For those who insist that sportspeople just want to practise a profession that has nothing to do with politics, and that politics should be kept entirely separate from sport, consider this. As “England”, the football team, exited the World Cup last night, one of the many overpaid football gobshites who substitute verbal diarrhoea for clarity of speech, told 37 million ITV viewers that, despite losing, they had done “the nation” proud and that “the nation” will honour their achievement etc etc. Be in no doubt that the main match commentator, Clive Tyldesley, was being archly political in his propagandist nonsense, whether he quite realised it or not.
There is no nation called England. The nation that he was mixing it up with was one that rejoices under the internationally recognised, legal, title of the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. That’s the UK, for short, not Britain and most certainly not England. Only the spatch-cock nation that is the UK could concoct a situation where it doesn’t have a national football team. Instead three constituent countries and one “province” (Northern Ireland) compete against each other on the international football stage as if they are nations.
Of course nations are subjective things, some exist only in the fact that some people feel an affinity to them, whether a “nation” has national independence, statehood, or not e.g. Palestine, Kurdistan etc. In the same sense Scotland is arguably a nation: there are enough Scots who profess to be Scottish (whether they actually want their country to leave the UK or not). The Welsh ditto, most of whom most definitely do not want to leave the bosom of the UK family. Northern Ireland is most definitely not a nation, nor can you give the term 'country' to an artificially concocted place that nearly a century ago was carved out of Ireland to appease a then overwhelming majority who wanted to continue to politically identify with the British state against the wishes of a minority who identified with a nation called Ireland.
That leaves us with the “nation” that the ITV football commentator may have thought he was referring to: England. England has no political or governmental status, within the UK or internationally. Unlike Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, it has no government, no formal national apparatus. There are laws that apply only to the territory of England, and there is definitely a legal corpus known as English law. But that’s it.
At the start of the match you could hear the Russian stadium commentator, whose serial verbosity periodically interrupted every live World Cup game, say “and now the English national anthem”. The England football team almost sung along as they once again appropriated the UK’s turgid national paen to political quiescence and anti-democratic sentiment. There is no English national anthem. How could there be? ‘English nation’ is an oxymoron. Despite the proliferating born-again Cross of St George enthusiasts, whose empty-headed embrace of the ultimate imagined nation has boomed since England’s second greatest World Cup performance (1990), and a little thing called Brexit (2019?), there aren’t many English men and women who have a clear idea of what their nation actually is. There was no national ambiguity in Zagreb last night though among the fans going ape-shit in a nation of 4m born out of sectarian horror just two and a half decades ago.
If you cannot unavowedly name your nation, then it doesn’t exist (yes, it’s true, a tree falling in a forest doesn’t make a sound if nobody is there to hear it). If, like Tyldesley, your nation is a confusion of England, Britain and, I suspect, some half-cocked rewriting of wartime history, and the role of a few German royals and a half-American half English toff called Churchill in it, then maybe this doesn’t matter. But the reason why people get killed in your name without anybody you elect having any constitutional authority over it, and why the tiresome parade of unelected aristocrats propping up the head of state and her church, continues is because the “English” can’t tell their national arse from Rice Krispies. God Save Us indeed.