Rod Liddle

Will England pull out of the World Cup?

Will England pull out of the World Cup?
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I wonder if the moral guardians of our country — the England football team — intend to participate in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar? Most of the players are currently kicking their heels (and presumably missing) in such places as the Turks and Caicos Islands, so they have plenty of time for rumination. Having become, in the words of their manager, a ‘beacon of light’ within a country of savages and bigots, it will be interesting to see if their moral stance extends to boycotting a tournament which is to be held in a totalitarian slave state that outlaws homosexuality and isn’t entirely up to speed on the issue of women.

Further — graft, corruption and greed were among the reasons why Qatar was chosen in the first place. So will the England team shelve their ideals, or will they perhaps take the knee in remembrance of the Indian workers who died making the stadium in which they are playing? That, I suppose, would be the preferred option: more meaningless virtue-signalling. Pulling out of the World Cup would be, I think, the appropriate decision. But they don’t want to do that, do they?

I assume that the shroud of bogus sanctimony which enveloped them throughout the Euros will follow them all the way to Doha. We have just witnessed a confected hysteria, with the BBC News — followed by most of the press — leading its bulletins on the appalling racist abuse England’s black players received after the team’s fairly dire performance in the final against the Italians. The BBC continued to lead on the story even after one of its own programmes, Newsnight, reported that it could find only five proven instances of British people sending those horrible messages. The majority of the posts apparently came from abroad, from rogue agents who banked on the stupidity of the left and the media in swallowing the whole caboodle. Got that right, didn’t they?

The hysteria grew and grew. Keir Starmer lost a few more hundred thousand white working-class votes by blaming it all on Boris Johnson who had, he and other Labour frontbenchers averred, facilitated racism by being equivocal about the ludicrous taking of a knee. There is something very Soviet about this howl-round of denunciations. Meanwhile, one marvelled at the disingenuousness of those who supported the gesture: this had nothing at all to do with the organisation Black Lives Matter, they insisted. Yes it did. And still does. When the knee-taking began at English football grounds, as supported by the Football Association, it was explicitly tied to BLM — and the pundits and presenters all wore their little BLM badges (and so, for a time, did the players). There were BLM banners. How on earth can these people now insist that it was nothing to do with BLM?

The hysteria was whipped up principally so that those people who approve of football players making asinine political gestures could claim, ‘See, told you so, the country is full of racists’ — when, again, it is nothing of the sort. (You have to say, too, that this diversion was not unhelpful to the England manager, who might otherwise have been in the dock for both his woeful management of the game and inexplicable decision to allow the two most inexperienced players in the team to take those crucial penalties.)

Enjoyable though the Euros were, they nonetheless left the country even more starkly divided than before, between a metropolitan middle class and, er, everybody else. But then, that is the nature of big football tournaments: they draw in all the people who never usually go to football matches and who, upon being exposed to the sort of stuff that goes on (or used to go on), become appalled and outraged at the uncouthness on display. They see fans who jostle and swear and are a bit lairy and shout out rude things, often using discommodious grammar. How very different it is to Glyndebourne or, indeed, Twickenham and Lord’s. Why can’t these monsters behave like those nice people, they wonder? (I read several columns along the same lines in the morning papers — how the Euros showed both the best and worst of our country, by which they meant the nice multicultural players kneeling and lovely fans in face paint vs working class people being belligerent.)

That awful dirge known as ‘Football’s Coming Home’ has a certain irony about it. The song was released to celebrate the tournament at which football left its home and was never to return — except perhaps in the lower reaches of the league system. Euro 96, held in England, exacerbated the embourgeoisification of football and the process of wresting it bodily from the people who, for a century, had been its sole adherents, the working class. Mexican waves and foam hands, naughty songs frowned upon, no rude chanting. Not long after Euro 96 a Millwall friend of mine got done by the Old Bill for shouting abuse at an opposing manager sitting in the dugout. ‘Things have come to a pretty pass,’ he told me, ‘when you can’t call Russell Slade a bald c***.’ But you can’t, not any more. You can’t boo your opponents’ national anthem, either, because the people new to the game think it’s discourteous, despite it having been a noble tradition for at least 50 years and probably before.

Anyway, Gareth and the lads. Let us know what you are going to do about Qatar. Beacon of light or headlamp of hypocrisy? We’ll see.

If not now then when?
‘If not now then when?’