Did shouting for England make us any more mature?

Now that the dust is settling on England’s defeat to Croatia, there is a completely unimportant question to be asked: Did supporting the English soccer team make a man or a woman more mature than a man or woman who felt sick to their stomach at the prospect of England winning the World Cup?
Did shouting for England make us any more mature?

More that that, did it mark out the English-supporting Irish person as a more rounded, more neighbourly, more decent human being, somehow morally superior to their fellow islanders?

Perhaps a guide might be found in the reaction of people in other countries.

The great Scottish writer Irvine Welsh put it brilliantly — and in the inimitable style that defined his Trainspotting masterpiece — when he reacted to lectures insisting Scots should shout for England in the World Cup:

This is the sort of shite talked by armchair wankers who tune into big tournaments but don’t understand footballing rivalries having never attended a game.

In fairness to Welsh, he has been in magnificent form lately. When the Tory minister Sajid Javid commented that he would miss Boris Johnson from cabinet after he resigned as foreign secretary this week and would, in particular, miss his “Reaganesque optimism and passion for Global Britain”, Welsh was brutally scathing.

He told Javid that Johnson’s “passion for a ‘Global Britain’ was a passion for an imperialism that would see the people of your ethnicity forever designated second class citizens you servile twat”.

There were quite a few Irish people out of the blocks in the last two weeks to announce that they were cheering for England in the World Cup.

And, of course, people were entitled to support England as heartily as they wish in whatever competition they wish.

Especially with the royal family in town and a queue forming to shake hands and have a gawk.

One of those people who announced they were supporting England in the World Cup was Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.

At the garden party held this week at the British ambassador’s residence in Dublin to welcome Harry and wife Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Coveney referred to England’s progress in the World Cup and said that it was the “first time I can remember that there are probably as many people cheering for England as against England”.

If we accept that that is true — or almost true — then it is worth asking why it was the case.

Was it because team manager Gareth Southgate is such an obviously decent man?

He’s no angel, of course, and he has a real ruthless streak running through him, but he is also an intelligent, compassionate, appealing human being. Maybe it is a grá for Gareth that has apparently converted the masses, even allowing for the overdone profiles that presented him as some sort of amalgam of Winston Churchill, George Orwell, St George, and Mother Teresa.

Or was it because England captain Harry Kane’s granddad was from Connemara and that Harry spent many youthful days around Galway? One of our own and all that.

Or was it because people actually believe the marketing guff — brilliant and carefully calibrated though it is — which imagines the English team as a bunch of lads who have wandered out of coalmines and off factory floors, before making it in non-league football, only to find themselves in true Hollywood-style (and almost despite themselves) earning millions of pounds a year for kicking a pig’s blather around a pitch?

This reached Peak Nausea on the morning of the Croatia match when Sky News interviewed a woman called Vera Denny who was described as ‘a welfare assistant’ at Harry Kane’s school when he was a young boy. She told a story about how Harry found her ring after she had lost it at work.

The presenter then asked what this said about Harry’s mental strength. It is regrettable Vera Denny seemed much too nice and kind a woman to give the answer that the question deserved.

There is another explanation offered for a more open support for England in the World Cup.

This explanation posits the idea that support for the English soccer team is a genuine product of a post-Troubles settlement where relations between Ireland and Britain have reached such a state that the antipathies of the past have dissipated to the extent that it is a natural thing to do to support your neighbour’s team.

Indeed, it is something that you’re almost expected to do to keep relations jollying along.

Of course, this logic requires many, many sacrifices to reality, not least that you completely suspend all knowledge of Brexit and the extraordinary arrogance of the Etonian Brexiteers whose incompetence and disregard for the lives of others reveals itself more fully by the day.

Nonetheless, the softly hinted implication in some of this was that there was the touch of the Neanderthal about any person who was shouting against England.

If that is the case then there was a remarkable evolutionary event in a Dublin pub last Wednesday night when England played Croatia in the semi-final.

The Neanderthals are back and drinking pints with humans and watching soccer.

And among them there was a kind of resigned silence when England scored early on.

And there was also a growing fear that Croatia were toast as the minutes ticked on. And a sort of gathering irritation at the renditions of God Save the Queen. They roared at the television in support of Croatia. And roared in celebration when Croatia equalised.

It wasn’t aggressive or bitter or nasty — it was just fun. It was also underpinned by the clear view that England had gone far enough and that going any further made ultimate victory for the English and, by extension, national disaster for Ireland, an uncomfortably real prospect.

The only Irish person in the bar shouting for England was one who had bet on them beating Croatia in 90 minutes.

And the minute that bet was lost by virtue of the game going to extra-time, he too joined the chorus of Neanderthals that were now willing on ‘their’ team to beat England.

Now this can just be dismissed as the sort of atavism that can only be expected in a Dublin pub.

So is it really the case that there were many others out there who thought differently?

It was interesting that back at that garden party in the British ambassador’s residence, Simon Coveney felt emboldened to say that he would like to see England win the World Cup.

He may have thought he knew his crowd, but reports suggest that there was just a somewhat muted, even hesitant round of applause. That’s the diplomatic equivalent of being booed!

And the great thing about it is that none of this really matters. In fact, it doesn’t matter at all. It’s also a reminder that maturity is completely overrated!

Shouting for or against England gave the World Cup a little local salt — you wouldn’t really want to invest much more meaning than that in it. Still, it was a narrow escape all the same...

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