AS THE days get longer, the sun (hopefully) shines stronger and the domestic football season ends, fans across the world are gearing themselves up for a summer of sports, no more so than here in the UK, writes columnist Graham Bartlett.

Among the extravaganzas coming our way between June and September are the cricket T20 World Cup, the Football European Championships, Wimbledon, the Paris Olympics and Para Olympics. Of course there are more than that, so forgive me if I have left your favourite out, but I have a word count to stick to.

Each time these events come round, the fervour of armchair and pub stool fans is palpable as we come together to cheer on our heroes and weep at their defeats. We are world leaders in few sports but every summer a “Great Britain expects” vibe sweeps the nation and we dream that this will be our year. We are used to falling at the last hurdle so of course it’s exciting when we don’t, for instance winning the women’s Euros in 2022, but why does our reaction differ from sport to sport?

According to the Team GB website, there are a host of names we should look out for during the Olympics, such as boxer Chantelle Reid, gymnast Odine Achampong and rowe, Matt Aldridge. I confess to knowing little about any of these athletes but hope that each will be household names by September, win or lose.

I’m more familiar with football so already know our Euro 24 hopefuls such as Bukayo Saka, Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham. Every one of these young people will have been training for their moment from childhood and each will be singly focused on their summer of hopeful glory. Not all will succeed of course but each will have that sole goal of a gold medal or trophy. When we watch our Olympians, we seem to appreciate they can’t all win and often the commentary is around their journey and how great their future is.

With footballers it’s very different. The England football team reached their first major final in 2021 (the 2020 Euros, played at Wembley a year late due to the Covid pandemic) and you could not escape the expectation that football is finally coming home. It was an astonishing achievement by Crawley boy Gareth Southgate and his squad of youngsters and should have been cause for celebration enough. However, when the scores with Italy were level after extra time, the spectre of penalties loomed. It started well but when Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka missed their spot kicks, it was predictable what would happen. The UK Football Policing Unit (UKFPU) immediately knew that, given the brilliant trio who happened to get one kick wrong were all black, a barrage of racist hate was coming their way. Not disappointment, not celebrating getting further than England ever had but racist vitriol. They were not wrong.

In the three weeks after the final, UKFPU received 600 reports of racist comments sent to England’s black players and judged 207 of those to be criminal. Twitter reported that 99 per cent of the accounts they suspended relating to this vile backlash were from the UK.

The numbers, to some degree are a distraction as one racist tweet, one offensive post, one neo-Nazi chant is too many. We might feel disappointed, some might say cheated, but nobody, not one person, will have been as gutted as the young men themselves when they saw their lifelong dream hit the post or saved by the Italian goalkeeper. They certainly didn’t need hateful thugs to rub salt into their wounds.

Let’s be clear, not everything will go our way this summer. We won’t win every gold medal we are in for, nor will we clean sweep every round of the T20 World Cup, Wimbledon or the Euros but that will not be through lack of effort or desire.

Every waking hour of those chosen and privileged to wear their nation’s badge on the world stage is geared towards excellence. So, this year, let’s give them a break, understand that almost none of us are, or have been, good enough to stand in their shoes and appreciate their exceptional talent, rather than deride them for a rare mistake and especially not because of the colour of their skin.

Former Brighton and Hove police chief Graham Bartlett’s Jo Howe crime novel series continues with City on Fire which was published in March