Tyrone Mings: footballer, campaigner, de facto leader of the opposition? The Aston Villa centre-back has won widespread plaudits for his willingness to call out Priti Patel over her condemnation of the racist abuse faced by his England teammates after the side’s heartbreaking loss in the final of Euro 2020.
Mings said the home secretary had “stoke(d) the fire”, having previously refused to criticise fans who booed the team for taking the knee in protest against racism. “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against happens,” he said.
Even among members of Patel’s own party, Mings’ intervention was well-received. Former Conservative minister Johnny Mercer tweeted that the footballer “is completely right”, adding that he was “very uncomfortable with the position we Conservatives are needlessly forcing ourselves into”.
But, to those who have followed his career to date, it’s no surprise that Mings has been so willing to step in and speak his mind. As well as being a supremely talented footballer, he is – above all else – a tremendously good bloke.
Even in an England squad packed with feel-good stories, Mings’ rise to the top of the game stands out. There are plenty of players who ascended through the ranks of the game the hard way – endless trials, non-league, clambering up the slippery steps of England’s football pyramid. But not many of the game’s stars lived in a homeless shelter, as Mings did with his mum, Dawn, and three sisters.
While at primary school, Mings was made homeless – and the family was forced to live in a shelter from a year. At age 8, he was enrolled in Southampton’s academy – but was rejected at 15 for being too small. From there, he played for a host of local non-League sides, eventually supplementing his income by working as a mortgage advisor and pulling pints at a pub in Chippenham.
That upbringing has undoubtedly informed Mings’ actions off the pitch. In 2013, when playing at Ipswich Town, he spent part of his Christmas Day feeding the homeless. “We don’t have any family in Ipswich so we thought we would spend Christmas morning helping out in the community,” he said. “We spent a couple of hours helping to prepare the food and talking to the people there. It was very humbling experience and a long way from football.”
That same year, Mings had given a “skint” fan tickets to an Ipswich home game against Bolton and, in 2014, he pledged to buy new shirts for fans who had his old number printed on their shirts after a pre-season switch from 15 to 3. He has since established a football academy for kids across the south-west, and continues to help the homeless.
Mings’ spat with Patel is not the first time he has had to act as a standard-bearer for anti-racism in his short international career. On his England debut, away in Bulgaria in 2019, Mings was subjected to persistent racist abuse from the stands in Sofia. Halfway through the second half, the game was stopped amid a torrent of money noises and even Nazi salutes. Some supporters left the ground, and England were close to leaving the pitch.
The centre-back was praised for his handling of the ugly incident, and was captured on camera demanding of officials: “Did you hear that?” Mings’ composed demeanour, in the ugliest of environments, was remarkable. Speaking after the game, he said it was “important we made a collective decision.”
He added: “We represent a lot of people and we have to not just make a stance for ourselves, but make it clear these things won’t be accepted. It didn’t affect my feelings. I think I’m quite lucky in that way because I don’t feel like it is a personal assault. I feel sorry for the people who have those views but I also have a duty to represent people that don’t have a voice, so it didn’t hurt or harm my feelings one bit. It was obviously bigger than me and bigger than what I felt.”
This is an athlete to whom compassion comes naturally. It is no surprise that he is now holding the government’s feet to the fire – even though he should not have to.