For the first time in a long time, England had such high hopes. On the stands, in the streets, and on Twitter, the Three Lions football anthem enjoyed renewed popularity. The “football’s coming home” chorus became a repetitive chant as our squad progressed into the semi-finals. We united with dreams of the country’s first World Cup championship since 1966.
And then, on Wednesday 11th July 2018, all hopes were shattered as Croatia came from behind to beat England 2-1 in extra time.
Despite the defeat, we’re proud of our squad for reviving hope. All the scenes of joy and national pride and renditions of the Three Lions tune were not in vain, as there is merit in being one of the top four teams in football’s grandest event.
Now, this wouldn’t be a Brits + Pieces post without us giving a special shout out to all the Black British players that were part of the England squad this year.
When it comes to noting the first ever black footballer to play for England, it becomes a tad bit muddled. According to records, Benjamin Odeje who was born in Nigeria and raised in Charlton, was the first black footballer to represent England at any level. The first black football player to represent England in a full international match was Viv Anderson, in 1978. However, technically the first black footballer playing for England was back in October 1925, with London-born Jack Leslie, a striker for Plymouth Argyle between 1920 -1935. He was informed by his manager that he had been selected to play for England, yet sadly later went on to receive information that his call-up to the England squad had been cancelled as they did not realise he was ‘a man of colour’.
Black players have faced adversity over the decades when representing British national teams, and organisations such as Kick It Out have been established to combat the issue of racism within football. The organisation works within the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and work for positive change. It is supported by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), Premier League and the Football Association (FA).
While racism remains a problem in English football, the number of black players represented in tournaments over the years and in this year’s tournament indicates that there have been strides forward at the level of national team selection. Looking at the beautiful flags represented in our national team fills me with pride, and is a reminder of just how incredibly talented young men from our community are despite often not being afforded the same opportunities and privileges.
So, as the tournament sadly draws to a close today, and our hopes of ‘football coming home’ may have to wait another 4 years, we’ll be on the lookout for what new talent from our community will be contributing to the efforts of making our nation proud in Qatar 2022.