In our new series, Londoners look back on their funniest (mis)adventures in the city. This week: comedian Athena Kugblenu witnesses a spot-on response to old-school racism.
It was at Wembley Stadium in 2011 that I saw the most effective response to racism I have ever witnessed. Being a child of immigrants, I get to support two national squads. As an English woman, I get to say, ‘It’s coming home.’ A Ghanaian father means I get to say the same thing, only this time in reference to the gold the World Cup trophy is made from.
So a friendly match between Ghana and England was supposed to be a perfect evening for me: it’s impossible to leave a football match disappointed when you ferociously support both teams. I imagine it would be like watching Gareth Southgate arm-wrestle a young David Attenborough.
The game started well and I was enjoying it, until a man in front of us started to get vocal. I have never heard such foul language. It wasn’t an endearing, Brian Blessed kind of swearing. It was more the terrifying ‘I would put this on Snapchat and go viral if Snapchat had been invented yet’ kind.
Our foghorn was a portly gentleman covered in tattoos, screaming support as if this was the Rumbelows Cup Final and not an opportunity for the FA to sell more pies to the diaspora. My response was a shrug. I’d seen too many Ross Kemp documentaries to get involved. But a friend, being a better person than I, had a word in the half-time pie queue. (People are more likely to listen to reason in the vicinity of pastry.)
Sadly, it didn’t work. At the start of the second half, Mr England decided to turn around, rip off his shirt and direct his bellowing at my friend, who it’s relevant to point out is mixed race:
‘I WAS BORN HERE!’
‘IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, LEAVE!!’
‘EN-GER-LAND, EN-GER-LAND, EN-GER-LAND!!!’
Our section was stunned into silence, both by the racism and the stripping which was, I thought, a very un-English thing to do in early spring. But a Ghanaian nearby wasn’t to be muzzled. He stood up, and responded: ‘GHANA! GHANA!’
I was a bit unimpressed with that, and so was Mr England. Until Mr Ghana ripped his shirt off.
Damn. Abs you could serve toast in. Pecs you could serve an extra piece of toast in.
Not only did that ripped body silence Mr England, it made him put his shirt back on, turn around, and finish watching the game with a reserve I hadn’t imagined him capable of.
My Edinburgh show is about idiots: how our problems might be the fault of followers as much as leaders. And when thinking of idiots I’ve met in my life, I’m reminded of Mr England. The idiocy of screaming at 11 players who can’t hear you; the stupidity of telling a man to go home even though his home is Archway; and the absurdity of thinking that all this is normal behaviour. I am not saying planking is a weapon in the fight against racism. But it was interesting that Mr England’s immigration policy was ‘go home – as long as you don’t have a physique that makes me feel inadequate’.
‘Athena Kugblenu: Follow the Leader’ is at the Edinburgh Fringe (Underbelly, Bristo Square) until August 26.
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