BY NIALL McCRAE
During the recent World Cup, St George’s flags were conspicuous by their absence. There was little of the usual fervour when England reaches the later stages of the tournament. The reason for this is laid out, unwittingly, by Daily Telegraph chief sports writer Paul Hayward, whose book England Football: the Biography (2022) shows that there is no escape from woke ideology in mainstream literature nowadays.
Hayward begins with the first ever international football match, held at West of Scotland Cricket Club in Glasgow in 1872, producing a goalless draw between Scotland and England. Halfway through the book, amidst the long demise after the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, Hayward comes to his most prominent theme – racism.
The first black player to wear a Three Lions shirt was Viv Anderson, according to the Sunday Mirror ‘the Nottingham Forest full-back with the Arthur Ashe profile, the Caribbean sunshine smile and an East Midlands accent’. Not an unpleasant description, but Hayward is reproachful in retrospect. Undoubtedly there was blatant prejudice in the 1970s. I recall from Shoot magazine remarks that black players would struggle in winter (an erroneous indication was that some wore gloves!). This was a lazy rather than hateful attitude, I thought.
Noting that he was ‘the only man of colour on the pitch’, Hayward criticises the match programme on Anderson’s debut against Czechoslovakia at Wembley, for presenting merely a factual summary of his playing career (like all other players). ‘There was no mention of the historical significance of Anderson’s first cap’, Hayward moans. But they didn’t do critical race theory back then. Unlike Hayward’s text, in the photo gallery woke publisher Simon & Schuster describes Anderson as ‘the first Black player’ (an absurd convention as ‘white’ is never capitated).
Anderson was quickly followed by Cyrille Regis and Laurie Cunningham. Under manager Ron Atkinson in the late 1970s, West Bromwich Albion became a serious challenger for the league, with the brilliant black trio of Regis, Cunningham and Brendan Batson known after the pop group as the ‘Three Degrees’ (an amusement not mentioned by Hayward). Ironically, after nurturing black talent, Atkinson, in his later career as a television pundit, was embroiled in a racism row. The England team in the Seventies had plenty of mediocre white players, while black youngsters were not given the opportunity they deserved.
Hayward is right to raise the race problem, most apparent in abuse from the terraces in league games. But he sanctimoniously smears England fans as imperialist and xenophobic, unlike patriotic Scottish and Welsh supporters. Having been raised in Scotland, I know differently. When Mark Walters was signed by Graeme Souness for Rangers, his first match in 1988 was marred by Celtic fans throwing bananas on to the field and the monkey noises heard at English grounds in the previous decade. A minority of Scottish fans behaved as badly as a minority of English counterparts.
Hayward overlooks the pitch invasion and destruction of goalposts by Scots at Wembley in 1977, but it was not boisterous nationalism when Luther Blissett was targeted by the same fans at the same ground six years later. Whenever Blissett got near the ball he was subjected to racist taunts (the full match recording appears to have been deleted by YouTube, possibly for that reason). I am not picking on Scotland but rebutting Hayward’s sense of superiority over the English working class.
In the penultimate chapter, ‘Gareth Southgate’s cultural reset’, Hayward fully approves of the current England manager’s extracurricular activity as ‘the first national coach to promote the England team as an agent for social change’. Never mind the football. After a nasty atmosphere at eastern European stadia, Southgate made tackling racism a mission. Hayward suggests that no black man felt at home in the England dressing room before Southgate changed from colour-blind coaching to special treatment. Yet for Paul Ince, perhaps the most authoritative leader since Bobby Moore, captaining England was ‘the pinnacle of my career’; likewise for Rio Ferdinand. They didn’t need Southgate’s white guilt to thrive.
In 2019 Southgate encouraged players to ‘take the knee’ for the first time. Hayward denounces supporters who were embittered by this divisive act: ‘a section of the England fans were booing them for it – a strange kind of patriotism’. Hayward states that ‘large parts of the country welcomed the spectacle of England footballers taking a stand (and a knee) for basic human fairness and respect’. It was hardly respectful that the Black Lives Matter campaign was rioting in cities across USA, or that lavish donations disappeared in corruption.
So immersed is Southgate in virtue-signalling that he fails to see the irony in his comment on England supporters criticising the ritual. ‘I think these people should put themselves in the shoes of these young players’. Scaffolders and warehousemen who paid a whole week’s wages to watch their national team would be delighted to sample the salaries of pampered players, whatever their pigmentation. Hayward gloats at the arrest of online trolls after Marcus Rashford and others missed their penalty kicks to lose the Euro 2020 final.
Race is not the only agenda for Southgate, who seems like a man transformed by Common Purpose training. ‘Southgate has been at the forefront’, Hayward observes, ‘of national debates over taking the knee, Covid vaccines, patriotism, social responsibility, and manners and considerations in daily life’. On Covid-19, Southgate pushed the official narrative, whereby sceptics were associated with racists. The George Floyd protests were well timed, giving a reprieve from lockdown for BLM rallies, a freedom denied to protestors against the Covid-19 regime: to paraphrase Hayward, a strange kind of racism.
The English are inherent hooligans, in Hayward’s view. At the Euro final, delayed until July 2021, ‘hundreds of England fans’ invaded their own stadium, ‘bursting into Wembley without tickets, unleashing mayhem and endangering life and limb.’ Despite overegging the cake, Hayward omits any explanation of why this happened. It was England’s biggest match since the 1966 World Cup final, but due to public health restrictions the capacity for home support was reduced by half. Any sensible person could see the nonsense: fans crowded behind the goal while vast swaths of seating were empty. For once, English fans were justified in breaking the rules, and it was a triumph over the authorities. They showed what it really means to be English, something that Hayward doesn’t understand.
Niall McCrae is a Registered Nurse and officer of the Workers of England Union.