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What will Gallas and the rest make of all the English flags on Monday night?

Numerous blogs and news services such as RedAction are currently urging supporters to turn up on Monday night for the Cardiff game with St George flags.

National flags are banned at the Ems, although no action is taken against supporters in the away section for waving them.  It is anticipated that a lot of Cardiff supporters will wave Red Dragon flags, and so, it is argued, that we should wave St George flags.  It is argued that if lots of people do it, the officials will simply let it happen.

Normally I am 100% with RedAction.  As an organisation it has done more to lift the atmosphere at Highbury and the Ems than any other group.  Their chants are inventive and highly amusing, and their hearts are 1000% red with white sleeves.

But, for the first time, I’d disagree with them on this one   National flags are about nationalism – the support of one’s country, right or wrong.  By chance of birth I am a Londoner, English, British and a citizen of the European Union, but none of that makes England the best country in the world.  Indeed if I read my country’s history I spend much of the time being ashamed.  Yes I am British – a citizen of the country that invented the concentration camp (the Boer War)… (at this point the original draft of this text I went on and on with 20 or more examples of things that make me ashamed to be British, but I know I’m getting carried away, so I cut it).

Nationalism is not a good thing, and is only one step away from racism – in fact it is the excusable face of racism.  You can say “Frenchie” as an insult and get away with it, although curiously you can’t say “Paki” and expect the same response from the law.

What Arsenal celebrates is diversity – how a range of nationalities can be brought together to play football.  If Arsenal supporters start to support the concept of nationalism then we are supporting the FA, UEFA and FIFA in their move to restrict the number of non-English players that can play for our club.  We are supporting the restrictions of Lord Triesman that would have stopped the transfer of Cesc, Toure, Vela, Denilson etc.

Arsenal is historically a club that uses non-English players.  In the 19th and early 20th century, the founding fathers of our club regularly put out mostly Scottish teams, because most of the work-force at the Woolwich Arsenal was Scottish.  When I started to watch the club in the 1950s we had a Welsh goalkeeper, and an Irish defence.  Long before the Lord Wenger we celebrated our greatest player as one who was not only non-English, but also non-British (Liam Brady).   After years in the desert we turned to another non-Englishman (George Graham) finally to break the Liverpool grip and win us the league.

So why now celebrate our Englishness?   If it is just because a load of guys from Cardiff set the agenda, then we are being stupid.   The agenda should be set by us, not by anyone else.

To my mind, if you want a political flag to fly, try the flag of the European Union, an institution upon which our club’s current approach to football, and all our recent successes, are built.  The EU gave us the free movement of workers upon which the Wenger teams are built – and we might one day care to express our gratitude.

I don’t know if Gallas, Vela, van Persie, Cliche, Sagna, Toure, Denilson, Song, and the rest will notice the English flags, and the chants of “Engerland Engerland Engerland”, but if they do, I wonder what they will make of it all.

(c) Tony Attwood 2009

10 comments to What will Gallas and the rest make of all the English flags on Monday night?

  • nigel

    excellent post tony, agreed totally

  • aqqe

    My sentiments exactly. Nothing good ever comes from Nationalism. It also makes you wonder, during this international break, why we even have internationals? Countries are no more than a few lines on a map and a book of laws. Granted, the Euros (perhaps not for England though) and the World Cups are always a pleasure – although perhaps because they take place in the otherwise boring summer – to watch, even if I don’t cheer particularly much for my own country lately.

    A couple of Arsenal flags would be brilliant though. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see the Emirates as decorated during home games as the Signal Iduna Park Stadium of Borussia Dortmund? That would be something to strive towards.

  • Davi

    Wow, this is really unusual for a football article
    absolutely agree – this is one of the things i love about this club is that its not about where you’re from
    nationalism disguised as patriotism just promotes blind following
    its a useful tool for governments

  • caesy

    I know you are right….but its still hard sometimes to be patient. Wenger’s massive early success sometimes works against him!

    It seems pretty obvious that Chelsea’s business model is unsustainable and that they’ll be in serious shit within the next 5 years….if they aren’t already Laughing .

    Liverpool are already experiencing financial problems and that’s before they even start building their new stadium…..

    Man Utd? They are such a “global brand” that I can’t see them failing, despite being in a very dodgy financial position themselves.

    Arsenal? Wenger has done a superb job in setting up the club for fantastic success over the next decades. But for those splashing out top prices for tickets today….you can understand a little frustration!

  • don't believe the hype

    Couldn’t agree more Tony – Arsenal flags yes, national flags no!

  • Consolsbob

    I agree with you on nationalism Tony but I can’t share your shame at being born British. I can list a reason to be proud of what this nation has achieved that I would think would be longer than you list of what makes you ashamed.

    As for flying the EU flag. Why? Have the Germans, French and Italians, to name but three members, have blameless pasts? I think not.

    Shame Tony. Too many today are prepared to knock this country. It has given to lot to me and I suspect you and most others who read this blog too. It has even given a bit to many people in many other nations. Ask the Dutch for instance.

  • Jonny Neale

    I echo these sentiments but I am nonetheless proud to be English. I would say that one of the great qualities we possess is the insight to look at ourselves/our people and see the flaws that you chose not to list. Not all nations have this quality. Yes we have pride but many English men are openly ashamed of the behaviour of our compatriots – myself included. This is good.

    Nonetheless, as someone more famous than me once said –

    “Always remember you are an English man which means that, in life, you have won first prize”.

    Good post, as ever, Tony.

  • Nhan Le

    I’m no English but I think that the shameful things in the past or right now are not a reason not to be proud of your country. Expressing pride of your identity, whether it’s national, provincial, class or ethnic identity in a respectful way is always something nice to do. If anything, that’s probably 95% of being a football fan is all about – creating your identity around a team and what you believe that the team stand for.
    Yes, the current Arsenal team does not feature an English starter in it (at least until Theo comes back). And yes, the club and its manager celebrate its multinational, meritocratic squad as a matter of principle. But the success of Arsenal has plenty of English elements. We are a member of the most financially dynamic league in the world in the last decade. We benefit from solid income and stable organization of the league. Foreign players come to our club and learn to love the club and its values thanks mostly to the selfless support of all-English fans. Even Arsenal’s cosmopolitan, multinational features wouldn’t have been a something for Gooners to be proud of without the openmindedness of the English people. I can say more about what I as a foreigner see in Arsenal’s great value that stem from its English-ness. I think celebrating the English identity of Arsenal without looking down upon other people does not necessarily mean bigotry nor chauvinism. If anything by doing it properly you’ll even make Arsenal a greater football club for all its fans.

  • Steve

    I must agree with Consolbob on this one. Much of the distaste people agree on about, ‘Englishness’ is the nonsense written in the media. For example, whenever we play Germany the stupid media bring up WW2, why? The article raises some very valid points, but, I for one am still a proud Englishman.
    As for flying the flag, the Welsh are by far the most nationalistic bunch of all the home nations.

  • irishgooner

    have to disagree on this one…Nationalism is a good thing, and as for being only one step away from racism, thats for those who choose to take that step, being proud of your country is just a step up from being pround of your area, your community. its the same pride that caused me to go crazy on wednesday night in dublin watching robbie keane score twice and it isnt too often that happens!