OPINION: Racist abuse of England stars sends terrible message to children

England's Kalvin Phillips, left, and Luke Shaw, right, comfort teammate Bukayo Saka after he failed

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

An enlightened head somewhere else in the country set the precedence and thankfully a lot of schools followed suit when emails were sent home to say children could come in a little later this morning after last night's Euro 2020 final.

“We’d rather have children rested and ready to learn than absent or tired all day,” with the tone to enjoy England playing a major tournament final for the first time in 55 years while using it as a learning objective.

“Teach them about pride, resilience and possibly disappointment,” it said.

At the end of the last term of the year, and what a year at that, it was fitting and though we went into the weekend with pride, we will indeed have all gained a bit more resilience after the eventual disappointment of Sunday night’s game.

Fans or not, the majority of us sat on the edge of our seats feeling like after everything else, we all needed this little bit of something magic.

Dreams were pinned as grown men flocked streets in their thousands like Covid was but a distant memory (and not running rife), to cheer on the England squad and camaraderie made us feel united, regardless of anything else.

In the before, when lots were dancing in the streets, drinking themselves silly at lunch time and quite probably, for some, didn’t even make it to kick off, the footballers from our national team were regarded as heroes.

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They’d got us to a final and the excitement and joy could be felt everywhere.

Even I had butterflies waiting for 8pm and with a little bit of hope I watched the entire game trying not to think too deeply about the throngs in the stands and the streets, inevitably contributing to more deaths from the one thing we’ve sacrificed everything else for when isolating over the last 18 months.

Ruth's family getting into the England spirit before Sunday's final

Ruth's family getting into the England spirit before Sunday's final - Credit: Ruth Davies

We couldn’t stop them, so we just tried to enjoy the moment, albeit from our sofa at home and not with others.

My young son Jimmy and I spoke about football on the school run every single day last week.

We had celebratory chats after the Wednesday game and our conversations were truly focused on the win.

Jimmy talked about the players by name as if they were close friends telling me their advantages and who he’d hope would do what in the final.

I told him about Euro 96 when I wasn’t 18 but worked as a barmaid regardless (It was the 90s wasn’t it?) and how David Beckham was new back then.

“Was he always a hero?” Jimmy asked and I explained that though the country loved him when he’d done well and scored, the tone very much changed for Beckham after the World Cup in 1998.

One famous newspaper had headlined the words “10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy” and another had printed a dart board with Beckham’s face in the centre.

The nation, the ones who had once hailed and would again hail Beckham as a national hero, had followed suit building effigies of him to burn upon bonfires.

Jimmy and I spoke about that. He was just a footballer, playing a game and someone, somewhere, would have to have lost.

After we lost the game on  Sunday Jimmy asked if those boys had faced anything like Beckham had. I told him yes, but worse.

The racial hatred I’d seen for them online, turned their heroic status pre-game into a mockery. They’d held the nation's hopes on their young shoulders only to have the colour of their skin branded abusively after they’d not got a ball in a net - ridiculous.

Jadon Sancho is 21 years old and Bukayo Saka just 19.

When I was 19, I still dropped wet towels on the floor and thought no further about their journey other than accepting when I needed to use one again it would be dry and waiting on the radiator for me.

By comparison the expectation on these young men a world of difference to my own experience at their age.

I bet their parents are beyond proud and don’t even mind picking up their wet towels – more to the point, they probably don’t drop them.

Marcus Rashford, the other man brought on in the eleventh hour to take a penalty for his country, is 23. This is a man who has campaigned for under privileged children to be given opportunity and treated fairly. 

He seems wise beyond his years and is a role model for so much more than just his football.

These men are heroes with or without scoring winning goals.

They are great men, doing a great job, under incredible circumstances and teaching my child so much more than pride, resilience or disappointment.

That makes them only winners to me and I feel shame faced on behalf of those who could say otherwise, especially when citing their skin colour as a derogative.

Teach kids kindness and that nothing else matters.

Winning isn’t about coming first, it’s about the types of people we are inside.

Ruth Davies has a parenting blog at www.rocknrollerbaby.co.uk