The young England and Arsenal footballer Jack Wilshere put the cat emphatically amongst the politically correct pigeons when he came up with the novel idea (in these pc times) that only Englishmen should be picked to play for England. Answering a question about whether Manchester United’s Belgian-born and raised teenager Adnan Januzaj , who is of Albanian descent, should be picked for England if he qualifies by residence Wilshere said
“The only people who should play for England are English people,’’ he said after training at St George’s Park in preparation for Friday’s World Cup qualifier with Montenegro.
“If you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English. You shouldn’t play. It doesn’t mean you can play for a country. If I went to Spain and lived there for five years I’m not going to play for Spain.’’
‘We have to remember what we are, we are English and we tackle hard and we are tough on the pitch and we are hard to beat. We have great characters. You think of Spain and they are technical, but you think of England and you think they are brave and they tackle hard. (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2450234/Jack-Wilshere-I-dont-want-Adnan-Januzaj-play-England.html#ixzz2hFufujIy)
These are truly remarkable public statements by a young English footballer on the edge of a probably glittering international career. Political correctness has now such a grip on British society that any statement which suggests national identity is valuable and should be preserved risks a media cry of “racist” followed by an ensuing witch-hunt. It is made all the more remarkable by the fact that he is making the point about being English, a doubly risky business in 21st century Britain where the idea of Englishness is alternately portrayed by the white liberal left elite and their ethnic minority auxiliaries as “dangerous” or “non-existent”, often absurdly both by the same person at the same time. Wilshere was taking a real risk with his career by speaking as he did.
Wilshere has backtracked a little as he faced the all too predictable attack from politicians, the mainstream media , liberal left interest groups and members of ethnic minorities. This passage from the Daily Telegraph’s chief sports writer Paul Hayward offering on Wilshere is a good example of the mainstream media response:
The real culprit is a thoroughly anachronistic gentlemen’s agreement between the home unions in 1993 to opt out of the residency rule. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all agreed to be high-minded (or discriminatory, depending on your view). Talk about beggars being choosers. None of those four associations is in a position to reject available talent, assuming it fits international criteria.
“The FA finally wants to modernise its talent identification process. No longer can a country that allows its top league to be staffed with 67 per cent foreign players adopt a Little Englander approach to its national set-up. The feeling engendered by London 2012 is here to stay, and should be encouraged by our biggest sport, which has made no inroads, for example, into the country’s large Asian population.
“Each case should be judged on its merits, but an escape from the St George chauvinism is entirely overdue, which the best minds at the FA understand.
“This is not dilution, it is regeneration, in keeping with the way Britain has evolved.”
That is a pretty good example of the liberal left mind-set. You can either view it as defeatist or treasonous.
The idea that nothing can be done about the influx of immigrants to English top-level sport is wrong even as things stand now. It would be possible to ban any player from playing in English professional sport who came from outside the European Economic Area (EEA- the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. Switzerland has on a bilateral basis a similar relationship with the EU). This the British authorities have refused and continue to refuse to do. All the British government would have to do is legislate to make the foreign sportsmen affected ineligible for work permits. This would be particularly useful in the case of cricket. There would also be nothing in principle to stop any English sporting group deciding amongst themselves to play only English men and women.
Wilshere clarified early reports of his words which suggested he wanted only those born in England to play for England. In a response to the South African cricketer Kevin Pietersen who plays for England Wilshere made it clear that he was not advocating that only players born in England (or the rest of the UK) should be eligible, but rather that some unspecified period of cultural acclimatisation is necessary: “ To be clear, never said ‘born in England’ – I said English people should play for England. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/england/10367391/Kevin-Pietersen-hits-back-at-Jack-Wilsheres-comments-that-only-home-grown-players-should-play-for-England.html). However, as Wilshere dismisses five years as not doing the job of turning an immigrant into an Englishman he is presumably thinking of something pretty substantial in terms of residence and cultural and emotional imprinting.
