June 10, 2021


Football has led the way in building an inclusive Englishness - time for others to step up too (Sunder Katwala, 6/10/21, CapX)

English football helped to rewrite our national story again in the 1990s. This was surprising, since the era of hooliganism had made football central to the problem of how national identity could take xenophobic and violent forms - and had led to English clubs being banned from European competition when Italia '90 took place.

It was the magical summer of 1996 that made me much more confident about England. Fans of my generation remember the great sporting moments against Scotland, the Netherlands and Germany. What happened off the pitch felt just as important. As the St George's flags flew around Wembley stadium, in Three Lions we found a new unofficial national anthem too. "It created a very unusual thing - a non-aggressive, non-triumphalist patriotism. It was a soft, sad type of pride being expressed, not a vanquishing, overcoming one," its creator David Baddiel said recently, his wistful tone reflecting on how national identity seems more polarising now.

Yet, 25 years on, football still provides much the most confident expression of an inclusive English identity.

New research from British Future and the Centre for English Identity and Politics finds that an inclusive, civic idea of Englishness remains a work in progress - across both minority and majority groups. Confidence that English identity can belong to those of all ethnicities is shared by three-quarters of the white English, along with two-thirds of ethnic minority respondents. Almost a fifth of ethnic minorities in England do still feel that you have to be white to be considered truly English, while approximately one in ten white respondents prefer an ethnically exclusive idea of who can be English. Older Black and Asian respondents are more sceptical than young people, who are more likely to have been born in England.

The England football team commands most confidence as a symbol of English identity shared across ethnic groups. The research finds broader confidence in the England flag as a healthy sign of an inclusive patriotism when it flies during a tournament than the rest of the year around.

As for taking a knee, the Marcus Rashford generation feels there is more to do to tackle racism in sport and society, and this gesture is how they have chosen to show that.

Reasonable as well as unreasonable points can be found on both sides of these arguments. This gesture does split opinion more than other anti-racism messages. Attitudes to players taking a knee tend to correlate closely with opinions of the Black Lives Matter anti-racism protests themselves, which secured the broad support of two-thirds of ethnic minorities in Britain, and about half of the white population. Views differed notably by age, education and political views. The England squad has an average age of 25, so the players' stance reflects the view of a broad majority of their generation, that 'taking a knee' is a simple and important anti-racist statement.

Some critics suggest a more unifying gesture should be chosen, as with the Premier League evolving from putting Black Lives Matter on shirts to a "no room for racism" slogan. Yet the players were hardly likely to want to retreat after the gesture was booed in the pre-tournament friendlies at Middlesbrough. Gareth Southgate and his players have explained what it does and does not mean to them.

...soccer doesn't care about your race.

Posted by at June 10, 2021 8:05 AM