|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.
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.