Whilst Euro 2012 may be the highlight of the year for many football fans, I for one am anticipating that start of something much more pivotal, far more crucial later in the year. Something that has taken meticulous levels of preparation and leaves football fans across the country frothing with anticipation. The Olympics you may ask? Perhaps the resumption of the Champions League? Neither. I can’t wait for the NPower League Two 2012/2013 season to get underway in August.
It’s a perennial question which flitters through the minds of many a football follower come the summer of an international tournament: club or country? A widely debated dilemma on the pitch, yet the wider assumption is that if you are English, and if you like football, you are obliged to spend a month of your life every two years pledging blind loyalty to your country by drinking yourself silly and waving a flag around. For many, however, national obedience is secondary.
From a personal perspective, I am English, and I am proud of it. I am also an Oxford United supporter, and of that I am a thousand times prouder. I cried when Oxford were relegated from the Football League, when we lost in a play-off semi-final, when we were promoted back into the Football League. I have never once shed a tear for England. I have visited over fifty different grounds following Oxford, yet have only ever been to one England game. Oxford United take up my days and weeks, always there ready to lift me up or drop me down accordingly; England pop up every couple of years like a distant parent and expect me to shower love upon them after years of absence. I’ll be proud as punch if England were to gain success this summer, but promotion from League Two is a far more pressing matter.
On a broader scale, there are numerous socio-cultural factors which dictate greater affiliation to clubs rather than country. Despite being a small, compact island, England still harnesses wildly varying regional differences. From Cornish Nationalism to the often seen ‘Republic of Mancunia’ banners, each English region displays assured signs of divergent cultural traditions, rituals and a shared history. Ask someone Liverpool whether they are English or Scouse and you’ll mostly hear the latter. Newcastle is often referred to as a ‘Geordie nation’.
Whilst regional differences in England are significantly less fervent than those of Spain or Italy, there still remain tangible contrasts which result in local loyalty supplanting that of the nation. England shares a great deal of cultural traits and our heritage is one which we can all engage with. Myths and legends of English victories in the face of adversity define us. But there’s just something inexplicable which commands that pride in your club overrides this.
Part of my reluctance in fully engaging with support of the national team is the element of falseness it brings, a certain plastic quality which resonates throughout. Just witness this weekend’s Jubilee events: what was the ratio of true patriotism to forced, collective gushing of flag-waving madness? This is not to say that genuine patriotic sentiment is not present during international tournaments, but it all seems predominantly imposed. The cheap adverts spouting nationalist drivel, the tacky poundland merchandise, bunting strewn outside pubs. There’s all too little substance to it. Within a week of England’s elimination it will all have vanquished. Those who do not follow football will become experts for two weeks, shout at Roy Hodgson for a bit and then waddle back to their office jobs. It’s not sustainable.
There are undoubtedly thousands of people who pour endless resources into following England home and away, true patriots who should be commended for their commitment. Yet there are also millions who are coerced into a nationalist frenzy by the companies intent on milking the England brand as far as possible every two years. This, of course, also happens at club level but only with the richest, most influential clubs. Below the elite, there are a large number of people who commit themselves for life to their local club, week in, week out, regardless of success. They do not need a Carlsberg advert or a cheap charity single to arouse their loyalties.
Euro 2012 will be a great feast of football, one which I am anticipating greatly. As an Englishman I will take great honour in watching our boys play. At the back of my mind, however, will be a nagging voice of expectancy longing for the patriotic carnival to come to an end so we can finally get back to what really matters.
Do you think club or country comes first? Let me know @acherrie1