The Odd Logic of Being an England Fan

Supporting the Three Lions is easier to do when you live in Warminster (wherever the hell that is)

When England plays Italy on Saturday and cameras pan around the stadium in Manaus—carefully avoiding any close ups of the quality of the pitch, no doubt —try to check out the place names on the hundreds of St. George’s flags draped around from the stands: Rochdale, Southend, Peterborough, Warminster, and so on. Many of these places I couldn’t even find on a map, and I’m English.

It should be no surprise that the group of people who consider themselves fans of the national team overlaps almost completely with the group of people who support one of the country’s 90 professional clubs. Most of them support a team with no real chance of true glory at club level, but there are also huge numbers of Chelsea, West Ham, Newcastle, fans who also want England to win. But there are several exceptions. You won’t see many flags from Manchester United, where it isn’t uncommon to see a “Republik of Mancunia” banner at Old Trafford. Some Liverpool fans sing “We’re not English We’re Scouse” at Anfield.

If you know that you’ll probably never get to winning the Premier League, watch your team qualify for a European competition, or even make it to the later rounds of the FA Cup—if you knew that a player of Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard’s caliber will probably never wear your team’s colors—what do you do?

Your only option is to cheer for England. And a fat lot of good that’ll do you in the glory stakes. But hey, at least in theory there are some world class players to get behind, rather than the cloggers you have the misfortune to watch week in, week out.

England v Sweden - International FriendlyHow can I loathe players like John Terry and Gary Neville but then put all that aside for one month when they don England’s white and shuffle around a pitch, misplacing passes, and generally looking like they’ve never seen a football before in their lives?

But glory hunting with England is only half the story. As an Englishman who has lived abroad for over a decade, I’ve watched the groundswell of national pride in the motherland from afar. The London Olympics, the Queen’s jubilee, and a royal wedding have all stoked our national fire in recent times. For a while, it was seen as aggressively nationalistic to wave a cross of St. George flag, especially after it was adopted by the National Front (a far-right movement) and even the United Kingdom Independence Party as a symbol of white “English supremacy.”

Of course, the average football fan doesn’t think about these things at the game— it’s a place to meet friends, blow off steam, and revel in our national sport. And hopefully swear loudly at the referee when he misses blatant hand balls.

As a kid I was England all the way—Mexico ’86 and Italia ’90 catapulted my love affair with football. But as I got older (and Liverpool less successful), my support for England waned. Euro ’96 was the last time I genuinely had an affinity for the three lions.

Now, I’m torn. How can I loathe players like John Terry and Gary Neville but then put all that aside for one month when they don England’s white and shuffle around a pitch, misplacing passes, and generally looking like they’ve never seen a football before in their lives? Especially when my captain—Stevie G.—was constantly blamed by fans and media for being incapable of playing in tandem with Frank Lampard.

But things are different now. If Adam Lallana ends up at Liverpool, there will be seven players from my club on the England roster. How can I not root for them? If England gets out of their group—a tough ask—and add a little of the attacking flair Liverpool showed last season, then it could be a good tournament for England fans, whichever club they support. Whether they can or not depends on the coach Roy Hodgson. Just don’t ask Liverpool fans what they think of him.

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