A sense of national place is demonstrably not simply derived from living in a country – as Wellington said to those who insisted on calling him an Irishman, ‘Just because a man is born in a stable it does not make him a horse.’ To that I would add that if a man is born in a house but later chooses to live in a stable, he does not become a horse.
His clarification that birthplace is not the sole or primary determining criterion for Englishness strengthens rather than weakens Wilshere’s position. It means he does not back himself into a corner whereby merely being born in a country grants automatic membership of the English nation regardless of their upbringing.
In 1995 I addressed the question of the validity of having an England cricket eleven which contained people who were not in any meaningful sense English in an article entitled Is it in the blood? (http://englandcalling.wordpress.com/2012/08/29/is-it-in-the-blood-peter-oborne-and-the-question-of-englishness/) . This was published in the July 1995 edition of Wisden Cricket Monthly and caused a great storm of political and media protest. Although it was about the England cricket team the issues raised are generally pertinent to sports men and women representing England, regardless of their sport.
Mainstream commentators are reluctant to publicly question the England qualifications of those sportsmen and women who come to this country in their late adolescence or early manhood and they dismiss the question as irrelevant when it comes to those who were either born here or arrived at an early age. The pc treading mainstream party line is that a person’s qualification to represent England should be where they learnt their sport. If for example, an immigrant becomes a professional cricketer after coming to this country at the age of, say, fourteen, he is automatically, in the minds of the politically correct, qualified to play for England. This is something of a nonsense because it takes no account of players who spent their childhoods in several countries. Nor is it satisfactory for those players who were brought up in England, but who clearly think of themselves as belonging to a different culture or ethnic group.
In Is it in the blood? I dealt not only with those who had arrived in England in their mid-teens or later, but also the commitment to England of those who arrived before their mid-teens or were even born and raised in England. There are pressing reasons to question their commitment simply on the grounds of the increasingly commented upon widespread failure of ethnic minorities to assimilate which can be found in the mainstream media, for example, Ed Miliband’s 2012 speech in which he rejected the idea that people can “live side by side in their own communities, respecting each other but living separate lives, protected from hatreds but never building a common bond – never learning to appreciate one another” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20715253).
But there are also examples of individual ethnic minority and immigrant sportsmen giving direct evidence which suggests that their heart might lie otherwise than with England. The England cricketer Mark Ramprakash has an Indo-Guyanese father and an English mother. Ramprakash might seem just the type of second generation immigrant who would be fully assimilated into English society, whose entire loyalty would be to England. Yet the prominent cricketing journalist and commentator Christopher Martin Jenkins wrote this about him: ‘Colleagues on this touring party [the 1993/94 West Indies tour side] have suggested of him …that Ramprakash sometimes seems more at home with West Indian players, that his cricketing hero and chief confidant is Desmond Haynes; that he would be just as happy in the other camp [the West Indies]‘ CMJ Daily Telegraph 16/3/94).
Another good example of the immigrant player not fully assimilating in the one-time England captain Nasser Hussain. Hussain was born in India and came to England aged six. He has an Asian father and English mother. In an interview with Rob Steen published in the Daily Telegraph he said ‘If anyone asks about my nationality, I’m proud to say ‘Indian’, but I’ve never given any thought to playing for India. In cricketing terms I’m English.’
As with Ramprakash, Hussain might be thought to have a pretty good chance of assimilation into English life. Yet here we have him saying that he is proud to describe himself as Indian. I do not criticise Mr Hussain or any other player of foreign ancestry for feeling this way. It is an entirely natural thing to wish to retain one’s racial/cultural identity. Moreover, the energetic public promotion of “multiculturalism” in England has actively encouraged such expressions of independence. But none of that makes them a suitable choice for an England team.
