Peter Daniels reflects on the tournament and the question of which team to support
The London papers (as apart from the Western Mail this is all we can get in Wales) spent the whole of the recent football World Cup eulogising about the England team’s performance, about how this transformed the mood of the ‘nation’, and about how the ‘nation’ responded en masse in getting behind its team.
It was unclear whether their use of the word ‘nation’ implied that the editors had forgotten that their publications are also distributed in Wales (The Times, for one, awards Scotland and Ireland the privilege of their own independent editions), or whether Wales, being part of the UK and Great Britain, would be expected to support their neighbours, or, the more than likely explanation, that as far as the English press is concerned, ‘England’ is synonymous with ‘Britain’.
Historically this belief could to some extent also be said to be held by the population of Wales, who have politely acquiesced over time to both a government in Westminster, and a London-based culture. To quote travel writer Jan Morris, ‘the Welsh have seldom suffered from national ambition, only national grievance’.
In 1966, as the crowds waved Union Jacks and not the flag of St George, I shouted for England, even went to a game, and almost cried when West Germany equalised in the last minute of the final’s normal time.
And the current England squad and its manager seem for once to be ‘jolly decent chaps’, unlike the normal overpaid prima donnas, and unlike the Machiavellian RFU and the arrogance that is the English rugby team. Welsh football clubs are also part of the same domestic league structure, and would be expected to support fellow players from the same competitive environment.
But Wales is slowly realising that it needs to promote a distinct identity of its own. Whilst we are expected to show enthusiasm for all things English as part of our Britishness, this has never been reciprocated. Historically as a country we have almost been deprived of our language, provided with the absolute minimum level of infrastructure by Westminster, and bled dry of our natural resources. And more importantly, this situation shows no signs of changing.
Several important capital projects have recently been denied Wales by the UK Government, each announcement seemingly intentionally timed to coincide with the approval of much larger England-based projects.
And whilst the finger should be pointed at the media and the government as much as the general population, Mark Easton’s recent survey for BBC News into the attitudes of the English (The English Question Project) suggests that even the masses have been brainwashed into thinking that Englishness equals Britishness.
Wales remains invisible in both political representation and media utterances. The 2001 Census excluded Wales from a list of nationality options that respondents could select. The 2011 Census only asked people in Wales whether they spoke Welsh. The question was consciously removed from census forms circulated in England.
And only this month, The Times, when considering what was next on the agenda for England’s football teams after the defeat by Croatia, suggested cheering on the Lionesses in the Women’s World Cup, at the same time as announcing that their next qualifying match was actually against Wales at Newport, with Wales currently ahead of them in their qualifying pool. To add insult to injury, Theresa May even suggested flying the flag of St George over Downing St in support of this same English women’s team.
So the England football teams probably don’t warrant our support.
And rather than being anti English, we probably don’t care. The England football team, in the last analysis, weren’t that good, and were lucky to get as far as they did in the tournament. So I will leave the last word to a fellow drinker in my local rugby club who, fancying Croatia, backed them to beat England in the semi final. He went home happy.
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