The Malta Independent 3 August 2021, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Euro 2020 - Of skin colour and surnames

Thursday, 24 June 2021, 09:11 Last update: about 2 months ago

In 1978, Viv Anderson became the first black footballer to play for England. It was a huge breakthrough and, when it happened, the English media had given it great importance. Anderson earned 30 caps over the following 10 years.

Anderson’s presence paved the way for other black players to be subsequently chosen to play for England. Today, it is no longer a “sensation”, as Anderson’s was, for a black player to represent England.

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Other European countries, such as France and The Netherlands, have been calling up several black players to represent them at national level for decades. Many other countries followed suit in more recent years.

What was, 40 years ago, a rarity in the football world is no longer news these days. If anything, it is the other way round. The social media in France, for example, was ablaze in the days leading up to the Euro 2020 championships that are currently being held – Italy was accused of being a racist country simply because none of its 26 players are black.

But it is not only skin colour that exposes how much the world has changed, and how much migration is influencing society today.

Just take a look at the line-ups of all the participating teams, and see how many surnames stand out as not being traditionally linked with the country being represented. Russia, for example, have a Fernandes, who was born in Brazil. Finland have an O’Shaunessy, clearly of Irish origin. Germany have a Gundogan, a surname which is more Turkish than German.

The list is long. And having a surname which does not sound local does not make the players less committed to the shirt they are wearing. Neither does it make them feel different from the colleagues they are sharing the dressing room with. It’s not the surname or the skin colour that makes you part of a team.

Even tiny Malta has had to adjust to the changes. The national team is not playing at the Euro championships, but over the years it has included several players who are either black or else carry surnames which are clearly not of Maltese origin. We have, for example, two players whose surname is Mbong, a Nwoko, a Kristensen and a Corbolan in the current national team squad.

We also have had players donning the national shirt who, although carrying Maltese surnames, had never set foot in Malta before being picked up by the coach simply because their parents or grandparents were Maltese people who had emigrated. And so, as per international rules, they could play for the national team – so long as they had never played for any other country.

Contrary to what many believe, migration is not a modern phenomenon. People have been uprooting themselves and seeking better pastures for centuries. Many were forced to do so by war and civil strife; others for economic reasons; and some simply to pursue an adventure.

It is then easier to accept “newcomers” who build their own success through their endeavours or skills. Just like these players, whose ability on the field of play enabled them to earn a place on the national team of the country they (or their parents and grandparents) settled in.

Other migrants may not be so talented, but they must also be given a chance.

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