Tuesday, May 30, 2006
Shine forth upon these clouded hills.
Back in 1990 I wrote a letter to Socialist Worker, along with my friend and comrade, Marcus Coyte, pointing out that for most working class people the World Cup is just about football. Our argument, as true now as it was then, is that it would be great for the sport of football if England were to win the world cup, and in fact even getting to the Semis proved to be a big boost for the game.
I’m sorry I didn’t keep the original, and cannot recall exactly what we wrote, but what a shit storm it started. Including the SWP putting on a special meeting at Marxism that year for Chris Bambury to denounce the heresy, and one leading full timer asked me whether I had been given a kicking yet (of course jokingly, but it was still intimidating). Most funnily the local North Bristol branch of the SWP put on a special meeting to discuss it with us, and held it on the same day as England played Germany in the semi-finals! Were we likely to be there?
The gist of our argument was that football is followed by millions of people, who follow the players in the premiership, and want to follow those same players at the highest international level. It should also be remembered that interest in the World Cup is also huge even when England don’t qualify.
The English national team (in 1990 as today) is multi-racial, with talented black players, and the team celebrates the multi-cultural nature of England today. In 1998 when France won the World Cup, the face of North African Arab, Zinadine Zidane was projected onto the Arc d’Triumphe, and the racist FN who had denounced the national team as mongrels had ash in their mouths.
It is also worth mentioning that the "sport as a rehersal for war" argument was tested within a year, and no-one I knew who had supported England in the World Cup in 1990 supported the British in the war against Iraq following the iinvasion of Kuwait.
Some will argue for supporting another team like Trinidad and Tobago, but with the exception of a few individuals like Dwight Yorke or Shaka Hislop, I don’t know the players, and in any event they will probably be eliminated in the qualifying stages. For the same reason most English fans have little affection for Owen Hargreaves, it doesn’t matter that he is English, the fact that he plays for Bayern means we don’t know enough about him, and cannot identify with him
And then there is the fact that England play the type of game we want to watch. The Premiership has a unique style of football: physical, constantly on the offensive, and never giving up. As Arsene Wenger has pointed out, this has nothing to do with the nationality of the players, and he never ceases to be amazed how South American and Continental European players start to play the English way after a few weeks. It is what the fans expect.