The Curious Incident of the Nationalism in the Night-Time
20th July 2018
Something very unusual has happened in this wonderful Summer of 2018. In the bright Summer sun, and amongst a backdrop of deep blue skies and light brown grass in an unprecedented heat wave, a sleeping giant has been stirred inside of the Great British people. A giant they had all but forgotten was even there. A re-awakening of something tribal. A spark to ignite a forgotten flame. An event to dilate the pupils. An event to stiffen the nipple, and possibly even the nob, as opposed to the traditional upper lip. Our prudent English expectations were taken totally unawares, a complete surprise. Our drawers were dropped. I mean our jaws were dropped.
For the first time, in the longest time, once again we truly believed we could fight them on the beaches ... And this time, not just for towels.
Our English primal instincts were once again fully engaged. A truly erotic shift had occurred in English Nationalism. For once, Nationalism in England became a resoundingly positive thing. So much so, that it even actually became possible to wave the Nation's flag in support once again, without being spat on and branded an offensive racist by well intentioned Liberals. It's almost as if we all became Canadian for a few weeks.
It was a shift that involved love, not hate. A shift that involved unification, not Nigel Farage.
A shift that evolved from kicking a pig's bladder, rather than attempting to touch base with it.
A shift that totally shattered the UK's all time tv viewing figures for a televised event. A shift that involved balls being stroked by lace, caressed by head, and grabbed firmly by steady hands. Balls were on the tip of everyone's tongue. And no, I'm not talking about Love Island.
I'm talking something from before. Something old. Something special. Something great. Something even greater than tea. Something so overwhelmingly positive, that it managed to galvanise a nation divided. Something that the English public are simply just not used to.
In the Summer of 2018, A New Hope emerged. And it was a presence I have not felt since ...
Since 1996 to be exact. And I'm not the only one. Sipping tea boldly and retorting, "I say," amidst the dismal mess of Drag Palpatine's bodged Brexit and the omni shambles of her Conservative Galactic Empire, it's pretty clear to all, that us Brit's have not had a lot to celebrate of late. Things have simply been "not cricket". It's safe to say, that there has not been a lot to expose our bad teeth with a smile to of late ... Until this wonderful Summer of 2018 that is.
We've had a couple of years now of being exposed to the worst side of Nationalism in England. Which of course resulted in the ongoing Brexit fiasco. For anyone who isn't a UK Conservative, replace the above "Galactic" with "British" to switch from our governments "perceived" scope of influence to their "actual" scope of influence with Brexit negotiations. A delusion highly embarrassing even to us Brit's.
Despite all their arrogant Nationalist rhetoric about "Making Britain Great Again", after 2 years of this Brexit mess, it's become perfectly obvious, that we don't have any influence over Europe at all. Or anyone else for that matter. Truth is, we're struggling to manage our own country for goodness sake. The Conservative's can't even control their own party, let alone anything else. There's been more sudden resignations lately in the Conservative government, than at one of Jimmy Saville's care hospitals for terminally ill children over the years.
2 years of negotiations, using up all the governments money and resources ... Just to reach a potential "No Deal", and still with no real plan A let alone a plan B, over something that never should have come to be in the first place? Brilliant. The strength of our Empire? We can't even be trusted not to cock up a simple in or out vote for fucks sake. Brexit was not supposed to even happen. It only came about because David Cameron took a gamble in order to stop a few Conservatives defecting to UKIP. He took a gamble and he failed miserably. Then he retired on a fat pension and left everyone else to deal with his mess. Thanks Dave.
I voted remain based on working to progress to unify what is, for the safety and stability of all, in a volatile world. I still cannot fathom the leave vote? It was based on a ridiculous Nationalistic fantasy of an England that didn't even exist. An image of Britain that still doesn't exist. An image of Britain that will never exist. As such, it's become somewhat of a new prefab religion for it's believers and administrators. It even has it's own prefab split denominations, hard and soft, to perpetually war with each other, even though it's over something which is complete bollocks anyway. Truth is, the whole thing was impotent, limp, and flaccid right from the outset. It's all based on pure fantasy as a direct result of a 50/50 losing gambit by David Cameron. It shouldn't have even happened. Again, thanks Dave. The rest of the world is just scratching their heads watching us beat ourselves up.
The only thing us Brit's still have control over is the strength of our tea. We may have lost all our allies, bargaining power, stability, money, networks, credibility, dignity, and everything else in Brexit, but at least Brussels can no longer dictate to us how long to leave our tea bags in to simmer, or whether or not to add milk before or after the tea has been poured. Victory is ours ...