If those born and raised in England from a young age have difficulty assimilating, the chances of immigrants who come here well into their childhood becoming English in their thoughts and outlook is considerably less. Take the case of the black England footballer John Barnes who came to England aged 12 from Jamaica. He makes his anti-English feelings shriekingly clear in his autobiography, viz:
I am fortunate my England career is now complete so I don’t have to sound patriotic any more.(P69 – John Barnes: the autobiography)
I feel more Jamaican than English because I’m black. A lot of black people born in England feel more Jamaican than English because they are not accepted in the land of their birth on account of their colour, (P 71)
Was I more patriotic for England than I would have been for Scotland? No. To keep everyone happy throughout my international career, I always said that my only choice was England because England is where I settled, but that wasn’t true. (p72)
When I played for England, I could never declare that nationalism is loathsome and illogical. I couldn’t say that if I played for France, I would try just as hard, which I would. I tried hard for England out of professional pride not patriotism – because I never felt any. (P72)
It is not only black and Asian players who have displayed an ambivalence about England. The white Zimbabwean Graeme Hick, who came to England aged 17, felt like a foreigner when he first entered the England changing room. Unsurprising because that is precisely what he was. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/cricket/international/england/3130952/Graeme-Hick-I-felt-like-a-foreigner-in-the-England-dressing-room-Cricket.html).
So where does that leave us as far as the qualification for an England sporting side is concerned? Well, I suggest that the qualification for playing for an England national team should be the same as that which I consider would be a sane basis for the citizenship of any country, namely, the imbibing of a culture. Where a man is born is irrelevant. What distinguishes him is his instinctive allegiance to a culture and people and the assumption in childhood of the manners and values of that culture. The successful ingestion of manners and values produces the social colouring necessary for any coherent society and allows a man’s peers to accept him without question as one of themselves. That unquestioning acceptance is the only objective test of belonging. The most unhappy and unnatural beings are the Mr Melmottes of the World who ‘…speak half a dozen languages but none like a native.’ These are men without country or psychological place.
The natural criterion for selection for an England sporting side, apart from talent, is surely the sense that a person has that they are naturally part of a nation, for if national sides do not embody the nation what distinguishes them from any collection of disparate individuals? What is it that gives a man such a sense of place and a natural loyalty? There are, I think, three things which determine this sentiment: parental culture/national loyalty, their physical race and the nature of the society into which the immigrant moves. Their relationship is not simple and, as with all human behaviour, one may speak only of tendencies rather than absolutes. Nonetheless, these tendencies are pronounced enough to allow general statements to be made.
Where an immigrant physically resembles the numerically dominant population, the likelihood is that his children will fully assume the culture and develop a natural loyalty to their birthplace. Hence, the children of white immigrants to Australia and New Zealand will most probably think of themselves as Australian or New Zealanders. However, even in such a situation, the child’s full acceptance of his birthplace community will probably depend on whether his parents remain in their adopted country. If the parents return to their native land, their children, even if they have reached adulthood, often decide to follow and adopt the native national loyalty of their parents. Where a child’s parents (and hence the child) are abroad for reasons of business or public service, the child will almost always adopt the parent’s native culture and nationality as their own.
Where the immigrant is not of the same physical type as the physically dominant national group, his children will normally attach themselves to the group within the country which most closely resembles the parents in physical type and culture. Where a large immigrant population from one cultural/racial source exists in a country, for example, Jamaicans in England, the children of such immigrants will make particularly strenuous efforts to retain a separate identity, a task made easier by their physical difference from the dominant group. Where a child is the issue of a mixed race marriage he will tend to identify with his coloured parent, although this tendency may be mitigated if the father is a member of the racially dominant national group.
Using the criteria detailed above, rationally there should be much less doubt about the instinctive loyalty of the children of white immigrants born in England or raised there from a young age than there would be attached to black and Asians born in England or brought there when young. That is because white immigrants will be much more likely to be fully accepted, and feel themselves to be fully accepted, by English society.
Qualifications based on legal definitions of nationality, birth or residence are practically irrelevant in the context of national sporting teams, for the instinctive emotional commitment and sense of oneness, which are an essential part of a successful national side, cannot be gained so mechanically. That is particularly true of a country like England which currently has no legal status and possesses a history stretching back 1,500 years. Being English is a matter of culture and ancestry.