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How English is the English national team?

In its crude form, football started in England in the 12th century, and as a refined game, it emerged as Association Football in Cambridge in 1848. It is a game that unites the world, across races, gender, and age. ‘Goal’ is a word which needs no translation, and the referee’s whistle needs no subtitles. The game has traveled around the world, spread by the British with something of an evangelistic zeal, especially among its former colonies.

Now, as the saying goes, the sun does not set on the British empire. And only now does it begin to seem like there is a moon about the modern English culture whose dark side it shows no one. This is not about the hypocrisy of Earth’s natural satellite, but about the cultural and ethnic makeup of modern English society, with the English national football team being a case in point.

Highlights of 2022 World Cup qualifying match between England and San Marino, 15 November, 2021.

From 1962 when John Charles became the first black player to represent England at any level, to 1993 when Paul Ince became the first black man to captain England, the English national team has evolved to become a multiethnic group. It would look like the symptoms of a more inclusive society, but could it also look like a continuation of Britain’s legacy of colonial exploitation? As at today, of every England’s matchday squad, about half of the team are players of non-English origin. Nigerians, Jamaicans, Ghanaians, Canadians, Indians, among other nationals have become a formidable part of the Three Lions, as England’s national team is called. It is also worth mentioning in the same vein that the current captain of the team, Harry Edward Kane is half-Irish. The English team is no doubt fast becoming as the English forces in the First and Second World Wars, comprising in large parts, and especially in the lower rungs, soldiers who are actually anything but English.

As of now, it may not be as ‘bad’ as the French national team, where on most matchdays, only two or three players on the field are actually ethnic Frenchmen. However, the difference is that the French would not hesitate to identify with the origins of their national team players in times of success. Whereas, as with the English chant ‘Two World Wars and One World Cup‘ which celebrates England’s victories at the 1966 World Cup, and the two World Wars, little or no mention is made of the input of the nationals of former colonies in their success. The clue is with Andy Murray who as the saying goes, is ‘British when he wins and Scottish when he loses.’

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