It seems the only consistency in Brexit has come in the way our Conservative government continuously changes it's stance faster than Theresa May can swallow both her cumbersome oversized shoes. And at the rate she keeps putting both feet in her mouth every time her lips move, that's pretty impressive. No wonder she needs so many pairs of shoes.
Presumably it's because her feet are so big, that she has to resort to holding Donald Trump's tiny little hands in public when ever she is negotiating even the smallest set of steps with him? Surely she shouldn't need to though? What use are Trump's tiny little hands when you have feet like those anyway? With those feet she could ski down steps!
I don't know which spin doctor thought this holding hands thing was a good idea? It's so cringe worthy. Observing their general shape and mannerisms negotiating stairs, the image Trump and May cut on tv, is of Homer Simpson helping Monty Burns up the stairs. They are actually a parody of a parody. It's unreal.
It really is quite bizarre to witness the awkwardness of their contrived "special" relationship. A relationship so special, Trump labeled it the "highest level of special". He even raised one of his tiny little horizontal hands to add further clarity to the amazing height of this amazing level of special. It's going to be great. We are going to see apparently.
Although all I see so far, is that Trump can immediately openly insult May in front of the press, ergo the world, by strongly endorsing her main leadership rival, Boris Johnson, to do her job better than her, whilst she can do nothing in response but dutifully grin and bear it. But then Trump does seem to have that effect on women. His wife Melania wears that exact same expression everyday.
In fairness to President Trump, he didn't just stop at selling out Theresa May in front of the World, he also totally sold out his own countries intelligence services during the same diplomatic excursion as he dismissed all their compiled evidence of president Putin's intrusive behaviours a day later. Something he later backtracked on ... Albeit in the highest level of unconvincing. It would have been more convincing if he just declared, "I never said Simon Says," with that smug grin thing that he does on his ridiculous fat head.
But as Drag Palpatine and her Galactic Empire desperately embrace President Trump's tiny little hand and send England into political free fall in the quest for Nationalism, without a parachute and with a lead weight tied to their ankle, seemingly out of nowhere, another function of society arose from its deep slumber, to unexpectedly unite the Nation with another kind of Nationalism. The kind that left us gushing with pride and fervour once again, as opposed to stewing in division and hatred. And what was this societal function that managed to temporarily save us all from our ridiculous selves? ... You guessed it. Sport.
But not sport as in the incredible awe inspiring performances of the Olympians in 2012, or sport as in the relentless warrior like performances of Andy Murray finally managing to dig deep enough to pull out his first Wimbledon win against all odds in 2013 ... No. Sport as in football. Yes that's right. English football ... I know. I was as surprised as everyone else.
Football is both the English National game and the most accessible sport on the planet played and adored by kids across the globe. Even in the poorest, most deprived regions of the world, rich or poor, all you need is 2 markers and something round and you've got everything you need to get the party started. It's not based on upper body strength. Male or female, if you've got legs, you can play. It's skill based. Easy to start, difficult to master. It's great for fun. It's great for fitness. And it's great practicing on your own or playing with friends. Everyone has the opportunity to play (if you've got legs). In that respect, football is a truly wonderful sport. Possibly the best in the world.
Unfortunately for English football though, professional football was dragged through the mire in England for 20 years by under performing, extremely overpaid, prima donna players that couldn't play together for England for a 100 grand a week, let alone toffee.
At the same time, it was being bled dry by greedy cash hungry managers that the FA continuously threw bucket loads of money at, out of sheer desperation to fix the English National side, which let's face it, had already been sold out to the Premier League decades ago.
Even with a squad of Fantasy Football Golden Generation players, the English National side had become a total shambles. A complete joke. Painful to watch. With some players seen in the tabloids out partying, taking drugs, abusing women, drink driving, and getting away with it all, the image of Professional Footballers as sportsmen had become heavily tarnished to the general public. People had disconnected from football's obscene absurdities of wealth and greed and turned to other sports to find real sporting values that they actually admired instead.
As a Nation, we gradually learnt to completely lose faith in our footballing ability over the decades. With our Golden Generation flopping like a fat chanting beer swilling fans tit, and with English players disappearing from the Premier League faster than David Cameron after Brexit, the hope was all but gone for English football. We were down trodden. Beaten. Demoralised. The active talent pool of English players had dwindled from the size of an ocean decades ago, to the size of a puddle today. Only 30% of today's Premier League players are English. And they aren't the league's best players either. A significantly lower figure of home grown players than any other club in Europe. Germany, for instance, has 50%. So naturally, expectation was running low for the England team this World Cup.
It seemed that all that remained of English football, was to watch the best of other countries compete to win trophies, whilst our National team ran around looking like frightened school boys as we reminisced about 1966, which none of us were even old enough to be alive for anyway.
