No place for racism as young England stars do us proud

Bukayo Sako is consoled by his England team-mates after his penalty miss.

Bukayo Sako is consoled by his England team-mates after his penalty miss - Tom Hunt felt the teenager deserves praise, not online abuse, for having the courage to take the final penalty in the shootout. - Credit: AP

Like many people across Ipswich, on Monday morning I woke up feeling incredibly jaded.

It was as if something dreadful had happened the night before. Of course, this wasn’t the case but it goes to show the effect that sporting tournaments, like the one we as a nation have just experienced, can have in twisting emotions and creating such excitement.

These Euros came at a time when the whole of Ipswich has begun to emerge from the most difficult period since the Second World War. They began with a team of players many were unsure about.

All knew they had potential but something in the back of most of our minds suggested we would trip up somewhere (the Quarter Finals as usual in my case). Little did we know how mesmerising they would be over the next few weeks and what a positive effect they would have on the town of Ipswich.

The fairytale ending wasn’t to be and to hide any disappointment would be denying reality, however the journey Gareth Southgate and his team of talented, young players have taken us on has been incredible.

Putting this disappointment aside, they are solely the individuals to thank and getting to a final was an incredible achievement. Even more, holding out against an Italian team for 120 minutes, one that had not lost in over 33 matches, was a feat in itself.

I watched the match with friends in the California Social Club. This is one of my favourite spots in Ipswich and a place where as a proud member, I know I will be in for a ‘real Ipswich’ night out.

California Social Club

Tom Hunt watched the match at the California Social Club - Credit: Charlotte Bond

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The atmosphere there was incredible, and it was clear to me that the entire town was hooked on this tournament. Even as I travelled to the club I heard cars honking their horns, flags draped down the sides and ‘Three Lions’ blaring from the radio.

It truly was a special day that brought the entire town together. I don’t think there was a pub, club or social bar in Ipswich that was not fully booked out ahead of the game, a great boost for some of the local businesses that have been struggling more than most during this ongoing pandemic.

Sunday evening truly was a communal experience in Ipswich and one that I haven’t felt for a long time.

We are a great young team, with bounds of courage. We even managed to slay a major dragon in this Euros and beat our old footballing rival, Germany, in a tournament fixture.

That will remain the greatest game of this tournament for me and a moment I will not forget in a hurry. The English team have done our country proud. They deserve nothing but praise for what they've achieved.

Saka in particular was great. He shone like a bright star all tournament and to volunteer to take the fifth penalty, at a European final, at the age of 19 shows the strength that English players are made of.

All three players who missed their penalties showed great bravery in putting themselves forward and it’s despicable that each of them has been the victim of racist abuse following the game.

Nobody deserves this, let alone three individuals who, through nothing but courage and determination, stepped up for their team, and I am disgusted by the actions of a few cowards, largely online.

It has since come to light that some of the accounts used to abuse players have come from abroad, but this shouldn’t distract in any way from the fact that many of them are British accounts and one media account in the UK giving out racist abuse is still one too many.

All racist abuse is abhorrent and must be stamped out immediately, and the actions of some over the past few days have shown that unfortunately racism still exists within our country.

A good part of this comes from online social media and the erroneous notion of some that they can escape the punishment for this disgusting behaviour.

These large tech companies like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter must do more to combat this. They must remove this cloak of anonymity and allow for individuals who make these remarks to be held accountable.

I do not want us to believe that just because racism exists, that we are fundamentally a racist country. It just isn’t the case. It is important that we acknowledge that racism exists, and we work together to stamp it out.

I for one am proud that we are a country that welcomes all ethnicities and religions, and we have a successful multi-cultural community here in Ipswich.

Even after these recent and abhorrent events I do not want to see those who disagree with the taking of the knee, on the grounds that it is political, branded as racists. Unfortunately, this seems to be increasingly happening.

I have made my views clear in the past and I do not agree that taking a knee is the best way to show opposition to racism.

An extreme minority of people are racist but a sizeable chunk do not agree with taking the knee and the view that if you do not agree with the taking of the knee that you are somehow a racist or enabler of racism is a view that is incredibly wrong and divisive.

A recent Redfield and Wilton Strategies poll on the taking of the knee showed that the public are “polarised” and that it was largely an even split between those that thought the gesture was purely about anti-racism and those that thought it was part of a wider political strategy.

This is further evidence that the gesture remains divisive and considering that racism comes from an extreme minority, to label all who oppose taking the knee as racists is not only wrong and inaccurate but will simply create unnecessary division at a time when we are striving for unity.

Just because I don’t agree with the taking of the knee as a way to challenge racism doesn’t mean that I am not steadfast in challenging racism in all forms.

I am 110% behind the England football team and certainly if I was at the game myself, I would never have contemplated booing the taking of the knee.

We are not a racist country, the overwhelming majority of us detest the actions of this incredibly small minority. I sincerely hope that all those who have committed such awful abuse are punished for their actions.

Especially after the horrific 18 months or so that we've had, these Euros have played such an important role in unifying the country by pulling us all together for a common goal.

It really feels as though we've been part of a unifying national moment and I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the joy that these players, Gareth Southgate and the entire England team have brought to the nation.

The reality is that the reason why Monday hurt so much is that it certainly seems that national pride is alive and well. We can all walk a bit taller as proud English men and women because of what our team achieved here and what's more, I'm sure there is a lot more to come at the World Cup next year.

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