England Out of the World Cup

Posted in Janine's blog on Sat, 01/07/2006 - 20:45,

The pundits have thus far interpreted the game. The point, however, is to win it.

For sixty minutes, England appeared to have a strategy of losing the ball as soon as they reached the final third of the pitch. Then a petulant lad thought it was acceptable to push your opponent in temper. (Just like a petulant predecessor did with a kick against Argentina eight years ago.)

From then on, England decided to play their best football of the tournament until the final, and then the very final, whistle, whereafter they fluffed the penalty shoot-out and exited the tournament.

My love for football grew deep and passionate on the terraces of London Road, Peterborough. I've never been to a (men's) international match and I have no intention of doing so. But I've 'followed' (from the armchair or the bar stool) England all my life, figuring that they are my local team in international football in the same way that Peterborough are in League football.

And I can think of no other profession where people are paid so much to torment, torture, punish, hurt and disappoint the people who cheer them on. (Actually, maybe the Royal Family, but that's not exactly a profession, and the people who cheer them on are naive and sad, rather than lovers of a beautiful game.)

I used to rate Frank Lampard, but he's had only two shots on target in the whole tournament, and both were so weak that the goalie could have saved them without getting off the team coach. And he lives in a bloody mansion. Bring back the maximum wage.

The truth is, though, that the torment and hurt is one of the great things about the game. It wouldn't be the same without the highs and lows.

I can't help noticing that the "lefties" who reckon that others should not support England because it's somehow reactionary are, in general, not football lovers.

Good luck to Portugal fans, have a great night out, well done to the team. But members of the anyone-but-England brigade who revel in the team's defeat are actually revelling in the hurt and disappointment of England fans, who - with some right-wing, bigoted exceptions - are generally decent working-class people. And I don't see anything socialist about that.

Culture and Reviews


Submitted by Bruce on Fri, 07/07/2006 - 20:45

I think there are far more important reasons why more people wave flags now than 3-4 years ago (I think the major change was in 2004) than that they have suddenly noticed other people in Europe also wave flags.

They have been told by the media,Blair and others that it is acceptable to wave the cross of St.George and that it has been reclaimed from the fascists. At the same time, there have been all sorts of discussion about British and English identity - the former partly in the context of why immigrants and Muslims must adopt the 'British way of life', the latter in the context of Scottish and Welsh devolution - which again says it's alright to wave the flag. Not to mention massive campaigns by the tabloid press.

I agree it's not entirely right to see this as a conscious political nationalism on the part of everyone who wears an England shirt. However I don't think you can divorce it from the political context either.

Submitted by Bruce on Fri, 07/07/2006 - 01:04

In my wanderings over the last few weeks I have seen Ghanaian, Trinidadian, Portuguese, Italian and Spanish flags hanging out of windows or on cars; lots of Brazilian shirts being worn, a few French. Nothing from Germany, Argentina or Poland, though.

I don't think there's an irresistible pressure to conform. What gets me - and it's not the same as nationalism,quite - is the feeling that England necessarily deserves to win because England is by right better than everyone else. That is quite blatantly a post-Imperial hangover, I think.

Submitted by Bruce on Fri, 07/07/2006 - 14:09

Janine, your last point is just silly. The idea that the British need to learn flag waving from anyone - with regard to football or other things - doesn't hold up. Remember the Falklands War?

I think there is a lot in the British national psychology (insofar as such a thing exists) that has failed to come to terms with the fact that we are not the most powerful nation - or even a particularly powerful nation - any more. A few examples: Blair's delusion that Bush needs to give a toss about what he thinks; the continual harping back to World Wars I and II and in football, 1966 (which was after all, 40 years ago); the belief that we are still a major economic player... and that we have to keep the pound.

Kate - I think people who keep supporting their team even when they're rubbish are worthy of more respect that opportunists who switch to whoever's best. As long as they don't pretend that they aren't rubbish and deserve to beat everyone else...

Having said which I did support England fairly feebly but felt it was just that they went out when they did, the Ronaldo-Rooney incident notwithstanding.

Submitted by Janine on Fri, 07/07/2006 - 16:36

The point I was addressing is not why England fans display flags, but why so many more England flags have been displayed during this World Cup than, say, Euro 2004 or the last World Cup.

The stuff that you mentioned - Blair, the currency, wartime nostalgia etc - were all there two and four years ago. But there were not nearly so many flags.

