England, LFC and Me

Posted by Rushian on June 9, 2004, 01:40:23 AM

The start of Euro 2004 is fast approaching. England fans across the country are debating the pros and cons of the diamond midfield formation against the more traditional 4-4-2 system. White van drivers, taxi drivers, people carrier drivers, go faster metal alloy wheel trim drivers, and family saloon drivers are proudly flying the cross of St. George from their vehicles.

The supermarkets are bursting with cross of St George design t-shirts, polo shirts, casual going down the pub shirts, blouses, dresses, underwear, socks, pyjamas, women’s nighties, blow up chairs, flags, more flags, flags everywhere, big and hang from your living room window flags, little wave in front of the tele flags, medium size flags, tea towels, beach towels, barbecue sets complete with cross of St George plastic plates and plastic cups.

Pubs everywhere are decorated with the flag. They sag and hang limply on your head from just above as you try to order a pint. The people lick their lips in anticipation of this footballing feast. Land of Hope and Glory, The Great Escape, God Save The Queen. We’ve cried through 38 years of hurt, but it never stopped us dreaming. Come on Eng-er-land. Make us proud.

The problem for me is that I don’t feel a part of this mass hysteria of patriot flag waving. Why is this? Shouldn’t I be letting the fervour of ’66, the pride of Moore, Peters and Hurst, the anger at the injustice of the handballing incident by the vertically challenged of ’86 and the Italia ‘90 tears of Gazza pervade and sink into my very being. Shouldn’t it resurface into a stiff upper lipped pride that makes me want to rush out and hang a couple of pieces of red crossed cloth from the windows of my car with a third flapping from the aerial for good measure? Shouldn’t I be 100 percent behind England? My England? My team?

There lies the difficulty. England isn’t my team. My team is Liverpool. Liverpool belongs to me in a way that England never can. Liverpool is in my blood, Liverpool affects my moods. Following Liverpool has given me some of the best times in my life, and some of the worst. Liverpool FC is a part of who I am. To me, England is just a sideshow. This coming competition? A bit of interest during a summer barren of league football. England just doesn’t stimulate the same feelings of passion and allegiance that I feel for Liverpool. England isn’t important to me. I may feel a mild sense of pleasure if England wins, but I’m not elated. There may be a quickly passing sense of slight disappointment if they lose but I’m not ‘gutted’.

In terms of football, the only team that can make me euphoric or leave me feeling desolate is Liverpool. Those strong feelings associated with a passion in your life are precious, and they can only be reserved for what is important to you. I’m sorry England, but like a ’74, ’78 or ’94 World Cup, you don’t qualify.

Why do I feel like this? Why do I feel so disconnected from the national team? Why can’t I summon up some passion for the cause? A major reason was mentioned in the previous paragraph. I don’t feel that England belongs to me. I’m a scouser, a northerner, but this argument applies if you’re from anywhere outside of London and its surrounding areas. England doesn’t belong to the people, because it doesn’t come to the people. This latest footballing road show of the last few years as a homeless England has cavorted around the country doesn’t count, because we all know that as soon as Wembley is rebuilt England will return to ‘the home of football’ and ‘the venue of legends’.

I’m sure I would feel more for England if they played around the stadiums of the country and involved the people instead of excluding them. There are plenty of stadiums in the country that can host England games. The last few years have proved the point. Why should people have to travel miles to Wembley when they want to go to an England match? Wembley will be a valid place to hold an England international, but it’s no more valid than any other league football stadium that has the capacity and facilities to host an international match. I will concede that some games need to be hosted in a large stadium such as Wembley when England play teams that have a high pulling power, but this is only a small percentage of the total.

Surely it's better to play a friendly against, say, Hungary in a smaller stadium that will probably be filled close to capacity rather than a half empty and soul less ‘national’ stadium. If I’m ever going to be involved enough to call myself an England supporter, England are going to have to make the effort and take the game to the people. The fact that England has travelled the country lately because they haven’t got a ‘permanent’ home isn’t good enough. Easy access to see your national side should be a right, not a privilege.

