Buying fish at Cambridge market on Sunday, I found myself chatting to the fishmonger about the prospects for England in the World Cup. Another customer, a middle-class woman, joined in. None of us, I think, was a habitual fan. But we found ourselves enjoying a few minutes of spontaneous shared pleasure. It was not mere satisfaction in winning, but shared pride in a team of nice young men, seemingly unassuming, modest, sporting, decent. English, we might have said (though we didn’t). But English as we would like to think it should be — perhaps the Englishness of another time. A once and future Englishness, let us hope.
It’s not every day that one has this un-sought sense of shared ‘identity’. For once that overworked word seems right: a feeling of belonging and wanting to belong to an imagined community stretching far beyond everyday experience.