After a month of football, numerous games, hours of anticipation and years of waiting, it finally came home. Football, a sport deeply ingrained into the English and British consciousness, that has the power to create allegiances and shatter family ties, arrived at its home, Wembley. A stadium packed with fans unified in one hope of seeing their beloved team lift the European Championship cup, after decades of mediocracy had a real sense of this being their year. The taking-of-the-knee was not being booed anymore, players such as Raheem Sterling were national heroes for their exploits in the tournament. The bunting was out, the prime minister promised extra holidays, there was a sense of true joy.
Deep into the penalty shootout the hopes of the nation were put on the shoulders of three young men, who happened to be black and whose actions in the moments that ensued would make the nation dream or shatter millions of hopes. England had been here before, this was not something new, their manager Gareth Southgate had in 1996 failed to deliver when it mattered most. Everyone knew the backlash, the humiliation for these young men if things did not go according to plan. But surely this was a different England, a more unified England this was Southgate’s England.
Then with one single kick of a football from twelve yards destroyed the aura that English football had tried to manufacture ever since the death of George Floyd. All the knee-taking, all the words of unity destroyed because like Southgate, Rashford, Sancho and finally Saka failed to score their penalties, but they happened to be black. The storm of racist abuse that followed was predictable, just like night follows day you just “knew” they would be singled out for the colour of their skin.
It was naïve to think a game of football could remove racism which surges through the very life blood of a post-colonial state like England. The very history of this island nation is built upon the blood of the “savage” others all across the world. The political heroes they so adore, such as Churchill were known racists, the very philosophies that drive a secular society are built upon the white English being superior to the poorer savage hordes. The white man’s burden to “civilise” the rest of the world is still apparent in their foreign policy, most notably in the Muslim world. Politicians and the media spend day after day denigrating ethnic minorities, the NHS despite employing thousands of black and ethnic staff failed the very people that keeps it running. To say racism in a secular society is institutionalised does not portray the gravity of the problem, racism is not a cancer from which the secular state suffers. The secular state is the cancer that spreads and infects the lives of everyone it touches. Racism is just one of its many symptoms, along with class divide, hatred of Muslims, the breakdown of the family and economic woe.
The words of Boris Johnson condemning the racists will ring hollow to those who know his dog whistle politics of encouraging xenophobia whilst at the same time condemning it. Football and its fans across the UK are a reflection of society as a whole. This is not the story of broken football but broken Britain, a racist society laid bare.
The message to Britain is: enough of the symbolic attempts at solving the race problem, taking the knee, race equality councils and positive reinforcements; they have all failed. It is not the job of young black footballers to solve the race or the poverty problem. It is the job of the state. It is time the secular West looked to how Islam binds different races and peoples together in a brotherhood of Islam. Unlike secularism, Islam binds people together in the good times and the bad.
Anas ibn Malik reported: the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“Do not hate each other, do not envy each other, do not turn away from each other, but rather be servants of Allah as brothers…”