Jake O'Kane: Penalty shoot-out fall-out exposes racism at heart of English society

Boris Johnson stood outside 10 Downing Street on an England flag you could see from space. If only Arlene Foster had seen this a few years ago, she might have had a better appreciation of where the Prime Minister's true loyalties lay

Tyrone Mings, pictured immediately after England lost to Italy at the Euro 2020 final, took home secretary Priti Patel to task after the defeat triggered a wave of racist abuse. Picture by John Sibley/Pool Photo via AP

THE result of the Euro 2020 football final at Wembley on Sunday reduced men to tears of sorrow in England, and laughter everywhere else.

While hope, hype and hyperbole are an integral part of sport, the mania around England reaching their first major final since 1966 was infuriating.

Television and print media - this venerable publication aside - bombarded us with unrelenting 'Little England' propaganda. Seemingly, 'it was coming home', although someone was obviously remiss in not informing the Italian team of this inevitability.

Boris Johnson stood outside 10 Downing Street on an England flag you could see from space. If only Arlene Foster had seen this a few years ago, she might have had a better appreciation of where the Prime Minister's true loyalties lay.

Having been brought up on Rossi's ice cream, I knew Belfast had a vibrant Italian community; I was, however, stunned to discover just how big it was.

You couldn't buy an Italian flag for love nor money, and in Derry, one topped the Free Derry Wall, with 'Italian' helpfully written on it in case someone mistook it for a Tricolour.

And so, it was with trepidation that I turned on the game, worried I might have to stop buying papers and watching the news for a month.

The sight of seven-year-old Prince George in the Royal Box wearing a suit and tie made me wonder how his parents managed such a miracle. I've a 13-year-old son who I can't get out of a hoodie, gym bottoms and Crocs; to get him into a suit would involve administering a strong sedative.

It would have been churlish not to applaud the England goal which came a matter of minutes into the game. Thankfully, they then sat back, and Italy hit an equaliser.

I'm ashamed to admit my scream of joy at this may have startled my neighbours... six doors down the street. Extra time slipped past and, once again, England were in a penalty shoot-out.

That it went to the very last kick of the ball was excruciatingly wonderful, although I'd genuine sympathy for 19-year-old Bukayo Saka, who missed the final penalty.

And with this miss, a month of arrogant pomposity and presumption was punctured, and England are again left to stare back half a century for their last win in a major tournament.

I couldn't resist having a dig online, explaining I was asking for an Italian friend who worked in London whether there was to be a bank holiday?

I then posted an image of Gareth Southgate consoling Saka, saying I hoped the rest of England would be as supportive of the young player.

The opposite happened, with both Saka and the other two black players who missed penalties, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, subjected to vile racist abuse online, which culminated in the defacement of a wall mural of Rashford in his home town of Manchester.

The condemnation of the racism by Priti Patel and Boris Johnson rang hollow, as both had previously weighed in behind those who criticised the England team for taking a knee before matches.

Patel even went so far as to call it "gesture politics" while the PM refused to condemn fans who had booed the team for doing so.

England player Tyrone Mings spoke for many when he tweeted that the Home Secretary's comments had in fact 'stoked the fire' of racism.

While racism isn't exclusive to England, it would be one of the nations where it remains both systemic and endemic. Systemic in that even in the 21st century BAME citizens remain conspicuously absent in the higher echelons of society, endemic in that the British Empire was predicated on the belief that being white and English meant you were superior to the nations you invaded and colonised.

Be you black, brown, yellow or Irish, the reality is, to the English, you'll never be viewed as 'properly British'. Whilst accepted with sufferance if needed to fight their wars or help them win at sport, lose and you'll soon see what they really think of you.

'No dogs, no blacks, no Irish' may no longer adorn the windows of English boarding houses, but it remains imprinted on the English psyche.

If anyone doubts this, consider the treatment both of the DUP over the NI Protocol and that of victims this week, who had fought for decades for justice for killed relatives.

The question, 'Does England have a racism problem?' is best answered with another question: 'Do bears go into the woods to use the toilet?'

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