After England’s defeat to Italy at the Euro 2020 final on Sunday, three members of generation Z reflect on what the team, and the tournament, has meant to them.
‘It’s a harsh reality’
Although not the most avid football fan, Dylan Kawende, a 23-year-old student from north-west London, took a keen interest in England’s journey to the finals of Euro 2020. “I try to often avoid the sort of tribalism that football often fosters within supporters – I’m only really supporting England when it’s a major game,” he said. “Sunday was a big game and represented a really big moment for our country, so I was of course very much invested.”
For Kawende, who watched the final with his family, one of the factors that made this particular tournament feel so different to previous ones was the sense of hope and optimism the England players had brought to both his family and the wider nation.
“I’d say that all the players were exceptional in their own way of course, but I really resonated with Sterling’s performance and his background,” he said. “He came from Stonebridge in Brent, which isn’t too far from where I live, and the fact that he’s used his success to support his family is something that really resonates with me.”
However, despite the current team’s makeup demonstrating the importance and strength of a diversity of talent, for Kawende, the racist abuse the black players faced in light of England’s loss to Italy speaks to a “harsh reality” of what it’s like to be a black person in England.
“I think it’s a brutal reality that a lot of members of our nation will only feel comfortable associating themselves with us when we meet their standards of what it means to be excellent,” Kawende said.
“The individuals who missed the penalties are black and so much of the blame has been placed on to them. I’m not sure there would have been as much backlash if it were white footballers who had missed. It’s a harsh reality.”
‘They have been incredible for standing up for what they believe in’
For Oliwia Charowska, who’s 16 and from Bromley, south-east London, watching England in the Euro 2020 final with her friend was a stressful but ultimately amazing experience. “We were so nervous, so excited, completely sweating and sitting on the edge of our seats,” Charowska said. “It was like a hundred emotions in one jar being released at the same time.”
What made watching the England team more exciting for Charowska was seeing just how humble they were and how they seemed to represent ordinary people.
“We can all find something that resonates with within the team and feel connected to them,” she said. “But for me, learning more about what the players are like as people has been really inspirational. Players such as Marcus Rashford have advocated for issues they believe in. They have been incredible for standing up for what they believe in and actually creating change.
“When you have so much fame and money and all the other things that come with being a footballer, sometime it’s really easy to just get lost in all of that,” she went on. “Whereas I think this team has been so humble about everything they’ve been given and to use their platform to speak on important issues such as racism.”
And although there was disappointment at England failing to bring home the title, Charowska is hopeful for the team’s future performance at the World Cup.
“Although they didn’t win this time, they won in so many different areas, and it shows how strong they are as a team,” she said. “I’m so hopeful that they can do it – and it is possible.”
‘As a person of colour, it does make you more comfortable supporting the team’
For Ria Kakkad, a 24-year-old research analyst from Leicester, England reaching the final was something that gave her feelings of great pride, for a number of reasons.
“I felt really proud of the players for reaching the final, but also with the incredible things which they’ve been doing within our society,” she said.
“Some of the reactions to losing were quite heartbreaking to see, but at the same time there has been a lot of support for the young players. It’s been nice to see people uniting against racism in that way.”
But for Kakkad, the assertion that the England team represent a more progressive and inclusive type of nationalism was almost a double-edged sword.
“On one hand, you have amazing players doing work for their communities, as well as standing up against racism by taking the knee,” she said. “As a person of colour, that does make you more comfortable supporting the team. However, a lot of the discussion, and wider politics surrounding taking the knee, as well as the negative reactions from some England fans, is quite disheartening.”
However, for Kakkad, who is from an Indian background, for her to feel truly represented by English football she would like to see more south Asians in the sport.
“I think there is a lack of representation of south Asians in football,” she says. “I think once we get to that point, I would feel more represented in football. Although we’ve recently had [Manisha Tailor] as the first person of south Asian heritage to be coach, there really is still much more that needs to be done.”