At 3pm tomorrow, a thin blue line will be drawn across my living room. My wife will be supporting her motherland, Sweden. I’ll be rooting for my adopted country, England. We’ll have food and drink from both countries on either side – but the question is who gets custody of the kids for those 90 minutes. It’s a harder question than I had thought.
Alex, 10, and Dominic, 8, are – in my opinion – as English as Y-fronts and Tizer. Born and bred. They go to an English state primary school, have English friends, but they don’t seem at all torn about wanting England to lose. So I thought I’d place them in the English half of the living room, complete with flags. But they are protesting. Alex declares himself “half Scottish and half Czech,” referring to his grandparents. Such bloodlines are quite common at his school where most kids have a foreign-born mum (as do most primary-aged children in London; one-in-four across the UK). The World Cup is a chance for kids to talk about the other countries they cheer for. But when England plays their other country? To my surprise, their Swedish identity – that thing which makes them different – is the stronger one.
But his mum, the daughter of Czech asylum seekers who fled the Soviets in 1968, is still cheering on Sweden because it’s the country that took her parents into refugee camps, nurtured her, even paid for her to keep learning Czech as a child. It’s called hemspråk, or ’home language,’ which always struck me as odd. To these kids, should Sweden not be home? Not the way we see it in Britain. Or so I thought.
When growing up, I always thought of myself as having several identities: Highlander, Scottish, British, European. There was never a contradiction (not the prospect of a clash). But for Scots there’s the awkward question about whether you’d support your neighbour, England, in other matches. It’s not uncommon to go into an Edinburgh pub to watch England vs France and hear the Scottish punters belt out the Marseillaise. I can understand the Scots who don’t support England because they turn on the TV to have England spoken of as a home team and it grates. As does hearing God Save the Queen, the British prayer and anthem, used as the English anthem - as if England was Britain. But these are niggles. Having now lived in England for 20 years, it’s my home. A few years ago, I was a referendum result away from being an immigrant myself. So while I'm normally not into football, I'm cheering for England.
We were messing about at home last night and recorded a podcast (below) so you can hear the views of two young men on the frontline. Spoiler: it ends with Dominic saying he’d switch his national allegiance for £5, and Alex admitting that he is, in part, taking his position because it winds me up. And discovering, at an early age, the power of football to wind people up.
So what to do? I reckon I have two options. One is to piously remind them of the importance of nationality. The other is for England to win tomorrow, giving them a team in the semi-final. It’s coming home…