World Cup winners: The African Diaspora


Every since the 1970 World Cup- my first real World Cup - I’ve loved this competition.

As a Black child living in a racially hostile Leicester, a Black man emerged as the greatest human being on my planet: Pele. Pele and his team of dazzling Brazilians not only won and kept  the Jules Rimet cup that year, but in some style too. 50 years on and that footballing panache has yet to be replicated. Imagine then, as ten year old boy your schoolmates refering to you on the football pitch as Pele! It really didn’t get much better than that.

Football like no other sport in the world has the magic and drama to reflect who we are and, who we want to be. It has layers and layers of magical stories - some personal, cultural, national and global. Equally fascinating is the simple fact that World cup football has always been fantastically meritocratic. The working class and poverty striken individuals around the globe have some of the most wonderful tales of world cup glory. Think of Garrincha, Eusebeo, the Charlton brothers, the list is endless. Football is one of the few areas of life, much less sport in which privilege does not easily usurp natural ability.

Beyond the personal triumph - the world’s most popular game also has the unique ability to  bring a nation together even as, for example, here in the UK, our Brexit politics are ripping us apart.

The fairy tale story of ‘mediocre’ England on the verge of reaching the World cup final is about as improbable as my home town Leicester city winning the Premier League. And central to this almost fairy tale story is the cultural identity of the team. Here, the often unassuming England manager Gareth Southgate perhaps summed up this reality best when he said:

"We are a team that represents modern England and in England we’ve spent a bit of time being a bit lost as to what our modern identity is … Of course, first and foremost I will be judged on football results. But we have a chance to affect other things that are even bigger.”

Wow! What a statement.

Of course he’s stating the obvious with six of the eleven first team players having some African heritage . But he seems to be arguing much more than just a numbers game, suggesting that we are a multicultural nation and if we truly celebrate who we are, we can make a broader positive impact beyond the narrow prism of football.

It’s not just England either that has this cultural phenomena going on. France has gone one better than the UK and fielded seven of their eleven players from the African Diaspora-interestingly much less mixed heritage than the UK, but that’s another story about integration or not. And lastly, to Belgium who, in their quarter final fielded four out of their first eleven from African descent.

So, with three of four semi finalists - Croatia have none - having a huge presence of players with African heritage this may not mean a great deal to many, but to millions of African’s around the world it is truly a great source of pride.

Here in England, Black Brits want, first and foremost, England to win. Furthermore, we desperately want all our Black players to play brilliantly, not least because we know if they don’t’ they’ll get some special social-media treatment. But there is also quite a lot pride when we look at the other teams, such as France and Belgium. We can't help but feel, I hope you do well!

Please don’t see us - Black people - as being somewhat racist for pointing out this, or even celebrating it . You have to remember that in recent years the most frequent times we see ourselves on TV or in newspapers, it is being rescued (or not) from drowning on the Mediterranean seas, having already  fled wars, famine or extreme poverty.

At least for a few more days this World Cup - that keeps on giving - is most definitley giving the African world something to smile about.

Well done to the African Diaspora, but ... Come on England!

Simon Woolley