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The Guardian view on Southgate’s Euro squad: they embody a better nation | Editorial

England has moved on from nostalgic pretensions of greatness to a patriotism rooted in equality and self-expression

Nationalism does not make nations. But it helps to invent them. Nowhere is this more true than in football. When England kicks off this Sunday against Spain in the final of Euro 2024, a victory would mark the end of 58 years of men’s footballing heartbreak in major tournaments. But it would also signify the triumph of a new country and legitimise the radical positions taken by an England team distinguished by youth and talent that their critics rarely display. The nation’s identity is inextricably tied up in the sport: England’s semi-final win was the most-watched programme this year.

The hinge around which this history turns was the last men’s Euro tournament, when before every match the England team “took the knee” as an expression of solidarity with anti-racist protests and was booed by a section of the fans. Rightwing newspapers and politicians stepped in to criticise the players. When England ended up losing in the final to Italy, three black players who missed penalties faced a torrent of racist abuse. Fast forward to 2024. When England lost to Iceland in a warm-up game, Bukayo Saka – who was only on the pitch for 25 minutes – appeared in some newspapers as responsible for England’s defeat with headlines like “Black ice”.

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