The way I see it, The Premier League on it's conception in 1992 basically turned football from a team sport, into a trading card game. A game of Fantasy Football as opposed to real football. And since then, it has continued to become shamelessly more like Pokemon than a true sport everyday.
The Premier League promotes the idea that the easiest way to get ahead is to ditch dead weight and just buy in new talent. That's business. That is not sport. Rather than being seen as a blatant failure at club management level to nurture home talent, the rapid buying and selling ethos was recognised as a much faster and easier route to gain success, over working hard to improve what you already had. And this of course made money faster. As such, the team sport of football became all about big name individuals and big transfer fees. English players became more accustomed to sitting on a bench for their huge salaries rather than playing on a pitch. And the club names no longer had anything to do with place at all. They were just brands named after places. After all, big names, big brands, big transfer fees, that's what sells BT and Sky Sports packages, football shirts, sticker albums, and FIFA computer games and merchandise every year. Not teamwork, comradery, spirit, and the refusal to yield as a unit. That sells nothing. Basically, today's money orientated Premier League football actually removes the true sport from the sport of football, and replaces it with money, glamour, and ponce instead.
As such, in my eyes, when it comes to football, only International Football can be classed as a true sport. There is no buying and selling your team out of a fix. You have to earn it. There are no transfers. And all the players are from the place the team is actually representing. Managers actually have to skillfully manage what they have and work out how to improve it the hard way. Players have to learn to play as a team unit to overcome team weaknesses. Teamwork, throughout the entire squad and support structure, then becomes the biggest factor of success. Not club wealth.
The persistently successful nations rely on military teamwork over just getting the ball to their star Fantasy Football players. This is proper sport. Proper team management. The business aspect is removed. And with International football showcasing itself in knockout Tournaments, as opposed to ongoing leagues, matches really matter. They have to perform or they are out for another 4 years. For many players it may be the only shot they get, or their last. Every game matters. The pressure is on from the outset. And of course you get the excitement and tension of penalty shoot outs too.
Like I said, International Football is the true sport of Football and why The World Cup is the pinnacle of the game, and possibly the sporting world full stop. League Football on the hand, to me, is just an obscene money driven circus.
And what a World Cup Russia 2018 has been. Loads of quality goals, loads of quality saves, great unpredictable matches, loads of last minute drama, the introduction of VAR, some great tense penalty shoot outs, and of course, finally, a positive open playing youthful England team that made the nation want to get behind them again. An England team that actually looked like they wanted to be there. An England team that showed no fear, played as a team, and actually looked like they were thoroughly enjoying it and giving it 100% effort throughout. It was fantastic to watch.
For me, Russia 2018 was easily the best and most memorable international football tournament since Mexico 86, Italia 90, and Euro 96. It was all about the feeling.
Memories came flooding back of when I was a kid. Peter Beardsley, running down the wing in short shorts looking like Quasimodo's uglier brother. My god he was ugly. And he had a hunch back ...
Memories of a young Diego Maradona hiding his hand in his giant afro to hand ball it past big Peter Shilton.
Memories of young Gary Lineker and young Jurgen Klinsmann scoring goals like there was no tomorrow ... Until there really was no tomorrow for us when West Germany knocked us out in a semi final penalty shoot out.
Memories of flags on every car and flags in every window everywhere you went, with Shearer banging in goals left right and centre whilst the iconic anthem of Baddiel, Skinner and The Lightning Seeds reverberated over the air waves for the first time. Football was coming home! It was amazing ... And then the memories of Gareth Southgate missing a penalty in the shootout and England going out to West Germany once again.
Those were the days. Memories of times when our National team carried a good vibe. After that, football was never quite the same for me again. I totally switched off in the overpaid, over hyped, 'Golden Generation' years. Aside from the odd David Beckham free kick, they were totally unmemorable years of national English football for me. It seemed like the England shirt was cursed. The strangest thing was, England actually had some of the best forwards, midfielder's, and fullbacks in the world, but you put an England shirt on them, and suddenly they'd completely forget how to play football. It was unreal. Also there was much better sport to be found in tennis to be honest at that time with the emergence of true sporting all time greats such as Roger Federer and then Rafa Nadal.
What's great about this new fresh England team is that, on paper, they are certainly not the best players England has ever had, not by a long shot, yet ironically, it doesn't matter. For the first time since Euro 96, it actually felt like there was a team of young English men, who were actually grateful to be there, that were finally deserved of the Nations full support. There was no expectation on them. Only to do their best. And that they certainly did. They earnt their following.
For the first time in 22 years, it felt like the 3 Lions had gotten their roar back. And these lions were young, hungry, and fearless. Everything the Golden Generation were not basically. Up and down the land the feeling was back. The English once again started to dare to believe. Cautiously at first, and then all in full throttle ... It felt like Euro 96 again. Was football finally coming home?
