Lambert Mbom

In a few hours, the Euro 2020 will be in the history books when Italy meets with England. And not that it matters, supporting either one or the other the difference shall be made by the soccer wizardry, technical savvy of managers and players and sheer luck.

It is not just out of sympathy that the Three Lions have not had any luck and savoir faire to bring home any title in 55 years that is driving my support for the English team. By the way, it seems awkward that with the nonchalance of the Brits towards the problem in Southern Cameroons (Ambazonia) that they caused in the first place, I would be supporting them. The mess the Brits left post colonialism is nauseating and in fact the carnage going in the fight for freedom by the former colony is unforgivable and may need the absolution of the Vatican if the Italians could have the courage to ask. Yes, but let us not mix politics and soccer. Soccer is about entertainment.

I must confess that I have never watched any soccer game of the Italian soccer league which by the way has been home to many African immigrants. What is more, I am Catholic and the seat of Catholicism, the Vatican in Rome is in Italy but this is not enough to win my support for the Italian team.

In 2006, I visited Rome and Florence and saw firsthand the plight of African immigrants which left me aghast. Ten years later matters came to a head with the Lampedusa disaster where 366 African migrants lost their lives en route to Italy and am not blaming the receiving country for this.

What is even more sinister is the fact that Italy is one of those teams that has pure European lineage with no African/Black player in its ranks though they have the distinction of having lured a Brazilian to become Italian and play for them. Yes, one may shoot back that this is European soccer!

Most Sundays many African immigrants watch the English Premier League (EPL)! I am a Manchester United fan and have been for years. Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham are the most popular teams amongst African immigrants! Many African immigrants own and proudly don the paraphernalia of these clubs and of course the rivalry, virtual and verbal is part of the daily menu for most of us!

There are currently four Manchester United players with the English team: Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire Marcus Rashford, and Sancho! Two of these have been spectacular throughout the competition.

The English team’s composition reflects the multiracial world we live in! Of course, Nigerian heritage cannot be missing from the picture with the brilliance of the young Bukayo Saka! The bulldozer Kyle Walker of Jamaican descent, Tyrone Mings whose father is from Barbados, the electric Raheem Sterling of Jamaican descent, the daring Rashford with St Kitts parentage, master dribbler Jordan Sancho with parents from Trinidad and Tobago, Kalvin Phillips of Jamaican descent and Calvert-Lewin are the many blacks who have lifted the Three Lions to their first final in a major soccer competition.

The story of England’s soccer team’s successful bid this far is one made possible because of migration. And as Stephen Frost notes in his article “The England Football Team, Diversity and Leadership” in Forbes “The London Migration Museum has run a campaign to remind us that without immigration the England team as we know it would not exist.” 

England’s team is a true reflection of the Commonwealth just as the French team is of the Francophonie. Yet, I could never support the French team because of the influence of France and its strangle effect on African economies and politics. The English have the opposite approach.

The challenge now is for the society to follow the example of its soccer team. When the Euro Cup comes home, let the glory of the title trickle down to the society so that in the index of racism, England might score better. Is it not reflective of the English that during the pregame anthem some have booed at players for taking a knee in demonstration of their fight against racial injustice? Or even the fact that black players like Marcus Rashford are often taunted when their performances at club level are perceived not to have delivered the goods. Racial slurs and nasty reference to color become the dominant show of disdain. This is just scratching the surface.

In 2019 when I visited my sister and her family, I had the rare privilege of dining with some priests from the archdiocese of Bamenda studying and working within the diocese of Portsmouth that has had a long-standing relationship with Bamenda. Stories of racist taunts against some of them demonstrated the deeply ensconced anti-black and anti-African reality of the English.

The glory of the cup coming home and not going to Rome will find true value when the virtue of tolerance becomes a pillar of the English society. If soccer is the gift of the English to the world and given the religious value of soccer in most African countries, herewith an opportunity for the English to avail of to check their racial biases and idiosyncrasies.

Good luck to the Three Lions and bring home the trophy!