Tag Archives: England

Does Jack Wilshere think Mo Farah should only race for Somalia…and Bradley Wiggins for Belgium?

If I went to Spain and lived there for five years, I’m not going to play for Spain. For me an English player should play for England

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….

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Filed under Football, Human rights, Sport

A British identity crisis in Palestine

Sat side by side, 7 internationals looked on into a dimly lit room. Four swedes, one Norwegian and two Brits huddled together on a worn out sofa that was creaking under the collective weight. Our host, Ahmed Jaber welcomed us into his house which was due for demolition any time in the coming days. He was anxious and he eyes darted between us. As is customary he started by asking his guests to introduce themselves:

Swede 1: “My name is Alex, I am from Sweden”
Ahmed: “You are welcome and thank you for everything you and your country is doing”
Swede 2: “My name is” etc etc
Ahmed: (laughing) “Your country does so much, they send many people”

The perceived comedy in this situation is amplified as a third and then fourth person introduce themselves as Swedish. Eventually though the introductions moved on:

Norwegian: “My name is Helene and I am from Norway”
Ahmed: “You are welcome and thank you for all that your country has done – apart from Oslo of course” (Cue a little bit more laughter)
Me: “My name is Steve and I am from Britain”
Ahmed: “Oh” (awkward silence) “You know this is all your fault, do you know about Balfour”

I smiled, nodded and let the proceeding silence, accompanied as it was with a wee bit of awkwardness fill the room.

This awkward “you know it is all the British fault” moment wasn’t a new experience for me. Believe or not, a couple of centuries of imperialistic foreign policy have left some less than positive impressions around the world. Almost a century later most Palestinians have not forgiven our then Foreign Secretary, Lord Balfour, for offering Zionists a homeland in what was then British Mandate Palestine.

What makes the Israel/Palestine conflict different though is that both sides seem to hate the British – our history does not lend itself to friendship with either side.

Things could be worse though, I could be German. A German colleague I worked closely with regularly had the uncomfortable situation of being told by Palestinians, “I love Germany, Hitler was great but he should have finished the job”. How do you respond to that? On occasion I responded saying, “please don’t joke about such things” knowing all too well that many were not joking.

These experiences left me with a minor identity crisis. Was I English, British, White, Christian, European or what? I tried a couple of times, “my name is Steve and I am from the people’s free republic of Gloucestershire” but this was invariably met with a look of confusion.

The problem is that I don’t feel very “British” – I have little or no connection with 50% of Britain (Wales and Northern Ireland). My father’s Scottish and I have a ginger beard as a result, but I don’t feel very Scottish. Yet, in many ways I have more in common with my Scottish family than I do with most people living in England. This is without starting on the sociological question of what makes someone “English/Scottish/British”.

I don’t have anything in common with Balfour other than the fact that we were born on the same Island. This connection, nearly a century later, is enough to define my relationship with a Palestinian man whose house was about to be knocked down by the “Israeli Defence Force”. Somewhere in this anecdote there is all the material you need for illustrating just how mad the concept of nationalism is.

Throughout the meeting with Ahmed I sensed hostility towards me. I might have been being over sensitive but I know from experience that the hatred of the role Britain played in Palestine’s history is part of the modern national psyche. Ahmed’s darting eyes spent the rest of the meeting occasionally fixing themselves on others in the room, but interestingly never me.

My name is Steve, I was born in Gloucester hospital, I like cups of tea and walks in the countryside. If this makes me English/British then so be it but I don’t feel it.

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Filed under Middle East, Social comment