Long ago, whilst at university, I spent a dismal and difficult ten minutes trying to explain my lack of regard for the England national side to a friend of my housemate’s. Granted, he was a bit of a ‘rah’, hardly the sharpest tool in the box (although certainly a tool) and at times my incomprehensible scouse accent might also have played a part, but the poor sod just couldn’t understand what I was talking about.
The idea of being devoid of ‘national pride’ was foreign to him. But he’s not alone. This broad-faced, rugby-shirt wearing, walking justification for punitive taxation on the rich was merely the first of many blank faces I have encountered on this subject since leaving the safe cocoon of my home by the Mersey.
Growing up in Liverpool, the England side was a negligible presence in my life. I was aware of them but they were of no real consequence. Club always came before country both in our house and amongst the other many Evertonians that we knew.
For us, the England side was made up of players from teams that weren’t Everton, including our loathed neighbours, and so it was impossible for us to support them.
And to me that made sense. There’s no point thinking that Phil Neal and Terry McDermott were evil Liverpool tools one week and then rooting for them the next, just because they happen to be temporarily playing for a different team. Any player that wasn’t on Everton’s books was a threat to the club (red-shite’s being the more extreme end of the spectrum) and therefore not to be supported.
The logical conclusion to this was that if an England side devoid of Everton players happened to be playing a team that contained just one Everton player then our support went to the latter.
When the country collectively mourns its many years of hurt, I shrug indifferently and return my attention to the fortunes of Everton
During the mid-eighties, things got a bit difficult when Everton turned brilliant. Suddenly England were all over us like a rash. At the 1986 World Cup we had four players in the squad, four players who regularly made the first team. It’s no coincidence that this is the only World Cup where I have any recollection of the England games. But even then, my sole concern was the performance of the Everton players and not England’s progression.
As the English game has become more open to foreign nationals I’ve found that when qualifiers and tournaments take place my loyalties have spanned the globe. In the last World Cup alone, I became a follower of South Africa (Steven Pienaar), Holland (John Heitinga), USA (Tim Howard), Australia (Tim Cahill) and Nigeria (Yakubu).
But rarely England. When the country collectively mourns its many years of hurt, I shrug indifferently and return my attention to the fortunes of Everton, a team that actually matter and whose decades of hurt mean much more to me.
I’ve heard all the arguments against my position. Don’t you love your country? How can you support a bunch of foreigners over your own boys? Are you some kind of Communist?
In mitigation let me offer this: patriotism never really caught on in Liverpool. We don’t go in for flag waving, the vast majority of us would happily see the Queen kicked out on her arse and stirring renditions of Jerusalem leave most of us unmoved.
According to my dad it’s something to do with the city looking out to sea rather than inwards. Liverpool was once a great Atlantic port, a commercial hub that had links with every corner of the globe. It made us think internationally, severing that all important connection with the rest of the country.
For many of us the notion of ‘England’ has become tied in with a certain section of society, namely little-Englanders.
Although there’s an element of truth to this, I think that to really understand our indifference to patriotism you also have to take into account the city’s experiences over the last thirty years. For many of us the notion of ‘England’ has become tied in with a certain section of society, namely little-Englanders.
The kind of people who successively put the Tories in power and then watch as Liverpool gets hit, accepting that it’s a price worth paying for a few more quid in their back pockets. Horribly stereotypical I know, but hard to avoid.
As the notion of ‘England’ has come to the fore, strengthened in recent years by the gradual erosion of a unified ‘Britain’, it is their interpretation of being ‘English’ that has become dominant; warm beer in a country pub, cricket on the village green, a yellowing jigsaw box in a post-office window.
That version of ‘Englishness’ leaves us cold. It has nothing to do with life in Liverpool and has more to do with the lives of the people who are happy for the city to suffer and then probably laugh as the media portrays us as thieves and scumbags.
The result is that the patriotism gene never kicks in, there’s nothing there to override our own narrow, partisan interests. For us, it’s patriotism and not its absence that’s foreign. And so, Everton always come first, second and third. Loyalties can never be divided and it’s ridiculous to think otherwise.
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