“We have been a beacon of light to bring people together and the national team stands for everybody.”
As England football manager Gareth Southgate suggests, his Euro 2020 team sparked a sense of national pride and unity that runs deeper than the temporary heartbreak caused by Sunday’s failed penalty shootout.
But the racist abuse that followed has been depressing – particularly those who had fallen in love with the team for the first time.
“I never thought I’d be cheering on England, not ever. But here I am,” Binta Williams tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.
The 22-year-old student from Manchester normally wouldn’t care about English football – but says she felt “so proud” of the Euros squad that she’s become “somewhat patriotic”.
“The team come from so many backgrounds and a lot are people of colour, like Raheem Sterling. I’m Jamaican, he’s Jamaican,” she says.
“Watching him smash it for England, the feeling’s just like – wow.”
More than half of the 26 players in the Euro 2020 squad have at least one parent or grandparent born outside the UK, according to the Migration Museum.
That includes Bukayo Saka, whose parents are Nigerian, Jadon Sancho, whose mum and dad are from Trinidad and Tobago – and Marcus Rashford, whose grandma lived on the Caribbean island of St Kitts.
All three players received racist abuse on social media after not scoring their penalties in the shootout on Sunday.
“It’s just embarrassing as a country that fans behave in that way,” Binta says.
She feels it’s driven a wedge in the national unity Southgate spoke of.
“You think we’re making progress as a country all coming together – and then we lose and it’s back to square one,” she says.
Binta says in the past she’s not wanted to wave the England flag, because of its negative connotations.
The flag, which bears the cross of England’s patron saint, St George, was adopted by far-right groups in the 1970s. It’s since been associated with racial tension and white nationalism.
Some 28% of white 18-24s and 25% of ethnic minority 18-24s say they see the flag as a negative symbol of nationalism, even during sporting tournaments, a 2021 survey by research group British Future found. These percentages are much lower among older people.
But Binta says the current England squad have helped change how she feels.
“For the first time, I’m proud of this country,” she says.
Cameron Cole, 27, says the “disgusting” abuse of Saka, Sancho and Rashford shows there is “still a very long way to go” to tackle racism in football.
But having faced racist abuse himself, Cameron says the aftermath of Sunday’s game means the team represents him “now more than ever”.
“I’ve had experiences before where I’ve had to speak out about it and seeing these stars do the same thing, it qualifies me more to do it in any circumstance, in employment or anywhere else,” he tells Newsbeat.
The Arsenal fan, from south London, says the fact many of Southgate’s players are from similar neighbourhoods and ethnic minorities as him makes him feel “a lot more comfortable” cheering on nation than he used to do.
Racism in football – and society, is nothing new. But it’s a particularly sad end to the tournament given how vocal the team have been in their fight for equality – as shown by their joint decision to take the knee at the beginning of every game.
Despite some critics, the team never wavered in their gesture, which has had Southgate’s full support.
In a public letter to the nation published by the Players’ Tribune in June, Southgate said his players have a “duty” to speak up on issues 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”.
Southgate added that the pride each of his players have in representing their country “cannot be questioned”.
But as suggested by Binta, national pride doesn’t always come easily in England.
Some 61% of people who describe themselves as white are proud to declare their English identity, but among ethnic minorities it is just 32%, according to a BBC survey from 2018.
Khomal Aruje, 24, says part of the problem is that ethnic minorities are under-represented by national sports.
“I never saw anyone that looked like me playing football growing up – and that cements itself inside you,” she tells Newsbeat.
Aruje – as she prefers to be known – volunteers for Saltley Stallions, a club in Birmingham that encourages Muslim women into the game.
She says it felt “amazing” to see a video on Twitter of Muslim boys celebrating Harry Kane’s goal against Denmark, because it shows football is truly becoming a sport “for everyone”.
Other big social media moments from the tournament include when BBC Radio Leeds presenter Rima Ahmed shared a photo of herself in an England shirt.
She said she never thought she’d want to wear England kit- but that this tournament’s players have changed her mind.
Aruje says Southgate’s team shows the sport is “moving in the right direction”.
“We’ve got the benefit of having hundreds of different cultures and ways of thinking and perspectives, and I think for us to fully commit to supporting an England team, it’s nice to be able to have one that reflects the diversity of the country a little bit more accurately.”
But the racism sparked on Sunday shows the ugly side of English football hasn’t yet been beaten.
“This is just the reality of being a person of colour being brought to light,” Aruje says.
“As a person of colour and as a woman I think there is a subconscious pressure to exceed in what you do to be recognised, respected or even feel like you belong.
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