What must have been going through the minds of the 1966 England squad when they lifted the World Cup in front of thousands of adoring fans? They probably knew that this was a career-defining moment, but did they know that it would be an agonising wait for England fans to taste the same glory again? Did they know that half a century later, children would still be singing songs about them?
Despite a gallant effort from a young, fresh and inspiring England squad last week, they bowed out of the World Cup 2018 after being beaten 2-1 by Croatia in the semis. But not before they united the nation, captured the hearts of the country and showed us just how passionate we can all be.
In their hit 1996 single Three Lions (Football’s Coming Home), British comedians David Baddiel and Frank Skinner sang about “30 years of hurt”. Well, it’s been over 50 years of hurt for England fans now. Five decades is a long time; a country can go through a dramatic cultural transformation in that timeframe. England certainly did.
Firstly, our population looks a lot different now; advances in medicine (hello, antibiotics) mean that life expectancy – for both men and women – has skyrocketed and the average age has risen. And the demographics here have altered significantly too; large-scale immigration (from the West Indies, South Asia and Eastern Europe) has given us one of the most richly diverse populations around. This, like in our food and music and pop culture, was reflected in Southgate’s multicultural squad.
One of the starkest changes to England, however, is the advances in equal rights and equality. Society’s norms and values have undertaken a cataclysmic shift since 1966. Women now have more rights over their own bodies, abortion has been legalised and women can access family planning on the national healthcare system. It’s no longer illegal for two people of the same sex to be in a relationship. Capital punishment has been abolished and a host of measures have been introduced to protect the standing of women in society.
A year before that special moment that the England team lifted the World Cup trophy after beating West Germany at Wembley (did we mention that?), a super important law was brought into England too – the Race Relations Act – which was the first (of many) pieces of legislation which makes it a crime to discriminate against anyone “on the grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins”. In 2018, we have robust laws in place to protect people from discrimination. We have the Equality Act, which protects people from any discrimination that may occur based on religious belief, sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender reassignment.
If anyone gets confused, it’s always useful to go by this general rule of thumb: it doesn’t really matter why someone may be discriminating against someone else these days, it’s just not okay. All these changes are great, but that doesn’t mean that it’s time for complacency. It doesn’t, after all, mean that some injustices are not still taking place. They still take place every day, on a lesser scale and in different ways perhaps, but they are still there. But it does mean that we are going in the right direction.