Pride and trepidation – to see England’s black players score at the World Cup

The England football team has a long and complex history of black footballers.

In the national team’s 150-year history, there have been several points at which England may be represented, aand the extent to which they are celebrated as Englishmen is questioned.

In 1925, despite being called up, Jack Leslie was denied a performance for England. John Barnes’ career in England was defined by his memorable goal against Brazil in 1984, but his talents have often been dismissed by some because of the color of his skin. After last year’s EURO final, several racists tried to insult Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka.

A black footballer’s place in the England team is often tricky and always precarious; celebrated for their moments of physical excellence, but often questioned for their mental intelligence. Monday’s 6-2 win over Iran was a fine team effort, which also featured four black goalscorers:

  • Jude Bellingham – a promising teenager who looks to be the future of England’s central midfield.
  • Raheem Sterling – whose performances at Euro 2020 are among the best by an English player in a major tournament.
  • Saka – who ended 2021 as England’s Player of the Year.
  • Rashford – who has bounced back from a career low in the 2021-22 season and has re-established himself for club and country.

England’s win didn’t have to be a redeeming tale – black Brits’ personalities shouldn’t be conditioned by continued excellence – but, particularly for supporters from similar backgrounds, it was heartening to see a collection of black players, three of whom have been racist in their England careers assaults continue to thrive in the Three Lions jersey.

Most club football fans know that special ‘one on us’ feeling that comes with seeing an academy graduate score for their team.

Black England fans You get a similar feeling when you see black goalscorers succeeding for the national team.

Here is a collection of black writers the athlete discuss what this England team means to them.


As a black England fan, how does it make you feel when you see four black players score?

Ahmed Shooble: Proud. Not only because of the horrific abuse Rashford and Saka endured after missing their penalties in the Euro 2020 final, but also because of the connection I – and many other black England fans – now feel with this team.

Their respective upbringings bear striking similarities to mine, growing up in England’s inner cities and playing in parks and cages not too different from those I frequented, rain or shine. I am thinking in particular of Sterling, who grew up in North West London, the area I grew up in.

In that sense, I see his and the other black players’ touches, goals and celebrations as direct representations of me, so I see them thriving on the greatest stage football has to offer as invaluable members of a national team that doesn’t always do that Seeing value in black players fills me with great joy.

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But I also feel a sense of trepidation.

We all saw Sterling score crucial goals during England’s run to the finals last year, for which he was deservedly praised.

But the moment England’s black players became open to criticism, they were instead confronted with racism – reinforcing the idea that black people must keep proving they are worthy of positions they have already earned.

My only hope this time is that backers treat them with the humanity they deserve as humans.

Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka


Raheem Sterling (right) hugs Bukayo Saka after he scored England’s fourth goal against Iran (Picture: Eddie Keogh – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Black England fans and players have a legacy that can be traced to other countries – what emotions do they stir?

Karl Anka: Every time Saka scores for England, I remember Gareth Southgate calling him up for the first time on Nigeria’s Independence Day (October 1, 2020). Saka has spoken out about his Nigerian heritage and recently started a great charity drive in his home country.

In particular, I refer to Nigeria as Saka’s homeland. As I write these words in English, a part of me is telling me that I have a native language and it’s not the one I speak right now.

The political environment in the UK has made it difficult to reconcile my blackness with my British passport.

The Windrush scandal made it clear that my citizenship can be revoked. Talks about Brexit often seem to revolve not around a vote on joining an economic union, but rather a vote on “immigration” (those quotes are also a special choice). The England flag is something I was raised for and still gets a fight-or-flight reaction in me… EXCEPT when the England team is playing.

There have been many days over the past few years when England, where I was born, educated and live, has not felt like home. Luckily, the England team – that special, very special group of players under this coach – made me feel like I belonged.

I was born in this country and I speak English because a few decades ago a group of people decided to make a life here.

Sometimes I wonder why they chose England over other places.

When Saka and others score for England and I see this team celebrating together, it doesn’t surprise me. It makes sense just for a bit.

