Hannah Kumari has been an English football fan since childhood, but she never wanted to fly an English flag. Until now.

Kumari is one of millions of fans excited to see England’s men’s team reach the finals of a major tournament for the first time since winning the 1966 World Cup. But like many British colored people, she has an ambivalent relationship to symbols of English.

But hugging her has become easier thanks to the young, multi-ethnic squad who are on the verge of triumph at the European Championships. After beating Denmark 2-1 in the semi-finals on Wednesday, which was followed by half of the country’s population, England face Italy in the final on Sunday at London’s Wembley Stadium.

When I woke up this morning I thought I was going to buy a St. George’s flag to hang out the window for Sunday, ”said Kumari, who was born and raised in England to an Indian mother and a Scottish father is Denmark game.

I’ve never owned an England shirt, said the actor-writer.

Something has definitely changed, she said.

I almost feel like this team gave me permission to feel like I could wear an England shirt.

The past few years have been tough for England and the rest of the UK. Britain’s exit from the European Union, a decision partly due to a backlash against immigration, left the country scratchy and divided. More than 128,000 people died in the UK during the coronavirus pandemic, the highest number in Western Europe.

Euro 2020, the name is one year out of date due to the pandemic, caused much-needed excitement and fun. Millions of lockdowns and bad news support a team whose members speak out against racism, kneel before games, support LGBT pride, fight poverty and most importantly, win games.

For decades, the support of England has been synonymous with disappointed hopes. Originally published in 1996, the lyrics of the country’s most popular football anthem, Three Lions, are a reminder of England’s 1966 triumph and the long drought that followed: Thirty years of pain have never stopped me from dreaming.

Those 30 years have turned 55, but England is dreaming again.

The country’s hopes rest on a team that is very different from the all-white team of 1966. A poster created by the Museum of Migration showed what the English team would look like if players without foreign-born parents or grandparents were excluded: only three of the 11 starting players remained.

Stars were missing, including team captain Harry Kane, whose father is Irish; Marcus Rashford, whose mother is from St. Kitts; Raheem Sterling, born in Jamaica; and Buyako Saka, a Londoner with Nigerian parents.

The team is known less for wild off-field antics than for the social responsibility embodied in 23-year-old Rashford’s campaign against child poverty, which convinced the government to restore free lunches for thousands of poor children.

Last week, Kane, 27, wore a rainbow armband to support LGBT pride during England vs Germany game.

The players are young multimillionaires, but celebrate their local and international roots. Rashford’s childhood in a Manchester working class community inspired his work against poverty; Kalvin Phillips is a proud son of the northern city of Leeds; Sterling calls himself the boy from Brent, after the London borough where he grew up.

For some, their success helps make English proud rather than awkward.

The English make up 56 million of Britain’s 67 million population, but the country’s English patriotism and red and white St. George’s flag have long been shunned by liberal-minded Britons associated with soccer hooligans and narrow-minded Little Englanders .

Britons have been viewed as a more welcoming identity by many British and foreign-born citizens alike.

England’s rugby, cricket and soccer teams have done a lot in recent years to rid the English flag of its negative associations. The increasing importance of Scottish and Welsh flags and symbols as these countries gained more political autonomy over the past two decades has also led many people to ponder what English identity means.

There has been a tremendous intergenerational shift towards a civic and inclusive English identity that crosses ethnic and religious grounds, said Sunder Katwala, director of equality think tank British Future.

Most migrants to the UK have not identified themselves as English, but interestingly enough have their children.

Katwala said sports teams and tournaments are not driving social change, but rather “ratifying this change that has taken place in society.

It changed the public discussion about what English is, he said.

Not everyone thinks the national soccer team is the best thing about England. Some conservative commentators have mocked the players for waking up uncomfortably.

Team members were booed by some fans as they got on their knees ahead of the Anti-Racism Games. Interior Minister Priti Patel criticized the kneeling, called it gesture politics and refused to condemn the booing.

The victory silenced much of the criticism, at least temporarily. Politicians have jumped on the British bandwagon. Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has often criticized protests against racism and Britain’s imperial past, attended the game on Wednesday and awkwardly wore an England shirt over his shirt. He’s under pressure to declare a national holiday if England win the final on Sunday.

Some have compared Britain’s political leaders negatively to the unremarkable national team coach Gareth Southgate, who has forged his youngsters into England’s closest squad for many years.

If the tournament was therapeutic for England, it is redeeming for 50-year-old Southgate too. He played for England in the 1990s and his failed penalty kick in the 1996 European Championship semi-finals gave Germany the win.

Opposition Labor Legislator Thangam Debbonaire urged Johnson to study at the Gareth Southgate School of Leadership.

“The British will wonder who they want to lead. Do they want someone who works hard and focuses relentlessly on embodying British values, or do they want the current Prime Minister?” Debbonaire said in the House of Commons.

Southgate wrote an open letter to the team’s critics at the start of the tournament, saying its players would not stick with football and keep quiet about social issues.

I have a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice, and so do the players, he wrote.

I know we are headed towards a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our boys will have a big part to play in that.

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