Should footballers stick to football or can they offer more?

File photo dated 06-06-2021 of England's Jack Grealish and Kalvin Phillips take a knee before the in

England's Jack Grealish and Kalvin Phillips take a knee before the international friendly match against Romania - Credit: PA

So here it is: Euro 2020 in, er, 2021.

Every major football tournament brings with it questions and discussions.  

In years gone by it was: “Can Lampard and Gerrard play together?” The answer, it turned out, was not really. 

Then there are the perennial favourites. “What is England’s strongest XI?”, for instance. Henderson, Shaw, Stones, Coady, Walker, Rice, Bellingham, Grealish, Mount, Foden and Kane is my answer if you wanted to know. 

But this year, one thing we seemingly need to talk about is what it means to be patriotic and support your country. 

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To judge on this week’s headlines, hanging a portrait of the Queen on your wall is the only way to mark you out as supporting your country. 

England’s tournament risks being overshadowed by the ongoing culture war raging over everything from playing an instrumental version of Rule, Britannia! at the proms to whether or not statues, and now portraits, are taken down. 

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Now the culture war has come to sport too. Just this week, both the culture secretary and the prime minister have spoken out against the suspension of England cricketer Ollie Robinson while an investigation into racist tweets he sent out as a teenager is carried out. 

And this culture war could continue throughout the tournament. 

The Euros comes just a year after George Floyd, a black man, was murdered by a white police officer in the United States. His murder sparked a worldwide discussion and protest movement about racism and inequality in society. 

Athletes across the world took part in the protest, commonly by kneeling before matches. 

The England team will continue to do this despite highly publicised booing before their recent matches. 

Despite the players, the manager and the FA saying that kneeling is not a gesture of support for any political agenda, the booers insist it is. 

In an excellent article for The Players Tribune website, England manager Gareth Southgate set out what taking the knee meant to him and his team. 

He wrote: “Our players are role models. And, beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact they can have on society. We must give them the confidence to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them as people.

“I have never believed that we should just stick to football.  

“I know my voice carries weight, not because of who I am but because of the position that I hold.  

“At home, I’m below the kids and the dogs in the pecking order but publicly I am the England men’s football team manager. I have a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice, and so do the players.

“It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.”

For the players, Southgate writes, this is what being English and supporting England is about. 

Sport often holds a mirror up to society and the current team is a representation of the melting pot that makes up the country. 

In the current squad, 15 players could have played for another country, either by virtue of their parentage or where they grew up.

One player, West Ham’s Declan Rice, was actually capped for Ireland before swapping to play for England. 

All of these 15 have made the choice to wear the three lions. They have chosen to play for England.  

Yes, England players are paid for their appearances but since 2007 they have donated this money to charity, so a financial motive is unlikely.

And England aren’t renowned for winning major tournaments so they can hardly be glory hunters. That can only leave the reason that playing for England means something to them. 

If what it means to them is slightly different to what it means to you, then so be it.

And if it means something different to Kane, Foden and Stone than it did to Hurst, Banks and Moore, then that’s OK as well.

So I, for one, will be proudly supporting England this summer — at least until we go out on penalties in the quarter finals. Again.

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