Tyrone Mings made his debut for the English mens team tonight. His first cap - and the latest in a long line of Aston Villa players to don the Three Lions. Shortly into the match, Mings beckoned the assistant referee to ask him a question.
“Did you hear that?”
Audible hatred greeted Mings when he played the football. Jeers rooted in racism swallowed his actions. Tyrone’s day of pride - soured.
The truth is that the referee, with the backing of UEFA, should’ve called the match off. Racist abuse is an absolute no-go. The referee stopped the match on a number of occasions, but it did not end until the final whistle. Gareth Southgate did not stop England as well, and in truth - they should not have played on. What was the point of it all?
Would the racists win if England left the pitch during the first half? England put five past Bulgaria, then added another to make it six. How many goals kill fascism? What scoreline stops racism? How many goals do you need to blur out the chants? How many stop the pain? How many penalties do you need to scour a swastika from a wall? To lower a Nazi salute? We define white supremacism as a symbol - but it needn’t be so overt. It can be congealed and it can be disguised. It isn’t always obvious. Do the racists win if England leave the pitch? Who knows - but they certainly win if they do not face direct action.
In the aftermath of this match - the England team, Raheem Sterling, Tyrone Mings and others - need answers. Will UEFA provide an answer? What even is the answer? Do you ban an awful footballing team from being awful at football? Do you return the Nazi displays to club level where it is unseen by the masses and press mute? Is it all too late?
Racist abuse and racism is not confined to Bulgaria. It’s certainly not confined to Serie A. It happens, and we need to force ourselves to be aware of that. The England fans chanted that Raheem Sterling was ‘one of their one’ - but in the aftermath of years of tabloid abuse, and scepticism, where his race has been the foundation - is that sung with true belief?
Search hard for the answer. Listen. Open your eyes. For the love of god, open your eyes. Nazi salutes were performed in the face of an Aston Villa player, decades on from when we swore that they would never surface again. The line will be drummed out once more that this was a minority - but it does not matter. This was an audible wave of hatred. Not one soul watching was blind to it.
In the face of hate, Tyrone Mings was unbeatable. The football just feels so irrelevant now.