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Wednesday 7 July 2021

Love's Got The World In Motion

If I ever thought (and I don't think I ever did) that popular culture- sport, music, film, fashion etc- existed in an escapist bubble outside society and politics then the last few weeks have really made it clear to me. When Euro 20 started I had a really hard time summoning up any enthusiasm for supporting England. Given their frequent and regular poor performances at major tournaments I have watched them play in since 1982 this could just be down to England tournament fatigue, but there's more to it than that and much of it is down to what's happened during the last few years. 

People like to say that the St George's cross flag was 'reclaimed' from the far right at Euro 96. That may be true but it feels like the far right have claimed it back over the last decade. England flags flying from cars and houses have coincided with the rise of an ugly strain of English nationalism that has been used to drive wedges between communities. The national anthem is a pointless dirge, a celebration of monarchy which I can't sing or feel any kinship to. The never-ending obsession with the Second World war is baffling- it's over, it ended seventy six years ago, really, get over it. The crowd at Wembley booing other nation's national anthems- something they've done for years- looks worse and worse every time it happens. The people booing England's players taking the knee are even worse (and worse than them are those people booing while at home watching on TV and then posting it on social media- grown men filming themselves booing young black men for taking a stance against racism but then cheering them when they score. It beggars belief). You can argue that taking the knee a gesture that doesn't achieve anything but booing people for taking a position against racism is surely showing support for racism. That's the funny thing about modern racists, they want the 'freedom' to be racist but object to being called racist. Johnson's populist government's incessant culture wars are all wrapped up in this kind of politics, button pushing and barrel scraping, appealing to the worst in people, dividing and conquering. The rest of the UK seems to be coming round to a position of wanting to reject England and that small minded version of Englishness, and who can blame them?

On the other hand, the team themselves seem to be a genuinely decent bunch of young men, from multi- cultural backgrounds, led by a manager who is thoughtful and considered. In Raheem Sterling they have a young man from a North London council estate who gets a disproportionate amount of criticism from the press which you can only conclude is due to his skin colour. In Marcus Rashford they have a young man from a South Manchester council estate who has provided more effective opposition to the government and it's policies over the last year than the actual leader of the opposition. In Gareth Southgate you have a man who wrote a much more effective response to and defence of the position the team have taken against racism than any other I've read (a Tory minister has apparently said they regard his statement as 'suspiciously well written'- in other words, he couldn't have written it, a mere footballer, which tells you what you need to know about how this government look down at people they see as beneath them). As the tournament has gone on, I've tried to ignore the flags, the anthem, the booing, the tabloid version of Englishness and just appreciate the matches As they've gone on into the knock out stages (and become more fun to watch) it's become easier to watch and support England, but there's a latent nastiness to Englishness at the moment that is difficult to block out completely.

Overthinking it? Possibly. But none of this stuff- music, football, life- happens in a vacuum and popular culture and pop culture are products of or reactions to the real world. Tonight, England (the team) play Denmark (themselves the true heroes of this tournament with the horrific scenes in opening weekend when Christian Eriksen suffered a heart attack on the pitch and then the rest of the team were given the choice playing the rest of the game then or the day after). For once the England team have a genuine chance of reaching a final. It would be daft not to try to enjoy it. 

Back in 1990 pop culture collided with football in a way it hadn't before. Not New Order's best song but the best England World Cup song and one of the memories of a summer that seemed to go on forever. 

World In Motion (Carabinieri Mix)

World In Motion (No Alla Violenza Mix)


Anonymous said...

Solid words Adam. I share your thoughts, but I think that the 'racist populism' has always existed. In the past it seeped through some tabloid press, racism and xenophobia had become marginalised to some extent. I think now it has been magnified through the explosion of social media. There is a 'breeding ground' for all these negative and hateful views that now proliferate in growing echo chambers, largely unchallenged. The irony is of course that it is a multicultural England team that is doing well. Social media, for good and bad, has enabled all these 'special interest' groups to connect and amplify, to share their prejudices and inclinations. All the cannibal lovers in the world can now get together.

FurryBootsCityBoy said...

Great piece - and that's coming from a Scotland fan. :)

Martin said...

Supremely well articulated. Couldn't agree more with all of this.

TheRobster said...

I echo the above commenters. I think what galls many UK non-England fans is the incessant EnglandEnglandEngland of the UK media, as if there is only one home nation. Even during coverage of the Wales and Scotland games, there was always room to crowbar in references to England at half time. But oddly nothing about Wales or Scotland during England games.

It also seems fine to say you're English so you don't want Wales or Scotland to win, but if you're Welsh or Scottish, to say you don't want England to win is a reason to be subjected to foul abuse and threats, with accusations of being a traitor or even a terrorist (yes really, one of my friends had that levelled at him by an English idiot)!

Being English of course, I never realised what it was like until I moved to Wales, but once you become aware of it, you can see exactly why there is so much anti-English sentiment in the so-called provinces. No wonder there's growing support for both Welsh and Scottish nationalism.

As nice a bunch of people the England players may be, for the sake of my Welsh buddies, I kind of hope Denmark win tonight. Even if they don't, there's no way England are going to beat the Italians in the final.

Nick L said...

This might be the best thing I've seen written about how it feels to be an England fan at this Euros. My feeling is that we're stuck with it so we might as well try to ignore the thick racists, be ourselves by not being like those who embarrass us and support this young and likeable squad to do the best they can.

Batfish said...

Absolutely sums up my view perfectly - this is the best, most consistent England Team I've seen, but with all *waves at everything* this, my heart isn't in it. Which means it's something else that's been taken from us.

Swiss Adam said...

Thanks everyone. Glad it's not just me.

Thanks Furry City and Robster for the Scottish and Welsh input, genuinely.

SRC- you're spot on about the prevalence of racist popularism and how social media has pushed it out there.

Batfish- think you've nailed in one comment what took me several paragraphs to articulate.

Brian said...

It was a good match. Hope you all were able to find a way to enjoy the victory.

Jake Sniper said...

Another excellent piece SA, you've put into words a lot of the feelings I have had for some time.

Khayem said...

I really related to this post and comments, Adam, I think you've captured what so many of us have been feeling.

And thanks for the music. Not my favourite song, on any level, but an Andrew Weatherall remix is always a delight to hear.