Nearly everyone in England is losing their shit in anticipation of cheering on the national football team in the final of Euro 2020 on Sunday – the first major final the team have reached in 55 years. Everyone, that is, except one supposedly football-loving right-wing MP who is persevering with a pointless one-man boycott because of the England team’s stance against racism and other forms of discrimination.
On Sunday the Three Lions will take on Italy. It is the first time the national football team has made it to the final of a major international competition since 1966, when they won the World Cup. It will be by far the biggest game in English football for over 50 years. But Lee Anderson, Conservative MP for Ashfield, has confirmed that he will not be watching.
As the competition got underway in June, Anderson wrote a Facebook post criticising the England players for taking the knee against racism, and said he would not support the team if they continued to do so.
“The FA [Football Association] and the England football team have made a big mistake in supporting the taking of the knee before football matches ahead of the European Championships,” he wrote.
“The FA, Premier League and footballers now run the risk of becoming like the Labour Party and that is having nothing in common with their traditional supporters.
“All forms of racism are vile and should be stamped out – but this is not the way.
“For the first time in my life I will not be watching my beloved England team whilst they are supporting a political movement whose core principles aim to undermine our very way of life.”
As England have progressed through the competition and Euro-mania has gripped the country, sparking scenes of wild celebration after knock-out-stage victories, Anderson has been mocked on social media for his stance – but is refusing to back down.
Asked by the Nottingham Post about being mocked on social media, he said, "I don't go on Twitter because it is full of idiots"
As for whether he would watch the final, he said, "Well there is nothing to update, I stick by my comments three weeks ago.
"Well done, well played I hope it continues."
"I won't be watching it, no."
And on talk radio station LBC, Anderson said he would instead be moving boxes and checking his phone for updates about the match.
"We've just moved house. I've got plenty of work to do in my house over the weekend, lots of boxes to unpack, plenty to be getting on with… I will be supporting the team, I want them to win, I wish them all the best.
"I hope we bring it home. I've never seen England in a final in my lifetime… fair play to them, they've had a great tournament.”
He said taking the knee is associated with Black Lives Matter. “It grates a little bit with me that BLM are getting all this exposure through what I see as them being promoted through taking the knee.”
England’s Euros campaign started amid controversy. As players took the knee in a statement against racism during warm up games at the Riverside stadium in Middlesbrough in early June, some fans booed. Taking the knee has been controversial in English football since players started doing it in June 2020 following the BLM movement. The national team’s stance and the booing became a media talking point after some dull footballing performances.
But the players, supported by manager Gareth Southgate, stuck to their guns, and the gesture has been met with a largely positive response during the tournament – no doubt helped by the fact that anyone booing the players for their anti-racist stance is also booing the most successful England team for many years. Any remaining boos by fans are now drowned out by applause, and brilliant displays on the pitch have dominated the news.
Other politicians who criticised the players for taking the knee have decided to support the team since they started winning.
Asked in June about taking the knee Home Secretary Priti Patel said, “I just don't support people participating in that type of gesture politics.”
And asked about fans booing she said, “That's a choice for them quite frankly.”
And she dodged a question about whether she would boo, saying, “I've not gone to a football match to even contemplate that.”
Following England’s victory over Denmark, she released a picture of herself celebrating the victory.
Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees Mogg defended fans who booed the players in June, saying that there was no evidence that they were racists and that “the objection to it [taking the knee] is the politicalisation through the BLM movement rather than [the] huge hinterland of racism in football.” On Thursday he gave a toe-curling rendition of John Barnes’ rap from the New Order song World in Motion, written for the England team’s 1990 World Cup campaign.
Which leaves Anderson alone in missing the party in order to make a political point that – at least for now – nobody really cares about.
The Labour Party has launched a petition encouraging Anderson not to watch the game, pointing out that he was born in 1967, the year after the last time England reached a final. “We think maybe he's been the jinx all along”, says the petition. “We want to finish the job on Sunday. So we're saying: Anderson, stay away, do the housework, watch Midsomer Murders, anything. And keep up your pathetic one-man boycott for one more game.”
Not only is the current England squad the best national team for decades in footballing terms, but they are also outspoken on social issues in the country.
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling – a stand out performer with three goals in the competition – has spoken out against his racism in the media. Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford – who has made numerous appearances as a substitute during the tournament – led a chorus of criticism that shamed the government into providing free meals to children during the school holidays at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The whole team has been taking the knee against racism, whereas many other teams have chosen not to.
Manager Southgate has been widely praised for his handling of the situation. Before the competition started he wrote an essay, titled “Dear England” in which wrote of the importance of “representing ‘Queen and country’” and said it was his players’ “duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.”
It was perhaps the best attempt at articulating a progressive form of patriotism that anyone has managed in a long time, and prompted a Conservative Party source to suggest to the Financial Times that the article was “suspiciously well written”. Some have even gone as far, the Financial Times wrote, as to believe that Southgate is a tool of “deep woke.”
England play Italy at Wembley at 8PM on Sunday. Good luck with the boxes, Lee.