It’s coming home? Send it back, I don’t want it.

England fan
Copyright Leon Benjamin, via Flickr

While the past few weeks have been an exciting whirlwind of last-minute goals, unexpected early exits and unbelievable scores, the 2018 FIFA World Cup, year of the underdog, is beginning to create a society I don’t really want to be a part of.

Roundabouts are being spray-painted, flags are being draped from buildings. I even saw an ominous red cross emblazoned boldly across the front (yes, the front!) of a white van last Friday. Football fever has well and truly taken hold of the world. 
But more than that, the waft of patriotism is in the air, with England slowly but surely moving through the rounds not without a quiet sense of confidence, as football giants like Argentina and Germany become distant specks on the Russian horizon. 
Some aspect of it is the disbelief. What started as a joke down the pub with your mates – that £5 bet on Harry Kane lifting the trophy, that sarcastic chant of ‘it’s coming home’ rippling through a smirking crowd. No one expected England to be in with a chance. Many still don’t. But the closer victory comes, the more these jokes seem possible. 
It’s hard to pinpoint where the problem arises, but I think here is a good place to start. The people supporting England, typically nursing a marshmallowy ring of foam around their mouth from the beer that seems to never leave their hand, are celebrating and supporting a team of people they didn’t have an ounce of belief in a month ago. Just because they happened to be born on the same bit of rock as them. 
This fanatical obsession with the football team of your country is by no means unique to England fans; cast your eyes into the crowd at any game and you’ll see the almost tribal desperation on the faces of fans – men, women, children, all united in faith for their team. But somehow, England fans seem so much worse. Maybe it’s because I actually have to come across them. 
Or maybe it’s because I don’t think England deserves this level of national pride. 
We look at other cultures celebrating like mad, look at other countries’ players’ eyes brimming with tears as they devote their very souls (and sub-par singing voices) to the national anthem. We think, as we often do, ‘why shouldn’t I behave like that’, ‘I’m entitled to the same national pride as those people’. 
Sorry lads, but we’re not.
Even this act of looking at others’ behaviour and thinking ‘we deserve to have that’ is part of the problem. When your country built its place on the world stage through rape, slaughter and enslavement, cheering the name of England while we refuse to acknowledge our history is like balancing a glittering trophy atop the mountain of corpses that our country has left in its wake.

Britain is very guilty of picking and choosing the bits of its history and society it wants to be proud of. The second world war, the 1966 World Cup. I do it myself – I think British humour is the best by far, I think our NHS is fantastic, and despite the many, many systemic problems with our social structure, you cannot fault the sheer volume of different people from different societies that live on our tiny island. I think it’s fantastic.

But when it comes to a direct sporting competition where we seem to relish knocking other, (or ‘lesser’, as our press would have you believe) countries out of the tournament, it turns from good-spirited pride to a brutish arrogance that we have no right to wield.

Coming across this particular facet of the British mentality is perhaps a bit more tender now than it was four years ago. We have attempted to sever ourselves from the rest of the world in an act of isolationism so embroiled with small-mindedness and arrogance that it could only have been performed by us.

I’ve had this debate a few times in the past few days – increasingly so, interestingly, as England have appeared to draw closer to success – and one thing I’ve come across repeatedly is the defiant defensiveness of the (primarily white and male) people I’ve spoken to about it. The thing is, it’s hard to confront your own personal contribution to a fucked up society. People are reluctant to relinquish their English pride because they have been told all their lives that they’re entitled to it, like they’re entitled to everything else. It’s all too easy to get sucked into the hype – after all, it’s coming home, right?

And, to be fair to us – it’s not always our fault. Our education system has failed us. We don’t necessarily know that the teams we’re happily eradicating from a tournament in which they never had a chance come from countries where our ancestors stole the resources and exterminated the people.

But it’s time for that to stop. We do need to start confronting ourselves for this blind support we devote to people just because they come from the same segment of Earth that we do. It’s not necessarily problematic to support them because you’re rooting for the guys who never win, because you love an underdog, but when the reason you support a team is that you feel some nationalistic ‘closeness’ to them, you’re operating within a sphere of cultural superiority that you don’t realise has ruined entire nations in the past.

So support England. Support them because the manager seems nice. Support them because you admire the players for their technique or their personalities. Support them because you love it when big tournaments have unpredictable endings. But don’t support them just because they represent the misplaced pride you have in your country.

Maybe it is coming home, but until we change what ‘home’ means, I’m not sure I want it to.

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