Of course it wasn't. We were knocked out by Croatia in the semi's. But this is sport. 1 team wins, 31 lose. That's just the way it goes. That didn't really matter. It was the ride that mattered. And to be one of the last 3 teams left in it, they certainly didn't disappoint. This team had restored pride back to English football in full. They restored hope to their fans and they entertained. And my kids now have a set of players that they will always remember from their childhood too. Lingard did Fortnite dances after he scored, Harry Kane won the Golden Boot, and Pickford made some absolutely monumental saves. My kids felt a connection to these young players. They could associate with them. They were genuinely inspired by them. They now pretend to be them in the park. So thank you England. This is what sport should do.
But the praise for the team doesn't just stop at the players. You can't help but feel that the key to their success was their Euro 96 penalty missing manager, Gareth Southgate. Gareth Southgate has proven himself to be a real life Luke Skywalker or Harry Potter. He's the reluctant protagonist in the Hero's Journey, unexpectedly discovering his own magic that he didn't even realise he possessed. The softly spoken, humble, hero to the tee. And he's paid over 3 times less than Capello without grumble.
It's like he somehow bottled his old teams essence whilst playing back in Euro 96, kept it in a jar, and then sprinkled it personally on every player in his team 20 years later. Everyone plays fantasy football on paper and thinks they know best. As if possessing a team of superstars is all it takes. Our previous Golden Generation proved just how wrong that approach can be. As if too many cooks no longer spoil the broth. Total nonsense.
Southgate not only understands team. He breaths team. And his team understand him. He's like the 5th Beatle to them ...
Gareth Southgate is the BFG ... Only better. He wasn't just blowing dreams into children's bedrooms in the Summer of 2018 as they slept across England, he was blowing them into grown adults bedrooms too! Thanks to Southgate, everyone in England, no matter their age, was permitted to dream like a small child again. It was wonderful. Football was coming home! We all felt it.
And hopefully he will continue to do this for many years to come. It's effect on the population was quite remarkable to experience and be a part of. Its truly magical what he has achieved with this team from what came before and with the selection pool he had. Gareth Southgate is certainly a special find.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, Nationalism doesn't have to be a negative thing. It's amazing the positive impact sport can have on us all. We didn't win the World cup. It didn't matter. This is sport after all. But what Southgate and this young England team did achieve in Russia 2018 is totally priceless. They lifted a Nation's mood at a time it needed lifting. They showed spirit, comradery, teamwork, and refusal to yield. All things we had thought had been killed off in English football. And they showed the good side of Nationalism in a land that has unfortunately been suffering from its worst side for some time now. They entertained and they made people believe again. They provided hope for the future. They provided inspiration to young kids. They broke records and wiped the slate of bad luck history clean, giving us all a fresh positive point to start from. After 20 years, the Three Lions were back.
This was Nationalism. But it was the good kind. Sport at its most powerful. The emulation of war under prescribed rules, to both invoke and satisfy our inner evolutionary selves, with a peaceful and unifying outcome, that removes the desire to create real war. It both excites and pacifies the masses, and as such plays an important role as part of the ongoing civilising process of humanity.
It reminds us of our tribal roots, and that it's actually good to be proud of your nationality so long as it doesn't involve hatred of others. I guess that's the key point of all this. I sometimes feel that that is where we have gone wrong as a nation in England. If nationalism is supported in order to divide, there is a problem. Brexit was pretty much a 50/50 split down the middle of the nation. And I know for a fact, just from people that I know that voted to leave the EU, that there was a lot of racism fuelling the leave vote that won. I wonder, if they knew that 2 years later we'd be looking at a "no deal" Brexit, with very little else changed at all, except a ton of wasted money and resources ... would they still have voted to leave? Sadly, I don't think we'll ever get to find out.
At any rate, I think I've demonstrated that Nationalism can be a positive force as well as negative one. Sport helps us to see this no matter how clouded politics attempts to make it for us. But, as someone who loves tennis, and as a father that enjoys playing football in the park with both his son AND his daughter at any available opportunity, the real and more interesting question is ... Why doesn't the Women's FIFA World Cup currently invoke the same outcome in society as the men's? Tennis Grand Slams do. Why not Football's main event? Why indeed.
It needs some searching of both society and self to get to the bottom of that one. Women's football should never have been held back in the first place. I predict, and thoroughly hope, that Women's football is about to boom over the next few decades, hopefully to bring football up to par with tennis. But that is an article best left until after France 2019, the first Women's World Cup to be fully covered by the BBC. Tune in. Enjoy. Like Russia 2018, I'm certain that you'll be nicely surprised. Come on England!