“It’s coming home, it’s coming home” will be sung proudly from every pub and sofa in England tonight. This has been a World Cup of surprises for England, with Southgate’s young team winning their first World Cup penalty shoot-out in history and England reaching the semi-final for the first time in 28 years. It’s easy to see why the English might have a renewed sense of national pride after the insecurity and the hopelessness that Brexit has left us with.
Expressions of patriotism intensify during the World Cup. Gestures that would otherwise make remain-voting liberals feel uncomfortable are fiercely championed by them.
Last week, Downing Street announced that they would fly the Cross of St George during England matches. This would undoubtedly be a decision met with strong opposition if it were made at any other time. During the World Cup, however, scepticism of displays of nationalism seems to be suspended.
And how far that national pride will go was tested last weekend. After England’s victory against Sweden, some England fans proceeded to smash up an IKEA store, while others took to smashing up an ambulance. This kind of anti-social behaviour is not unfamiliar to football fans, and it’s the kind of behaviour that is used to demonise and generalise football fans as violent, uncivilized thugs. Let’s not forget the front page of The Sun the day after the Hillsborough disaster which falsely accused the fans of pick-pocketing victims and urinating on police officers.
In a recent article in the Guardian, David Olusoga said “There’s always been a snobby dismissal of football and the emotions it elicits in millions of people.” Whilst the emotionally charged actions of a small minority of football fans are clearly unjustifiable, the writing-off of all football fans as hooligans is something that pervades throughout the political spectrum and sadly, it’s what prevents us from being able to separate football from politics.
However, if you want something to celebrate then you should look no further than Gareth Southgate’s England squad. 11 of the 23 man squad are black or mixed-race, and they are the youngest squad in this year’s World Cup. This is what should make you proud to be English.
Southgate’s team have brought football closer to home than anyone could have imagined; a nation well at least part of one has bonded over ‘the beautiful game’. England’s performance in this World Cup has finally given us all something to feel optimistic about.
So, for now, let’s not worry about the uncertainty of the UK’s economy after Brexit, the state of global politics or the insecurity surrounding our national identity. Instead, let’s continue to chant “football’s coming home” with strangers on the tube, down the pub or at home on your sofa, because for now, football, and Gareth Southgate – and his waistcoat – are coming home.