It’s here. Baddiel and Skinner’s ‘Three Lions’ blasts from passing car windows. England’s football team are in their first final for 55 years. You’ve come to central London to see the commotion. After a deafening ride on the already swelling Piccadilly line, you sneak into Montage Pyke Wetherspoons for the toilet.
Two middle-aged men – voices, more gravelly than Ray Winstone dashing down his front drive – discuss what gear they’ve done, and the two lines they’ve rationed to keep them going during the game. Judging by their current state they’ll be going out with a squeak.
Coming out the back exit of the pub you turn left, toward Leicester Square and follow the noise down Shaftesbury Avenue to the press of bodies by Prince Charles Cinema. You round the corner: Burger King’s forecourt through to the Odeon has become a slurry of beer packaging, broken bottles and bodily fluids. Your feet stick to pavement. A piebald mosh pit has opened where chancers run across, dodging lobbed cans and bottles.
Centre stage, and a young teen is picked up by his two mates, having slipped and caked himself in the filth. He’s distraught. You wonder what possible consoling words his mates are offering him? “Only 5 hours till kick-off?”
Walking to the nearby Tube you see the banners of the #RiotSquad; a police cordon pins in the rowdiest of proceedings. Watching through a pizzeria window – laden with the obligatory peace offering of St. George flags – the smell of burning flares fills your nostrils, and deafening fog horns punctuate:
Don't take me home Please don't take me home I just don't wanna go to work I wanna stay here and drink all your beer Please don't please don't take me home
The crowd swarm the streets to the logic of fluid dynamics. They’re climbing traffic lights and whatever other obstacles come into their sway. Atop bins and electrical boxes, young boys and men wave around Santander bikes and traffic furniture. A green light from a traffic signal has been torn off. Dangling by its cable, it does for an arcade punching machine.
Making it to the opposite side of the road you take refuge in a station foyer. Though it’s soon apparent someone’s made it onto the roof. Pelted glass bottles rain in on them, exploding everywhere. A girl next to you has a chunk of flesh ripped from her forearm by the shrapnel, the trickle of scarlet blood on white skin, some chameleonic gesture to the surrounding fanfare?
Following said casualty – now nursing her arm, and tended to by her friend with all the care of the Distracted Boyfriend meme, the drug of belonging the girl in red – you move down the alleyway by the theatre, dodging the estuarine meanderings of piss.
Here a mum consoles the youngest of her three sons. He can’t be older than 6 or 7. He hugs her, sobbing, red-faced and exhausted. His dad – small man syndrome personified – ushers the boy’s two older brothers to one side, before complaining to his partner: “He’s milking it. I don’t wanna go home now, we’ve got a table booked… He’ll get over it.”
Excerpt taken from: Tory MP to boycott Euro 2020 final over players taking the knee by Will Taylor (July 8th, 2021, 16:24)
Tory MP Lee Anderson is continuing boycotting England games over players taking the knee and told LBC he will be unpacking boxes instead of watching the final.
Speaking to LBC, the Ashfield MP said he will carry on with the boycott, despite Gareth Southgate’s side making their first major international final since the 1966 World Cup – and only their second in history.
Instead, he will check his phone for updates and cheer them on without having the momentous final on TV.
Asked what he will do on Sunday instead of watching, he told LBC: “We’ve just moved house. I’ve got plenty of work to do in my house over the weekend, lots of boxes to unpack, plenty to be getting on with… I will be supporting the team, I want them to win, I wish them all the best.
“I hope we bring it home. I’ve never seen England in a final in my lifetime… fair play to them, they’ve had a great tournament.
“They’ve got a great set of young players, a great manager, and I think we’re going to do it.”
He has taken issue with the pre-match anti-racism gesture because of its perceived connection to Black Lives Matter and refused to watch their games.
You’re in the relative calm of Covent Garden now… relative. A busker is shut down for daring to deviate from the England football hymnal, the opening bars of Ed Sheeran drowned out quickly by the belted words of Sweet Caroline. The busker packs up his guitar and equipment, meekly, to jeers.
