England Qualify but do we care?

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Last night England secured their right to compete in the 2012 European Championships with a nervy two all draw away to Montenegro.

In some countries this would have sparked celebrations in the streets and a mass outbreak of national flags but in England there was nary a flutter of patriotism.

I sat down to watch the game last night but didn’t get to the end having fallen asleep before half time. I texted a couple of other Wigan fans prior to the soporific effects of the game taking hold to find one was watching Wales and the other Coronation Street.

This, on the back of a “Club versus Country” thread on the TNS forum a couple of weeks ago, where the overwhelming response was for the former and this has led me to speculate on why there seems to be an overwhelming apathy towards the national side?

The first possible reason would be the quality of the football on offer. Many of the superstars of the Premier League who grace the pitches of England and TV screens around the world (not to mention millions of words in the press and websites on “the net”) often fail to deliver the same passion and skill on the international stage.

Sure we usually qualify for the final stages of international competitions (don’t mention Poland) but with so many highly qualified players, we should be beating teams such as Montenegro whose total population is less than the city of Leeds. It maybe that fans take this as a given expecting five nil victories every game and view anything less as a failure.

The attitude of the players also leaves something to be desired (with Rooney being the notable exception) looking like they would rather be playing FIFA 12 on their PS3 in their country mansions in the Surrey or Cheshire stockbroker belts. Many of these players earn quite obscene amounts of money and many ordinary working class football fans find it difficult to support someone who earns more in a week then they do in ten years.

Indeed before a recent qualifier at Wembley, Fabio Capello was quoted as saying that he could tell there was something wrong when the players were warming up. How can professional footballers who have very little else to do except try and get on the front pages of the red top Sunday papers not motivate themselves for a competitive game of football? And if they can’t what makes anyone think we can?

Another reason is the English reticence to display any signs of patriotism. The English flag has to a degree become associated with some of the more right wing political elements in the country and there is a palpable sense of embarrassment about displaying any sort of allegiance to the flag and thereby the nation for fear of being incorrectly associated with these groups. The only exception to this seems to be the overwhelming support for our military forces as they endure difficult life threatening conditions in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The third possible reason is the cultural mix in England, many people in Wigan for example are first or second generation Irish, their antecedents having migrated over here for work. Many of these born and bred Wiganers can be seen wearing their Irish football shirts proclaiming their support for either the republic or the North. This can be seen amongst the other Celtic inhabitants of England with many Scots subscribing to the Andy Murray jocular mantra of “anybody but England” when asked who he wanted to win a particular tournament. Indeed the best selling football shirt in Scotland during the last world cup was the Argentinean one a, homage to Argentina defeating England in the World Cup quarter final of 1986, the so called “Hand of God” game in reference to Maradona’s handling the ball in the process of scoring which went unpunished.

The reasons for this antipathy towards England from these English born people is I believe born of resentment due to the subjugation of the Celtic nations by the English in centuries gone by and by the English superiority in sporting competitions in more recent times.

The fourth reason I believe is the difficulty of football fans of Premier League clubs to support players who are normally playing for their bitter rivals. How many Latics fans for example find it easy to root for Wayne Rooney after his elbow into the face of James McCarthy last season or how many Tottenham fans cheered for Sol Campbell after his controversial transfer to Arsenal in 2001? This may not be the case amongst fans of lower league clues for whom watching England gives them a fleeting opportunity to see these overpaid superstars strutting their stuff.

The final reason is our countries obsession with building people up only to knock them down and the press must shoulder a sizable portion of the blame for this. I cannot think of another nation’s media who does this as effectively as ours.

I know three people who follow England home and away and none of them have any interest or allegiance to a club side. All spend large amounts of money supporting the national team and whilst I have no doubt that Wigan Athletic has a number of fans who also support the national side I don’t know any personally.

So what can be done? A greater sense of commitment from the players and an increased show of social responsibility may go some way to assuage the apathy and of course a victory in an international tournament rather than an exit with a whimper will go some away to re-dressing the imbalance. England’s rugby union victory in 2003 catapulted a sport largely associated with public schools, the middle classes and large men drinking aftershave into the nations psyche.

In the meantime I will continue to try and watch the national team without falling asleep in the hope that they will finally produce performances worthy of my attention.

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