Wigan-born poet and broadcaster Lemn Sissay speaks about England and diversity after Euro 2020 final loss
He was invited on to national radio to share his thoughts after the devastating defeat for the Three Lions.
Lemn, who was fostered by a family in Wigan before spending much of his teenage years in the borough’s care system, spoke on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the morning after Gareth Southgate’s team lost to Italy on penalties.
He spoke about a tweet which referred to the diverse family backgrounds of the current England men’s squad and said their achievements in battling through the tournament was a celebration of how England and its make-up has changed in recent years.
Lemn said: “It was such a positive celebration of diversity and of the England players themselves.”
Asked whether or not he thought the country had changed, he said: “I don’t know whether it has changed or consolidated the idea of who we are.
“That is, diverse and contenders for the European Championships.
“The Three Lions are not from Wigan, are they? Diversity is right at the heart of who we are.
“When Gareth Southgate was speaking on the pitch at five minutes to seven, he mentioned the journey the players had taken to Wembley and he said he saw through the window every religion, every colour, every heritage.
“He didn’t have to say that, he was talking about the England, the Britain, that we are all a part of. It matters to him and that is just a wonderful thing.
“That was a celebration on the pitch, in the stadium and in the country of diversity and trying our best. We have to lose to win.”
Throughout the championships there has been a significant amount of discussions about the England team taking the knee before matches start as part of the ongoing discussion about and battle against racism.
Lemn said: “It’s right that somebody could say they don’t agree with the person taking the knee, but it’s also right that people have the right to take the knee.
“This is what diversity is. It’s about Marcus Rashford raising £20m to tackle food poverty, it’s about the team losing as well, losing as a unit and then going on to win as a unit.”
The conversation also included discussion of the disgraceful racist abuse that England players were subjected to on social media in the hours after the final whistle blew at Wembley.
Disgusting attacks on the players who missed or had their spot kicks saved in the shootout sparked outrage, with strongly-worded messages of condemnation and calls for action against vile abuse being spread via online platforms.
Lemn said: “Hate is gonna hate, that’s how it’s gonna be.”
He also agreed with his fellow guest on the programme, politics academic Professor Matthew Goodwin, that while social media can amplify such alarming and disgusting messages long-term polling and analysis does show that millions of people feel revulsion about displays of racism and the belief that Englishness is linked to skin colour is now very much a minority view.
Lemn then concluded the segment by reading a section from Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem If, which refers to the importance of keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs, trusting when you are doubted, and not dealing in lies or hate when being lied about or hated.
He was back in the Today studio on Tuesday morning when he read out the statement released by England player Marcus Rashford.
Lemn, who published his first collection of poetry as a teenager, has risen to become one of Britain’s most prominent literary voices.
He has written poems for sporting occasions including the 2012 London Olympics.
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