I am a Welsh mum of three incredible children, aged 10, 8 and 4. I am married to an amazing English man who supports me in all that I do.
Last night, we watched the England v Italy Euro 2020/1 final, knowing that there were no certainties. As much as we would have liked to have seen England walk away with the title, we know Italy in themselves are also an outstanding team. All is fair, let’s enjoy the game and may the best team win.
Many people have talked about Gareth Southgate having the opportunity to redeem himself for missing his penalty in 96. To me, he has nothing to redeem. He is a pro-player that has taken the journey of a football career, to go on to manage his country. That to me is an incredible achievement, and he does it with such compassion, humility, integrity, and respect.
When Rashford, Saka and Sancho stood up to take the penalties last night, my heart broke when they missed, knowing the abuse that they would face as a result, both as players and because of the colour of their skin.
Today I have been posed the question of ‘how do we change the narrative as parents.’ As parents, my husband and I always do our best to bring our children up to be respectful and kind to others. It costs nothing. We teach them to appreciate people for their values. To look for the positive qualities in people and what they can bring to your friendship. We teach them that it isn’t how hard you fall, but how you dust yourself off and get back up again, but also to be the person that offers a hand and to help others to rise again. That difference is perfect because it would be so boring if we were all the same.
My youngest son is non-verbal with SPD and ASD. We don’t allow for this to define him as a person from being the cheeky, mischievous, lovable, funny and beautiful little boy that he is. So why do we allow others to be defined negatively for the colour of their skin?
Today we spoke about the dedication and sacrifice those pro players and their families make, to get them to the level where they are able to represent their country. Rashford left home to live with a host family at the age of 11. Imagine leaving home at 11? We talked again as a reminder about all the incredible work that Marcus Rashford has done during the pandemic and beyond in using his voice and personal experience to encourage the Government to make a major u-turn in their decision to continue with free school meals during the pandemic, to ensure that no child went hungry. Sancho, who at 21 has opened more football pitches in London for children to be able to have somewhere to play. Saka, who, at the age of 19, had the weight of the Country on his shoulders as he stood to take that 5th penalty. That takes incredible courage. These players are changing the narrative for so many others and inspiring the next generation.
Today I have shown my two older children some of the horrific racist abuse that I have seen online and asked them to scroll the page to be able to identify what they thought wasn’t right. To then talk about why they felt it wasn’t right. And then I gave them the choice to report it. My children are too young for Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, so they don’t have access to these platforms themselves. I am so proud to say that they chose to report what they saw. My children have the courage to be the upstander for someone being bullied or racially abused. They know that they can support their friend/peers by calling it out and reporting it and they know that they will have our full support in doing so.
Some of England’s players were told to go home, but this IS their home. Many of the players were born in the UK, with some amazing roots from all over the world, which helps build this rich tapestry and cultural diversity which is just beautiful. Unfortunately, some people feel that because they support the team, buy a shirt, purchase a ticket, that they can say and do what they like. Boo another nations’ national anthem, boo the taking of the knee. Shout abuse from the terraces and from behind a keyboard, forgetting that is someone’s son, brother, uncle, grandson, cousin, nephew…would they be doing it towards one of their own family members? They forget that footballers are human first.
My children know that it isn’t about being perfect, it is about following your heart and your gut. They are allowed to make mistakes. We encourage them to shoot for the moon and then they know that they will land among the stars. To lose graciously in defeat, to win and lose as a team. Take those moments to look back at the journey and acknowledge that it may not have been perfect, but you were able to enjoy the journey for what it was and what it taught you. It may not have had the outcome that you desired, but there will be more times, more opportunities, and brighter days to come. Just always treat yourself and others with kindness and respect, and never accept anything less from others.
The Euros have taught us many things. That life is precious. We all said our prayers when Christian Erikson fell with a cardiac arrest and died there on the pitch. My children saw that. They saw an incredible team of medics fight to save his life and the incredible way in which football as a community can pull people together. They have seen that football can be ugly from the negative responses that players receive when they lose and sometimes even when they win, but they know that they can also save a life by making people feel valued, appreciated and worthy by acknowledging people for who they are, not what they are or by the colour of their skin.
By Kelly Anderson, Volunteer Project Assistant at Kidscape.