England: The 90-Minute Nation
Writing in the Guardian, Gary Younge makes a similar point to the one I made yesterday:
For, when England's national team ceases to exist as a viable entity – as it did at the weekend – the nation and, to some extent, its national identity goes with it. Most of the flags that have been brandished these last few weeks will now disappear. When the final whistle blew in Bloemfontein, the ref called time on a 90-minute nation. The flag of St George that was flying over Downing Street on Sunday was replaced by a union flag on Monday morning.
It's not football that our woeful team have deprived us of, many of us will continue to watch and enjoy the World Cup out of a love of football; nor have they deprived very many of us of the prospect of being world champions, for very few of us ever entertained that prospect. No, what our England team have denied us is the opportunity to revel in a national celebration (Downing Street has already replaced the Cross of St George with the Union flag, and as I type England flags across the length and breadth of England are being packed away until next time). Rugby Union and Cricket have been known to unite the nation in patriotic outbursts of Englishry, but it is the unrivalled popularity of football that makes it so important for the movement towards a popular English nationalism. Our team's abject failure is a political set-back for England.
Sadly, ridiculously, pathetically even, I do feel that our team's exit from the World Cup has deprived us - we English - of something more than football. It has deprived us of national camaraderie and the chance to 'wave your flag' without prejudice. It's really only during the World Cup or St George's Day that it's acceptable to fly the Cross of St George, do so at any other time and so-called progressives will judge you to be a racist or, worse, a chav.
So the flags will be squirreled away into the cupboard under the stairs and the Guardian's writers will return to writing articles about the need to reclaim the flag of England from the far-right and, in equal measure, to writing judgemental articles about the motives or class of those that do fly the flag outside the socially accepted dates for doing so. Back to square one. A decent England performance might have moved the nation beyond this apparently intractable cultural stalemate, but alas it was not to be and CEP calls to keep the flags flying will fall on deaf ears or will be ignored by a political class who really would much prefer that England flags were in the cupboard under the stairs.