We need to talk about England

Congratulations to Iceland on their historic and well-deserved victory over a hapless England last night.  The Iceland players and travelling fans are a credit to their country.  If only the same could be said for our players and fans.

The film below was aired by Channel4 News last night.  It is NSFW and makes for uncomfortable viewing, especially if you are English.  Not all England fans are like this, and it would be wrong to suggest that this sort of appalling behaviour is representative of English society as a whole, and yet we have become used to stories of England fans behaving like this.

What is it in the English psyche that gives rise to this? Why should England supporters like me be ashamed of our fans so often? Whenever and wherever in the world there is a football jamboree we see other nations embracing the carnival atmosphere and each other, while England fans drink in large groups and posture aggressively. Is there some sociological reason for it; is it a misplaced superiority complex, a hangover from Empire, or; is it part of a post-imperial identity crisis similar to that which Russia seems to be grappling with.

On the last occasion I visited the old Wembley Stadium it was to watch an England v Luxembourg friendly. I was unfortunate enough to be seated in front of a group of four middle-aged fans who insisted on repeatedly, and loudly, singing ‘Fuck the Pope and the IRA’. Now I have no love for either the Pope or the IRA but what place does this have in football, especially when playing Luxembourg! Eventually, against my usually reserved nature, I turned around and asked them to shut up.

So many of our football songs seem to be about war, conquest, British imperialism or suggest that we have God on our side, as if we’re some sort of chosen people. We have Keep St George in my heart keep me English, another charming anti-IRA ditty; Two World Wars and one World Cup; Ten German Bombers; God Save the Queen, the British national anthem; Land of Hope and Glory, an imperialist command to spread our Empire ‘wider still and wider’, and; Rule Britannia. And when our fans aren’t singing those songs we are forced to listen to the bloody ‘England band’ playing the theme from The Great Escape or The Italian Job again and again and again, reinforcing the idea of plucky little England against the world. Are we really so insecure? None of those songs or tunes send a patriotic shiver down my spine, they are all depressingly uninspiring and say nothing about England.

Baddiel and Skinner’s ‘Football’s Coming Home’ temporarily freed us from this tyranny of negative songs, and Vindaloo and Jerusalem by Fat Les suggested that we might at last be relaxed enough to take our place in the jamboree of nations at football tournaments, but the optimism was short-lived.

If England had its own national parliament then we might prioritise the case for a new national anthem, take more action to stop the shameful behaviour of England fans and normalise English national identity. As things stand we seem destined to stay trapped in a dreadful post-imperial British identity crisis.