At first glance, this seems an innocuous comment about players born outside of England from the Arsenal and England midfielder Jack Wilshere. On closer inspection though it leads us down a slippery slope of how we understand our national identity.
Firstly, it is worth pulling out the footballing implications of his comments. It would have resulted in players such as John Barnes (Jamaica born), Matt Le Tissier (Guernsey born), Owen Hargreaves (Canada born) all being excluded from our national team.
But this obviously goes so much further than football. It shows how we understand someone’s chances of being truly accepted in England when they have been born abroad. Jack’s comments essentially say that whatever your circumstances, reasons for coming to England, you can never truly be “English” unless you were lucky enough to be born here.
This attitude, when taken to its logical ends results in the most barbaric of conclusions. Allow me to illustrate.
In 2002 Austin Moses, and his wife Josephine, were killed in northern Nigeria. They were both active parts of the minority Christian community who had been facing increased levels of persecution and violence since the imposition of Sharia Law two years earlier.
Their son, Victor Moses, was orphaned at the age of 11.
One week later Victor, paid for by his family, arrived in the UK and claimed asylum and was granted refugee status.
3 years later Victor scored 50 goals in one season for Crystal Palace’s under 14s team. A year after that he was selected to represent England’s under 16s. He then proceeded to play for England at under 17s, 18s and 21s. He then chose to play for Nigeria.
Now, the question for Jack is this – should Victor have been banned from representing England because he was not born in the UK? If so, would you have expected him to play for Nigeria in the years after fleeing for his life or would you have denied him the chance to play international football as a youngster?
Any person with an ounce of compassion would say that of course he should be able to play for England!
But as I already stated, this isn’t just about football. It is about saying that Englishness is far more complicated than simply where you were born.
But then again we wouldn’t want the likes of Bradley Wiggins (born in Belgium) or Mo Farah (born in Somalia) representing us now would we….