Is Your World Cup Half-full?

On Facebook one friend scolds the English for going completely OTT after beating Pananama and Tunisia then being made to look very ordinary by Columbia and Belgium. In a world of such relentlessly negative news though, who can blame them? Another more sanguine observer asks:

“If England win the World Cup, I’m wondering if it’s time for English independence? Already free from continental Europe, then released from the shackles of Scotland, Wales and NI. Why not? I’d support them.”

The mood in Scotland seems to be far more sympathetic and less hostile to our oldest rivals than in previous championships, probably because of the relative lack of swagger going into this World Cup and the self-obvious decency of their young inexperienced manager, Gareth Southgate. If the ‘Football’s Coming Home’ meme is intensely irritating for a variety of reasons, it is still less grating than the idea of “Fifty Years of Hurt” with it’s in-built sense of entitlement. The endless excuses and sort of self-pitying behind the idea is a bizarre exercise in self-deflection, exceptionalism and grievance culture.

Why can’t England just be an ordinary football team from an ordinary country, sometimes good, sometimes not so good? The whole ‘football’s coming home’ idea is based on an idea of specialness that is exacerbated by a period of perceived national decline. The ever-present mantra of ‘1966’ has acted as a way of channeling back to bygone days when England was great and everything was in order in the world (just don’t mention the fact that VAR would have disallowed the goal!). This heightened sense of post-war decline has allowed football to fill the vacuum of political leadership and acted as a salve to a fractured social order.

But the excitement is too fever-pitched, the expectation’s way too-high and the projection on to the national team is over-loaded. We know about such things.

More than that the narrative England is telling itself is really confused. For liberalish England this young team ‘represents Britain’ like never before, or so we’re told: “This is the most multiracial England squad to represent its country at a major tournament, with 11 players of colour. It is also a young squad: the average age is just 26.”

But apart from the ongoing England-Britain-England jumble, this itself is deeply problematic.

As Steve Bloomfield writes: “There’s a hypocrisy to the warm embrace that has been granted to this England team by parts of the media and the population. These are not people they normally like. It is only a month since the government was illegally deporting people who could have been the grandparents of Raheem Sterling or Jesse Lingard. Young men like Dele Alli and Danny Welbeck, with parents from Nigeria and Ghana respectively, are routinely told they should be grateful for the opportunities Britain has given them – a reminder that while they are British, they are not the same class of British as white Brits. And while England players are famous enough not to be stopped and searched, they will have friends for whom that is a depressingly regular occurrence.”

While Bloomfield is right of course he and many other pundits are really confused about what’s going on here. Bloomfield, who is the deputy editor of Prospect and the author of Africa United: How Football Explains Africa, writes of the understanding of how people are seeing this: “The England team and Brexit Britain were one and the same: victory for one was success for the other.”

This notion of ‘an entire nation’ being unified by the World Cup is undermined by a) us not being one nation and b) Britain not being at the World Cup c) Scotland voting Remain by 62%.

This desperate search for unity through football is Not Going To Work. The very fact that journalists don’t get this proves the point.

You could be more optimistic and generous and say that if Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland were the only UK countries present, the ‘entire nation’ would get behind them as representing Britain and such national visions would be projected onto them, but we all know that’s not just not true, its not possible.

But if the new mood of euphoria sweeping England in a heatwave is surely a good thing, it was undermined by the coverage of Germany’s departure. Newscasters, commentators and pundits everywhere couldn’t help themselves. The unbridled glee tipped over into something else entirely as journalistic standards were just thrown away. “Don’t mention the VAR” laughed the Telegraph. Schadenfreude innit? It all seemed to point to a terrible sort of fragility of self-identity – over-compensating for some deep sense of inadequacy.

It’s already been decided that England can win the World Cup, and maybe they can, though the obstacles are more likely to be Brazil, France or Uruguay than a muscular Sweden with their flat-pack four.

The idea of Southgate’s England mirroring  Didier Deschamps’ World Cup winning team and bringing a new sense of multicultural enlightenment is a lovely antidote to Brexit xenophobia. It may well be a useful counter-narrative to the stereotype that anyone with a St George’s Cross is a card-carrying UKIP racist – and the fan base of lots more visible women on telly is completely refreshing. But the reality is that the England team doesn’t have the depth and quality of Deschamps team with Evra, Umititi, Sissoko, Paul Pogba and others.

In amongst the football frenzy very real problems lie ahead this coming week as Britain potentially crashes out of Europe and the government falls apart. The contrast between Southgate’s composed reasonableness and the Brexiteers fundamentalists couldn’t be much more stark. I can cheer England on but I fear for the political consequences if they win, or if they lose.

