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North London united: Arsenal, Spurs, it doesn’t matter, we stand together against the racists

Our solidarity after abuse faced by England stars

16 July, 2021 — By Richard Osley

Bukayo Saka

THERE was a touching moment on Sunday when Bukayo Saka must have felt the whole world capsizing after missing the crucial penalty that ended England’s hopes of winning the European championships.

To his side appeared Harry Kane, the team captain, to offer consolation through a warm hug: the big Tottenham forward and the Arsenal teenager together.

No blame. No hate.

Kane, who has grown into the natural leader of the national side, told him that they would win or lose together as a team now and in the future – and he continued this sentiment when worse was to come the way of Saka, and his black teammates Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho.

All three found their social media accounts hit by racist abuse for the simple “crime” of being unable to score their penalty shootout kick against Italy.

So not only did they have to deal with the professional deflation and the weight of a nation’s disappointment, but within minutes and hours of the tournament’s sad conclusion, they were bombarded with hate-filled messages.

Once again, they had been “English” when the team was winning, but branded unprintable and disgraceful things when the team had lost.

The often-anonymous keyboard racists were of course in a minority but there was still enough to show that the game – and the country – still has a battle to fight.

That’s why today (Thursday), the Tribune is devoting its front page and these special pages to sending out the message that the infection of racism cannot be allowed to spread through football or any part of society.

England manager Gareth Southgate

Unions, businesses, organisations and Islington and Camden councils have all robustly shown their support for zero tolerance towards discrimination. They are redoubling their commitments to fight it wherever it appears, and to use education and awareness to stop it manifesting in the first place.

No longer will not being racist be enough. The will since last summer has been for people to be “anti-racist” – to not let it pass untackled.

Fans should feel empowered to raise complaints in football grounds if they hear abuse and clubs say they are ready to tackle it.

A petition calling for those involved in the abuse to be banned from football matches has already passed one million signatures.

We might “banter” each week about the age-old rivalry between Arsenal and Spurs, but they are together on this.

On Monday, Tottenham tweeted the image that you can see on our front page – Saka being reassured by Kane – and added the simple message: “We stand together. We are driven by inclusion and equality and nobody should have to endure this repulsive online abuse.”

Ben Odeje. Photo: Museum of London

In a statement, Arsenal said its players were suffering from abuse on a “daily basis” and that the club’s pride in Saka and the national team had turned to “sorrow”.

“We have processes in place internally at Arsenal to ensure players are supported both emotionally and practically on this issue but sadly there is only so much we can do,” it said.

“Our message to Bukayo is: hold your head high, we are so very proud of you.”

Any right-minded reader may feel depressed that it even needs to be said. It feels like the issue should be consigned to the history books, or a museum.

In fact, just before the Euros, the Museum of London made a film which included the first black player to play for England.

Ben Odeje, who played at schoolboy level, may not have had social media to deal with but he was pelted with bananas.

“Nothing has changed in terms of how us black people are being treated,” he told The Voice.

“In fact racism has gone up a notch. It’s in your face in a subtle way. When I was playing in the 60s and 70s you were blatantly abused. Defenders I came up against would look to put you off your game with racist abuse.”

He played that match for England in 1971 – 50 years of hurt later, and the problem still needs tackling, perhaps explaining to those who are still muddled over why the squad now routinely and purposefully take the knee before matches.

In his post-tournament press conference, England manager Gareth Southgate, who has won plaudits for how he has spoken about national issues away from the pitch, described the abuse as “unforgivable”.

“It’s just not what we stand for,” he said. “We have a beacon of light in bringing people together, in people being able to relate to the national team, and the national team stands for everybody and so that togetherness has to continue.

“We heal together as a team now, and we’re there for them, and I know that 99 per cent of the public will be as well.”

And Kane too made clear the support that is out there.

“Three lads who were brilliant all summer had the courage to step up and take a penalty when the stakes were high,” he said. “They deserve support and backing, not the vile racist abuse they’ve had.

“If you abuse anyone on social media, you’re not an England fan and we don’t want you.”

A powerful message from the captain.

The Tribune would like to thank all of the organisations that have sent messages of solidarity in the fight against prejudice and racism, and have helped make it possible to clear our front page for a powerful image that we think sums up the unity that can be found in north London.

As ever, the Tribune resolves to call out prejudice where we see it, to provide a voice to those struggling to be heard and to offer a platform to anybody with challenging ideas on how to tackle deep-seated bias and inequality.

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