For those  about to look away…this is not just about football….

As ever a small group of people spoil it for the rest. 

These days I will always want Scotland to beat England ( even though I am an adopted English- Scot) but I will give credit where it is due, England had a great tournament and fell just short. They are a team on the way up and they have brilliant young players who have a great future ahead of them . If not now  they should , in time, look back with pride. Regret can strengthen you.

But there is a problem, and it is nothing to do with the young exceptional ambassadors for their sport and country that played with the three lions on their shirt. Some of them are the leading  proponents for social change and role models in their country .

While people in England took understandable and appropriate pride in the performance of their team,  others in a show of gratuitous xenophobia;  booed other team’s national anthems, racially  abused the players who missed penalties, idiots set off fireworks, fools tried to break into the stadium and thugs fought the police in central London and attacked and racially abused Italian and before that Danish fans in Central London . ( The latter was hardly reported.) 

Outcome? England will probably need to forget the notion of hosting the World Cup in the near future,  organisers are looking for something rather different as the face of football. 

Football, its supporters its traditions are in some ways an allegory for a nation . 

Italy were fantastic in the second half of the game while being in some cases , and to be charitable,  “ pragmatic” in their “ they shall not pass “mentality.   But the reality, the unacceptable reality to those who cannot process disappointment and who, express themselves through racism and violence, is that Italy were just,  better . They deserved to win, and that is the problem with exceptionalism  based on xenophobia and the hyped expectations that surround  it . When it hits upon reality , then it has nowhere to go other than to explode.  

Scotland has its own challenges so let’s neither be complacent nor focus our concerns solely down South, we have a sectarian poison that equally needs to be challenged , we have prejudices  that we also need to address. . The difference I sense is that we have leadership that sees that as a challenge to be met and by and large  a media that recognises it for what it is and a tendency to ( sometimes too much ) critical self reflection . 

It took a long time for anyone in establishment to challenge the booing by the England fans of other’s national anthems and the fools and the racists who also abused the bending of the knee. Reporting media, were content to emphasise a spirit of understandable positive nationalist outpouring while ignoring the elements that tarnished “ Brand England .” Encapsulated within this footballing allegory we saw the two sides of nationalism, the positive and the negative . But media were slow to report the negative . Particularly the BBC. Is it not acceptable as a news narrative ? Why on the day were the commentators silent about the booing ? Why did politicians not pick up on it? 

Probably for some time before that, but certainly since 2016 the unacceptable has been given an acceptable face . It was unfashionable and deemed inappropriate  to aim the charge of xenophobia at some elements of the Brexit cause. The truth is that the vast majority of those who supported Brexit did not have that motivation,  but some did.  I met it on the streets , I heard it in the pubs,  yet we are supposed to pretend it didn’t exist? We are supposed to accept that politicians did  not exploit it for their own ends? 

The genie in the bottle is oh so tempting .But have you  forgotten? That is why it is in the bottle. 

When we have a PM whose looseness of speech can be construed as casually racist in his references  to certain groups and refuses to endorse the players own response to racism then we have a problem of leadership . When on politics shows we need ministers  to “ interpret”  his words, when those words are left hanging without  clear meanings, then they are open to be used. 

When politicians speak of being “ aggressive” towards immigration and while they  treat those who have served in our NHS (Europeans and those from the Commonwealth and elsewhere ) as outsiders,  then that problem becomes systemic. 

There is nationalism and then there is Nationalism. It sounds odd to say that you can be nationalist for the right and the wrong reasons. When nationalism is based on xenophobia then there is a problem , when it is based upon self identity and uniqueness of expression then it  is an asset . I saw much of the latter in England’s response to the excitement of the Euros. Ok I can do without again hearing “Sweet Caroline” or “ Its coming home” but then again they have rarely walked 500 miles……. 

You could argue, and I do and with entitlement born of my place of birth that part of the problem around a refusal to understand Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish approaches to nationalism comes from a lack of confidence about self Identify in England . 

Southgate and the boys gave England hope and a very positive reason to be proud, I hope they can build upon that. but as Southgate has done unequivocally with a sense of leadership that is lacking in many others, you need to criticise the negative to build the positives. 

I find it odd that the most outspoken of people about the negatives over night were from football not politics. Gary Neville made a statement that unequivocally put some of the blame for this at the door of the PM linking his lack of willingness to support players taking the knee to what happened over night . Or to summarise, Genie – bottle – go figure.  

John Barnes commented that you can’t expect football to right the wrongs within a culture, it is part of that culture and we all need to examine our approaches to;  race,  religion,  gender and interestingly from his perspective , class. 

In the same way as it takes a footballer – Rashford to make the issue of food poverty clear to a Prime Minister it is strange that it took a young girl on TV this morning to point out “ you don’t have to be black to miss a penalty .”   

There are so many  positives for England as a country to build upon; sporting,  self identity, a sense of belonging and nationhood, but this process needs two  things that have been seriously  lacking; leadership  and critical self- awareness . In the latter there is a real need for leadership in the media to call out the negatives for what they are rather than to ignore them because they do not play to the populist brand they consider it is profitable to associate with . 

People who turn the blind eye have no right to criticise what others then see. 

In the very unlikely circumstance that Scotland do not win the World Cup, I will be happy to give my support to the England team if they play with the commitment and humility they did this time round . They have done enough to deserve respect. 

I forgot to use a word in this article …it is “ integrity “ I have every faith you can find a place for it. 

