Do I Have To Support England At The World Cup?
With the World Cup upon us, I’m faced with a quandary that will be familiar to plenty of fans out there. Do I have to support England?
As a born and bred native of this country, I know that I'm meant to. I’m supposed to care about the many years of hurt, identify with the ‘bulldog spirit’ exemplified by the likes of Jack Wilshere, Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard, and yearn for the moment when the trophy is finally brought home to the cradle of football.
The only problem is that I really couldn’t give a sh*t.
As far back as I can remember, the fortunes of the national side haven’t interested me in the slightest. Take Italia ‘90 as an example. Plenty of England fans reminisce about that tournament, wondering what might have been, regarding that team as the best we’ve had since the ‘boys of ‘66’, empathising with the emotion felt by Gazza. But all I recall when I think back was my sense of disappointment that Cameroon had been knocked out (and by a side as boring as England).
Although by no means unique (I’ve encountered plenty of people from all over the country who share my indifference), it’s fair to say that the national side have never been much valued in my native Liverpool.
Club tends to come before country in the city. Through the slightly jaundiced perspective of my Evertonian eyes, the England side is made up of players from teams that are Everton’s rivals, including many from our loathed neighbours. This makes it very hard for me to support them. After all, if England did defy the odds and actually win the world cup this year, that would mean having to watch Gerrard lift the trophy, which is a horrifying thought for any Evertonian (even if he would likely slip and drop it). This is specifically the case because that image would be broadcast again and again. Think how many times you’ve seen the footage of Bobby Moore lifting the trophy over the years, and you can begin to imagine the repetitive agony we would have to endure.
This placing of club above country has always made perfect sense to me. There’s no point thinking that Daniel Sturridge and Glen Johnson are horrible Liverpool sh*ts one week and then rooting for them the next, just because they happen to be temporarily playing for a different team. Any player that isn’t on Everton’s books is a threat to the club and therefore not to be supported.
I’ve heard all the arguments against my position. Don’t you love your country? How can you prefer a bunch of foreigners? Are you some kind of communist?
In response, let me offer these two counter-points as justification for my position.
1) Scousers don’t do patriotism
We don’t go in for flag waving, the vast majority of us would happily see the Queen lined up against a wall and shot, and “stirring” renditions of the National Anthem leave us unmoved.
I’m not sure why this is the case. It could have something to do with the city looking out to sea rather than inwards. After all, 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.
Or alternatively, maybe it’s simply because modern concepts of ‘Englishness’ have little to do with life in any big, northern city. ‘Englishness’ today has been claimed by the south, specifically the rural south. Think of ‘England’ and what comes to mind are images of rolling pastures, cricket on the village green and warm beer. Urban life, specifically urban life in the north, is nowhere to be seen.
As a result, I imagine few people associate the idea of ‘England’ with such urban images as smoking rollies in a back alley, hanging around the precinct on a Saturday afternoon, or drunkenly stuffing curry and chips down your throat on the last bus home. ‘Englishness’ appears alien to most Scousers (and I’m sure many denizens of other big cities) and so 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. Considering how much of a role patriotic duty plays in following England, it’s easy to see why so many residents of Liverpool can’t engage with the national side.
2) Why should you still have to support your ‘local’ team anyway?
How many people who follow Utd, Chelsea or Liverpool actually live anywhere near the places that these clubs play? Whether you agree with it or not, modern fandom is no longer determined by geographic proximity. People support whoever they want, even if that club plays 300 miles away. There are mates of my son who actively support Barcelona, even though they have no geographic or cultural ties to that club, and will likely never watch them live.
So if this is the nature of the modern game, why can’t it apply to national sides too? Why can’t we as fans, cast our collective eyes over those teams assembled in Brazil and simply choose one we like? Is it so wrong to pick an international side that plays the kind of football you like to watch, who have a back-story that pricks your interest or contain players that you particularly admire?
Given free choice, without the baggage of national identity, how many of you reading this would choose to follow England? Rarely exciting to watch, tactically cautious and perennially underwhelming, it would be like choosing to follow Stoke.
Does it not make more sense then to simply pick a team that you like, whether that be the insanely attack-minded Columbians, the metronomic Germans or the beautifully gifted Brazilians?
Through his inclusion of so many Everton players, this time round Roy Hodgson has given me my best chance of following England for years. But there’s every chance that I still won’t give a sh*t and instead shift my allegiances to a team that I just happen to like. It’s happened before and it will likely happen again. And at the moment those Nigerians are starting to look very tempting.
Follow Jim on Twitter, @jimmykeo