They do not only represent who I am; they represent who I want to beNabiha Ahmed

Being a brown, hijab-wearing Muslim, the concept of ‘home’ has rarely been straightforward. Yet during the 2020 Euros, football made me feel at home in a country where people have often made me feel like an overstayed guest.

The only mild identification I had with the English national team before the 2018 World Cup was that fans sang Vindaloo. Years passed and I watched the team become more representative of me. As someone from a low-income background, I related to Marcus Rashford’s reliance on free school meals as a child. Having had slurs screamed at me on busy central London roads, I empathised strongly with the racism faced by Raheem Sterling in the midst of a heated game. Yet, such players were able to successfully progress in the world of football — all while elevating the national team to heights nobody else could.

“Within twenty-four hours, I had felt both the most and least welcome in England that I ever have before”

Witnessing such players use their influence beyond the pitch and champion life-changing initiatives this year shows that they understand their impact outside of the world of football. They do not only represent who I am; they represent who I want to be. These men are more than just a football team. They are a looking glass for a progressive and multicultural England that I unconditionally belong in.

Believing in this hopeful future of England led me to connect with people who reside in the version of this country that currently exists. During some light post-match analysis with my non-Muslim, white British friends, I comfortably referred to England as ‘we’, their results as ‘ours’, and the fans as ‘us’. Walking through neighbourhoods with English flags pinned up on windows would usually cause me to nervously walk faster. Yet I found myself smiling at the sight. I wasn’t shocked that football finally seemed like it was coming home. I was shocked that I could refer to England as ‘home.’ We were relentlessly repeating those three words during the Euros, and no one — including myself — would question it.

I declined offers to watch the football at the pub because I do not drink. But I shared my reactions with pub-goers through hearing our synchronised screams whenever England scored. I got stares for wearing my England shirt with my hijab. But some were impressed, ‘proud-dad’ ones. I walked around London in my abaya (a long overgarment worn by Muslim women) and I don’t think anyone would suspect that I was wearing England shorts underneath. But I was. So whilst I may have been shouting ‘bismillah’ (in the name of God) at my TV instead of ‘go on’ like my white neighbour whenever England had a shot on target, I know both of us wanted the same thing.

“The prophet Muhammad said Muslims are like one body”

The prophet Muhammad said Muslims are like one body. If one part of that body aches, then so does the rest of it. In the run-up to the final, I felt part of a larger body made up of people from both similar and different backgrounds. If the team was losing, we all were. If they were prospering, we all were.

However, the unity football creates in this country is easily deconstructed by fans. During the penalty shoot-out of the finals, one of my first thoughts after all the missed penalties was that they were all taken by black footballers. This was because I was scared of the aftermath. Despite demonstrating their courage on and off the pitch, they would be abused by vile racists who were reminded of their race for the wrong reasons. Until that moment, these men were celebrated as the best of England by those same racists; now, they would be treated as though they weren’t part of England at all. Inevitably, this would also lead to abuse towards non-white fans.

“Football almost came home, but perhaps football, like me, is just as confused as to where ‘home’ is”

Within twenty-four hours, I had felt both the most and least welcome in England that I have ever before been. I walked home after the final not feeling that sense of ‘we’ anymore, but rather a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Am I less of a fan because I don’t seem to engage in football in a typically English way? Or any less Bangladeshi? Or any less Muslim? No. I support a team wholeheartedly without having to compromise my own identity. I engage with it as much as I like. I distance myself from the things that oppose my beliefs. And I completely separate myself from the fans that use football to spur racism and hate.

If the diversity, quality and values of these players remain prominent in the future of this team, I will support them. In doing so, I’m not aiming to build bridges with people who think my British-ness is subject to me making groundbreaking contributions to the UK, or black players bringing it home. I want to champion the representation of England at its best and will connect with the fans who also believe in that vision.


Mountain View

Finding Home in a Mainsburies Shelf

Football almost came home, but perhaps football, like me, is just as confused as to where ‘home’ is. While the aftermath of the 2020 Euros has opened my eyes to racism in the world of football and even led to me experiencing it first-hand, I’ve never wanted to support the England football team more. So, I’ll continue to wear those England shorts under my abaya, in hopes that both me and football can find ‘home’ — however long ‘home’ lasts.