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17 replies »

  1. There is I typo here ,( actually the curse of spell check ) it should speak of the PM looseness of speech not closeness ……..

    • Steve,

      This is one of the very best articles I have read on the subject of leadership, racism, nationalism/Nationalism. A first class analysis of what reduces the standing of the UK in the eyes of so many today.

      The lack of integrity within the UK Government, which sets the tone for what we witness almost daily within the UK Parliament … the rudeness, the lies, the bullying … the complete lack of honest debate and the breaking of law, international and domestic, by the very people who set these laws and are charged to uphold them in our name. This trickles down to a section of the populace, who think it gives them permission to behave in a similar boorish way.

      Every part of the UK has a problem with this mindset, but the sense of entitlement and exceptionalism displayed by many in England, both within Government and outwith, goes a long way towards alienating others .. at home and abroad.

      • Maggie thank you very much for that very kind comment . I agree with what you say , especially the last part of your comment .

        The interesting thing is that I know many very nice and good people in England who you would think could see this for what it is. But there comes a time when you need to be outside of your skin to understand how others see you, and presently there is a true blindness to that .

        Otherwise you have to ask the question , ‘ what caused you to vote for these people in the first place? ” It isn’t evident to people – yet .

        I long ago concluded for very positive reasons that Scotland needs to be outside of the Union . Positive reasons, not because I felt badly about England , how can I given where I come from ? But because I believe Scotland has the capability to be an independent nation , and to be frank England needs it to be in order to find itself.

        For those who decry this and speak of the need for Union, my comment would be ” then make a positive case .” I haven’t yet heard one . For those who feel passionately about the need for a Union I would say this – ” folks in friendship and with care this is in your hands .”

        At the moment it is one way traffic, if people want to make a case for the status quo then they cannot assume it, or just state it – they have to prove it.

  2. This morning, I wrote this in a letter to my friend……..

    “I must admit that I am struggling with how the world is now. Everywhere – illness and anger. There have been bad times before, and the earth, and humanity, have come through them. Hard to see though – very hard to see.”

    How much did any of what happened around that match have to do with football? And how much to do with – you hit the nail on the head – a deep insecurity? “……….a lack of confidence about self identity in England .”

    When did having pride in your country come to be expressed by draping a flag across your shoulders while kicking a man when he’s down?

    I’m going to stop – you’ve written of it well. I’m just rambling in a hurt, confused way. It gets to me – to be faced with how truly horrible people can be.
    You have written of the balance to that – the folk who have a real pride in what they are doing and bringing to people’s lives. I’ll try to hold on to that.

  3. Steve, excellent piece except you failed to mention the most serious breach, namely the shining of a ‘GREEN LASER’ on the face of Schmeichel, the Danish goalkeeper. Not only was this against the law but it was downright DANGEROUS. I think that the shoot-out should have been stopped and the tie awarded to Denmark. Then let the English fool with the laser explain that to his mates!!!!

    • I completely agree. Apparently the Ref saw it and reported it , but the consequences of that and the lack of security before the match ( £26k fine) were pathetic.

    • Why can’t these English football supporters not behave more responsibly. Our countrymen can show them a thing or two when it comes to demonstrating good conduct.
      Remember when Rangers won the cup in May. Drunken fans illegally gathered in their hundreds in George Square, drank themselves stupid ( not difficult for a Scotsman), then proceeded to attack each other with glass bottles.
      Tons of rubbish were left in the wake of these kilt wearing cretins, who profess to love their country.

      • Lachlaun – your point is very well made, and indeed I allude to it in the article, Scotland can’t sit back on it laurels and assume all is good here when instances like those you refer to make it perfectly clear we have issues too.

        I think I’d make two points. The first is we report it, leadership condemns it. Leadership in England condoned those who booed people taking the knee and ignored the xenophobic abuse of others national anthems . Secondly, as vile as our sectarian issues are they do not seem to be predicated upon the colour of people’s skins . They are just as vile for other reasons, and yes Scotland has a relationship with alcohol ( and drugs) that we need to reflect upon .

        The difference is; media identification and ownership of fault , leadership commitment to action, a lack of a sense of entitlement and a pretty clear political understanding and expectation that they will be held to account for their words as well as their actions .

  4. Bernie , I am reminded of one thing in all of this. Plato was the first person recorded to say ” I dunno, it is the terrible state of youth these days they just aren’t what they used to be .” Except in Greek, and I guess I may have paraphrased . Possibly.

    My point isn’t about youth or Plato, but that probably every problem we see others have seen before, very little is new, certainly when it comes to intolerance. But I have faith that it can and does change.

    I recall speaking with a totally dejected American friend on the day after Trump was elected.

    ” look on the bright side , we are one day closer to him NOT being President .” And gradually piece by painstaking piece the genie that escaped from that particular bottle is being stuffed back in , sometimes wiht a gratuitously delightful lack of ceremony

    • Plato – oh my lord – look how he was treated. He had an almost insane belief in the possibility of teaching people to live the way of balance and clarity.

      He thought that all they needed was to be taught – to be shown how to approach a true way of living – and that they would take to that way of being.

      He thought he could make something of Dionysius the Younger of Syracuse – or, rather – get him to make something of himself. Not using coercion or fear, but simply showing him a way of being which was true to his own root humanity. And look what happened………

      Plato isn’t a great example to choose! But I do see what you mean. I am just very, very disheartened at the moment.

      What happened wasn’t about football, or about England and Scotland – it was about humanity and what/how we are.

      I’m old – this world is for the young – what are we handing them to have to deal with?

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