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Speed Read – courage, dignity and eloquence

Every week The Friday Speed Read tries to tries to remain calm and impartial. Sometimes it succeeds. Sometimes it’s impossible. 

Last Monday the country woke up to leaden skies and lashing rain; its throat raw, its head throbbing from lager and disappointment. England had lost a football match. On penalties. After leading at half time. It was depressing but anyone who has followed England for any time at all would surely have admitted that despite the familiar sting of sadness this team had achieved more, played better, and shown more spirit than many of its forebears. Bad luck lads. Thanks for the joy. On to the next one.

“It hurts”, said the Daily Express on Monday morning, “but we’re so proud of you”. Nailed it.

But if only it were that simple. If only some people weren’t so damned appalling. The story of England’s first appearance in a final since 1966 will be remembered not for a valiant effort on the pitch against a better team (well done Italy by the way; you absolutely deserved it) but for the revolting scenes that emerged in footage from Wembley as waves of men pissed in the street, threw bottles, fought with each other and then attempted, some of them successfully, to enter the stadium without a ticket. And that, as you know, is not even the worst of it.

The racist abuse sent to Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho after they missed penalties was sickening. Almost literally. Someone also defaced the mural of Rashford in Withington with (racist?) messages. And at times like this, when the rain is soaking the window and your head hurts, it’s pretty difficult to remember that the kind of people who’d commit such crimes are in the minority. Stupid football, stupid, hateful people. I’m glad we lost. We didn’t deserve to win. We don’t ever deserve to win.

As that dark, ghastly Monday drew to a close, I read a tweet by someone that suggested that in losing, the England team might actually have done more for the country than if they’d won. I doubted it.

But on Tuesday something changed. And I am wary of forcing a narrative upon this simply to make it work as a structural device in a column although, as veteran comedy writer Barry Cryer said, sometimes life is very well written. Let’s start with the Sun’s front page: “We’ve got your back” said the Sun alongside photos of Saka, Rashford and Sancho. In Withington, Rashford’s mural had been covered in hundreds of messages of support; a petition to ban anyone found sending racist social media messages from attending football matches had reached a million signatures. And it had stopped raining. But this wasn’t simply just a welcome outbreak of love, although it was that, there was anger too. Eloquent, transformative anger. England’s Tyrone Mings called out the Home Secretary in a Tweet that went viral; Patel condemned the racist abuse of the players but Mings accused her of “stoking the fire” by previously not condemning those fans who booed England when they took a knee at the start of matches.

There’s little doubt that the government has ended up on the wrong side of this debate. With their freshly purchased England shirts, ministers were only too keen to leverage the goodwill of Euro 2020 for their own ends; not that this is a new phenomenon, the same thing happened in Ancient Rome albeit with chariot racing and gladiators. But many times over, their words and actions have been vacuous and trite when compared to the eloquence of this generation of professional footballers. And footballers, so the stereotype goes, are meant to be stupid. Well, these young men are not stupid and their words are essential weapons in the war that still must be fought against the hate-mongering racists that still exist amongst football supporters in this country.

On Instagram, the SEVENTEEN-year-old Bukayo Saka wrote this:

And, to the majority of people coming together to call out the people sending these messages, by taking action and reporting these comments to the police and by driving out the hate by being kind to one another, we will win

Away from the football, the other big stories of the week were not quite the tonic we needed to raise spirits. Are you excited for FREEDOM DAY? No better way to celebrate the biggest number of Covid-infections and rising numbers of deaths than removing all restrictions and congregating in large groups! I mean, it’s crazy isn’t it? The vaccine is clearly making a massive difference and with half the population now having had two shots it’s not like it was back in January BUT to let everyone just do what on earth they want from Monday seems borderline reckless. Look what happens when we’re told to behave: we just trash the place and stick a firework up our bum. And once again, the government’s communication strategy seems either to be absolutely terrible or it’s some extended piece of performance art making a series of profound, satirical points about human fallacy. My money is on the former.

In recent developments at the Department of Clear-as-Mud, the government now is suggesting (not mandating) that we still wear masks on transport, in crowded indoor spaces etc while TFL is making masks mandatory on busses and tubes, as will also be the case in Manchester. Tesco, Sainsburys’ and John Lewis have also said that masks will be required in their stores even though the law will say differently. There’s going to be trouble.

Spare a thought today for the people of western Germany where floods have destroyed entire villages and left 80 dead with hundreds more unaccounted for. The scenes are truly horrendous. Add this European tragedy to the recent killer heatwaves across North America and the evidence that we’re facing a climate catastrophe is irrefutable. Progress is being made. Good progress, in places incredible progress but it’s still not happening quickly enough. And frankly, time is running out.

But we can’t end there. For the sake of everyone’s mood over the weekend we need to find some nuggets of jollity. So here goes. Five things to smile about in the coming days:

  1. The weather. If it’s too hot in the day then make the most of the evening. Use the garden. Find a park and breathe in that rare perfume of fragrant warmth. Close your eyes and you could be in a Greek taverna with a handsome man. Or woman. Or both.
  2. The Covid vaccines are working. A year ago they didn’t exist. The pandemic is not over but that’s still incredible progress.
  3. The Daily Star reported this week that two glasses of wine a day “might” be good for you. We’ve read these kinds of stories hundreds of times before but for today at least, I think we can all be forgiven for believing them.
  4. You’re amazing. And not in a cloyingly sentimental “you got this” kind of way. And not just because you’re reading the Speed Read (although that is clearly a GOOD thing) but because you’ve been through a lot, we all have, and you’re still going. So yes, you are amazing.
  5. THIS SONG. Our musical guru Shaun Hickman has chosen this track to help you banish the week just gone and set you up for a better one ahead. Thanks Shaun . . .  over to you:


Here’s a breezy disco bop to ease you into the weekend! Who knew Agnes from 2008 ‘Release Me’-fame is turning out solid gold bangers 13 years later…one to watch”


Thanks Shaun!

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