The trouble with England

I wrote The trouble with England in 1993. It provided the basis for Is it in the blood? which was published by Wisden Cricket Monthly in 1995. The article is towards the bottom of this blog post –

The general thrust of the article holds true, although the details of players and performances would be different if I was writing the article today.

The foreign invasion of English professional team sport applies to all our major team games, most notably cricket and football but also rugby union and rugby league. The invasion has been massive and,  in the case of football’s Premier League, has reduced the number of English players to a small minority of the total number of players.

It is just sport I hear you says? Far from it because the  question of foreigners in English sport goes far beyond the activities themselves.   Games such as cricket and football are accelerated microcosms of what English society will become if mass immigration is not stopped.

Apart from the  dilution of English representation in our national  games,  our national sports teams act as propaganda vehicles for the multiculturalists. It is also true that individual sports such as athletics can and are used to proselytise for the benefits of one worldism.

To ask what constitutes an English  national sporting team is a proxy for asking what constitutes English nationality.

Robert Henderson 22 August 2013 


The trouble with England

In May 1991 I argued in Wisden Cricket Monthly that the primary reasons for England’s increasingly poor performances were the selection of sides containing players who lacked an instinctive commitment to England (or Britain for the pedantically inclined) and the employment in county cricket of Official Overseas Players and many cricketers of foreign
parentage or upbringing – let us call the latter Interlopers. A further two years of ever increasing, and I believe unparalleled – because England is losing to even the weakest
cricketing nations – humiliation prompts me to return to the subject.

Recently there have been some public murmurings about the appropriateness of playing men without unequivocal ties to this country. However, the matter is still not being discussed honestly because of that bugbear of modern English society, fear of being called a racist. A Test Match Special discussion on the first morning of the Manchester Test neatly illustrates the problem. Doubts were expressed about white Interlopers such as Smith and Caddick (who both, incidentally, have two British parents), but not a word was
uttered against the playing of men of colour, for example, Devon Malcolm and Gladstone Small, who similarly came to England in their late adolescence, but without any ties of
parentage or culture.

Derek Pringle  writing in the Daily Telegraph of 21st June perhaps came the nearest of any regular commentator to acknowledging the general problem when he wrote “…there
will be people claiming that playing for one’s country is surely motivation enough. Perhaps it still is, but with a team whose individual origins are as diverse as a vat of Heinz baked beans, unquestioning patriotism cannot be taken for granted.” He then provided a good example of the negative public mindset of the English professional cricketing world for, having crossed the Rubicon of admitting that players’ origins might be at least partly responsible for England’s failure, he did not draw the obvious conclusion that, if this is so, England would be better off with eleven unequivocally English players even if they were no more talented than the Interlopers, even perhaps, if they were less talented, for team spirit and the will to win is an immense part of Test cricket. Instead, he tacitly accepted that nothing can be done to change the composition of the England eleven and restricted himself to a few banalities about bowlers bowling more imaginatively and talent at the county level being “focused and encouraged” as the means of improving England’s cricketing circumstances.

If commentators are reluctant to publicly question the England qualifications of coloured players who came to this country in their late adolescence or early manhood, they dismiss the question as irrelevant when it comes to those who were either born here or arrived at an early age. The party line is that a man’s qualification for a Test side should be determined by where he learnt his cricket. 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 one country, but clearly think of themselves as belonging to a different culture. This last point is of crucial importance because it strikes directly at the purpose of a national side.

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. And that is often true even where a conscious decision to emigrate has been made by a player’s parents. 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

The natural criterion for Test selection, apart from cricketing talent, is surely the sense a man has that he is 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, 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, there should be little doubt about the instinctive loyalty of the children of white immigrants to England, because such people will normally be fully accepted, and feel themselves to be fully accepted, by English society, in short, to be English. Moreover, the number of white immigrants to England is comparatively small. This gives them less opportunity to form ghettos and more incentive to integrate fully. (Perhaps the nearest to a culturally self-contained white immigrant group in England are the Greek Cypriots.) In any case the children of white immigrants from places other than the old Dominions have made little, if any, impact on county cricket, so the question of the commitment of the children of white immigrants who do not share what might be broadly described as Anglo-Saxon culture, is academic at the moment. The position is rather different with the children of coloured immigrants to England. The point is powerfully demonstrated by Nasser Hussain.

