Stink of Brexit taints the hallowed turf of Wembley
Maybe the stadium being sold out on Saturday was a delusion – or that it was filled with deluded sellouts
Wembley was sold out on Saturday, welcoming 85,201 people to take a seat under the vast arch that swoons over the famous steel and concrete edifice. They weren’t there to watch a Premier League game or Gareth Southgate’s team. Nonetheless they were on a peculiarly English quest.
At stake was the Football League Trophy, which involves 48 clubs from the country’s third and fourth tiers of professionals along with 16 under-21 sides from the Premier League and the level below that.
Portsmouth were one of the teams in Saturday’s final, Sunderland t’other, and a grand old game ensued. Pompey led 2-1 at the end of regulation time, the Black Cats equalised with 75 seconds of the six minutes of additional time left on the clock, and Portsmouth won 5-4 on penalties.
It was all quite different from any match that could be played at Fratton Park, Portsmouth’s bleak railway shed of a home ground, which holds 21,100 and opened for business in 1898. Sunderland’s Stadium of Light is a younger, much better looking venue – it’s been around since 1997 and can accommodate 49,000 – but it isn’t Wembley, stage of the great and the good and the place where football dreams come to die and live.
If something looks odd about those numbers, that’s because it is. Add a full house at Fratton Park to how many you could get into the Stadium of Light and the answer is 70,100. Or 14,921 fewer than there were at Wembley on Saturday.
Weirder yet, there were more fans at the home of English football at the weekend than there were at England’s last home game – 82,575 saw the Czech Republic hammered 5-0 in a Euro 2020 qualifier on March 22.
Not everyone from Portsmouth or Sunderland who wants to watch those teams play could fit into the teams’ grounds. Fair enough. But how come 2,446 more people, presumably mostly from those places, not only bought tickets for Saturday’s game but made journeys of 120km from Portsmouth and 456km from Sunderland to London compared to those who came to see the national team?
The answer looms loudly from the front page of every major newspaper in the UK every day of every week, and is almost always the first topic of conversation whenever you turn on the BBC.
It’s Brexit, stupid, and football explains it better than a parliament filled with politicians whose braying, bumptious, bellicose behaviour makes what happens in the stands look civilised by comparison. Simply, the English feel more authentically represented by the clubs they shout for than by the team who call themselves England.
In the case of clubs like Portsmouth and Sunderland that support is defined geographically, and therefore politically.
Portsmouth voted 58.1% in favour of leaving the EU in the 2016 referendum. In Sunderland the majority, also wanting to leave, was 61.3%. In London, 750,287 opted to remain. That’s more than three times the number of total votes, on both sides of the equation, in Portsmouth and Sunderland combined.
According to the 2011 census 84% of Portsmouth’s population identified as white British, a figure that rose to 93.6% in Sunderland. London? Only 44.9%.
The way the referendum vote unfolded was, then, no accident. Just as there is no coincidence in the fact that most immigrants are black or brown, and neither that a country that went from controlling the world’s slave trade to presiding over the planet’s biggest and most powerful colonial empire wants to blame other people for problems it created – problems that are now washing up on its own shores.
Some people in these parts seem to think they still rule the world and do not at all consider themselves part of a society that stole millions of bodies and souls from other places, along with the places themselves.
The brutal truth of the overall referendum result – that 51.9% voted to leave the EU – is that white people in the UK would prefer their country to be paler than it has become thanks to the EU’s immigration policies. We know this because much of the leave campaign’s focus was on “ending freedom of movement”, the Orwellian phrase that gets anti-immigrant right wingers excited about the whiter shade of pale their pubs might be in a future in which they “take back control”.
“I have never been more proud of the city of Portsmouth as I am today,” Donna Jones, the leader of the city council, said. “Portsmouth roared like a lion on June 23 in one of the most historic votes the city has ever seen.”
There are three lions on the England team’s shirts, but Jones probably wasn’t talking about them: Raheem Sterling, who claimed a hat trick against the Czechs, is from Jamaica.
Another lion stares out from the crest of the English Premier League even though the competition isn’t even halfway English. Only 165 of the 498 players on the books of the 20 clubs are homegrown. That means 333 – or 66.9% of the total – are from corners of fields far from England. Twenty-one players are Scottish or Welsh and two are from Northern Ireland, so 312 aren’t even from the UK.
Maybe Wembley being sold out on Saturday was a delusion. Closer to the truth is that it was filled with deluded sellouts.