Marcus Rashford, England


Marcus Rashford applauds his England team-mates after scoring against Iran (Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

“How am I supposed to look at England with a sense of pride or happiness?”.

Jay Harris: That was my immediate reaction when Saka, Rashford and Sancho received a barrage of racist abuse on social media after missing their penalties against Italy in the Euro 2020 final.

It was a stark reminder for people of mixed heritage and/or dual nationality that their position in society is often conditional – the moment you make a mistake, people are waiting to tear you down.

That’s why it was heartening to see Saka and Rashford score in their first appearance at a major international tournament since Monday’s EURO final in a 6-2 win over Iran. They didn’t have to prove anything, but together with Bellingham, Sterling and Callum Wilson, who set up the sixth goal and were put in by Jack Grealish, they proved they belonged. Five of England’s goals on Monday were scored by black players, which is incredible and underscores their importance.

In the past, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Barnes and Paul Ince have all been key members of England teams, but there is a core group of black players at the heart of Southgate’s squad that is inspiring and reflects our multicultural society.

When Sterling, who was born in Jamaica, plays, it strengthens my own connection with the national team.

The Chelsea striker is representative of my family and so many others who call England home but are originally from the Caribbean and have strong feelings for both of them. Seeing Sterling shine makes me smile as I see our own experiences reflected back to us.

If the horrific treatment of these players post-Euro has put us off, the sight of such a rampant display of black excellence and joy in the opening match of the World Cup draws us back.


Explain the impact of racism after Euro 2020. Is it important that these players get the same support if they are not successful on the pitch?

Jay Harris: There were just 34 days between England’s defeat by Italy on penalties and the opening game of the 2021/22 Premier League season, in which Brentford hosted Arsenal.

When Saka came on for Arsenal in the second half, everyone in the stadium stood up and applauded him. It was a beautiful and emotional gesture.

Whatever happens in Qatar over the next four weeks, that is the level of support we must show and give to England’s black players. We can’t authentically celebrate the team’s successes if we don’t lift them up and encourage them after setbacks.

England’s black footballers have not always felt welcome for too long. Rio Ferdinand, who made 81 appearances for the national team, said The Athletic Earlier this month that “you’re really fine and fine; People don’t see your color. But the moment you do something wrong or fail at something, like you missed a penalty, you are considered black.

A person’s personal and cultural identity should not depend on their ability on a football field. Whether they beat Brazil in the World Cup final on December 18 or are eliminated after the group stage, England’s black players should be protected, loved and made to feel like they belong.

Marcus Rashford, England


Rashford (pictured), Saka and Jadon Sancho were victims of racist attacks after missing penalties against Italy in the Euro 2020 final (Picture: Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

What was the significance of England players taking a knee before their victory over Iran to protest systemic racism?

Harris: We cannot talk about England’s players taking the knee without acknowledging that they are FootBall Association backed away from captain Harry Kane, who wore the “OneLove” armband.

Ahead of the World Cup, Kane and the captains of eight other European nations planned to wear this rainbow-designed armband to promote diversity and inclusion.

However, that decision was reversed hours before England kicked off against Iran after FIFA told teams they could face sporting sanctions, e.g. B. Captains automatically receive a yellow card for doing so.

It was impressive to see England’s players take a knee in their opening game at the world’s greatest sporting event, but it was diluted by the confusion surrounding the ‘OneLove’ armband. In that moment, they showed their support for part of society but let others down.

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England’s players took a knee at last year’s European Championships and it happened before all Premier League games in the following 2021/22 season, but doing so at the World Cup reinforces the message to a wider audience.

There is a whole generation of people who are being introduced to football and the World Cup for the first time. So to see England take a knee ahead of their opening game will be a reminder of the importance of raising awareness and tackling challenges about systemic racism.

Children in England and around the world will want to know why their new hero Saka took a knee with his team-mates just before the game started. The key to tackling systemic racism is education and England’s players have helped keep the issue at the forefront of conversations.

(Top Photo: Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)



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