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Choosing who to support isn't always simple for black fans

SUPPORT: England fans during half time at the Kirby Estate in Bermondsey during the England vs Belgium game

HOW DID you choose which football club to support?

The nearest to where you grew up? A family connection? Maybe your mates all used to go together or you particularly adored a specific team who were successful during your formative years?

I even know someone who grew up supporting West Ham because they liked the colour of their shirts!

There are all sorts of reasons but what about when it comes to which country to support? I've been giving this a lot of thought while the World Cup is on.

The first instinct is to say the country you were born in or your parents were born in, but for a lot of us it isn't as straightforward as that.

Look at the current England team – talented, young, multiracial, from different parts of the country and different clubs (and not just the so-called "big teams" either).

How did Dele Ali make the call? His mum is English, his dad Nigerian. Danny Welbeck? His parents are Ghanaian. Ruben Loftus-Cheek? His Dad, like me, is from Guyana.

If you are growing up black in Britain now there are plenty of reasons to support this England team, whether it's the non-stop running of Jesse Lingard, the emerging talent of Trent Alexander-Arnold or Raheem Sterling's pace and skill.

So let's go back a few World Cups and look at a different generation. Bearing in mind Viv Anderson made his debut in 1978 when England failed to qualify for the finals and by the time England did – in Spain in 1982 – Viv was still the only black player in the squad.

In 1986 in Mexico, Viv was still in the squad but this time joined by John Barnes. John was there in Italy in 1990 with Des Walker and Paul Parker. This is the tournament of Gazza's tears, the penalty heartache against Germany, David Platt's wonder goal against Belgium. It doesn't feel like ancient history but there were just three black players in the squad.

The next time England got there – in France in 1998 – there was Les Ferdinand, Paul Ince, Rio Ferdinand and Sol Campbell.
Is it any wonder that for many black people in Britain of a certain age they might feel more affinity with, say Brazil? A colleague of mine – born and bred in east London – loves Brazil so much his friends refer to them in his presence (affectionately) as "your lot"!

Interestingly though, Brazil – the most successful nation in World Cup history and with a population that is 50 per cent non-white – have never had a black manager at a World Cup. Their appeal to the neutral has come from the magic of Pele, Garrincha and Ronaldo.

I think it's one of the reasons why there's been a lot of support for Senegal. Apart from being an African team – and also a comparative underdog – they also have this tournament's only black manager – Aliou Cisse, who some fans will remember from his playing days at Portsmouth and Birmingham. He is charismatic, successful and modest and, in leading his team to a 2-1 over Poland, secured the first victory
of any African team at this tournament.

UNDERDOGS: Senegal have the 2018 World Cup's only black manager

Senegal came through qualification without defeat and, under Aliou's leadership, made the last eight at the London Olympics.

Aliou also has an on-field pedigree – no-one has taken an African team further in a World Cup than the Senegal side he captained to the quarter finals in 2002.

But in Russia, that's one black coach out of 32. Since 1998 there have been just seven. In 2010 there were none and that was held in...South Africa.

Aliou believes the situation is getting better and cites Florent Ibenge, the coach of Congo’s national team, as a sign of progress – he led the DRC to victory in the Cup of Nations in 2016.

"Football is a universal sport. It is good to see there is a black coach but, beyond football, it shows we have quality coaches. I represent a new generation that would like to have its place in African and world football," said Aliou.

As one former colleague of mine put it when I told him I was writing this article: "I want black people to do well, it's as simple as that really."

And that view crosses national boundaries.

The Nigerian World Cup shirt sold out in minutes – there were 3 million pre-orders online - and I'll wager that not all of those were sold to Nigerian football fans.

According to a survey just before the World Cup, some one in three of all fans in the UK will be supporting another team as well as or instead of England.

It is estimated 4.5 million people are cheering on another nation instead of Gareth Southgate's men between the start of the tournament and the final in July.

Maybe for black football fans the day when England are led out by a black manager will be significant for the level of support they show and who we cheer on. But a spike in support may also occur when a predominantly black nation wins the World Cup – that means more to some.

I’ll end with some words from Aliou.

"I have the certainty that one day an African team, an African country, will win the World Cup . It’s a bit more complicated in our countries. We are on the way, and I’m sure that Senegal, Nigeria or other African countries will be able win, just like Brazil, Germany or other European countries.”

He didn't but he could have said "…or England".

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