In his column in Saturday’s Guardian (26/610), Simon Hoggart commented, as he does, about the faults of some other nation, in this instance France. His remarks were prompted by what else but the football World Cup during which the French side went into melt-down. This is the nation of révolution after all and so collective action to make a point should have come as no surprise albeit resulting in an own goal of a kind.
However what Hoggart perceived was the French weakness not the failings of a group of French players but the French national psyche: references to French racism, the French delusion about their superiority over everyone else and blaming failure on foreign influences.
Now this view, I suggest, is not confined to Hoggart but is rampant among the English media. Could you find a more, let’s not say racist, let’s call it xenophobic bunch with its irrational hatred of most fellow Europeans especially the French and Germans and suspicion and loathing of most everyone else. Then again doesn’t xenophobia pretty well sum up English society?
England is the country which teaches only English history as British history to its schoolchildren despite being in a union with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. British history is confused with English and vice versa. English academics continue to display crass ignorance over their subjects with their use of England for the United Kingdom and English for – there isn’t a collective name for peoples of the UK is there? Students read about how English soldiers defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, how English soldiers played football with the Germans on the eve of battle during the Great War and how England fought and defeated Germany in WWII. The three other partners in the union with England have always been written out of the standard UK histories.
But back to sport. Followers of rugby will know that each season at the start of the 5 then 6 Nations it is expected by the English media, and there is little else in the UK, that England will top the table. The slow realisation that this may not happen is greeted with consternation and bewilderment. But we are England. Everything should be ours. We are the greatest. We are England.
Perhaps it was that English trait, of the individual, which is the antithesis of Scottish collectivism which did for the English football team. Those of us who walk in Scotland’s mountains know how sociable places they are. You and nature then along comes someone obviously not Scottish. ‘Hello’, you say. The other walks by avoiding eye contact. You and him and an empty landscape. Where does that attitude come from? The car in the carpark confirms the English number plate. Does the Scot’s sense of being part of a community come from the clan system – all in it together? We depend on one another, one’s no better than the other. Together we’re stronger. Fanciful, possibly. But perhaps that’s where Scots know we can console each other when failure comes whereas the English have to suffer alone every one of the 50 or so million individuals who believe in their hearts that they wis robbed by a foreign referee of the goal that would have turned the game around and handed deserved victory to England instead of another of its enemies.