Alex Massie

Oh No! English People Support England! Racists! Think of the Children!

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Sunder Katwala has already done a terrific job dismantling this fatuous piece of New Statesman guff by James Macintyre. But that doesn't mean other people can't play the game too. Macintyre, you see, wants to see a United British football team. Not, mind you, because he thinks it might be better than England's but because this is needed "for the sake of the Union". Yes, really.

Macintyre's piece is remarkable, not least because I'm not persuaded it contains even a single sensible sentence while every one of its assumptions is wrong and each of its dubious interpretations is as hopeless as anything ever produced by a Russian linesman. It's so bad he could probably have persuaded the Guardian to pay* him for it. So...

If, as Cecil Rhodes claimed, to be English is to have "won first prize in the lottery of life", then it doesn't much feel like that during the World Cup. It isn't just the leering, the inane and pointless aggression, the cheap English lager, the "funny" hats, songs and dancing and the pale, parochial, howling lack of worldliness and cultural refinement displayed by "our" fans.

There is something more depressing still about the fact that the English football team remains, as it has been for decades, unspeakably poor compared to the fantasy it creates in those fans' minds. We are constantly told by the tabloids that "England expects", but why this is no-one knows. England, even under a coach of Fabio Capello's Continental experience, consistently retains its failure to produce possession football of the sort epitomised by Liverpool in the glory years of John Barnes and Peter Beardsley in the 1980s. Instead, it still, hopelessly, insists on the kind of boot-it-upfield-and-hope-for-the-best "tactics" that Franz Beckenbauer has rightly condemned as "kick and rush".


As for tactics: well, sure, English football culture may not produce players as tactically-supple as, say, Italian football does. But that doesn't mean that England play Route One football these days. You can only really believe they do if you don't watch the games. But it gets worse:

Still, I digress. The reason I do not support England has nothing to do with its abilities, dire though they are (I will be very surprised indeed if it gets any further than the quarter final in Africa). No, it is because there is no logic at all in its existence.

We all belong -- for now at least -- to the United Kingdom. There is a "Team GB" British side in the Olympics. So why not in international football?

Because, apart from anything else, of the history of international football. But does this mean that Macintyre thinks there's "no logic" in the existence of the English rugby team? (Which also means he must think there's no logic in the existence of the Scottish and Welsh teams either.) Does he blush with shame when England and Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland compete in the Commonwealth Games? Does he feel threatened by the classification of Lee Westwood as English and Colin Montgomerie as Scottish? Does he object to Scotland competing in the World Curling Championships as Scotland and as Great Britain in the Olympic Games?

Still, to give Macintyre his due, he's only warming up:

Englishness is ultimately, alas, a racial brand. Britishness, on the other hand, is cultural. Most first -- or even, dare it be said, second -- generation foreigners who live here can comfortably consider themselves British, but less so English. I, for example, am roughly three-quarter Canadian and a quarter Scottish. My Scottish descent but London up-bringing makes me Anglo-Scottish, and therefore British, not English.

What nonsense. Does McIntyre appreciate that he's siding with the nastier fringes of nasty far-right politics here? These nutters also believe that Englishness is a matter of race and, from their perspective, pigmentation. I'm surprised to find the New Statesman accepting a BNP analysis of race, ethinicity and culture. Ask Amir Khan if he's an Englishman. Ask Linford Christie. Ask Mark Ramprakash or Nasser Hussein.

I'm not English either but that's not a matter of "race" and frankly I'd find it odd to think of my English friends as being a different "race" far less a different "racial brand" (is that some kind of tattoo?) And, yes, I'm British too and would be even if the Union were no more. I'd be so - and so would the English in a post-UK environment - because of our shared, interwoven cultural inheritance. Johnson was English and Boswell was Scottish but they each belong to all of us. Ditto Shakespeare, Adam Smith, Walter Scott, Dickens, Gladstone & Disraeli, Wellington & Nelson and all the rest of them.

