Euro 2020: We don't deserve our footballers | Jack Marshall's column

It’s said every nation gets the government it deserves. Every nation, however, doesn’t get the football team it deserves.

Monday, 19th July 2021, 4:55 am
The defaced mural of Manchester United and England Marcus Rashford in Withington, Manchester. (credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

The way England fans disgraced themselves so thoroughly in the build-up to and during the Euro 2020 final was a stain on this country. The thick morass of litter and broken glass, the public nudity and drug abuse, the lairy heckling of opposition fans... Britain at its worst.

It’s hard to ignore the fact that, for many, getting mindlessly drunk was the point. For the moron with a flare up his backside, performative idiocy was the plan, vaulting the line between revelry and toddler-like look-at-me-ism. As long as these people had fun, that’s all that mattered.

On the pitch, we were privileged enough to watch a young, diverse, and socially-progressive team of admirable professionals. They came within a hair’s breadth of winning this country’s first title in 55 years through a mixture of brotherhood, intelligence, and dedication. They are the utter antithesis of a tragically vocal proportion of their own fanbase.

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People out-of-their-minds drunk before midday ahead of an 8pm kickoff. People fighting and storming barriers to occupy seats left empty due to the growing presence of a highly-transmissible and deadly virus. Why are we like this?

The erosion of the concept of society, economic polarisation, petty gaslighting, dog-whistle culture wars, division at every turn. The muddying of the concept of truth. We are a profoundly unhappy society.

The result? A mural of Marcus Rashford, who fed millions of children last year when the government decided against doing so itself, is defaced. Bukayo Sako and Jadon Sancho - young kings at the peak of their professions - are subjected to merciless racist abuse on social media.

Why are we like this?

In response to the final loss, our footballers apologised, needlessly and honestly. They embraced defeat, internalised it, and resolved to learn from it. They took responsibility. Gareth Southgate, the most impressive leader this country has at the moment, did the same.

Imagine if our politicians did the same. Despite their snooty privately-educated lexicons, the word ‘sorry’ appears to be curiously missing from their fork-tongued vocabularies. We don’t let children get away without saying sorry, but we do let cabinet ministers get away with it.

Sadly, our apathy is their friend. They know they can get away with it because we keep voting for them. Want to know why we’re like this? The fish rots from the head.