew?
The match on Sunday is huge and my excitement levels are almost as high as when it came to near the due date of my children. The first final in a major tournament in 55 years is an occasion I would not miss for the world and I know my children will relay to their children: “Your gran ran out into the street in her dressing gown cheering when we beat Denmark… she thought all the neighbours would do the same but no one else did and she padded back in wet slippers pretending she wasn’t mortified.”
No such memories for Conservative MP Lee Anderson, however, who is in a massive public sulk because our footballing heroes, under the leadership of Gareth “here’s what an actual leader looks like” Southgate take the knee in solidarity with those experiencing racism and oppression.
Anderson recorded his petulant sulk and posted it on his Facebook page, declaring that he will NOT be watching the momentous game against Italy on Sunday, so vehemently opposed is he to displays of anti-racism in football.
Now I have to be careful what I say here as we live in a world where potato-brained bigots get very offended and sometimes litigious when you call them “potato-brained bigots”. Just because you have a reaction so visceral to a dignified protest against racism, that you have to film yourself while walking your dog to let everyone know exactly how much you abhor it, doesn’t make you a racist. (Have I made this clear to his lawyers? I don’t have the time or money for any drama.)
But why, if you were not a head full of mashed spud who gets outraged by compassion and solidarity towards your fellow human beings, would you make a public video, stomping across a field and documenting your anti-anti-racism stance? At least the other “why can’t EVERYone just listen to ME about what’s best for the brown people” person, Laurence Fox, wrote a Twitter thread apologising for not initially supporting the England team because they openly show they hate racism by taking the knee. He was like a toddler expecting a biscuit after admitting it was he who smeared poo all over the bathroom wall.
“Keep politics out of football!” is the cry from the taking-the-knee haters. Deciding who pays what tax is politics; discussing whether or not private schools should be abolished is politics; wanting people not to be discriminated against because of their skin hue just isn’t. The reason Lee Anderson and Laurence Fox get so much attention (from me included – look, they are in my column) for their disdain for people supporting others is because they are rare. If, like most people, they understood why these high-profile young heroes the whole country is watching would choose to use their platform to promote love, understanding and equality, then no one would be sharing their videos or reading what they have to say.
Although there is a long way to go, being demonstratively anti-racist is becoming increasingly more ordinary. People who are not necessarily affected are gaining a deeper understanding of allyship. I doubt Bukayo Saka, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Southgate and all the other legends who have given their country such a much-needed boost of joy give a monkey’s what Lee Anderson is muttering as he walks his dog or what Laurence Fox is slamming doors about. They are so far above them. They know what it takes to put yourself on the line again and again and follow your dreams, no matter how much some want to hold you back or tear you down.
Every aspect of what they do, from the game itself to taking the knee, is about unity, togetherness, strength and moving forward. The rest of us who support the England team cheer them on, celebrate with our friends and watch our kids enjoy this gorgeous part of their childhood when their country has, for the first time since 1966, not had heartbreak and bounced out before the final. The growling, grumpy and joyless can sit in the dark while we enjoy the party.Column, The Independent, Writing