A change of heart over whether England win or lose at soccer
THEY never had a chance anyway but that’s not the point. The real question I have to ask myself is did I want England to win this World Cup?
Once upon a time that was the easiest question in the world. Of course I didn’t. God forbid. Anybody but and all that. Now? Well, while I can’t say the thought of them winning it in 2018 or 2022 would fill me with glee I have to admit that it feels different. Something has changed and I’m not quite sure what it is.
Niall O’Sullivan and Garry Doyle both wrote excellently about this in The Irish Post a few weeks back. One suggesting it was simply time to move on and the other tracing the Irish relationship with English football and the English national team.
They both set me thinking even more about this. Engerland. 2014. How did I feel about them now?
First up I think I should offer my football credentials, which, I think I should add, still balk, after 15 years in Ireland, at calling my beloved game soccer.
Why should Gaelic football, played mainly in the air with hands as well as feet, be called football and my football, played mainly on the ground and almost exclusively with feet, be called soccer? And as for football being a foreign game, a Protestant game, a colonial game?
Do me a favour. Is there any other sport, the corruption of FIFA parked for one moment, which truly does hold a World Cup? Rugby? Cricket? Come on, that’s as much a World Cup as baseball’s World Series.
The first house I lived in as a child was two minutes away from Birmingham City’s football ground. The house I later grew up in was still so close that the floodlights could be seen and the crowd heard on those few occasions when I didn’t go.
I had a season ticket as a kid and loved football so much that I was one of those kids who slept with a football in his bed. I’ve cried tears of both sadness and joy because of football, though admittedly tears mainly of sadness on account of the team I support.
I see my football identity as part of my wider identity, as part of an identity given to me by the old loyalties of industrial English streets. Sky, Ronaldo and everything else wrong with the game still leave me with a game that, as a friend of mine I went to the World Cup with says, is one of the few places where it is okay to be a working class male. I still identify with it enormously.
So what of England? Are my ideas of England still caught up in the England of No Surrender and Nazi salutes and the vicious Eighties terraces I remember so well?
Are they still turned off by the subsequent gentrification of the game that suddenly saw every celebrity ‘support’ a team and their beloved England, where the best looking player went out with a pop star and football was so far removed from its roots that it became an extension of corporate capitalism and a celebration of Thatcher’s free market?
Am I still standing on the terraces in Italy in 1990 while above us and to the right, fittingly enough, a hardcore of English fans sing No Surrender to the IRA throughout Ireland’s first World Cup game? Am I still caught up in loyalties whose most defining characteristic was often hate?
Because the truth is I don’t hate England. I certainly don’t hate the country I was born and grew up in, don’t hate the English people who are my friends and my family, don’t hate my home city, don’t hate my English wife.
When I encounter a lazy anti-Englishness in Ireland I often want to laugh at something that seeks to justify itself by talking of 800 years of injustice and the Famine and the North before going home to watch Coronation Street and support Manchester United.
But the truth remains that I’m a Brummie not an Englishman. England aren’t my team and, sure, aren’t the EDL and UKIP showing the nauseating side of Englishness like it’s the 1980s all over again?
And then I note that in their first game England’s goal is scored by a kid with a Brummie accent like mine and I see a team that is going someway to reflecting the multi-cultural reality of England and it might be deeply flawed still but something is different and I might not want them to win but I kind of do want them to do well.