Published 18 October 2021 3 min read
More than a game
BCOMs' Samuel Akpan writes about how the England men's team helped bring the nation together during UEFA EURO 2020
When I made my commute to work in the early afternoon on Sunday 11 July, I remember a distinct infectious feeling on the District Line.
Whether it was the assortment of iconic England jerseys, or the loud rumblings of excitement, there was a genuine excitement from everybody, knowing that today could be the day of glory for the England men’s national team.
Despite the result not going the way the nation wanted, it reminded me that football is more than a game.
In a time where the devastating impacts of a global pandemic trickled down into the most minute aspects of daily life, the beautiful game provided a needed outlet for many.
Where a ‘new normal’ was marred by anxiety and uncertainty, Gareth Southgate and the England squad provided a much-needed boost hope for a nation that had been looking so long for it.
And the squad’s run to the final provided so many exciting narratives and unlikely heroes. To name some on the pitch, the deployment of Kalvin Phillips as a box-to-box alongside Declan Rice was a shock to many but became instrumental in England’s tournament success.
Raheem Sterling eviscerated any lingering doubt around his inclusion in the starting eleven with major massive goals against Germany and Croatia, while Bukayo Saka confidently stepped into the limelight when called upon.
There were true redemption stories in store for both Luke Shaw and John Stones, both of who were recovering from past setbacks at their respective Manchester clubs.
But what is perhaps more awe-inspiring, was the major stories surrounding off the pitch. The squad’s universal commitment to their anti-racism stance by taking the knee before all their games, helped reaffirm the sentiment that this England team is representative of anyone, no matter race, heritage or culture.
With vocal voices within the squad consolidating this, it helped to create an infectious team spirit in the squad that grew throughout the nation, with more and more non-traditional football fans embracing the Three Lions, with videos coming out of people from all walks and cultures coming together in unison to cheer on their nation.
Beyond gestures, the commitment of the squad’s bonuses to the National Health Service showed a contemporary understanding of the gravity of the pandemic, and the enormous sacrifice made by those working tirelessly on the frontlines.
Individual projects from numerous players, including Marcus Rashford’s free school meals campaign, Harry Kane’s sponsoring of Leyton Orient along with Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and many more to name showed an extremely thoughtful understanding of their position in society, consistently using their platform to raise awareness to the diverse range of issues within the nation.
So, even though the tournament didn’t bring back the coveted silverware the country was hoping for, perhaps it reaffirmed what we already knew about the game.
Football is a game of fine margins, no more apparent in a penalty shootout. Even with the pain of disappointment, it gave the nation a chance to herald and uplift those who had burdened the pressure that comes with the occasion.
Appreciating a group of 26 players, all who had come from unique walks of life, heritage and background never made me think so much of what it meant to represent and support England.
And, as this squad continues to grow both as individuals and as a collective both on and off the pitch, it becomes completely obvious that while this chapter may not have ended ideally, this book is far from over.
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