It’s been a strange experience as an Englishman living in Europe recently.
Low on stock
As most of you know, I don’t care for football. But being very homesick and not being able to go home for nearly two years has resulted in me investing a little more in England’s fortunes. So I was very surprised to find out exactly how low our stock is in the eyes of so many other countries. Who knew we’re such an unpopular nation?
Naturally I’m aware of our nation’s complicated and chequered past on the world stage, and banging on about spitfires, Churchill and Rule Britannia has always made me deeply uncomfortable.
And I have even less interest in patriotism than I do football. To paraphrase Bill Hicks, I had nothing to do with being British, my parents copulated there and that’s about it.
When I moved to Denmark, I became part of the international community and I enjoy the scene: a vibrant rainbow of welcoming inclusivity and contrasting cultural perspectives you just don’t get from the natives.
But then my name was involuntarily and unexpectedly changed from ‘Adrian’ to ‘Adrian that English guy’. My nationality is now intrinsically linked to my identity and I’m not overly thrilled about this. It seems it’s harder to avoid tribalism than I thought.
Anyone but England
I get that it is an easy label, but it also allows for lazy stereotyping and boring presumptions: not least of which that I am a football fan and care about England in the Euros. Which, ironically, had the effect of making me care more about England in the Euros than I otherwise would.
Over the course of the tournament, what struck me was the amount of anti-English memes, gloating comments and vicious vitriol. I expected it from other nationalities – friendly ribbing and all that – but what raised an eyebrow was the level of schadenfreude from British expats and the level of their national apostasy and cultural self-loathing.
I experienced some flack the day after Denmark lost to England in the semis simply by virtue of being English. It was slightly more than banter – there was real hurt and anger there – and it wasn’t cool. I resisted the urge to scream ‘grow the fuck up’ but it did get to me.
I’d never experienced blatant xenophobia directed at me before. And, crucially, it wasn’t just Danes. Everyone, it seemed, wanted England to decisively lose.
Clowns and arseholes
I’m guessing the behaviour of the violent minority in England played a huge role. Football hooliganism has always been a blight and an embarrassment to England, even though they didn’t behave appallingly *because* they were England fans, but because they are violent arseholes.
Brexit has also played a part. It has created and nurtured a backdrop of ridicule and incredulity. Deserved or not, we are now seen by Europe as a circus, led by a coterie of clowns not fit for purpose. How the British government handled the pandemic compounded matters, as did the controversy over the UK bulk buying vaccines – seemingly at the expense of the EU.
It’s a perfect storm that has shone the UK in an especially harsh light – one that has made the desire to undermine their football efforts (which are as noble as any other nation’s) all the more pointed, and the relish at their ultimate downfall all the more sweet. Which is a bit of a shame really.
I’ve never been proud to be English. That’s not changed. But I’ve never felt sad about it either. And that has.