I may not understand why millions of people are buying anything at the moment that bears the cross of St. George, and I may not understand how and why people summon up the pride and passion to drive them to hang England flags from their cars and houses, but I’m glad that the flag has been reclaimed by the people. The St. George cross had been hijacked by the far right for too long. It had come to be associated with hate fuelled far right ideologies so it is desirable that the people have claimed it back to represent their pride in their national football team and their country.

However, how far does national pride go when you’re supporting England? Even if England did have a lasting policy of sharing the game with the people around the country I’m not sure if I could get involved. The connotations associated with the phrase ‘England supporter’ are alien to me and fill me with dread. It’s the mass display of ridiculous false national pride that I can’t stomach. I don’t want to generalise too much, but I write from the perspective of what I observe.

Why do thousands of English supporters sing ‘Rule Britannia’ while supporting their national team? Britain hasn’t got a football team. I’m looking at Group B right now. It doesn’t say France, Croatia, Switzerland and Britain. It’s pure jingoism. It’s the sub text that says ‘we are British and we are superior’. It’s the premise that thousands of hooligans work on as they give the foreigners a ‘good kicking’ as they fight with notions in their head of an empire that doesn’t exist any more. ‘Britannia rules the waves?’ No it doesn’t, it hasn’t done for a long time. It certainly used to, and the legacy of the empire has created present day problems all over the world for countries in the Caribbean, to Africa, to the Far East. It’s not something to be proud of, and it has absolutely no relevance to supporting a football team. Singing ‘Rule Britannia’ is nothing more than crass misplaced pride in a false notion of superiority as a people, and in a country that has been culturally imperialised by America, lost its identity, and is little more than the 51st state. It goes beyond supporting a football team, and I want no part of it.

It’s the same premise when England play Germany and the theme music to ‘The Great Escape’ is blasted out for large portions of the game. It’s that same notion of superiority. It’s pure foreigner baiting. I have nothing but admiration for the brave soldiers of the many nationalities that liberated Europe from the occupying Nazis, but this is the 21st century. Germany is a crucial part of the European Union and the attitude of ‘we are superior to you because we won the war’ is outdated, simplistic and as ridiculous as John Cleese’s parody of nationalism in the famous episode of ‘Fawlty Towers’.

Earlier in this article I mentioned that I considered England as a sideshow. Often it’s quite an unwelcome sideshow. Usually when England is playing it's during the football season. Quite often it’s what I would consider a meaningless friendly which tires my club teams players and threatens them with possible injury. How can I get involved and support something that could jeopardise the fitness of some of the best players in the team that I support? For me, it’s an unwanted distraction and a hindrance. In last month's issue of 4-4-2 magazine there is a reader’s letter that basically says that the writer was happy because Scholes received a 3 match ban so he could have a rest before Euro 2004. He also calls on the managers in the Premiership to give their England squad members a rest and use them sparingly for the last games of the season so that they are fresh to play for England. I can’t understand this attitude. To me, my club is everything. The needs of England don’t even register. If players are fit to play for England that’s fine, but to want players to be rested by their clubs so that England can benefit at the expense of the club is beyond my comprehension.

Supporting England with total passion cannot be achieved without overriding your club loyalties. It requires you to switch on and switch off feelings at a whim and I cannot manage to do this. How am I, as a Scouser, supposed to get behind the alleged Liverpool hating Gary Neville. I dislike him with a passion. I just can’t do it. How am I, as a Liverpool supporter, supposed to cheer on Wayne Rooney? I just can’t bring myself to do it. It would go against my whole identity as a Red. I think it could even trigger a personality crisis. Some things are just too dangerous to tamper with.

So, forgive me if I don’t get too over enthusiastic about England and Euro 2004. Forgive me that I’m not going to fly the flag or buy the t-shirt. Don’t get me wrong. I want England to win. It’s just that I won’t be too bothered if they don’t.

© Barry Williams 2004

‘Sing When We’re Standing’ is an audio cd recorded in the heart of The Kop
at Liverpool FC during the last ever home game in front of a standing Spion
Kop (Liverpool v Norwich, Sat April 30th 1994). It captures a moment in
history and the end of an era. For more information, and to hear a sample
from the cd, please visit Barry's website:

http://www.kopcd.co.uk

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