Sports

‘It’s Coming Home’… to Rome

Italia!

Italia!
Photo: Getty Images

With an English twit flying into space this weekend, there was a fleeting memory of a long-ago commercial for British Airways in which Britain had luxury accommodations even on a space station, while an American and a Russian endured cramped quarters and terrible astronaut food in the main cabin of the station.

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Part of the ad falls apart when you think about it, which is that, nice as the British space shuttle is, they’re docked at the space station with these two other guys whose work is making their time there possible, and they’re keeping those guys stuck in steerage while they pop strawberries and watch cricket.

But that’s also so English, isn’t it? Outwardly charming and refined, a little social sleight of hand to cover for actually being dicks. That’s why the whole “it’s coming home” thing hits wrong: the appropriation of “kick a ball into a net,” as if that hasn’t been a thing humans have done since the Chinese started playing cuju 2,300 years ago. England is no more football’s home than Italy, either, as Calcio Storico Fiorentino dates back nearly 500 years.

England, being particularly good at adding the thrill of accountancy to anything, codified soccer as we know it. What’s annoying is the sense that because of their history, they somehow deserve to be at the top of the sport. They’ve never even won the Euros, not once, which is why Kasper Schmeichel’s burn the other day was so sick.

Italy ripped the European title out of England’s clutches in the Wembley Stadium final on Sunday, prevailing on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw. That’s nothing new. As the lads in the British Airways commercial said when watching the English fall at cricket, “Typical.”

The part that’s not typical is that even if you’re generally one to get a good laugh from England’s more than half-century of failure to bring home silverware, if not the sport itself, when it came to the penalties, the emotion shifted.

Marcus Rashford hit the post, and I audibly gasped at the TV, doing a double take because I didn’t realize I’d become invested in England winning after almost universally rooting against them like any good American.

The 23-year-old Rashford is one of the best human beings in all of sports, but naturally, because he’s Black, he’s a target of racist crap on a regular basis. On Sunday, he was not put in a position to succeed, sitting for the whole match alongside Jadon Sancho until Gareth Southgate called on the duo in the waning moments of extra time, which turned out to be nervy as Rashford was forced into action in an unusual defensive role — he actually made a really nice play to thwart an Italy rush near the death.

The theory of subbing in Rashford and Sancho is that they’re among your best penalty takers, so that’s who you want taking penalties. But in the moment, the biggest game of all of these players’ lives, you have to wonder if sending players in to do it, basically cold off the bench, was smart thinking. The same can be said of having a do-or-die kick taken by Bukayo Saka, a 19-year-old in his first tournament of this importance, let alone a final.

Rashford, Sancho, and Saka will be key parts of the English team for the next decade, so there are plenty more chances for them to bring “football home,” but some racists couldn’t take it that this letdown came at the feet of three Black men.

Unfortunately, just as England falling short of glory is typical, so is the racism. And that’s why “it’s coming home” was more meaningful this time: not the idea of where football’s home is, but what that home is like. And England has to clean it up.

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