In an interview with Rob Steen published in the Daily Telegraph (11/8/89) 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.’ Mr Hussain has an English mother. He has lived in this country since he was six. He attended an English public school and an English university. Of all the England qualified players with black or Asian blood currently playing county cricket, he might be thought to have had the best chance of a full integration 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. However, with such an attitude, and whatever his professional pride as a cricketer, it is difficult to believe that Mr Hussain has any sense of wanting to play above himself simply because he is playing for England. From what, after all, could such a feeling derive? If Mr Hussain has such a lack of sentimental regard for the country which nurtured him, how much less reason have those without even one English parent or any of his educational advantages to feel a deep, unquestioning commitment to England. Norman Tebbit’s cricket test is as pertinent for players as it is
for spectators.

It is even possible that part of a coloured England qualified player rejoices in seeing England humiliated, perhaps subconsciously, because of post imperial myths of oppression and exploitation. An article in the August 1991 edition of WCM entitled ‘England’s  Caribbean Heritage’ by Clayton Goodwin, a white English journalist with particularly
pronounced Caribbean sympathies,lends credence to such a view. Mr Goodwin argues that children born in this country of West Indian parents do not feel part of English society
and, consequently, tend to identify only with sporting heroes who share their own physical race – significantly, no white or Asian sporting figure supported by this group is mentioned
in the article, although many negroes are. A few quotes will give the flavour:-

“Naturally those West Indians who came as immigrants have a nostalgic respect for their
‘home’ region – longing for the lost ‘good old days’ is not solely the white man’s preserve. Their children, humiliated and made to feel inferior in every aspect of their day-to-day life, will relish the chance of using the success of others sharing the same physical attribute [blackness] for which they are downgraded to show, however vicariously, that they do have worth.”

“You can’t blame the put-upon black people of Britain for feeling similar justifiable pride when Viv Richards and his team, who in other circumstances might be regarded as ‘second class citizens’ like themselves, have put one over their detractors.”

“The youth of Peckham, Brixton, Pitsmoor and the Broadwater Farm would want any of Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Michael Watson or Herol Graham, black Britons who have grown up among them and shared their social experience, to beat the Jamaican middleweight boxer Malcolm MaCallum if the opportunity should arise.”

“The ethnic majority [the white population] are not aware of how isolated and shut out from the national cricket game the black population is made to feel. That is not solely to question why Surrey have included only one regular black player, Monte Lynch…” [In fact, England qualified players of West Indian parentage are well represented in County cricket having more than 6% of places on County staffs, a percentage well above their share of the national population].

Having, I think, accurately described the generally resentful and separatist mentality of the West Indian descended population in England – doubters should cast their minds back
to the riots of the eighties, take a stroll around Brixton, Deptford, Hackney, Moss Side, St Pauls et al and think of Haringey cricket college which I believe never had a member who was not a negro – Mr Goodwin goes on to claim that “…surely nobody would doubt that the players [England caps of West Indian ancestry] are proud to represent England.”
Exactly why he is so confident of their pride is unclear. There would seem to be no obvious reason why players such as DeFreitas and Lewis should not share the mentality he ascribes to the general West Indian derived population. At the very least, it is difficult to see how playing for England could be anything more than a means of  personal advancement and achievement for players of West Indian ancestry. Of what else could they logically be proud if, as Mr Goodwin claims, they feel excluded from and humiliated by English society?

The obverse of the commitment coin is the effect the Interlopers have on the unequivocally English players and consequently on team spirit. One’s common experience of mixed groups makes it immensely difficult to accept that a changing room comprised of say six Englishmen, two WestIndians, two Southern Africans and a New Zealander are going to develop the same camaraderie as eleven unequivocal Englishmen.

The problem for the England selectors is perhaps that of England as a nation. For thirty years or more those with authority in education, assisted by politicians and those in the mass media have conspired, in the sociological sense of creating a climate of opinion, to produce a public ideology designed to remove any sense of pride or sense of place in
the hearts of those who are unequivocally English. It has not been entirely successful, but it has had a profound effect on the national self-confidence of many Englishmen. Indeed,
perhaps even some of the unequivocally English players lack a sufficient sense of pride in playing for England. (All the more reason to ensure that the team is unequivocally English
so that the majority can infect any fainthearts with their pride.)
In summary, the essence of my case is that for a man to feel the pull of ‘cricketing patriotism’ he must be so imbued with a sense of cultural belonging, that it is second nature
to go beyond the call of duty, to give that little bit extra. All the England players whom I would describe as foreigners, may well be trying at a conscious level, but is that desire
to succeed instinctive, a matter of biology? There lies the heart of the matter.

