(Edited to add: the comments I’ve had from right-wingers on this post are EXACTLY the reason why I wrote it. I reserve the right to delete them, but I’ve left them up for amusement for the moment. K)
I’m not mad keen on football. In fact, I actively dislike it. I’d rather spend 90 minutes watching a film, reading a book, baking, knitting, listening to music or making music, or even just waxing my bikini line than watch a bunch of overpaid show-ponies kick a glorified plastic ball round a field.
But the World Cup is slightly different. It’s a celebration of nations, of the ability for humans to unite behind something that (allegedly) moves and excites millions of people, regardless of their language, culture or the colour of their skin. And we can pretty much all agree that the vuvuzelas sound like a swarm of angry wasps that need to be swatted.
Living in London, I love seeing the pockets of international supporters in different parts of the capital. Down our way, there’s a lot of Africans, waving their colourful national flags around and honking car horns. My friends come from around the world – Aussies, Americans, French, Spaniards and more. And my own family heritage is half German, though I was born in Italy and I’m a British citizen.
The World Cup is a great excuse to wear your nationality with pride, and to celebrate or commiserate with others that you feel an affinity with. But something bothers me about it. Not anyone else’s flags or shirts, but the English ones.
For ages I couldn’t put my finger on it. Why should my own flag make me feel uncomfortable? And then I realised why.
Every time I see the St George Cross, or the Union Jack, I see the smug, fat face of Nick Griffin and his BNP buddies, exemplified by the thick-necked bruisers I had the misfortune of having to hang around with in reception at the BBC studios during the election, while I was waiting to do an interview.
I see the England shirt on the hooligan who’s only out to bash up people who look different, and the fascist skinheads exemplified by Shane Meadows’ This is England. I see the misappropriation of Englishness by certain newspapers – and idiots on Facebook – who use stories about the ‘banning of flags and England shirts‘ as a veiled metaphor for anti-foreigner sentiment.
So thank you BNP, Daily Mail, football thugs and the rest. Far from achieving your aims, you’ve stolen my sense of pride in my country’s flag. I love my country – and the diversity within it – but you make me feel embarrassed to be English.
PS Anyone know where I can get a German and an Italian flag? I’m going to hedge my bets…