More English Effacement

The extraordinary decision to clothe our hapless England Rugby players in black for the World Cup in New Zealand has been an eye-opener even for those sports fans used to seeing England cricketers in the one day internationals dressed in a multi-coloured cross between pyjamas and babygros.

Black of course has been the colour of the New Zealand Rugby team with a silver fern leaf badge since 1893, so England’s adopting it (substituting a rose for the fern) has naturally attracted a lot of scorn from New Zealanders.

Although at one level the England Rugby authorities’ decision is simply daft, at a deeper level it reflects a desperate anxiety among officialdom in nearly all branches of English life, to avoid promoting English symbols, let alone promoting our culture to our children in case it gives “offence” to someone.

The colours of England are red and white and in emblematic form date back to the crusades in the 12th century. Nonetheless, because Wales adopted red shirts and white shorts, England were pushed into adopting a pallid all-white ensemble. Clearly it is necessary in a contact sport to be distinctive, so why didn’t England wear their red and white colours and suggest the Welsh wear their own colours – green and white? Answer – because the Irish had already adopted these colours – which in itself is odd, because the Irish colours are green, orange and white and the Irish team includes players from Northern Ireland. So the English get pushed around as with the adoption of the metric version of the playing field (to appease the long abolished metrication board) resulting in a field of a different shape and shorter than the original 110 by 75 yard pitch. Hint to Rugby authorities: why not adopt horizontal red and white stripes for jerseys like the distinctive and dignified blue and white stripes of the Argentine team.

The Anthem

It’s a pity the International Rugby Board (IRB – not to be confused with the Irish Republican Brotherhood – forerunner of the IRA) can’t agree to abandon the singing of national anthems at the beginning of each match. Many of the players don’t know the words, or even the tunes, particularly nowadays when teams are allowed to field foreign players with only one or two years’ residency. In the case of Ireland – composed of players from both the Republic and Northern Ireland – an unmemorable composite anthem is played which none of the players seem to know.

The English team sings “God Save the Queen” which is recognisable the world over and most players seem to know the words. But it is not a specifically English anthem. It is the British national anthem and is customarily also played on vice-regal occasions such as the opening of parliament in the Crown Commonwealth nations, in the presence of the Queen or her representatives, the Governor-Generals.

“God Save the Queen” is the national anthem of Scots, Welsh and Ulstermen as well as the English British citizens. Listening to it being appropriated by English teams is a continual source of embarrassment and irritation to many, particularly Scots, who remain tight lipped when it is played as England’s anthem at the England-Scotland matches. For some Scots it is a symbolic reason in itself for separating Scotland from the United Kingdom, to make it clear to foreigners that Scotland is not a bit of England.

So why do the English Rugby authorities persist in a custom which is actually wrong in itself and offensive to many of those listening? When the first British Empire games were held in 1931, “God Save the King” was the anthem of all the competitors, so distinctive anthems were played for the winning countries’ competitors. For those countries present in 1931 these have largely remained unchanged in the successor Commonwealth Games.

For England the anthem played at the Games was and is “Land of Hope and Glory”. Its words by an Englishman (Arthur Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury 1902) are by the standards of other people’s anthems not particularly vainglorious if you think of the mighty English language being “wider still and wider”. Moreover its music is authentically English (unlike “God Save the Queen”) being Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March no. 1 (very popular in Russia apparently because of its rousing nature, which is after all what you want if you are about to do battle with tough opponents). Above all “Land of Hope and Glory” is widely respected as England’s anthem, bringing audiences automatically to their feet as they would for “God Save the Queen”.

So why is it not played at International Rugby and Soccer matches? Answers in the comment box, please.

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One Response to “More English Effacement”

  1. Ageing Albion says:

    The choosing of an all black alternative colour was either the most spectacularly ignorant decision in British sporting history (if they didn’t know anything about the New Zealand hosts of the tournament, which I cannot believe) or a deliberate attempt to wind up the hosts. They would – must – have known that the New Zealanders would take it either as a cheap shot or a pathetic imitation.

    In the event, of course, England played like a pathetic imitation of a team and behaved like worthless oiks off the pitch. Once upon a time England was famous the world over, and particularly in New Zealand, which regarded “the mother country” with much greater fondness than did any other ex-colony, for good manners and public behaviour. It seems that far too many modern English go in for the reverse – no public standards at all. Their black jerseys fell apart anyway, much as the players did. They were lucky to win a single match and came back humiliated.

    This should have led to a thorough and objective inquiry followed by a ruthless implementation of harsh measures – sacking of anyone who wasn’t up to scratch and imposition of clear sanctions for both poor performance and poor off-field behaviour in the future. Instead a weak inquiry resulted in weak recommendations and weak implementation.

    None of this should have surprised anyone familiar with modern Britain, where it seems no one is ever held accountable for anything. The absolute nadir was the Iran hostage taking of Royal Marines, which ended in a report saying it was all bad but no-one could be blamed sufficiently to suffer any consequence. As a letter to the Times pointed out, blame was blazingly obvious – the commander of the boarding party for (i) not having a lookout and more to the point (ii) surrendering pathetically; the commander of the ship for authorising the mission and not ensuring helicopter cover; and the commander of the fleet in the region because he is the one responsible for all its actions – that’s the price of being in command. The whole lot of them should have been court martialed, reduced to petty seamen and discharged without honour. Instead they got desk jobs and promotions.

    Another example – the Rover catastrophe. The former executives who took huge pensions out of a failed company and the accountants who designed the scheme by which they did it should have beeen required to return the money (and the accountants professionally disciplined ie struck off). Instead it was admitted by the inquiry that the whole thing was a fiasco but – you guessed it – they couldn’t blame any identifiable individuals sufficiently to punish them.

    Anyone who cannot see a link between the three different events above (i) has lost the plot and (ii) is allowing this country to sleepwalk into ruin.

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