Comments (34)

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  1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

    When is the bloody thing all over so that my wife can get her soaps back and my ear can get a rest? Who’s playing anyway?

    1. IAB says:

      Iceland were playing and Sweden is still around. Other than that, I don’t know.

  2. Nixon says:

    ‘But the reality is that the England team doesn’t have the depth and quality of Deschamps team with Evra, Umitti, Sissoko, Paul Pogba and others.’
    Evra is an ITV pundit, it’s Umtiti, and Sissoko isn’t in the squad.

    1. I’m talking about the immigrant French players from Dechamps team, not the current squad.

      1. Nixon says:

        Well, you could compare Southgate’s team to the 1998 French side captained by Deschamps, or you could list M’bappe, Kante, Dembele or various others from the current squad. And it’s Deschamps, not Dechamp, good grief. Still, you spelled Umtiti correctly at the third attempt.

        1. John Bull**** says:

          A sore English loser? – and they have haven’t been knocked out – yet!

          If win or lose both have political consequences, let’s go with the one that will be less painful for those of us not celebrating the present ‘British’ triumph.

          Personally, I hope France does the deed – we know how they just love the French!

        2. I’m not quite sure what you’re being so aggressive about – you seem to have missed the point entirely?

          1. Nixon says:

            No, I broadly agree with the drift of the article; in the general sense that any ‘unity through football is not going to work’ – just look at France since 1998; and particularly that England don’t have anything like the depth and quality of the current French side – Phil Jones up against M’bappé is an image to conjure with. It’s just undermined by a certain sloppiness, that’s what I was pointing out. If you choose to interpret that as ‘aggressive’, well I can only assure you that’s not what was intended.

  3. Josef Ó Luain says:

    The totemic thus psychic centrality of this wildly unpredictable game should never be underestimated.

    As you rightly suggest: “win” or “lose”, there be political consequences.

  4. SleepingDog says:

    I wonder about Lineker’s on-screen anti-German persona. His glee when describing the Mexicans attacking the defenceless German goal (where are the German defenders? who cares?!) had uncomfortable resonances to me of the British RAF bombing of German cities in 1945 after the course of the war had been decided and the Luftwaffe knocked out of the sky or grounded. England fans have been censured for celebrating with their arms-outstretched bomber impersonations at matches. Is that a real, personal feeling? Is he playing to expectations?

    Although I try to limit listening to the punditry, there is a general sense of double-standards which undermines claims to professionalism (I agree with the article about dubious journalistic standards). If corruption and cheating and 1966 are brought up in every World Cup, we really need the broadcasters to seriously consider how much went on in England’s home victory. There seems to be an English cultural bias towards hosting a major tournament as a means to gain home advantage, rather than act as a generous host to foreign guests (possibly for political advantage, or obligation, or possibly even because you like to support the world’s interest in football and good relations). This is incompatible with a culturally expressed belief in fair play and supporting the underdog. With this kind of cognitive dissonance, all the erratic jumbling and confusing of ideas (and outbursts of anger and joy) that this article describes are only to be expected.

    On another note, I find that (usually poorly applied) statistics often substitutes for a real understanding of the game, and to the “surprise” pundits have that team B (lower on their ideological hierarchy) beat team A. Effectively world cups have been too few, too different, teams and nations too inconsistent, and margins of victory too small for statistics to be meaningful in most cases. I wonder if this is linked again to the wider political and consumer culture, where numbers rather than understanding of processes often predominate.

    1. I didn’t see Linekers response, I just heard some excruciating radio – one in particular with Chris Sutton. The level of cliche is incredible and the presumption that all foreigners are (to various degrees and according to a pre-determined racial rule book) cheating swine while the English are exemplars of decency is astonishing. *

      * Yeah the Colombians were cheating b*stards I know

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @Editor, yes, and the frequent showing of studio panel non-live (over)reaction seems to feed into their presentation as superfans rather than people the audience can rely on to give alternate and informed perspectives.

        There has been some marked incompetence from commentary teams who failed to inform viewers on relevant competition rules and changes (until the moment these either came into play or they apparently received questions from the audience. For example, these included knockout stage rules (I anticipated that the extra substitute rule might be introduced, but the commentator wrongly announced that all substitutions had be made), and so on. So even the basics are lacking.

        Events on the pitch seem to move goalposts for pundits about which behaviours are currently beyond the pale. The encouragement of fouls (that was a good foul, he took one [a booking] for the team etc., he should have gone down [and got a penalty]) is the encouragement of cheating. But there was no criticism I heard of Dele Alli’s snaillike departure from the pitch when substituted (as heard for opponents).