Undaunted by jackassery, Macintyre presses on:

Which is why I feel like a stranger in my own land amid the creepy mass influx of St. George's flags -- by definition exclusive emblems -- that are now prevalent in cars and house windows. And why I felt so queesy at the Prime Minister, David Cameron's populist decision to fly the red and white flag over Downing Street during England's -- albeit limited -- "campaign". That the Union is under much more threat under the Conservatives (increasingly the English party) is another story, and I won't go into it here.

But it is because of a growing fear for the future of the Scottish-English Union -- one that represents 300 years of rich social, cultural and political integration -- that I hope one day to be able to cheer on British goals in the World Cup. And do so with great pride and patriotism.

[...] It's time to replace English aggression with open, generous British unity, before it's too late.

For god's sake man, get a grip. If you feel threatened by people waving the Cross of St George during the World Cup then you should retire to a monastic life. Would you feel as threatened by folk displaying the Cross of St Andrew had Scotland qualified for the tournament? I suspect not and nor should you. Why, of all the countries in the world, do you think it improper for the English to wave their own flag to support an English team?

Indeed, one of the healthier developments in recent years - Euro 96 was the turning point - was English fans' belated appreciation that the Union Flag is not the English flag. That was a welcome, refreshing sign of English sensitivity - not aggression - and maturity since, lord knows, few things annoy the rest of us more than the conflation of British and English.

As for Cameron flying the St George's cross during the tournament: well, why the hell not? Only a thin-skinned churl could object and one assumes that had Scotland qualified (damn those technicalities that prevented this!) he'd be flying the Saltire from Downing Street too. Who can possibly object to such a harmless gesture, far less feel (absurdly) "queasy" about it? 

Nevertheless, there is a wider point to be made: Macintyre's attitude reflects a certain daft pathology on the left - namely that difference may neither be acknowledged nor celebrated. We all, as Whitman says, contain multitudes and that's one of the more attractive things about Britishness. It may exist without threatening our sense of Englishness or Scottishness or Welshness or Irishness.

But that's not enough for Macintyre and those who think like him. A one-size fits all approach must be imposed regardless of what people actually want (and he should ask Scottish Unionists if they favour a British football team. Hint: they do not). Macintyre wants "open, generous unity" in the name of, I assume, progressive diversity and is seemingly unaware of the contradiction between these positions.

Sporting allegiances are often complicated but tripe like Macintyre's is enough to make me think it's worthwhile England winning the World Cup if only to frustrate and terrify and horrify the likes of those who think as he does.

Still, these things are nuanced: I wish the England football team well while secretly hoping they don't win the World Cup, but I support the England cricket team and was pleased when their rugby team won the World Cup in 2003. That doesn't mean I want them to beat France or Ireland or Italy or, obviously, Scotland. But I'll support Tottenham Hotspur against both Celtic and Rangers. (Hell, I'll probably support Arsenal against them too. Think of it as Localist Enmity.)

For that matter, I have Anglo-Scottish friends who support Scotland at rugby and England at football. They see no contradiction in that since it reflects their Scottishness, Englishness and Britishness. Similarly, English people have no trouble supporting Chris Hoy at the Olympics while hoping he's beaten by an Englishman at the Commonwealth Games. And there's nothing wrong with that! It's normal.

Macintyre proclaims his belief in Britishness while denying many of the things that make Britishness Britishness. This is a curious position to take, indeed a fatuous one.

As for a British football team "saving the Union", well only someone who knows nothing about either politics or football could possibly really believe this. Sport, in fact, is one of the things that reminds us that it is a Union while also bringing us together in - and because of - our differences and respective, layered, affiliations.

Sunder's piece

*Writing nonsense for money is fair enough, even proper. Doing so for no additional gain is just embarassing.

PS: Macintyre obviously knows nothing about football and not just because he mentions Colin Hendry and Ally McCoist as candidates for an All-Britain Select but because he talks about the England football team as "it" not "they" or "we". "It" is for Americans. This is not America.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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