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