Published in the Independent 23rd June 2004
“You English, you’re culture is only football and lager”. So how will we cope if 50 per
cent of our cultural identity goes down the Portuguese drain on Thursday night?
Especially since expectations are phenomenally high after our recovery against
Croatia and in the light of Rooney-mania?
I fear a cruel and destructive despair.
Yes, I realise we are only talking about a game of football. For those who are
immune to the bewildered charms of this tribal rite, and for cricket-lovers everywhere,
I would still argue that it matters. You too will be dealing at work and play with those
who are suffering some symptoms of the national clinical depression.
The mood in the country (by which I do not mean Downing Street and environs) is
febrile but brittle. The people are disenchanted over Iraq, the Euro, not to mention
the French-penned Constitution. They remain in search of a rallying identity.
Football is the most popular unifying language because it offers the possibility of a
meaningful victory over Europe. All Euro nations ‘speak’ football, unlike the
So if instead the Europeans beat us, and worst of all, if a small package holiday
country – our ‘oldest ally’ – that was a bit of dictatorship until 1968 gives us a bloody
nose, the message is horribly clear. Our country is not so special after all. Great
England is Little England, and our history is ending.
Of course, this rests on the ludicrous premise that there are no other languages in
which to describe our national ability. It equally overlooks the huge number of Nobel
prizes we’ve won in science compared to France and the universal triumph of our
actual language now that tout le monde parle anglais.
It also overlooks an absurdity built into football itself. Chance. All champion teams
need luck and a kindly referee. After all, that’s how England won the World Cup
without the ball crossing the line in 1966, and how Maradona scored with his hand in
1986. It always helps to remember God plays for Dice Wanderers.
Phillip Hodson is a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and
Psychotherapy – www.philliphodson.co.uk