Saturday, 19 June 2010

His Master's Vest

HMV have decided not to sell a range of T-shirts that declare that the wearer would rather anyone but England win the World Cup. It’s a sad day for pessimists. Apart from the fact that that particular T-shirt slogan is on a par with “I Hope Nick Griffin Is Not Elected Pope” and “Please Please Don’t Let The Beatles Reform” when it comes to announcing a fear of unlikely circumstances coming true, it seems that HMV have caved in to pressure from some unpleasant sounding pressure group called Campaign For An English Parliament.

The T-shirt was available in Scotland and Wales and comes hot on the heels of other such allegedly “anti-English” merchandise. For centuries in Wales, it’s been possible to buy all manner of goods emblazoned with the slogan “I Support Two Teams In Rugby. Wales and whoever’s playing England.” A few years back I was in Cardiff market with a Welsh friend of mine who decided to have a bit of fun with the bloke selling these things.

“Do you do T-shirts saying “I Support Two Teams In Cricket. England and whoever’s playing Pakistan?”

“No. That would be racist. This is just a bit of fun”

At the time our smugly liberal consciences were cleared with the joy of making someone make racism out to be a bit of fun. However, I’m not so sure I was right.

I won’t even begin to try and compare the low level of discomfort felt by someone English seeing such merchandise available with the effects of genuine racism. But there is a problem here. It’s important that we stamp out racism and racist language wherever we see or hear it, but at the same time we would appear to be in danger of eradicating one of the most exciting and enjoyable aspects of being a sports fan – namely rivalry and the “banter” that goes with it.

The chances are that many of the people who want anyone but England to win a football match are racists but it’s unlikely that they’re the majority. I’ve lived in Wales for nearly thirty years, and whilst it’s true that you’d be unwise to sing “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” in an Aberdare pub the evening of a Wales defeat to England, it’s also true that most Welsh people harbour anti-English sentiments only for the duration of a match.

If someone wants to wear an Anyone But England t-shirt, let them. Let them bang on about how England raped their country, plundered their natural resources, killed their king, stamped out their language, closed their mines, etc. Fuck it, let them. Chances are they’ll have got it out of their system by half time.

Predictably just about everyone in the Cardiff pub where I watched the England/USA game was cheering on USA, screeching with delight as Robert Green suffered the seconds he’ll most be remembered for. A few English fans took offence at this but there’s no point, it’s just sport. My Welsh friends quite often tell me it’s the casual racism of the England supporters that gets their goat, unaware of the ironies inherent in such generalisations. Or they’ll talk about the stupidity of seeing white flags in every window forgetting that 85% of Welshmen think it’s perfectly natural to wear the same clothes as everyone else on an international day.

I have never felt the urge to own an England flag or football shirt. I think I had my face painted once but both painter and myself were fucking wrecked at the time and ended up wandering around Carmarthen looking more like a pair of recently mauled mime artists than patriotic scoundrels.

Anyone But England isn’t a racist slogan. It’s not worth getting upset about. HMV, like Morrison’s before them, have let the idiots win. I quite like people wearing them, it makes me know who to avoid jumping up and down next to should the miracle of an England goal occur, it highlights the person in the room most likely to provoke a fight with me, the person most likely (should they have been born English) to join something as predictably right wing as the Campaign for English Democracy.

Your true fan doesn’t want any part of that, just enjoys the banter. And if I was secretly a bit pissed off at the pro-Algerian chanting coming from my neighbours last night, I’m sure he will have seen the funny side of me doing the haka in his back garden this morning.

Although, looking back, perhaps I should have kept my pants on in front of his kids.


  1. HMV have now backtracked from this. The fucking Angolan bastards.

  2. I lived in North Wales for 10 years. Their anti- English sentiment is permanent and constant. When I was about 10 the local kids even tried to bully me. Once.

  3. You must be living in a different part of North Wales than I, Gemma, as the sentiment is reversed. For all of my life 'being Welsh' was seen as a joke. Although to be fair i do come from the ugly town of Rhyl (its name derives from the Welsh word 'Hyll', meaning 'The Ugly') which is more commonly known as the smallest suburb of Liverpool. Although i know of anti-English sentiment in North Wales, it's not rife. Mostly, and i don't like bringing this up due to Paul's article, it's a joke. It's the same as picking on the kid with glasses, ginger hair, or more than one Foo Fighters album.
    Sorry, experiences are different for all, i don't know why i ramble, but where I'm from, i once got into a fight for wearing a Wales shirt and speaking Welsh. In Wales. I also nearly got glassed in Chester for speaking Welsh. The skinhead started shouting about 'Them fuckin' Poles'.
    Paul, good article, I would type some sort of positive feedback laced with minor criticisms, but I'm hungover from having celebrated England's performance. They're joke. Drop Lampard amd stick Cole on the left.