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Anti-racist football protest, Westminster
Photography Garry Strutt

Grassroots women’s football teams stage an anti-racism protest in London

Several London-based teams have come together to show solidarity and love to Rashford, Saka, and Sancho, the England players on the receiving end of a wave of racist abuse after the Euros 2020 final

Days after England’s international football squad made history playing in the final of the Euros 2020, and several of its players faced a wave of racist abuse after losing on penalties, grassroots female teams have come together in London to call for an end to racism in the sport.

“Black exceptionalism should not be a requirement for being treated with a basic level of decency,” the Peckham-based Legends FC tells Dazed. “We were dismayed but not surprised at the abuse levelled at our great young players – who are doing so much on and off the pitch and inspired so many.”

“As fans and a diverse group of female grassroots players, we wanted to show our solidarity and love to Rashford, Saka, and Sancho.”

Gathering around 100 attendees from various women’s teams, the football club staged a banner drop on Westminster Bridge on Thursday evening (July 15), paying tribute to the Black England players Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho.

The trio were flooded with racist comments on social media following the match on Sunday night (July 11), after missing during a penalty shootout. Less than an hour after England’s defeat, a mural of Rashford in Manchester was also defaced with “racially aggravated” graffiti (though the local community has since repainted the artwork and covered it in touching tributes).

In a demonstration of support for the players, banners at the central London gathering branded the players “our three lions”, in reference to the national team’s crest, and declared: “Love football, hate racism.”

“Racism has to be kicked right out of football on every level,” Legends FC adds. “That message needs to be made unequivocal on every astroturf, under every floodlight, and on the rusty old goalposts of every playing field everywhere in the country.”

South London’s Lush Lyfe FC also says that it wanted to “send a clear message” to the government and football’s governing bodies with the banner drop, telling Dazed: “Empty words and ‘condemning’ racist behaviour after the fact is not good enough.”

“Politicians should be leading from the front: supporting players actions; condemning racism and all forms of abuse, as well as using every power available to them to implement measures that will tackle racism across online platforms and in stadiums up and down the UK.”

Following the outpouring of racist abuse, England defender Tyrone Mings took to Twitter to call out the hypocrisy of Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel. Both criticised the abuse after the fact, though Patel declared in June that fans have a right to boo the team for staging anti-racism protests (such as taking the knee) before games.

“You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against happens,” said Mings.

Showing the country’s widespread solidarity with the England team in response to the racist abuse levelled against them, a petition to permanently ban racists from football matches has also exceeded 1.1 million signatures just four days after it was created. The petition calls for the Football Association and government to work in coalition to ban “all those who have carried out racist abuse, online or offline, from all football matches in England for life”.

“Racism has no place in football,” says Goal Diggers FC, another team that attended the Westminster protest. “Standing against this is a core ethos of our club. Football is for everyone. We believe there's an all in football for a reason.”