The nice thing about cricket is that support for it never goes to far. No matter how impassioned rivalries on a pitch may appear, at the end of a day’s play, supporters of both teams should be able to meet in the bar for a beer. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times recently, I’m a huge cricket fan, and I still have vivid memories of going to Australia to watch the (dismal) 2006/07 Ashes series. The Ashes, of course, is one of the most well-established rivalries in international sport; when tests are on, things can get pretty passionate. Yet that does not stop me having a soft spot for Australia as a whole: it is an astoundingly beautiful country; my favourite band, The Cat Empire, comes from Melbourne; two of my best friends Darryl – through whom I first met Lyn – and James/Tesco – with whom I first went to see The Cat Empire live – are Australian; and so on.
The same goes for India. England are currently there, but watching them play just brings back happy, fascinating memories for me of my trip to India with John three years ago. It truly is an intriguing, exotic place, and watching the tests on tv just makes me wish I could be there watching it live.
The point I’m trying to make is that sport should never go too far. Sports are essentially games, after all, and games should always be played between friends. That’s why I’m so obsessed with the Olympics: what other event can bring people from all over the world together to meet in one city to play games, party and celebrate?
Yet this seems less and less to be the case with football. Only this morning, I saw a report that referees were getting racially abused online. Things seem to be becoming more and more partisan, with rivalries between teams, or the supporters of teams, becoming increasingly vitriolic. I suspect this is a reflection of the atmosphere in the country as a whole: Brexit has stirred up a maelstrom of nationalism and tribalism; people with certain socioeconomic and educational backgrounds, let’s say, seem to feel much freer to direct their animosity towards those they perceive as other, particularly European nations. Rather weirdly, I’ve seen this done more than once using football rhetoric, as if nationalism and support for the England football team were one and the same. That is to say, certain people seemed to think that flying the English flag automatically meant one was doing so in support of the English football team, as if nationalism and football were intertwined.
Thus nationalism/tribalism is finding an expression through football in quite a worrying way. It would be fine if such rivalries stayed on the pitch, but, possibly due to Brexit, the pandemic and the recession, they are overflowing into other areas of culture as people feel the strain more and more. Football lacks the nuance of politics – teams either win or lose – meaning complex issues get boiled down to simple binaries, and opposition groups such as Remainers/Rejoiners become perceived as enemies to be defeated.
It is a very worrying state of affairs: due to Brexit, the world seems to have become simplified into an us and them binary, and the British state has become akin to a football team to support as it plays against it’s European opponents. In such people’s minds, ‘we’ can either win or loose, seemingly forgetting that it is far wiser to remain friends, and to meet in the bar together at the end of the day.