Despite the team’s success at Euro 2020, English football has much to fix if it is to win trophies and host tournaments in future

Euro 2020. What a tournament.

As a team, England were magnificent and a significant improvement on the English teams of yesteryears.

Italy were the deserved champions as well, with a bit of luck in the final.

What drama.

My lasting memory of the final’s closing minutes isn’t the slew of penalty misses by both England and Italy, however. Nor is it the picture of Italian players and management jubilantly lifting the trophy — rather, its Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci yelling gladiatorially “[Football’s] coming to Rome!”

“So?” you ask.

Bonucci is one of a never-ending list football superstars worldwide who continue to take umbrage at the song Three Lions — otherwise known by its catchy chorus, “Football’s coming home”. During each major tournament, the song is sung passionately by the English in stadiums and at home, and receives a fair amount of radio time as well.

Days earlier, Denmark’s Kasper Schmeichel expressed his dislike for the song during a pre-match press conference. The Dane was asked about the intimidating nature of “coming home” as his team prepared for their upcoming semi-final against England. “Have you ever won it?” he asked. England have never topped the tournament, while Denmark were champions in 1992. Touché.

The views of Bonucci and Schmeichel echo those of past players and managers who not only cite Thee Lions as a source of motivation when playing England, they also hold distain for its lyrics, finding them a touch arrogant. Overseas football historians also point out that while the game flourished in England during the 19th century, similar ball games were played millennia earlier in Ancient China, the Roman Empire and Ancient Greece — thus questioning whether ‘home’ really is home at all.

Everyone wants to beat England at the moment, and this has very little to do with the nation’s footballing prowess

In fairness, the song is actually anything but arrogant. The lyrics tell of the many times England have been unable to progress to the latter stages of either the Euros or World Cup. It’s also somewhat nostalgic, paying tribute to the likes of Booby Moore, England’s world-cup winning captain from the 1966 World Cup — the only time the nation has won a major international football tournament.

Brits view it as banter. Everyone else thinks its bragging.

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Unfortunately for England, every few years Three Lions pumps megalitres of adrenaline into the arms and legs of opponents, and fuels deep anti-English animosity among overseas fans and media. And by the time the England management have gotten a whiff of the potential damage it can cause to the team — not just in terms of firing up the opposition, but also the negative feelings it generates with supporters globally — it’s too late.

This year’s claims that the song is an example of English arrogance were first addressed by England Manager Gareth Southgate in the pre-final press conference — two days before the final and a whole month after England’s opening game. The very likeable and highly competent Southgate explained how the lyrics are self-deprecating in relation to the nation’s lack of success. Yet given how Three Lions tends to motivate teams to beat England when it matters, shouldn’t something have been said at the start of the campaign, rather than prior to England’s last match?

Die-hard England supporters will say, “Why should we explain anything?”. I argue this. In high performance sport, where the words of opponents can generate a psychological, competitive edge, simple things like a happy-go-lucky song from the 1990s, which just happens to irritate the hell out of anyone who is not English, do matter. It’s no accident that Bonucci, a man frequently depicted by the British media as the pantomime villain of Euro 2020, shouted what he did to the camera.

Although to blame England’s perceived arrogance on one song is somewhat harsh. Over the past 30 years, they’ve done numerous other things to stoke the perception. The team has had a raft of managers, from England and abroad, many of whom were often dismissive of their opponents, even those ranked significantly higher than England.

Numerous former England players have since confessed to overconfidence during recent Euro and World Cup campaigns — the tabloid-fuelled idea that success would be just a matter of time, certainly did the team no favours. Then there were the tournaments that the likes of David Beckham attended, when the paparazzi and the distracting presence of the team’s wives and girlfriends, the WAGs, added more fuel to the fire.

The behaviour of the English fans don’t do the national team any favours either.

Within hours of England’s semi-final win over Denmark, footage of local yobs brawling with one another in Central London went viral. And on the day of the final with Italy, English hooligans had not only completely trashed Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square, iconic tourist spots, thousands of ticketless thugs stormed Wembley Stadium in hope of being able to watch the match in-person.

Such scenes are immensely damaging to England’s joint World Cup bid with Ireland for the 2030 tournament. But there is an opportunity for the Football Association (FA) to quickly redeem itself of these despicable acts. So far, the FA has done little except announce an official investigation into the Wembley assault.

Not only that, but the newspapers were then pushing the news that despite their team having performed better than others had in 55 years by making the final, England’s three unsuccessful penalty-takers, each of whom were players of colour, were racially abused after the game. By their own so called ‘fans’.

When the nation’s leaders defended these players from what was indeed vile and reprehensible abuse, they too were accused of hypocrisy — due to their earlier refusal to condemn the booing of the team’s pre-game statement of ‘taking the knee’ prior to a game, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The bottom line is that no matter how good this England team becomes, its media, organisers and fanbase need to get with the programme too. Unless England address all accusations of arrogance, poor behaviour, or racist acts swiftly and through open and honest dialogue, then there’s a strong chance that every other nation, and their officials, will remain highly-motivated to prevent football coming home again.

Quite simply, everyone wants to beat England at the moment, and this has very little to do with the nation’s footballing prowess.

One crucial question remains. Why did the authorities seemingly fall down so badly, when club football in Britain tends to go ahead mostly without incident? It’s hard to say, but for a small minority of troublemakers, putting on the white shirt of England was for this tournament a licence to cause trouble, including the booing of opponent national anthems.

What therefore should be done? For starters, the FA should be more proactive. First, by announcing a plan — or its intention to develop a plan — to counter such events in future. This would immediately add some comfort to the FIFA Executive Committee, which awards winning tournaments their bids. It would also add confidence to the many fans and families who attended the match, and who no doubt will now prefer to stay at home for future games.

The FA could also issue an apology and acknowledge that there were clear failings on its part for not keeping Wembley Stadium safe and secure in the run up to the match. Social media companies should likewise work with clubs to ban perpetrators of racial attacks from football, for life.

As for the trouble elsewhere in London, there is a lot of educational work to be done by the British Government and the FA on what is deemed acceptable fan behaviour and what is not. If they don’t, next year’s World Cup in Qatar could wreak havoc for the event’s organisers, the FA and Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office — and England will attract yet more animosity from hosts, opposing teams and supporters, and undo the momentous work Southgate and team, plus the vast majority of England’s football-loving fans, have achieved to date.

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels