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Editorial: England’s ‘young Lions,’ racism, patriotism and the left

MILLIONS of English football fans are still in mourning after their team’s narrow defeat by Italy in Sunday’s European Championship final.

Yet they can be proud of England’s “young Lions,” who fought one of the top sides in the world to the bitter end. 

It will not bring any great comfort to many English supporters to be told “it’s only a game.” Nor would it be telling the whole truth.

The conduct of the English players and their manager Gareth Southgate has elevated the national side to more than just a football team. 

Individually, some such as Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling have taken a bold stance on issues of social and racial justice. 

Collectively, they have expressed their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. 

To their credit, the Italian team joined them in “taking the knee” on Sunday evening, in defiance of the large fascist and racist gangs that dominate some of Italy’s biggest football clubs. 

Less well publicised in recent days has been the decision taken by the 26-strong English squad last week to donate a substantial share of their Euro 2020 bonus — which could reach almost £9 million — to NHS charities. 

So there is much to be proud of in England’s multiracial team. It should not be tarnished by the continuing misconduct of the vile racist and xenophobic scum who follow it. 

These are only a small minority — albeit a vocal one — of those who claim to be football fans. 

Another, larger, minority will get sucked into the violence and racist abuse out of ignorance and a misplaced sense of excitement. 

Some of these can be won away from the hardcore racists and fascists — but only if the effort is made to do so. 

The majority of English football supporters are not knowingly or actively racist or xenophobic. 

Securing their involvement in the efforts needed to drive the racists and fascists out of English football is vital. 

But it will never be achieved by equating their patriotism with reactionary nationalism, racism and xenophobia. 

Rather, the left should be helping to reforge a sense of Englishness — including an English patriotism — which takes pride in the country’s rich multiracialism and in the English people’s long history of struggle against oppression, exploitation and injustice.

England is not only about the monarchy, empire and winning wars. There is also the England of the Peasants’ Revolt, the English Revolution, the abolition of the slave trade, the fight for trade union rights and the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Chartists and the suffragettes, the hunger marchers, the International Brigaders, victory over fascism, the foundation of the NHS and freedom for the Pentonville Five.

These are good reasons why English people can rightly feel patriotic. Socialists and communists should help raise popular awareness of them. 

Moreover, the contributions of the English in the arts, literature, music, science, sport and much else besides have enriched the world.

How Karl Marx would have mocked those on the left who turn their backs on their own nationality, as he did the members of the “Young France” movement! How Lenin would have scorned revolutionaries who take no pride in the struggles and achievements of their own country’s working people, as he — the avowed Great Russian patriot — did. 

Denying or despising one’s own nation in the name of “internationalism” is no proof of one’s love for every other nation.

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