        Most interesting for me was Neymar, in the opponent’s corner with the ball with his Brazil a precarious 1-0 up in the last minutes, extravagantly hooked the ball over a defender and led his team to score another and beat Cost Rica 2-0. While English commentators are fairly unanimous in supporting “game management” and time-wasting, the opposite of the refreshing attacking and footballing approach taken by some teams in this world cup (although there has been much time-wasting for them to relish too).

        It’s perhaps tempting to see the kind of imperialist mindset behind these hypocrisies as depicted in Indian movie Lagaan (although the game there is cricket):

        There is also a sense that professional football players are from an early age often kept in some state of infantile development, controlled (and sadly often abused, it seems) by adults. For all the vacuous journalism on the game, it seems the real stories had to be broken by whisteblowers.

      2. Jo says:

        Tried to watch the Uruguay /France match yesterday and gave up due to the appalling commentary from Phil Neville. Borderline racist towards Uruguay. I lasted 20 minutes. It was absolutely disgusting.

    2. mince'n'tatties says:

      SleepingDog you admit to having ‘uncomfortable resonances of the British RAF bombing of German cities in 1945 after the course of the war had been decided and the Luftwaffe grounded.’
      But why?
      Allied Air War planning was turned on its head the minute the first V2 Ballistic Missile landed on Chiswick in late 1944. People do forget that.
      Their whole ‘Vergeltungswaffenoint’ revenge weapon point was to tell the Allies the war hadn’t been decided.
      They were supersonic so no air raid warnings were possible which increased their terror effect. Thousands of these monsters rained down on London’s civilians [obviously not one dropped on Scotland].
      Regardless of the military position, It would have been politically impossible to have curtailed German city bombing with this going on up until nearly April 1945.
      Dresden was different, that was all about leaving the Russians with nothing of value. Certainly the Russians have always held that belief.
      Genuine apologies to all who are irritated by me going off topic.
      Oh and given that Sweden have effectively seen off Holland, Italy, and Germany from the far back start of their World Cup campaign, I differ from the articles author; England will have their hands full.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @mince’n’tatties, the British government had a (wartime) ministry devoted to controlling public opinion, and the BBC was subordinate to it. Churchill’s civilian government had a hard time reining in Bomber Harris’ vendetta against German civilians, so I hardly see how ‘public opinion’ would seem to count. British aviation research had for years been directed towards creating night-bombing (area-based, inaccurate) city firestorms, neglecting other vital areas. If the German vengeance weapons were wrong, so were the Allied terror bombings. In surveys of bombed areas, people were less likely to want reprisals. Was there such a cry for the bombing of Pforzheim that Churchill caved in to public demand?? Apparently the Dresden bombing was in line with Soviet demands, you may know better. The defence against V-weapons relied on intelligence often from courageous resistance movements.

        And that’s saying nothing about British forces treatment of defenceless Germans in the post-war years. Where are all of these stories in mainstream British cultural historicism?

        My point concerns why Gary Lineker is presenting (unopposed) an anti-German persona in a 2018 World Cup where nobody boycotted and hostilities seem out of place, yet with a backdrop of (reportedly a small number of) English fans raising Nazi salutes in Russia.

        1. mince'n'tatties says:

          SleepingDog the unfunny paradox of the V2 assault is that it saved the fanatic Harris from the chop. A move [as you well know, the English never sack] was overdue. His dismissive behaviour towards Coastal Command’s desperate need for long range aircover during the U-Boat war nearly cost Britain the war.
          Montgomery [whatever you think of him] railed against his refusal to use his heavy bombers to ‘soften up’ targets for the advancing armies. How many soldiers [my great-uncle was a sergeant in the Scots Guards..enough, enough] were lost and the war prolonged only the almighty knows.
          The military high command told Churchill enough was enough. Didn’t happen, not after Chiswick. Oh and the v2’s were mobile launched. Almost none were destroyed by the RAF, despite partisan bravery.
          Should say though Harris wasn’t mad, although like his American counterpart Curtis Le May he was a hater. After the wars end he stated that had Germany won he knew he would’ve been convicted as a war criminal.
          The historian David Welch has wrtten a well received book on British wartime propaganda where he explains the evolving of rigid censorship into a much looser news flow. Necessary since at the end of 1944 there were nearly 3 milion allied soldiers [excluding Russian] on Europe’s mainland.
          Coming to your last point, I was unaware of British depredations against innocent German civilians. Soviet mass rape, revenge killings, looting and ethnic cleansing are well documented, but this I will dig into more.
          Dresden and Britain’s involvement is worthy of its own article on Bella. Another time perhaps.
          And I was so so wrong about Sweden. They never showed up and the mass hysteria goes on.

