Friday, 6 June 2014

Another loser anthem, wo-oh

I’ll admit it here: I’m not really one for standing up and belting out the national anthem.
Partly because the whole idea of “nation” makes me a tad uneasy. “My country, right or wrong” must have a claim to being the most stupid slogan anyone ever tried to live their lives by.
Partly because even if I believed in God, I’d have trouble seeing why He should do any special favours for the Queen.
And, let’s face it, our national tune is a particularly spiritless dirge.
Give me the uplift of France’s glorious Marseillaise every time.  Mind you, there’s a line in there about “watering our furrows with an impure blood” which could make a fellow a little queasy in these supposedly more enlightened times.
Even Deutschland Uber Alles has a jauntier tune than our dreary number, but let’s not go there…
If it’s entirely necessary to have a national song, what could be more apt (or a better tune) than Jerusalem? I’m fairly certain “those feet” never did in fact touch England’s pleasant pastures, but the “dark satanic mills” can always raise a grim, knowing smile.
If they had a proper song like that to sing, maybe England manager Roy Hodgson wouldn’t have to tell his players to lift up their hearts and voices when it was played. Maybe.
Hodgson has a point when he compares the traditionally lacklustre, gum-chewing demeanour of English players at anthem time to the hand-on-heart enthusiasm of so many opponents.
But do we really want our boys to be (or behave like) unreconstructed nationalists?
I’m not convinced it would make them better players. The point, surely, is the team, not the dear old Queen?
And is there really any reason to believe more in the clutching of a national shirt than the kissing of a club badge? And that, as we know, often seems to accompany the desire to seek better-paid employment under a different emblem.
But sure, Roy, if it makes you happy. Let the boys sing out.
As he says: “I think we’re great until the second verse comes along because we don’t really know that...”
That’ll be the one about scattering her enemies, confounding their politics and frustrating their knavish tricks.
Some of those pesky foreigners certainly know some knavish tricks, don’t they? Diving, shirt-pulling, name-calling, ref-baiting – antics no self-respecting Englishman would ever get up to, what?
But politics? That’s where the stuff in verse six come in, obviously.
You know the one. That’s the one with the lines:
May he sedition hush
And like a torrent rush
Rebellious Scots to crush”.
No doubt there are a few patriotic Englishman who would sing that bit just now with proper verve.


I know (because I used to work there) that the Sunday Times is housed in a big building – but surely even there “millions of secret documents” must make an inconveniently big pile.
And who is going to plough through them all to determine that they really do prove what is claimed? That Fifa’s decision to hold the 2022 World Cup in Qatar was taken under the influence of money.
Whoever would have imagined such a thing?
That money might have played a part in awarding the world’s most glamorous sporting tournament to a country where hardly anybody actually plays the game. Largely because it’s too blooming hot.
A country whose national team has never qualified for a World Cup finals and whose league champions, Lekhwiya, might just give Lowestoft Town a decent game.
A country barely twice the size of Norwich.
Whose second-largest “city” is three quarters the size of King’s Lynn.
Whose total official population outnumbers only four-to-one the number of visiting fans a World Cup can expect to draw.
Which, at the time of the vote in 2010, had not one stadium good enough or big enough to host the event.
And which, however hard it might try, couldn’t possibly have the eight host cities normally considered the minimum for the tournament. Let alone enough naturally-occurring grass to cover enough pitches.
But a country which, strangely, is very, very rich indeed.
And now they suggest that money might have changed hands, and that that might have influenced the decision?
Whether Fifa itself is the right authority to probe this amazing allegation must be open to some doubt.
But there is a silver lining (and not just to certain unspecified persons’ pockets).
The normal timescale for the awarding of World Cups (or Olympics) to host countries is seven years ahead of the event.
Which means there’s still a year for one of the daftest decisions in sporting history to be overturned and a better one arrived at.
Not just switching the tournament from summer to “winter” but moving it to somewhere with a real football tradition – real teams, real stadiums and real fans.

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