Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

On Englishness, Protectionism and Entitlement

September 6, 2010 · 2 Comments

Friday night, I stopped into a pub to watch the evening’s football match as the England national team embarked on their quest to put their World Cup misery behind them and qualify for the European Championships in 2012.

As England took the field, faces around the pub were not filled with joy, but with scepticism.  There were not cheers of “Come on England,” but groans that perfectly relayed to me as a foreigner how the footballing nation had been feeling all summer since its agonizing 4-1 exit at the hands of Germans two months earlier.  In the team’s first competitive match since the world cup, the squad knew they had to perform.  The day’s headlines in the sports section highlighted the importance of getting the team a strong win; for, although England faced easy opposition in the qualification round, the patience of their fans was drawing thin.

In the Three Lions’ previous game, a friendly against Hungary, fans booed.  Similarly, this summer in South Africa, after drawing 0-0 against a meagre Algeria side, fans booed.  And, as was made blatantly obvious by the regulars at The Rising Sun, at kick off, they were not pleased with their Three Lions.  What is even more peculiar than the fan’s dissent is the England players’ tolerance for them.  After England’s dismal exit from World Cup in June and even preceding the team’s friendly against  Hungary players consistently came forth to defend their fans’ right to boo.

After noticing this odd characteristic of criticism toward the national side, I asked the two stalwart England fans I had been chatting with throughout the match as to why fans felt entitled to judge and criticise England’s form and results.  The two blokes, Rory and Paul, both asserted their right to be critical, but noted a few crucial limitations.  Paul said, “I am English, and England has always been my home.  When football is this important, as it is in England and the rest of the world, they represent all of us, our country and the way we live.  You never boo England before any competitive match, only friendlys, but you can boo after any pathetic result, such as the 4-1 loss to Germany.”

It is this element of entitlement and right of opinion present in English football that I have noticed many other places in English culture.  In the Museum of London, an exhibit catered to this same form of entitlement of opinion, asking Londoners pertinent questions on how London should be managed, raging widely from what type of construction should constitute London to how many trees should be planted.  Unlikely as it was that the exhibit influenced any official opinion, yet there was far from a scarcity of opinions, again underscoring the general right of the English to voice their concerns and protect and preserve Englishness.

This entitlement of opinion, I feel, is linked with the same protectionist sentiments of “English National Identity” that we have encountered frequently in our readings.  The right to be critical, the right of opinion and the right to preserve are all intensely imbedded into Englishness.  Whether it be the fear of England’s national team letting down the nation, or the nation changing into something disastrously un-English, the English feel entitled to voice their opinions and protect against these changes.

These ideas are unequivocally absent in America.  We seem to define and pride ourselves as being a “melting pot” and that our national identity is a lack of one specific set of ideals or social norms.  We feel that being a diverse nation of all races and backgrounds is in fact who we are, whereas the English staunchly believe in specificity of Englishness.

It will be interesting to study during my year how these notions of entitlement and protectionism influence, uphold and define Englishness, what it means to be English and the right and privileges pertaining thereunto.   During this year, I want to discover what compiles Englishness and how this protectionism functions within its society.

Categories: 2010 Luke · Uncategorized

2 responses so far ↓

  •   Karl // Sep 8th 2010 at 05:59

    The “have your say” movement is massive here, but I’m not sure how “English” it is. Might this be a new phenomenon (I don’t know) brought on by interactive media? Previously, you could only “have your say” via a letter to the editor, which has been a long-held tradition in many countries. As for the players’ acceptance of booing: all we saw was the public acceptance. When they did complain, like Rooney, they were castigated as whining rich boys (which they are). Lampard had to say publicly that the fans had a right to boo or there would have been an even greater avalanche of criticism.

  •   lawronski8 // Sep 10th 2010 at 16:45

    Yes, I agree that their opinions are only public words as opposed to what their real opinions might be, but I think that this speaks volumes about English entitlement and “have your say” etiquette. It is not specifically “English,” but in matters of pertaining to core Englishness, such as the national team and the city of London, the “have your say” phenomenon is invariably acknowledged as a fundamental right and any and all criticism is endured, even if only through gritted teeth. It will be interesting to discover further information on what other topics are viewed in this manner versus which issues do not cater to moaning.

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