In this month’s edition of searchlight there are two very interesting articles about England fans in Germany. Nick Lowles points out that “there is something unpleasant and aggressive about our society that is not repeated on the continent”, and he reports how there were repeated incidents of xenophobic violence, and celebration of our culture of fighting and drinking. In contrast Mark Perryman points out that this violence is hardly surprising given the level of violence every Friday and Saturday night in pubs and Clubs round England. And while a minority of England fans are hooligans, the overwhelming experience of Germany 2006 was positive, as an amazing 350000 English fans visited the World Cup! Most enjoyed the footballl, and enjoyed mixing with the travelling fans of 32 nations, united by love of football. England fans even laid a wreath, alongside Polish and German fans at Dachau.
This has been a huge shift, as in previous tournaments the numbers of travelling fans was much smaller (just 10000 in Italy in 1990), allowing the ultra hooligans to have a disproportionate influence.
But Perryman asks an important question that will not go away. Who are we English?
The St George flag is a new phenomenon, almost unseen before Euro ’96. It is noticeable where I live that many of the large population of Goan immigrants (who are Portuguese citizens through accident of empire) are strong England supporters, with flags on their cars, and replica shirts. England can be a racially inclusive national identity, stripped of Imperial British baggage. If we want it to be, if we fight for that vision of our national identity, and contest the political right’s authority to shape Englishness.
As Scotland and Wales move towards independence, faster to the north than in the west, but both inexorably, then who are we who are left behind? We have no parliament, we have no national anthem. For most of us English we don’t even have a capital city, as London has a culture and dynamic completely alien to us, and most English people can't stand the place. But we do have a football team, and we do have Monty Panesar!