Supporting a New England but let's find a better theme tune
It is Quarter Final time. England are still in the World Cup and they are up against Portugal, who have thoroughly disgraced themselves with gamesmanship in the previous round. There is no better time for the sceptic to back England and genuinely get behind them in tomorrowís game.
I write as an Anglo-Scot, who until 2003 was a firm supporter of ABE, a down-under acronym for "Anyone But England". Having lived in Australia, I had experienced a certain arrogance about southern hemisphere rugby, and was keen for France to break the monopoly of southern hemisphere dominance in the Rugby World Cup. However, England were in the final, Jason Robinson went over for that try and I stood up and applauded, genuinely pleased. Here was a northern lad made good overturning years of received wisdom about who in the world was the best at rugby.
Is football different? Surely many Celts and other immigrant nationalities canít support England. I disagree. The team is managed by a successful Swedish manager and has Ferdinand, Cole and Rooney who represent an inclusive England, symbolic of a shared heritage for a modern country. Englandís fans are no longer just members of a white only men's club, heavily seeded with far right elements. There are still thugs and there are still racists but they are marginalised. Instead you can look around a decent pub on an England match day to see women and men, black faces, Asian faces and even an occasional sympathetic Scot. Ordinary supporters are supporting a New England and they are looking for another goal (with apologies to Billy Bragg).
Another reason to back England is the cynicism and negativity of the written media. Individuals are built up and then destroyed, for the sake of journalistic ego. It happened to Beckham once, following his sending off against Argentina, but he came back from it. Whatever your view of the personal circumstances of the players, who are overpaid and overexposed, they represent England because they are the best players in those positions, picked by a manager who unlike others before him, is not beholden to the media.
What of football in general Ė should we follow this sport at all? There are scandals of corruption and commercialism in football just as such scandals permeate the modern world. Be entertained but donít give in to it. I entirely understand why Dutch fans removed their Orange trousers to watch their team in their underwear. I doubt they will ever buy the officially sponsored beer again. However, football unites the world in a way no other sport can. It crosses international and language barriers and we can marvel at Argentinian genius, Italian defending, Ghanian resolve and the passion of thousands of South Korean fans.
The biggest obstacle to overcome in consciously backing England is "God Save the Queen". Letís change this rather than moan about it. Atheists, Republicans and Atheist Republicans donít recognise it. Even Christian Monarchists might be willing to concede that God has better things to do than save a head of state, or even that she needs saving at all. England needs a new anthem. Not only is GStQ out of date but it is an awful tune and a hindrance, not an asset for players trying to get worked up. Just listen to La Marseillaise or Hen Wlad fy Nhadau for real passion. If England donít win the World Cup, or go out at the quarter final stage, blame it on the theme tune.
So I find myself backing England, firmly in my seat, but applauding the occasional vital goal, or useful bit of play. Look at the achievements of the current squad and manager, which include consistent qualification for major tournaments. Look at some of the moments of individual brilliance so far and remember how England came back to win against Argentina in a friendly not too long ago. England can go on to win three more games, against the predictions of some of the venomous pundits in the British sports media. I hope Beckham lifts the World Cup, and I hope we can donate to charity to see some of those World Cup columnists eat their column inches of criticism and predictions of English failure.
Finally, and crucially, England last won the World Cup forty years ago, and everyone is constantly reminded of this fact. It will make no difference to the media coverage in the build up to future tournaments if England win the World Cup this year, although at least we will get to see more recent footage. But to finish, a timely reminder that in 1967 Scotland became the unofficial World Champions with a 3-2 victory at Wembley. If England do win, you can be assured that a famous Scottish, Welsh or Irish victory over England will soon follow, which in itself sums up the beauty of a game where despite the form book, anything on the day is possible.
If England do lose, it isnít the end of the world. There is another major tournament along in two years and another chance to see the repeating cycle of black and white footage, with that accompanying soundtrack, "they think its all overÖ" Until England win the World Cup again (or at least the Euro tournament) then it never will be.
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