Posts Tagged With: The Three Lions

Nor shall my sword sleep in my hands…

England is not just beer and fish and chips and God Save The Queen t-shirts...is it?

England is not just beer and fish and chips and God Save The Queen t-shirts…is it?

In Brazil I’m known as a ‘Brit’, but I don’t know what the term means. I have a British passport, and yet I’m as English as a wet Sunday in Wakefield. If I was Welsh, Irish or Scottish, there is no way I would refer to myself as ‘British’. I would be proud of my nationality and make sure everybody knew I was not to be lumped together with the dreaded English! But, like it or not, I am not from any of those other, satellite countries, I am from England’s green and pleasant land.

Why do I always feel ill when England play football?

Why do I always feel ill when England play football?

So, if I defiantly refer to myself as English, what do I mean by that? What is special about me? How is an English person identifiable? At the risk of unearthing a Pandora’s Box of stereotypes, I would like to suggest that the English do have certain characteristics that set them apart. This week I gave a talk about ‘Englishness’ to a group of Brazilian undergraduates, so I had to make an effort to find something tangible about the English that I could explain to them.

So, here is a list of characteristics and quirks I jotted down on the back of a buff envelope on the bus last Tuesday:

'What an extraordinary use of a four-letter word - musn't let my servants see this'

‘What an extraordinary use of a four-letter word – mustn’t let Aunt Dolly see this’

Sense of Humour: anathema to the English sensibility are people who take themselves seriously. That’s because we have an acutely-developed sense of irony and human folly. Showing off is sneered at mercilessly: ‘Who do you think you are?’ Self-deprecation is the English charm. That and satire, parody and general mischief-making. You should never be able to tell when an Englishman is being serious.

Writing: this is where irony pervades, from Shakespeare and Jane Austen to newspaper columnists and song lyrics. Through irony, the English reader, sitting on the Clapham omnibus, is able to smile at the intended victim and at herself. Irony is the distance we need from other people and their ridiculous behaviour; but it also mirrors our own pretentions and weaknesses.

Politics, the church, what they teach you at school...it's all bull, says John

English institutions are a joke, says John

Music: ‘quiet desperation is the English way’ sang Pink Floyd (nicked from Thoreau, I’ll have you know), but my touchstone for English rock is John Lennon’s A Day in the Life, a gloriously random, satirical swipe at English institutions which could have been spoken by a Shakespearean fool. Why are the English good at pop and rock? Because the good ones see through the bull. Take another look at the anarchic God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols. A fascist regime?

Acting: former director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Sir Peter Hall, famously quipped that the English were a nation of philistines who happened to be good at the arts. Mention the words ‘theatre’ or ‘opera’ down the pub and seconds later you will be nursing your pint alone and red-faced. But the English are born actors because they need masks to hide behind. England is a stage and everybody is having you on – that way the messy, emotional baggage can stay safely in the locker.

Get all that gentlemanly anger out of your system: English cricket

How to get all that gentlemanly anger out of your system: English cricket

Sport: forget football and rugby, the true English sport is cricket. All those school beatings and repressed sexuality come surging out on the village green where sado-masochism rules: the bowler wants to maim the batsman, and the batsman has to be deranged to face a 100 mile-an-hour missile whooshing towards his unmentionables. Besides, only the English could devise a game that lasts until the middle of next week.

Trainspotting? English people need hobbies for long dark winters

Trainspotting? English people need hobbies for long dark winters

Hobbies: of course the English have hobbies – what else are we going to do cooped up in the house for 9 months? Train set builders, matchstick guitar makers, beer brewers, you name it. Most of us collect and hoard stuff to pore over through those long dark nights, filling little libraries with jumble-sale LPs and Narnia books.

DIY: an Englishman is a chimpanzee with a screwdriver. Pay somebody to fix my dripping tap? – you must be joking! Rewiring, plumbing, laying floors – us blokes are too proud to let you think we can’t sort it ourselves. The result? Most English ‘homes’ are jerry-built death traps.

Politics: conservative with a small ‘c’ it’s true, though the English despise authority and have a rebellious spirit: inside every timid gill-sipper is an angry young man barking to get out. Oddly, the most popular institution in England is a pure socialist invention: the NHS.

'Continental people have sex lives: the English have hot-water bottles' (or a secret copy of Fanny Hill)

‘Continental people have sex lives: the English have hot-water bottles’ (or a secret copy of Fanny Hill)

Religion: the Anglican church, with all those robes and closet Catholics, is for wusses – the true English religion has always been hard-nosed nonconformism. With their wilful work-ethic, tasteless food, matronly black looks and a horror of the human body, the Puritans have spread guilt and shame far and wide in the ‘Sceptred Isle’. Many were those poor creatures who topped themselves rather than face the vicar’s wrath once their grubby copy of Fanny Hill had been discovered under the mattress.

