Stop politicising football

9 July 2021

9:15 AM

9 July 2021

9:15 AM

Before the England football team plays in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday we need to get one thing straight: who is allowed to support it?

Not, apparently, a woman of Ugandan Asian heritage who posted on social media her encouragement to the players before yesterday’s semi-final and then her congratulations afterwards. That was, of course, Home Secretary Priti Patel, whose pre- and post-match tweets saw a torrent of fury and bile directed at her by thousands of left-wingers on Twitter.

One of several elite ‘blue tick’ accounts to participate in the abuse, replying ‘Not now Satan’ to Ms Patel’s tweet picturing herself in an England shirt celebrating under the message ‘Just brilliant. Well done #ThreeLions Football’s coming home.’

Many others suggested people who wish to reduce immigration have no right to celebrate because eight of the starting eleven were said to have at least one parent or grandparent born overseas. ‘The squad shows us what we can achieve when we welcome diversity and celebrate those who call our country home,’ was the message shared by one user.

This is an absurd and infantile stance, which when you think it through implies that blame for the tournament under-performances of many previous England teams featuring the descendants of migrants — especially when contrasted against the glory of the very much homegrown ‘Boys of 1966’ — should also be laid at the door of immigration. Yet on the right, only a tiny rump of Alf Garnett-type hard-of-thinking bigots has ever put forward such a stupid interpretation.

Ms Patel had already suffered a bucketload of this stuff when tweeting her congratulations to the team for knocking out Ukraine in the previous round.

Thrown at her time and again were her previous statements that she disapproved of knee-taking and felt fans had the right to boo if they wished. Yet this is obviously a very widely shared sentiment, as evidenced by the substantial amount of booing that the gesture has attracted throughout the tournament and in pre-tournament warm-up matches.

Opinion polls have shown it to be a divisive innovation, with the latest one from Redfield & Wilton Strategies finding that while 39 per cent of us consider it ‘an apolitical statement that simply expresses opposition to racism’, some 40 per cent of us regard it as ‘a political statement that goes beyond simply expressing opposition to racism’.

In other words, in this single regard the squad has managed to split the country almost exactly down the middle rather than unifying it. But many leftists wilfully fail to grasp the idea that it is possible to disapprove of the gesture while still cheering the players on during matches and celebrating their victories.

The lefty former egg-chaser (rugby union player) Brian Moore took part in an anti-Patel pile-on on Saturday, responding to her congratulatory tweet then by telling her: ‘The team you say indulges in gesture politics and can be booed. The saddest thing about this is the number of people who will be duped by your faux pride and support.’

Former England footballer Gary Neville kept it pithier, observing: ‘The cheek of you!’. The anti-Tory Neville brought his politics into proceedings even more explicitly last night by using his analyst’s microphone on ITV sport to have an on-air dig at Boris Johnson by means of contrasting the PM’s performance with that of team manager Gareth Southgate. He said: ‘The standards of leaders in this country in the last couple of years has been poor. And looking at that man there, that’s everything a leader should be: respectful, humble, telling the truth, genuine.’

Johnson, who was cheering England on in the stands at Wembley, is about to mark two years in Downing Street, so nobody need be in any doubt about the target of Neville’s political outburst.

Perhaps these overtly political shenanigans around the England football team are just another example of Conquest’s dispiriting Second Law pertaining to the fanatical nature of left-wing activism (it states that any organisation that is not explicitly right-wing will sooner or later become left-wing).

One leading anti-Brexit Tweeter recently argued: ‘The wonderful thing is that this is an overtly progressive, inclusive, diverse, political England team… Must be doing far right nationalists’ heads in to not be able to claim it.’

Yet presumably far-right nationalists would long ago have been put off by the presence of many black players in England football teams. Most of the people who object to what Mr Andreou identifies as ‘overtly… political’ displays at football matches now are just normal fans.

An alternative and more benign reading of the attempted left-wing politicisation of football is that the left is simply seeking to overcome a long-held neurosis about whether it is OK to support England in the sporting sphere.

When you philosophically oppose borders and nation states then international sporting tournaments between such nation states are always going to be tricky. But it’s rather sad that left-wingers can only feel comfortable about supporting their own country by marginalising those with right-of-centre views.

It should go without saying that all of us are entitled to be overjoyed by the rare spectacle of England progressing to the final of an international tournament. That includes tens of millions of us who think immigration needs controlling better. If England wins on Sunday then it will be as much a reason for the pro-Brexit voters of Middlesbrough and Stoke-on-Trent to rejoice as for the anti-Brexit media swells with £1,000 season tickets at Arsenal.

Of course, I could observe that the 2016 Leave vote seems to have been swiftly followed by a remarkable upsurge in England’s footballing performances. But that would be overtly political, so let’s not go there. Instead let us all rejoice, get behind Gareth and the boys and hope that it is finally coming home.

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