  5. Big Jock says:

    Lets face it the English have a problem with the Germans, French, Irish , Russians and now the Jocks! Is it just me or do they remind you of a certain Glasgow team : “Everybody hates us we don’t care”.

    That’s the reason Scots find it hard to support them. Their fans behave like a bunch of thugs in Costa Del Sol and their media are at war with everyone. In other words why would we choose to support a nation we are so at odds with.

    Perhaps if they were nicer we might be less likely to support their opponents.

    1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

      Big Jock,

      That is the chant of the Millwall fans. They do not have the sense of entitlement that the supporters of Rangers do.

      Millwall FC was founded by Scots – hence the lion rampant badge – and the club’s original motto was in Gaelic.

      I love football, played it for years, but, it is just a game. I find the jingoism associated with international football pretty bad. I support Partick Thistle and my next favourite team is whoever is playing Rangers or Celtic. I support Scotland and whoever is playing England, and any small country like Iceland, playing any big country. But, I enjoy skillsnd excitement. France gave us a great show against Argentina, Belgium and Japan gave us a cracker of a match, Uruguay were good against Portugal.

  6. Carroll says:

    Remember a few years ago when England were getting very good weather “ the rest of us were,not “ the bbc newscaster said Very snuggly “the sun always shines on the righteous” and he ment it. Nothing’s changed.

  7. Big Jock says:

    Alasdair a fellow Jag! Same here. Father is a Maryhill man and so was his father. So I am a third generation Jag.

    My dad grew up in the 50s and chose Thistle because of his dad and where he lived. All his mates were Celtic and Labour. My dad joined the SNP at 18! So as you can see he is a man of independent mind.

    Had no time for the old firm. However particularly Rangers due to that flag and the English songs!

  8. Richard Easson says:

    …so the Arsenal player has brought down the Manu player , and the Southhampton striker to take the penalty with the Spurs goalie…etc..etc…( not even an England game…)

  9. Alf Baird says:

    Personally I don’t mind if England win the world cup, it would maybe give them the confidence to become an independent nation again, casting Scotland adrift.

  10. Lochside says:

    Lineker and the English punditry’s obsession with ‘the war’ makes me vomit. In order to have experienced the war ,even as a child, you would need to be nearly 80 years of age. To have fought in it, you would have to be 90 years old.

    Yet there they are, smugly disdaining Germans, French…in fact everybody…with their default stereotyping racist supposed ‘analytical’ dismissals. Despite the fact that never in living memory have they ever had to face a ‘group of death’ to either qualify for the finals or within the Final qualifying stages. Because FIFA, corrupt to the bone, want it that way, despite their criminal , seig heiling, hooligan supporters despoiling so many sporting capitals ( until the Russian paramilitaries gave them their just desserts).

    The BBC spends more money on cameras covering the English support ‘loving it’ in various cities than we get to watch our senior league. Football’s ‘coming home’?…well a cursory examination of the association game would show Scotland’s claim to that epithet as being stronger than England’s. The Scottish ‘professors’, with their tanner ba’ skills and ‘passing game’dominated the early English game and Millwall, Aston Villa were two teams founded by Scots. Indeed , the English claim is only based on them organising a league first. Although it was a Scot who led their FA’ in its initial inauguration.

    Green cheese on my part?..No,disappointment at our game diminished and shrunken by neglect whilst the profligate riches are continuing to be thrown at the English game by Murdoch’s SKY. The BBC, also have taken executive decisions to starve our game of its rightful revenue share. The ‘Old Firm’ undermining of the tv deals of the past 20-30 years. And the lack of unity and leadership, by the SFA and SPL, and more importantly vision in the Scottish game, led by English carpetbaggers and Scottish placemen is sad and regretful.

    The future?…..hard of thinkers like McLeish; no investment in excellence in skills or facilities; downgrading of our national icon Hampden further to a luxury housing development. Replaced by Murrayfield! Plus, as our population coalesce into two parts: independent minded and will be relatively easy with Brexit for a UK team to be pushed through. I don’t see any Scottish public resistence to anything much these days, and I imagine Fluffy et al will welcome our final incorporation into Greater England.

  11. Andy S says:

    Scotland will never be a mature nation until it gets over it’s infantile ABE mentality. England are a multi-ethnic team from a country with far greater ethnic diversity that Scotland has ever experienced. They have played well, shown commendable team spirit and are lead by a manager who appears both modest and shrewd. Good luck to them.

    1. PhilipR says:

      Wow, a reasoned, mature comment lacking bitterness and prejudice!