This is where the list runs out, folks, though I cannot end this portrait without mentioning the secret that dare not speak its name: the English are obsessively tight-fisted and can spot a ‘rip-off’ a mile away. When an English person walks into a supermarket they make a beeline for the ‘Special Offers‘, even if it means eating a dinner of mini pork pies mixed with chicken korma and week-old sherry trifle.

Bearing all this in mind, you can surely forgive me for not being patriotic. But when the Three Lions sing the national anthem on the football field the hairs on the back of my neck refuse to stay down. The strangest thing is I always feel proud to see 3 or 4 black players in the England team. Why?

Being English doesn't mean being white

Being English doesn’t mean being white

I think it must be that I want the world to recognise that England has always been a country of invasion and immigration, from the Jutes and Guilherme the Conqueror to the Windrush Caribbeans and the parents of Amir Khan. England was never a land of quaint villages and polite white nobodies; all such images are, by definition, imaginary. In my experience, most English people have a dynamic, but healthy, love/hate relationship with the place. The London-based Jamaican poet Linton Kwesi Johnson once wrote a poem called Inglan is a Bitch. I think I know what he means.

 

 

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Football, Music, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Man’s best friend is the underdog…with orange boots

Giant-killers Costa Rica celebrate another World Cup goal

Magic orange boots: giant-killers Costa Rica celebrate another World Cup goal

Whatever you think about the World Cup, the tournament is nothing without upsets. If all the big favourites keep winning we start to switch off. We desperately need giant-killers. We need the minnows to beat the sharks, the underdogs to crush the titans. It seems to be part of our nature, an inner urge or desire that stretches back to great archetypes in Western culture.

One of the first versions of giant-killing has to be David and Goliath, the story of a boy and his home-made catapult who knocks down a great ogre. Then Shakespeare gets in on the act, of course, with Henry V, the English King who shouted “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” before crushing the mighty French army at Agincourt. Literature loves the underdog: think of Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre and that unforgettable fairy tale The Tortoise and the Hare – all stories of the poor, weak and humble who triumph against all odds.

Please, sir, could you tell me where the nearest church is?

Please, sir, you couldn’t spare a few shillings by any chance?

So far in this World Cup we have seen at least three giant-killing performances: Costa Rica stunning Uruguay 3:1 and then beating Italy, and Chile knocking the cup-holders Spain clean out of the competition with a convincing 2:0 victory. But we need more, and without them even the most dyed-in-the-wool football fans will start to get bored. Come to think of it, FIFA itself is a kind of giant that could do with knocking down a peg or two.

Eduardo Vargas scores for Chile and sends Spain back to Madrid

Eduardo Vargas scores for Chile and sends Spain back to Madrid

I suffered at the hands of the mighty institution just the other day as I tried to get into the stadium here in Porto Alegre to see Australia vs Holland with a ham and cheese sandwich. The woman at the gate searched my bag and told me I would have to throw the offending butty away or eat it right there in front of her. “But why?”, I pleaded. “FIFA doesn’t allow any food to be taken inside”, I was told. So I asked for an explanation. I got one. FIFA wants you to spend your money only on its selected, sponsored, over-priced food and drink products inside the ground. Here I recognised the ugly face of commercial sport where profit always comes before any other consideration. My wholewheat sandwich was made with love and had just the right amount of butter and mustard. The pricey hot-dog inside the ground was a sorry, soggy mass of junk. Only Oliver Twist would have eaten it with relish.

Oliver Twist: "Please, sir, can I have some more?"

Oliver Twist: “Please, sir, I want some more”

There are other problems of being an England fan in Brazil. Embarrassment is one of them as the national team keep losing and I feel less like sporting my St George’s Cross floppy hat. One Brazilian TV pundit made an interesting point after The Three Lions lost again – this time to Uruguay. The United Kingdom looks quite big on the map, he explained, but England is only a little country. And some of the best players in the UK happen to be Welsh, or Scottish, or Irish – players who wouldn’t dream of switching allegiance. What he failed to mention was that England is a nation of amateurs. From their inept enthusiasm for DIY (Do It Yourself), fixing the car, putting on a play or setting up a business, “professional” sounds way too serious to English ears. We like nothing more than a botched job that saves a few quid.

This jerry-built mentality also affects sport. You see, English people are too bloated with irony to take anything seriously, including professional football. The English Football Association (FA) is a good example. Imagine FIFA run by boy scouts high on cider and you won’t be far off the mark. But though deep down I love this reckless, have-a-go English approach to everything, I am living in Brazil now. And there is a World Cup on…I need a team to support. England have bombed, so how about getting behind the Brazilian boys?

What's the UK...and which bit is England?

What is the UK and where is England?

The dilemma is, Brazil is one of the favourites, so it wouldn’t be right to shout for a giant, would it? Probably not, though Brazil is a young country with serious social problems, stark inequality and dire poverty, so it doesn’t feel so bad wanting them to win. Actually, I really want to see a certain team lose. Germany, of course. Isn’t that horrid of me? It’s not so much the war that sticks in my craw, it’s just that the Germans are so efficient, serious and professional – all the things the English are not. One of my favourite philosophers was German: Friedrich Nietzsche. He said when you meet someone who is obviously superior to you in every way, the only pure feeling you can have towards them is love. L-O-V-E. But loving the Germans? Hmm. 

