We are bursting with pride. Never in our lifetimes did we think we would see something like this. England are in a tournament final for the first time in 55 years and this nation has rallied around this wonderful team. But what they stand for off the pitch, and the brilliant leader they have in Gareth Southgate, makes this team one to be truly proud of.
They represent all of us, from all walks of life. Raheem Sterling, born in Jamaica, raised in the shadow of Wembley, dreamt of scoring goals for England on the hallowed turf, but he has faced adversity to get this far. Years ago, the press in this country vilified him for his every move based purely on the colour of his skin, until he fought his own corner and turned the tide of negativity against him.
Marcus Rashford is another young man who has not only led the fight against racism but also social injustice. His well-documented work to feed young children on the poverty line forced the government into more than one u-turn, he has repeatedly shown wisdom way beyond his years and his kind social media messages to the likes of recently-vilified tennis teenager Emma Raducanu show just what kind of a man he is.
But the beauty of this team and what they represent is that it isn’t about individuals. Collectively, they have never wavered in their messages and, led by Southgate, they have stuck to their guns at every turn. In Bulgaria, they were hounded by a racist crowd who performed Nazi salutes and monkey chants at England’s black players. This is something no human being should ever be subjected to, yet the players kept their cool.
United, the players decided to keep playing rather than leave the field and they wiped the floor with them, winning the game 6-0. Sterling, who was one of the main targets of the abuse, briefly silenced the crowd by finding the net on two occasions. That racism is the reason the England players continue to take a knee before matches.
Bafflingly booed in the friendlies and at the start of the tournament for this stance, the players never wavered in their belief they were doing the right thing. As they have kept winning, and grown into the tournament, the boos have faded. Before the semi-final, they barely registered amid the applause, led by the Danish team.
Although there is still plenty of work to be done when it comes to homophobia in football, captain Harry Kane supported Germany’s stance in representing the LGBTQ+ community by donning a rainbow armband for the last-16 tie. This came after UEFA’s decision to refuse the Germans permission to light up their own stadium in their group stage match against Hungary, after anti-LGBT banners were seen in Budapest.
Of course Southgate deserves huge credit for inspiring this team and uniting the country, but as individuals and a collective, there is a whole lot to be proud of. This England team knows exactly what they stand for. They are the team for equality, for everybody. The game on Sunday is seismic, but win or lose, Southgate and this team is one to be unashamedly proud of.