My foray into the European Football Championships has me thinking about Britishness…
By Katie Garner
There was a time in my life when football was actually incredibly important to me. As a nine-year-old I loved parading in my red England signed top and black short combo that I received on my birthday, I loved collecting the large silver coins embossed with famous players and I loved playing headers in the park with my dad, strapping on Manchester United goalie gloves. I even attended a six week football training course over the school holidays, dribbling with the best of them. Oh how things have changed…
Now, when the other half mentions that his beloved Arsenal are playing, I automatically think what things I can be doing while he watches the game, wondering who on earth created a game that was 90 whole minutes long? I have kind of adopted the traditional female stance of ‘its men running around a pitch. Big deal’. I’m not saying that I don’t watch any football, there are times I cannot escape the Gunners, and I sit and watch, and sometimes find myself surprised if it has been a good game. I suppose I would say that I am now indifferent to football.
However, football fever has surely hit with the recent Euros (embarrassingly mid-England game I had to double check with the other half what tournament it actually was), and with it the usual hype surrounding the will-they-won’t-they England squad. A sports journalist friend of ours is very into all kinds of sport, and football season basically entails everyone gathering round his house to watch every game with a multitude of beer and everyone in the group doing game predictions (currently 7th out of 16 – I’m getting there). Yesterday we all gathered on his squidgy brown sofas to watch the England game, scoffing homemade curry and naan breads, as they tackled admittedly average side Sweden.
I was so surprised when the first half concluded – I had actually been so into the game that the 45 minutes had seemed to fly by and I was soon topping up my designated driver dose of fizzy water. Granted, I had a small Twitter/Facebook break during the slightly calmer moments of the second half, by whenever England scored the room would just erupt in a series of loud yelps and cries packed with sporting passion, and a mad lunge to the TV, next to which stood a cork board with flags and numbers showing the scores of the day. Numbers would eagerly be ripped off and replaced with the next one up, the shouts turning to chanting. And yes, I’ll admit, I was doing it too.
I tried to pinpoint exactly what was making this game more interesting to me – it can’t have been the skill involved as even Alan Shearer wasn’t impressed – but then it clicked. I was supporting the Three Lions – representatives of my home country were showing what they were made of abroad, hoping to bring glory upon themselves, their family and also their moany, rain-drenched nation. I couldn’t really care less who they were, I didn’t hardly know any of their names (yes, I knew Walcott – I’m not that bad) yet I was cheering them on anyway because they were our national team.
In relation to badminton, it was probably also partly the reason I adored Gail Emms so much when she was playing. Yes, she was an incredible net player with deadly precision and I admired her shots immensely, but she was also English and the one I would be cheering for over all the equally good Chinese, Korean and Japanese teams.
With the Olympics coming to London, our capital city has blossomed with patriotic pride and splashes of red, white and blue becoming our new signature. It is actually giving us the opportunity to get really into all the wondering sports that will be showcased and enjoyed. Usually, we switch on our televisions and although we cheer for England, we always secretly believe that the other guys will take it. However, I believe that this year the atmosphere has been very different, almost as if because these legendary games will be taking place on home soil, they have now become more accessible and reachable, not just for us as sports fans, but also to our hard working athletes. Hopes are actually high this year, with English and British athletes getting the spotlight like never before, especially Games poster girl Jessica Ennis.
Yes, culturally the British have always been quite patriotic. Perhaps not as visible as Americans although more devoted than Europeans. We love the pound coin, the Queen and having barbeques in the rain. We love Wimbledon, Wembley and putting our players on pedestals.
What made the football game yesterday so good was that I had something to cheer on. I know it may sound soppy, but you are never going to undo those bonds of your home country as they truly have shaped the person that you are. Being patriotic doesn’t have to be extreme and supporting England in all their endeavours this summer is a great place to start. We’re British, we’re proud of that, and we have always been known to be stubborn to the last moment. So eat a 99 flake under a brolly, top up the Pimms and let’s show the world how supportive we really are.