People who think this dramatic increase is all down to a rise in nationalism are wrong (thank god). At least part of it is due to the reason that I outlined.

Submitted by Janine on Sun, 02/07/2006 - 20:34

BTW, doesn't (Portugal coach) Scolari look like George Galloway? Imagine him with a more preened look and a big cigar and I'm sure you'll see my point.

Could George have yet another income on the side to keep him in the manner to which he is accustomed? After all, he does have a villa in Portugal ...

Submitted by cathy n on Mon, 03/07/2006 - 15:41

Oh come off it. You don't have to be one of "anyone but England brigade" to be not that bothered that England lost. Objectively they did not deserve to win. They didn't have a good enough team (maybe not their fault entirely). And I do like watching football basically, although I've been more interested in the past than I am today.

I don't object to people supporting England particularly, at least in the abstract. What I don't like is the mood of compulsory support for England and the monumental amount of flag waving that's gone on during the World Cup. It's horrible.

Two anecdotes.

Overheard teacher on the phone coming home on the train: relates story about her day in school (Peckham, south London). Had tried to initiate a project for her (juniors?) on the World Cup. Everyone picks a team and has to find out about that country - capital city, population, location on the planet etc etc. Much objection to this idea. "We can't do that, miss, blah blah blah, we support England". And I bet many kids in her class in Peckham do not support England. Chances of them being able to say that? Nil.

Everytime we've gone out (shops etc) over the last few weeks, my daughter who is 5 and a half, asks why everyone supports England (flags, tshirts, flip flops, shorts, socks, more flags). And every time I explain that people in general prefer to support their home side, but you don't have to do that (I've not launched into a big rant or anything). But still she keeps asking me — really, every single time. Last time she asked me I asked her why she kept asking me (she's long past the compulsive "Why" stage of life after all). Her reply? "I just don't understand". as in "I can't get my head around this". Objectively it is very strange indeed that people don't pick the side they think plays the most attractive football.

Shouldn't socialists be encouraging a more open way of thinking rather than sharing every partisan feeling which is actually - as it taught to us when we are kids - about being part of a crowd, the flip side of which is not going against the crowd.

Submitted by Janine on Mon, 03/07/2006 - 17:49

Cathy and Martin ... By the 'anyone-but-England brigade' I mean people who support whoever England are playing out of some kind of weird 'principle'. I think it's all rather sad. In this post, I wasn't even having a go at the brigade in general, but those members of it who revel in England's defeat because they think it is somehow politically progressive.

To emphasise, I do not think there is any moral or political imperative to support any particular team, England or otherwise. Support who you like. Really. Support France and Germany, Martin. No problem.

I haven't asked anyone to share in the joys or disappointments of England fans. Or to support England. Or want them to win. Be indifferent if you like. I just don't think that revelling in England's defeat is socialist. That's what I wrote.

And Alan, get a photo of Scolari and cut & paste a cigar on it. See what I mean?

Submitted by cathy n on Tue, 04/07/2006 - 14:27

The point I was trying to make was somewhat tangental to the main point of Janine's post.

But I'll try and make it clear what my starting point was in Janine's post, what I didn't like about it.

I don't think that socialists should so much throw themselves into the passions provoked by England's performance, enjoy it so much, they forget about where those feelings and passions come from (being taught as a child that you have to support "your" team, your Queen, your country etc etc). That is how Janine's post read. Yet I have no doubt that Janine's against the nationalist crap. I'm criticising the fact that I didn't read that she opposes the nationalist crap when she criticised the Anyone by England brigade.

So I suppose she *is* being too hard on the "Anyone but England" brigade — they at least holding back from national hysteria. (Incidentally I didn't think Gary Younge's little column was all bad. All he seeemed to be doing sometimes was speculating on possible effects of a mass spectator sport on mass politics, which is fair enough).

I understand that if you follow a particular sport willing on a side or an individual makes it more fun. I understand, Janine, that some people think that backing the losing side all the time gives a certain meaning to life... I've even hoped for England victory one time (Euro 96) it was quite exciting. But sometimes going along with these strange rituals, backing sides and being part of a crowd, are not just fun, but also a form of mental slavery. Socialists who are opposed to nationalism should attempt to keep some critical distance in the World Cup and not simply enjoy being one of the crowd, "sharing" the disappointment of other England fans. That might mean challenging that disappointment. We could start by talking about the hype which Martin refers to.

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