For something that seemed it would never end, the World Cup is firmly behind us. Leading up to the first game, and all the way throughout, the football talk was none stop. The phrase ‘it’s coming home’ echoed every pub, staff room and late night tube. And even those of us who usually have zero interest in the game were convinced to watch a match or two, it was the World Cup after all, and England weren’t doing too badly.
Despite ultimately not making it to the finals, the England team went further than a lot of the country could’ve hoped. However, there are two things which struck me as both insidious and important around this time. Patriarchy and patriotism.
Football, like many sports, has long been regarded as a ‘man’s game’. It’s been a gender socialisation tool for young kids, and often an excuse for the drunkenness and rowdiness of older men. Some sociological and psychological studies, i.e. Dunning et al (1986), have linked the game to aggression and toxic masculinity. During large events such as the World Cup, this only becomes heightened.
When our win against Sweden meant that the England team would be entering the semi-finals, the country was in awe! With that came the celebrations – and destruction. Then there followed reports of criminal damage across the country. But it’s okay because we all believed it was coming home, right? This, as well as the horrifying domestic violence figures from the National Centre for Domestic Violence which show us that abuse increases 26% when England just play a game, seem to reify the fact that football is linked to violence.
Misogyny seems inherent to all aspects of this tournament. Even the rhetoric which exists around whether “it’s coming home” or not is shrouded in a patriarchal distortion of memory. Although popular belief was that the World Cup hasn’t been within reach of England for 28 years, it did in fact make it much closer to home when the women’s team came third only three years ago.
It’s also been said that the World Cup brings people from all around the country together. Temporarily we were no longer divided by our national teams, but united as a nation. But who does this nationalist sentiment actually seek to include?
Political sentiment in the U.K. recently has made it exceedingly clear that many of us who call England home are not regarded as citizens in the same way as our paler-skinned counterparts. This is not a new phenomenon, but rather an extension of a violent and painful imperialist history. Although the football may just be a bit of fun for most White and Black/Brown supporters alike, it is likely that those of us from the latter group are seen as less legitimate and definitely more susceptible to abuse whether we win or lose.
As a British-born Black person, I’ve always found the concept of loyalty to a flag kind of jarring. I’ve also found the sort of nationalism that surrounds events like the World Cup kind of threatening. The sight of an abundance of St. Georges flags is sure to deter many people of colour from entering what, otherwise, looks like a decent local pub. For some of us it is too reminiscent of the English Defence League and those who refuse to acknowledge our citizenship and humanity. Who gets to feel patriotic? Not I.
When ‘hostile environment’ policies have sought to displace some of the country’s most vulnerable, when the mostly Black and Brown residents of Grenfell still remain without housing, and when Black British players like Raheem Sterling can’t get a haircut without the Daily Mail writing an expose – like other things, football too is politicised for many of us.
Written by Rochelle Smith