BY JIM KEOGHAN
With the Euros having kicked off, I’m faced with a quandary familiar to plenty of fans out there. Do I have to support England?
As a born and bred native of this country, 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 Wilshire, Rooney and Kane and yearn for the moment when the trophy is finally brought home to the cradle of football.
The only problem is that I couldn’t really give a shit.
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 has 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. Theoretically, this time around, Roy Hodgson could field a side that is 44.45 per cent comprised of Liverpool players, which is a percentage share that few Blues could tolerate.
This placing of club above country has always made perfect sense to me. There’s no point thinking that Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and James Milner are the spawn of Satan one week and then rooting for them the next, just because they happen to be temporarily playing for a different team.
I’ve heard all the arguments against my position. Don’t you love your country? Where is your national pride? Are you some kind of communist?
In response, let me offer these two counter-points as justification for my position.
- Many Scousers have an issue with patriotism
We don’t go in for flag waving, the vast majority of us would happily see the Queen lined up against a wall come the revolution 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, 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 (as I’m sure it does to the 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.
- Why should you still have to support your ‘local’ team anyway?
How many people who follow Manchester United, Chelsea or Arsenal actually live anywhere near the places that these clubs play? Modern fandom, whether you agree with or not, 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, familial 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 France 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 conservative and perennially underwhelming, it would be like choosing to follow Sunderland.
Does it not make more sense, therefore, to simply pick a team that you like, whether that be the attack-minded Croatians, the metronomic Germans or the beautifully gifted French?
For the past thirty years, I have tried my best to engage with England, waiting for the spark of emotional engagement to flicker into life, to care either way if they progress or flounder at the first hurdle. So far it’s never happened. One day it might, one day I might approach the trials and tribulations of Eng-ger-land with the same emotional intensity that I approach the ups and down of my beloved Everton. It could be this year. This could be the time. But there’s every chance that I still won’t give a shit 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 Iceland are starting to look very tempting indeed.
YOU CAN FOLLOW JIM ON TWITTER @jimmykeo and find his book Punk Football here http://www.pitchpublishing.co.uk/shop/punk-football