Fifa is worried. It is freaking out over the possibility that England fans will take a Brexit-related swipe at Belgian fans in tomorrow’s game. Our boys face the Belgians at Kaliningrad tomorrow evening. And given that a great many England fans are a) fond of Brexit and b) known to have a few pints ahead of a game, Fifa stiffs are concerned that a bit of Brexit-loving and Belgium-bashing might leak into their chants. ‘There is a risk of punishment’, Fifa has warned members of the En-ger-land lobby who are thinking of mentioning Brexit.
What a bunch of miserabilists. It is further proof that the overlords of football don’t actually understand football. The role of the football fan is straightforward: to big up one’s team and dent the confidence of the other. By any means necessary. Well, by any words necessary. And what better way to bring the Belgians down a peg or two than by reminding them that the largest electoral bloc in British history recently voted to extract Brussels’ snout from our political affairs. It’s a trump card. It would give England fans, and possibly the players, the edge of swagger they’ll need to win in a game that promises to be tight.
Posh NuFootball bores, the kind who describe Italian football as ‘balletic’ and who dry-heave at the sight of the tattooed bellies of proletariat fans, are forever trying to sanitise the terraces. They want all mick-taking chants and insulting language expunged from the beautiful game. They fail to realise how key this stuff is to whipping up the intense passions and patriotism that are central to those 90 minutes of play. Which isn’t surprising given they usually attend their first match when they’re about 30 and only after having read an Observer Magazine piece about stadium food-vans now offering fairtrade options.
Fifa says Brexit-talk is banned at tomorrow’s game because there are rules against ‘displaying insulting or political slogans’. Number 1, Brexit isn’t an insulting word. It was an enormous act of free and fair democracy through which millions of Brits expressed their political aspirations. We cannot let Fifa, cheered by depressed liberals here at home, conspire in the transformation of Brexit into a swear word.
And number 2, for all Fifa’s talk about clamping down on political imagery at games, who wants to bet that it wouldn’t have a big problem if people waved the EU flag? I wager that if any England fans chant loudly their love for Brexit tomorrow, they’ll be grabbed by the scruffs of their necks, but if a Belgian fan politely waves the blue and yellow starry flag of the Brussels-based oligarchy he will probably be left alone.
The World Cup is all about taking pride in your national team, and by extension in your nation. And — I know this will have some in the political class reaching for the smelling salts — many Brits take pride in Brexit. They see it as a cause of national renewal. It actually makes perfect sense for cheerers of the English team to mention something that is absolutely central to the English experience. When, during Euro 2016 in France, England fans chanted ‘Fuck off Europe, we’re all voting out’, the commentariat winced. But this is football in a nutshell: you wind up the other side and you express national pride. (And who didn’t have a chuckle when fans changed the chant to ‘Fuck off Europe, we all VOTED out’ after the referendum took place?)
The World Cup has exposed how much of a problem some people have with national pride and even national identity these days. Ours is an era in which every identity is celebrated except the national one. You identify as a gender-neutral person with emotional difficulties? Excellent, have a Guardian column to explain why! You identify as British, or even worse English? Shame on you.
This is why a senior police officer advised England fans not to take the St George’s flag to Russia. ‘It can come across almost as imperialistic,’ he said. This is why the BBC received complaints about Danny Murphy’s commentary during the England v Tunisia game, during which he referred to the England team as ‘we’: such feelings of patriotic attachment are impolitic in our supposedly post-borders era. And this is why the likes of Emily Thornberry and other Corbynistas cannot pass a council estate covered in the English flag without grimacing or tweeting.
Because national identity is the great no-no. We’re all meant to bow instead before the pseudo-cosmopolitan cult of ‘the end of nations’ in which there are only individuals and global cliques and nothing in between. What a dispiriting vision. I for one am delighted that England fans are reminding us that some people still feel an attachment to the nation and to the sense of collectivity and citizenship that the nation makes possible. My god, I hope they chant about Brexit tomorrow.
Congratulations to Radio 4’s Today programme for the amusing item on Brexit football chants. Very good. Radio 4 being Radio 4, however, there was a clear Remain bias to their chants. Also they lacked something of the sweet nihilism that all the best football chants have.
So here, in the interests of balance and free speech, are a few we came up with in The Spectator office yesterday. We just about resisted the natural urge to rhyme with Jean-Claude Juncker, and now we dare to dream that one of them will be sung at the Kaliningrad stadium tonight for England’s match against Belgium.
Please send your own chants (preferably with audio file) to firstname.lastname@example.org and put Brexit Football Chant Competition in the subject field. We’ll give a bottle of Pol Roger for the best.