Don’t get me wrong. I think that Soccer is a beautiful game. I played it for a few decades until my body insisted that it was no longer up to the task. When played well it is a beautiful thing to behold.
I enjoy patriotism.
I also enjoy league. It is more direct, more reliant on power and pace and skill. And more working class.
Last weekend I rewatched again the 2017 test between the Kiwi League team and the Tongan team.
The Kiwis were full of professionals but fewer than before because a few of the Tongan warriors decided to represent their country, and sacrificed a significant amount of money to do so.
The lead up was mesmirising. Sipi Tau clashed with Haka. The sense of tradition was palpable.
And fans of both sides sat side by side in the stadium and enjoyed a passionate game of leage.
Here is the game. Set aside two and a half hours and celebrate dual patriotism.
Celebrate also that our Kiwi community and our Tongan community managed to pack out a stadium cheek to cheek and still were able to walk out of the stadium at the end of the game with no issues. Approximately half of them were estatic, the other half were rather despondent. But there were no instances of social disorder. Instead there was admiration that a tiny nation with maybe 200,000 citizens managed to out perform another tiny nation also full of warrior kings but with 25 times as many people.
How does this compare to what happened recently in England?
The European World Cup final is now history. The short version about the final is that England dominated the first half but then faded and Italy made a come back. Then during the penalty shoot out Marcus Rashford hit the wrong side of the post, and Jadon Sancho and 19 year old Bukayo Saka had their shots saved by the exceptional Italian keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.
Some English soccer supporters noticed that the players who missed the penalties in the pressure cooker finish were all black and went to town on it. The national side taking the knee was not enough and probably upset them. The fact that for the first time in 50 years the team was on the brink of immortality was not enough. Their fans chose to convert the event into a failure based on the skin colour of some of the country’s best players.
Owen Jones in the Guardian has a particularly class view of what has happened:
Instead of a trophy, England’s national team have inherited something far more precious: the mantle of the official opposition.
For most of the nation’s under-40s – the generations known as millennials and zoomers – Tory Britain represents a double-pronged onslaught on their economic security and deeply held social values. When Marcus Rashford – a “23-year-old black man from Withington and Wythenshawe”, in his own words – shamed the government into feeding hundreds of thousands of children, he was leading a rebellion on behalf of that most voiceless demographic, the young working class. Since 2010, when the Conservatives came to power with the help of the Liberal Democrats, 800,000 children in working households have been driven below the breadline; however momentarily, they were handed one of the nation’s loudest megaphones. When the England team took the knee, they affirmed the value of the lives of Black people in a nation whose government has cynically fanned racism for electoral ends, up to and including constructing a hostile environment that deported Windrush-generation Britons from their own country.
Boris Johnson and his acolytes refused to condemn the booing of their own national team for a very simple reason – they knew that those baying ghouls represented a crucial pillar of their support base that they did not want to alienate. When Conservative ministers then had the front to condemn the racism directed at England’s players, which they helped legitimise, it fell to England centre-back Tyrone Mings to point out the hypocrisy. “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’,” he tweeted, “& then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”
That this is England’s most outspoken national team is no freakish accident. Hailing from across the nation – from south Manchester to Bath to Neasden – they are unmistakable products of their generation. Young people have for some time now been revolting against an ancien regime in Westminster that is rigged against their living standards and their progressive values; and however flush these players’ bank accounts are, they cannot escape where they came from.
Aotearoa New Zealand is different. We choose to celebrate our diversity and when a team from a tiny nation stand up and take it to one of the best teams in the world we do not get violent. We secretly cheer the underdog on, even though our preferred team may not have succeeded.
England has a lot to learn from us.