The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

England Soccer: ‘Get Woke, Go Broke’?

Posted on | July 12, 2021 | Comments Off on England Soccer: ‘Get Woke, Go Broke’?

This is a subject that I am loath to raise because (a) I don’t know a lot about contemporary England, (b) I don’t understand soccer strategy, and (c) this involves accusations of RAAAAACISM!

England lost the European championship final to Italy in an overtime “shootout,” a sort of sudden-death situation where the teams, having finished in a tie (it was 1-1 between England and Italy after two 15-minute overtime periods) take turns with penalty kicks. As soon as it finished, England’s fans lit up in outrage at the defeat, with some claiming that the coach, Gareth Southgate, had blown it by choosing black players to take three of the team’s first five penalty kicks. All three of the black players — Marcus Rashford, Jaden Sancho and Bukayo Saka — missed, and the online abuse directed at these players caused a big controversy.

Here was what was suggested by some England fans: This happened because their coach wanted to make some kind of political “statement” by having one of the team’s black players kick the decisive goal. That’s why, according to these fans, the penalty-kick lineup went with two white players first, then the three black players, because it’s the player who kicks the last goal who makes the headlines and, had it gone as the coach hoped, this would create an “anti-racist” media narrative in England (where claims by Meghan Markle that she’s a victim of royal family racism have dominated the news for months now).

As I say, I can’t judge the likelihood of this scenario, but if it were actually true — if Gareth Southgate really did engage in a sort of athletic tokenism for political reasons — it would be insane. England is as crazy about soccer as Alabama is about football, and never in a million years would Nick Saban allow racial symbolism to affect his decision-making. Saban cares about exactly one thing — winning — and whether players are black or white (or Hawaiian, as with Tua Tagovailoa) is absolutely irrelevant in that calculus. So the suggestion that England’s coach would have sacrificed a chance to win the European championship in order to promote an anti-racist media narrative is so mind-boggling to me that I’d dismiss it as a conspiracy theory but . . . but . . .

But the choices Gareth Southgate made do seem rather suspicious. He claims that he picked the best available PK “takers,” and certainly no one could fault him for the first two choices — Harry Kane, 27, and Harry Maguire, 28 — both of whom scored on their kicks. But next up was Marcus Rashford, 23, who was nursing a shoulder injury and hadn’t played much in the game. Rashford managed to fake out Italy’s goalie, but his kick struck the post and bounced away. OK, it was still 2-2 in the shootout at that point, but then Italy scored on their next try, and next up for England was Jadon Sancho, 21, who only started two games during the tournament and, like Rashford, had only been brought into the final against Italy in overtime. Sancho’s kick was stopped by the Italian goalie. Next for England was 19-year-old Bukayo Saka. He had started four of England’s five games in the championship tournament, but this was the first penalty kick of Saka’s adult career!

Again, the coach swears his choices were entirely based on the ability of the players, but how could it be that the final kick was allotted to a mere teenager who had never taken a PK in a professional game?

Of course, the England fans raising questions about this can be dismissed as promoting a racist conspiracy theory, but the circumstances are such that you can’t say there’s no reason for their suspicions. And if they’re right — if Gareth Southgate was trying to arrange matters so that a black player could become a national hero — then he bears the responsibility for the backlash when that plan didn’t work out. If that was the plan.

But my knowledge of “metric football” is not sufficient to enable to me to evaluate this situation, and I only mention it because the sports media are denouncing English soccer fans as RAAAAACIST! Which, maybe they are. But sometimes, even racist soccer fans may have a point.



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