This Land Is My Land

3 Apr

Welcome to Pennington, Hampshire. Sitting in the idyllic heart of the New Forest, the casual visitor can wile away the hours with scenic walks surrounded by roaming ponies or just relax in the company of friends in local pubs whilst ensuring the ritual humiliation of the ‘stag’ before his Big Day. Having been summarily despatched from the sofa this weekend, this is where I have been. And a good time was had by all involved. Chilli vodka with the capacity to strip the flesh from the back of one’s throat was consumed and the usual japery that occurs when a group of men get together was very much on show. So far, so manly. And why not?

Enter the Locals. Immediately ill at ease with the number of editions of the Daily Mail and The Sun that were bought at the local newsagent, when engaging in the usual inanity of football banter as conversation-killer with a resident Penningtonian, the Stag who is an Arsenal fan was met with the loaded statement that the problem with The Gunners was that they were “spineless”. Seeking clarification, assuming the reasoning behind this was the fact that Arsenal seem to have thrown away all their chances of securing silverware this season in the space of several weeks, the response was, “Cos, there’s not enough English players.”

And here ladies and gents, is where my liberal sensibilities kicked in, sensing that there were implicit connotations to such wildly generalised opinions. Of course, I can be armed with all the extravagant verbosity of the university-educated but when pitted up against the gnarled, paint-stained fists of the casual racist in a village whose geographical exit points are somewhat hazy, I sensibly chose to keep my own counsel. After all, I like to think of myself as a lover, not a fighter. Attach any other such assumptions to my cowardice and I will merely present you with the argument, in the words of Richard E. Grant’s Withnail, “My wife is having a baby. If you hit me, it’s murder.”

My observations and assumptions can, I’m sure, be easily dismissed as the elitist meanderings of a snob. That I’m sneering at the ‘The Man On The Street’ for having the cojones (I’m so middle class, I don’t use the term balls) to speak openly about what’s on his mind. The accusation might be levelled that I am merely grossly exaggerating a stereotype for literary effect. But I’m not. He’s out there, in the heartland of this fair island, disseminating his particularly vicious brand of misinformed hatred on a daily basis. Or thinking it.

Damon Albarn in his heyday with Blur perfectly encapsulated a certain type of Englishman (or woman – political correctness must be maintained). We all know him. Or her. Full of anger and violence and ready to explode at any given moment. Thwarted by a lack of opportunity and education and with a gullet designed primarily for alcohol consumption. The kind of man who says, “They’re alright, you know, some of ‘em” and in his deepest, darkest moments confesses that, “Hitler didn’t have it all wrong ya know”.

This mentality is perpetuated by stories in the press that salaciously draw upon the apparent cultural differences that exist in this country. Take for instance, the off-the-cuff comment made by Fabio Capello this week, in which the England manager noted that he only really needed about a hundred words to effectively communicate with his squad of players. Cue much naysaying amongst those ‘in the know’. Chief among them was Graham Taylor who pontificated by saying:

“It is beholden of you to actually speak it [English] to a level whereby you are understood.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t Taylor’s mangled use of syntax equally, if not more destructive to the progress of the national team during his tenure as England manager?

Such comments do not offer constructive and tactically astute observations on Capello’s capabilities as a manager. His record stands for itself and if players are incapable of carrying out his instructions with the help of his assembled coaching staff that is by and large English, that is not his fault. It would be absurd to assume that England’s failings on the international circuit have anything to do with a breakdown in linguistic communication.

What this does do however, is paper over the endemic problems that the national game has (a lack of academies, respect for officials and a slavish adoration of the ‘big’ players), whilst also playing to the gallery of xenophobia that unfortunately exists in this country. If Capello is to be brought down, so be it. But to add his reluctance to say, “Can we not knock it?” is patently absurd.

Refreshingly, the friendly between England and Ghana this week epitomised everything that is good about football. An English team shorn of ‘stars’ played as if it wanted to be there, whilst the Ghanaians (both players and fans) added both vibrancy and passion to a game that was no doubt deemed an irrelevance by many. And you can probably be safe in assuming that a vast percentage of those Ghanaian fans are people who have actually made this country their home and have contributed to the cultural diversity that should be celebrated rather than forever attacked by certain sections of the media.

I’m proud of my immigrant heritage. My grandparents arrived on these shores unable to speak the language and toiled in factories to make a life for themselves and the subsequent generations. It’s because of them that I am able to articulate these thoughts with some degree of fluency.

In much the same manner, foreign players and managers have only ever enhanced the cultural landscape of the game in this country. From Ardiles to Cantona, Zola to Wenger, football would have been a far more desolate place without them. So what’s Arsenal’s problem? Nothing. Other than being Arsenal. I wonder if I could have made all these points to Our Man In The Pub? Probably not. We all at times, need to know to keep our opinions to ourselves, because once in a while an impromptu karaoke session is better for all concerned.

Dispatches has had the honour of being nominated for the EPL Talk Blog of the Season. If you would like to vote for it, click here thanks.

Further reading: A Letter To Fabio

Follow Dispatches on Twitter: @gregtheoharis

4 Responses to “This Land Is My Land”

  1. Rob Marrs April 3, 2011 at 22:48 #

    Interesting. Albarn, of course, was a caricature of those who bought his records.

    He hammed it up. All of Blur did. Playing up to, and for, the people who bought his records, who believed that a band was articulating what they felt. It was all pub, football, bank holiday boozing and Gregg’s rolls whilst reading The Sun in your white van.

    As is so often the case with middle class boys (which he was and is) he managed to use his cleverness to entice those not like him.

    Subtle prejudice is rampant across the UK. Most ignore or deny it.


  2. χαλκέντερος σκύλος April 3, 2011 at 23:18 #

    Well said. Excellent piece.
    I’ve got a bastard behind the eyes.

  3. Phil Dodds April 4, 2011 at 16:25 #

    Great article as usual Greg, brilliantly observed.

  4. joel April 6, 2011 at 10:41 #

    I was going to add my views but as i was the stag i cannot really remember much about our conversation other than the fact he was a Leeds fan.

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