In the public toilets an Essex lad, coked to the eyeballs and racking up lines in the open, swaggers around slurring his own deranged catechism. Various dodgy one-liners: “I fucked one of my nan’s mates, she loved to 69. I cheated on my girlfriend,” to the refrain of “but I’m a nice guy!”
Excerpts taken from: England’s Football Team is Changing Because England is Changing by David Wearing (July 8th, 2021)
Something is changing around the England football team. On the pitch, an ability to control possession, to manage games, to perform under pressure – all of this is new. But there’s something else as well, something more profound. The fandom around the England team is changing – slowly, painfully, but tangibly – from a hostile environment for those of us whose faces didn’t previously fit, to something kinder, more inclusive and more welcoming.
The England team has been booed by a section of its own fans and lambasted by several Conservative politicians for taking a knee before each game in a show of anti-racist solidarity. Shaista Aziz writes of how the team’s refusal to back down in the face of this intimidation has created a space for her and her friends – hijab-wearing Muslim women – to share in the enjoyment of England’s run in the tournament. She is clear that the threat to people like her of verbal and physical abuse from England fans has not gone away. But she is also clear that something is changing, thanks in part to the leadership of the players and management.
You stop in a corner shop for some beers. Echoing some bygone colonialist, a brick shithouse of a drunk teen asks the Asian shop attendant, “Is it coming home mate? Is it coming home?” to which he gets a smirk and the response of: “No, I don’t think so.” Enraged, the teen calls him a “nob.” This clearly wasn’t the script. He stroppily reprimands him: “All you had to say was yes.” Mercifully for everyone involved, the teen’s attention is distracted by the chants from outside of “You can shove your paninis up your arse,” to which he adds his own booming voice. Entering the store this new group are warned: “No Italian beer yeh lads.”
Not having a table booked in Central, you go to a hostel to watch the game. You arrive five minutes late to see Luke Shaw has already scored. You feel the early goal can only be bad news. What follows is underwhelming.
The rest is history. Owen Jones wrote for our sins.
A stripping back of the veneer of inclusivity that had been lacquered and liquored up with each passing tournament stage. Racism and online trolls for the three young black players who missed their penalties. The splintering contradictions of patriotism, torn to red and white ribbons: bloody tendons in a butcher shop front window.
Who’d have thought this possible? This, the country that gave us the Windrush scandal, Seventy Two Virgins, and Priti Patel, “the one woman in Britain who can orgasm imagining a slow puncture at sea.” Philosopher kings now wear football boots, Gareth Southgate is typically magnanimous and calm, Gary Neville skewers Boris in a TV interview. Tyrone Mings reveals his nomination for the Cognitive Dissonance Award will be going to Patel, though its rumoured to be as hotly contested as the Ballon d’Or this year within Tory party ranks.
The dust settles. Patel assumedly unfazed, applies the return label to her worn-once England shirt from Sports Direct, delighting in the dopamine rush of sending something back. Boris Johnson, the ‘clown king‘, changes costume to condemn racists from his oxymoronic pulpit. The same inconsistencies dully glimmer in the rush of Olympic medals coming from Japan in the weeks following. Now in the name of a soon to be devolved ‘Britishness’ – their success is celebrated – immigration stories reduced to a rapidly changing T&Cs small print that will go unread, assumedly until an update on nationality affects you irl in the form of an immigration enforcement van.
<Identify poorly fitted clothing in the ‘I am not a robot’ Captcha above for access to architects of said devolving nationhood mythos>
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It’s still coming home. Only a year away, World Cup 2022 beckons. But assuming it does; and the long vilified Raheem Sterling carries us to a final again? To what home is it coming? What’s in this dissipating mirage of England? Are we to have faith in Southgate and believe that history’s on progressivism side? Or 55 years from now, living in a flooded hinterland akin to Children of Men, will we tune in to Ethnostate 4 – the replacement for a long since defunded Channel 4 – and after a muttered grace to ‘sovereignty’ over microwave dinners we’d fought tooth and nail for in an empty Tesco, we’ll watch highlights of 2020s international matches, the incandescent names of Saka, Sancho and Rashford read out like war criminals, immigration having long since passed over into an illegitimate folklore.
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