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Patriot games


Jingoism in the run up and during the World Cup may coerce people to sport the England flag for fear of exclusion, an academic from the University of Leicester has warned.

European historian George Ferzoco said visible minorities in particular could feel they need to be seen to be ’patriotic’ as World Cup fever grips the country.

He said: "I am worried that some may fear exclusion. Witness the recent front page of a major national newspaper. It presented a series of photos of people of many ethnicities (especially some very visible ones) draped in the Cross of Saint George. Some members of the ethnic groups represented on that page may feel they absolutely must wave the flag. Why? For fear of being thought of as somehow anti-English, even if they don’t care about football or the World Cup."

Sociologist John Williams argues that ethnic minority support for football demonstrates how far the game has gone to try to divest itself of racist associations:

"I think the signs of more ethnic minority England support suggests that at least some of the racist associations of the national team have been reasonably successfully challenged. The Cross of St George was promoted by England fans to get away from the right wing associations of the Union Jack. I think this has been successful, especially as the England flag has become a sort of fashion accessory and object of consumption as well as a signifier for the national team."

Social scientist Professor Martin Parker argues that still more needs to be done to disassociate flagwaving with xenophobia:

"I think the link between the flag and right wing extremist groups is now too strong to simply be reclaimed by four weeks of football. Not everyone who flies the Union Jack is a little Englander, or a member of the BNP, but the connection is certainly there. What seems more important is to invent a form of pride in Englishness that does not involve suggesting that all foreigners aren’t as good as us. Too often, the flag is flown defensively, rather than in celebration of something."

Professor Parker added that the World Cup provided people with an opportunity to assert a sense of national identity: "I suspect this is largely because it involves people who identify as English being encouraged to drag out some tired old stereotypes and histories. They then call these patriotism. In addition, football is the English mass sport, and its commercialisation over the past twenty years has allowed a certain flag waving to be sold by virtually every provider of consumer goods for a few months. As if buying a particular brand of beer was patriotic?

"The question arises: What is ’Englishness’? I have never seen it defined as anything other than ’tolerance’. If this is the case, then I assume no-one would be labelled as un-English for not wearing an England top."

The academics agreed that many fans were more loyal and enthusiastic about the fortunes of their own clubs than the national team:

Professor Parker said: "I would rather see Stoke City get promoted to the premiership than have England win the World Cup. I suspect that is the case with lots of fans of their local clubs. I don’t think fans of ’lesser’ clubs are more fanatical about England, but do think it is possible that ’glory-hunting’ fans who now support the big commercial clubs might be more interested in wrapping themselves in the flag for a few weeks. Or flying them from their cars."

John Williams adds: "My club is Liverpool and yes I would much rather they win something than England. I think fans of the top clubs - especially those that play in Europe - are less tied to England though there are also regional effects, with parts of the South and the North - but less so, perhaps parts of the ’Irish’ North West being strong England fans."

And George Ferzoco concludes: "It’s a game, it’s fun, and it is very often about re-connecting with one’s old roots for a short while. Let people support whomever they want to support, for whatever reason."

Alex Jelley | alfa
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