Who else?

Natasha Chahal

Jude Bellingham scoring for England against Slovakia, 30 June 2024. Photo © Shaun Botterill / Getty Images

In March, Nike released the new England men’s football kit. The St George’s Cross on the nape of the shirt wasn’t plain red but made up of six different shades including light blue and purple. Finally, an issue Keir Starmer could get behind: he called for the shirt to be immediately scrapped. The FA said the updated colourway was in homage to the ‘classic colour regime of 1966 training gear’ but Starmer insisted: ‘We just need to be proud of it.’ Rishi Sunak got out his dog whistle, too: ‘When it comes to our national flags, we shouldn’t mess with them because they are a source of pride, identity, who we are and they’re perfect as they are.’ He needn’t worry too much: thanks to his cost of living crisis, not many fans can afford the shirt anyway.

In the ITV leaders’ debate on 4 June, the moderator posed a final, imaginary question from a certain ‘Gareth on his way to Germany’: ‘What is the best leadership approach? Playing it safe or take some risks and go for the win?’ ‘A clear plan and bold action,’ Sunak said. ‘Game plan, good squad and a strategy for winning,’ Starmer offered. I can’t have been the only viewer who sank further under my duvet, ill with second-hand embarrassment, wondering how all three had managed to fumble the bag so badly. Starmer at least genuinely follows football. In May, Sunak asked brewery staff in the Vale of Glamorgan if they were looking forward to the Euros, not long after Wales had narrowly failed to qualify by losing to Poland on penalties in Cardiff.

Scotland lost the opening game to the hosts 5-1, their only goal coming in the 87th minute, Liverpool’s Andy Robertson doing much of the work. The tone was set: Scotland were knocked out at the group stage and Germany, unbeaten, have progressed to the quarter-finals – on Friday they play Spain, who are not only unbeaten but didn’t concede a goal in the group stage.

The star of the England squad, fresh from winning the Champions League with Real Madrid, is 21-year-old Jude Bellingham. There’s a shamelessly manipulative Adidas ad built around him, with what sounds like a new (and autotuned) recording of Paul McCartney singing ‘Hey Jude’. Gareth Southgate has asked England fans in Germany to sing the Beatles song rather than dredging up events from 20th-century history. Thirteen minutes into England’s opening game against Serbia, Bellingham nodded in Bukayo Saka’s cross to secure a 1-0 victory.

With Nigel Farage’s Reform polling nearly as high as the Liberal Democrats and Greens combined, I find supporting England is more complex now than ever. I’m secure in my own Englishness, and I know the country was built on diversity, but I wonder now how I am perceived. I wonder if the legitimacy of my stake in the national team’s success is questioned, how my brown skin might look against my white England shirt to strangers around me in pubs. Supporting the players themselves gets easier, though, as each squad brings a new crop of footballers willing to be a little more outspoken than the last on societal inequalities.

Before France’s first match, against Austria, and ahead of the first round of the country’s snap election, the French captain Kylian Mbappé urged his fellow citizens to vote against extremism:

We are in an unprecedented situation and that is why I want to talk to the whole of the French people but above all the younger generation. I think we are a generation that can make a difference. We see the extremes are knocking on the door of power and we have the opportunity to choose our country’s future … I don’t want to represent a country that doesn’t correspond to my values, to our values … People often say don’t mix politics and football and usually I agree but here we are talking about a situation that’s really serious, more serious than the game tomorrow.

Despite the inflated salaries of footballers, I still think it unreasonable to expect players who belong to marginalised communities to perform to the best of their ability for the national team when the message is always clear: you’re one of us until you’re not.

Southgate’s management of the England team has been as exciting as his wardrobe, leading fans to question if he’s still the man for the job. We’ve got some excellent players but they struggle to cohere as a team. Last night Slovakia scored first as Ivan Schranz walked in a relatively early goal. An equaliser from Phil Foden was ruled offside by VAR and it seemed as if it might all be over for us. But then Bellingham equalised in the 95th minute with a glorious overhead kick, and England went on to win with a goal from Harry Kane in extra time.

After scoring, Bellingham shouted to the crowd: ‘Who else?’ (The gesture he made afterwards has prompted UEFA to launch an investigation. Bellingham maintains that it was an inside joke to friends in the crowd, intending no disrespect to Slovakia’s bench.) In a post-match interview he said that ‘you hear a lot of rubbish’ and his celebration was ‘maybe a message to a few people’. When asked to elaborate further, he said: ‘I think you know what I mean by the rubbish.’ As McCartney didn’t quite put it, Jude took a sad song and made it better.


  • 1 July 2024 at 8:34pm
    ivp says:
    Georgia scored a goal against Spain last Sunday

    • 2 July 2024 at 10:54am
      Thomas Jones (blog editor) says: @ ivp
      So they did: that's my fault. Will emend.

  • 2 July 2024 at 8:55am
    Camus says:
    The problem with the European Football competition is that there are only two or three teams that have the talents and the energy to win seven games in three weeks, playing teams whose managers know that their only chance is to be drawing at full time and then win the shootout. So every game is a defensive panorama, with shots on goal as rare as the first cuckoo in spring. (Kane had two shots on goal in the entire game. ).
    The managers know that they will be out of a job when they lose, but only have one or two players who can control a game and win.
    The result is a succession of dull kickabouts, with Neville or Schweinsteiger blathering about shape and lines of attack, while the watchers know that the next game will be worse

    • 3 July 2024 at 3:09pm
      Ian Curtin says: @ Camus
      Across eight Round of 16 games there was an average of just under 29 shots per game, which is higher than was achieved in any recent season in the Premier League ("The Greatest League In The World (tm)" or in any World Cup since 1998. I wonder what games you have been watching?