      England have played well, they have been lucky with the draw, they can get to the final, though I think France or Belgium will win the tournament. The fact that many of their players come from deprived communities in the north has benefited this team.

      It’s just a football tournament. I don’t see any wider political significance.

      1. SleepingDog says:

        @PhilipR, I think there is great political significance in a tournament that supplies such a level playing field to allow small nations to compete equally with large; for old reputations to matter nought (the Iceland–Argentina 1–1 draw covers both); for military and economic giants to fail to qualify while a nation without a military does (Costa Rica); and which nobody has boycotted. Official enemies like the USA and Iran have played each in previous tournaments, and ex-colonies beaten their ex-imperial-masters (Senegal–France).

        And the people viewers of the world form such a court of opinion that in this tournament the criteria for awarding a penalty are considerably more stringent than any test form weapons that form the pretext of going to war these days.

        The demographic of travelling fans has been interestingly commented upon, too, as how fans of various nations have mixed in Russia.

        Wider political significance? I should say so!

  12. Charles L. Gallagher says:

    Switched on TV to get an update on what actually happened at Chequers and on both ITV & BBC first 5 to 7 minutes was spent on a football score. The country is going to hell on a shooglie hand cart and yet our two main broadcasters deem football to be more important, I despair. Don’t they realise that when their jobs vanish that FIFA will not be putting bread on their tables???

  13. Wul says:

    Ach, good luck to the England team I say.

    It’s brought a wee bit of interest into it for me, since I don’t normally give a monkeys about football.

    I think the level of excitement that we, daft humans feel about seeing a bladder getting kicked about a field tells us something about our true nature. When our bellies are full and our lives are safe, we like to just play games, get together, meet folk from other parts, tell stories and have a carry on.

    The sick individuals that would have us stoke up hate for our fellow man, whilst they accumulate giant piles of money, should be removed from power like an over-tired toddler being lifted from his high-chair.

    Most folk in the world are OK and we have enough for everybody if we would only share it.

  14. Robert says:

    Just a game with no political significance??
    Wait and see what happens in the likely event of an England-Belgium final with all its Brexit overtones.

    1. PhilipR says:

      I think you can find a political slant to anything if you try hard enough, but most people just see a game of football between two teams and want their team to win.

      I can accept political significance with regard to the Berlin Olympics in 1936, or if a British team had played Argentina in 1982, but England v Belgium in 2018, I don’t see it and neither would most of the fans of those two countries.

      1. Robert says:

        Perhaps you’re right, but can you see the Brexiteers letting a golden (boot) opportunity slide to make it all about England’s breaking free from Brussels.
        Not saying it should be about that, of course it shouldn’t… but it will be a struggle for it not to be…

        1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

          Hi Guys,

          This all getting very boring, let’s give it a rest, please?

  15. Redgauntlet says:

    For anybody over the age of 40, the last few weeks must have seemed like one massive deja vu…

    How many times have we heard the English press go wild over a new generation of players? How many times have we heard “this time it’s different”?

    Remember when David Platt was a “world class” player and England were going to win Euro 1992? They scored the first goal that night too. Then the Swedes scored twice, and they were out then, just like last night…

    Gareth Southgate is a nice guy? So was Bobby Robson. So what?

    A new generation of players from a mixed racial backgrounds? What, like John Barnes, Paul Ince and Ian Wright?

    It’s just the same national hysteria all over again, the same thing happens with England every 10 years or so.

    And of course underlying it all is English arrogance, English entitlement, and English imperialism… it’s in your face, and if you don’t watch out, you start believing it.

    It’s not the fault of the `players or the managers. It’s the press, the BBC, The Guardian – the Sports Desk is currently orbiting Jupiter – and the moronic English establishment…

    As the Croats made clear last night, the smug English looked down their noses at them in an orgy of imperialist narcissism…

    As for Scotland, enough excuses. Croatia last night demonstrated a work ethic, will to win, self belief and sheer guts that would embarrass any Scottish team of the last 20 years…

    The Scots stopped wanting to win at the fitba a long time ago now…

    In 1992, when Scotland qualified for the European Championships, there were only 8 teams taking part.

    When we qualified for the World Cups of 1974 and 1978, there were just 16 teams taking part.

    How far have we fallen? Very, very far… it’s a national crisis…

    1. Charles L. Gallagher says:

      I’ll start by saying that my glass is over-flowing but the important point is that Croatia is a country of just 4 million against our 5.5 million. I’ll say no more but to TV companies show the two remaining games but cut out the endless post-mortems where they spout endless repetitive ‘Gobshite’

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