No – I will get behind any team whose players are humble, a touch amateurish even, yet full of fight and with a lovable sense of humour. Pity the Irish aren’t playing…

Categories: Blighty, Brazil, Football, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

World Cup Brazil – three lions and a few white elephants…

 

Dear Mr FIFA, please could you tell me where all the money goes?

Dear Mr FIFA, please could you tell me where all the money goes?

One damp morning last week I was sitting on the rocky bus to college when suddenly my heart leapt: I spotted a picture in the local newspaper and a story about the Red Devils, coming to Brazil for the World Cup. Not Manchester United, but a group of ecstatic South Korean youngsters coming over here to support their national team. The photograph captures 120 excited, smiling faces, full of hope and expectation. It’s a far cry from the mood of many of my colleagues and students here in Porto Alegre. So why has the mood soured just before the greatest sports tournament on the planet? Why can’t Brazilians get behind the national team?

The Red Devils - 120 happy South Korean youngsters heading for Brazil

The Red Devils – 120 happy South Korean youngsters heading for Porto Alegre, Brazil

Well, the short answer is FIFA. The all-powerful football federation has had the Brazilian government in an arm-lock for the the last year, insisting its high standards are met. Sod the poor state schools and hospitals – get those stadiums finished and up-to-scratch, whatever the extra cost. So the government has forked out billions in tax-payers’ money to build a host of white elephants, just so FIFA executives don’t lose face (and the odd million in profits). Of course, having unfinished stadiums has had its funny side. One English ex-pat here in Porto Alegre, on seeing a Facebook picture of his mate’s England-Uruguay tickets bought back home posted a note: “I take it you’re coming a couple of weeks early to help build the stadium?”, and the mate posted back, “Of course – I’ve already packed a bag of cement in my suitcase!”.

It seems the 2014 World Cup will be remembered for the wrong reasons, particularly in Brazil. But in fact, they will be for the right reasons. Like the fact that World Cups are hideously expensive spectacles that do nothing for a country’s economy but everything for FIFA plc. These tournaments suck countries dry, leaving black holes in government coffers and stadiums that will never again be even half-full. One economic analyst has calculated that the total public spending on the tournament would be enough to pay Brazil’s annual social welfare bill – the Bolsa Familia – twice over. So Brazilians are torn: most of them believe the cup has done more harm than good for Brazil. And yet.

The newly refurbished Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre

The new look Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre. Wow!

When the boys in yellow take to the field and Brazil’s national anthem begins to play millions of stomachs will be aflutter and hairs will be standing up on the backs of necks in living rooms and bars across this vast expanse of a country. Perhaps there will be some tangible euphoria if Brazil keep winning their games. Perhaps people will be singing and dancing in the streets. Last year Brazil gave Spain, the current holders of the cup, a good trouncing, so the squad has a great chance of going all the way to the final. It’s going to be fun to watch, with 5 games happening in the newly-refurbished Beira Rio stadium, less than half-an-hour away from where I am writing this.

The Three Lions - "Come on England!" (and no penalties...)

The Three Lions – “Come on England!” (and no penalties…)

Trouble is, I can’t support Brazil. Not with body and soul. I love Brazil, but I am English through and through. If you cut me open I’m full of warm beer and Bird’s custard. So what am I to do? Paint a St George’s cross on my face and get behind the Three Lions, of course. The World Cup seems to make patriots of even the most liberal-minded people. I have often asked myself why I feel so strongly about the England football team. They are usually appalling to watch, the fans are mainly saddos and when the penalty shoot-out comes, it’s time to run for the exit. So why do I continue this madness?

 

My childhood...watching the fab trolley buses in Bradford

My childhood…watching the fab trolley buses in Bradford

Well, it’s love. A strange kind of love, but love nonetheless. It’s hard to describe, but I suppose it’s a love of childhood, hearth and home, the streets where I played tin-can-squat with my pals. It’s all my English travels and the wacky people I met on the journey. It’s old black and white photographs of Bradford buses. It’s Philip Larkin and Monty Python, The Rolling Stones and Al Read. It’s the rolling English drunkard and the rolling English road. It’s salt and vinegar and cheese and onion. It’s Shakespeare and J. B. Priestley and the English language. But it’s more than all that: it’s a kind of feeling you just can’t define in words. I don’t think most people know why they feel emotional about their nation. It’s a question nobody thinks to ask.

Half-time snack, anyone? Cheese and Onion or Salt and Vinegar?

Half-time snack – Cheese and Onion or Salt and Vinegar?

However, there is one big question I’d like to ask FIFA as this global extravaganza is about to kick off. What happens to the billions made through sponsorship and TV rights? I don’t mean to be churlish, but I think Brazilians and the rest of us watching this World Cup have a right to know.

Categories: Brazil, Football, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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