It is not only the possible lack of commitment and the effect on team spirit which should raise English eyebrows. Even on pure cricketing grounds the selection of most of the Interlopers is dubious. As can be seen from the table [insert table one somewhere within the text] the record of most of those who have played for England since 1969 has been mediocre. Only Robin Smith and Tony Greig have produced figures which put them in the front rank of Test players. Of the rest, Allan Lamb has achieved an average competence. Interestingly, all three players have two British parents. Indeed, the performance of the white Interlopers has been generally superior to that of the coloured which is further circumstantial evidence that physical race and/or parental culture does have an effect on performance at Test level.

The Interlopers’ overall career records mirror their Test records being generally mediocre, with white players performing decidedly better than coloured. Their respective global career records are:

batting average bowling average

White          37.70                  29.06

Coloured     25.92                  31.36

Remarkably, despite mediocre performances, many of these players have continued to hold England places for long periods, a tolerance rarely extended to unequivocally English
players, even established ones. There are plenty of English batsmen outside the Test team who would, in all probability, have exceeded Hick’s Test record given his opportunities, for example,  John and Hugh Morris, Bailey, Moxon, Fordham, Benson, Taylor, Darren Bicknell, Thorpe and Curtis.
Then there is the mysterious case of DeFreitas, Malcolm and Lewis who have taken most of the pace bowling places in England sides since 1989. Are we to believe that any three from Martin Bicknell, who has particular cause for complaint, Mallender, Newport, Millns, Igglesden, Cork, Ilott, Munton, and Watkin would not have been able to at least match their collectively abysmal record of 221 wickets at 37.24 in 77 Tests?

Christopher Martin-Jenkins perhaps expressed the feelings of many Englishmen when, after Neil Williams’ selection in 1990, he complained on a Radio 2 Sportsdesk that the England selectors “Seemed to have a fixation with West Indian born fast bowlers”. However, as this season has shown, it might be truer to say that the selectors have a fixation with any England qualified bowler who is not unequivocally English. Caddick’s case is, I think, particularly illuminating of the selectors’ mentality.

His record in his one full season was no more than averagely good and poorer than that of a number of unequivocally English bowlers. Yet he was immediately selected for the ‘A’ Team, rushed into the England side at the first opportunity and retained after taking only one wicket in his first two Tests. Readers might like to contrast this with the cases of
Watkin and Mallender who took five and ten wickets respectively in their first two Test Matches and were promptly dropped.

Without being privy to the selection process, one cannot do more than guess at why Interlopers should be so often preferred, but several possible explanations present
themselves. The first is that the selectors have what might be described as the slave mentality. By this I mean they believe, again perhaps subconsciously, that someone from
their own community cannot be the equal of members of other communities. The second is that the selectors have a desire to seem to be fair to all men regardless of origin and overcompensate by selecting players who are not unequivocally English at every opportunity. (As I write the news has just been released of Keith Fletcher’s wish to take
Van Troost on the next England ‘A’ tour). The third, which only applies to coloured players, is that the selectors are scared of selecting teams which do not contain some coloured
men because of people like Mr Goodwin who complain about lack of coloured representation – think, also, of the insidious pressure being placed on Yorkshire to play a
Yorkshire born Asian effectively regardless of merit – and having once selected such players, are reluctant to drop them for the same reason.

I believe these three considerations also work at county level, together with another, the idea that quick success should be gained without regard to any ill effects this may have on the national side. (During the Trent Bridge Test Neville Oliver told an illuminating story
of county clubs which have written to Australian state sides asking for details of players with an England birth qualification).

The extent to which the Interlopers have infiltrated the English first class game is probably not realised by most cricket followers. According to the 1993 Playfair Annual there are 416 contracted players on county staffs. Of these no fewer than 63 are Interlopers, the majority (42) having black or Asian ancestry.  Add the 18 Overseas Players to the Interlopers to produce a total of 81 and a fifth of county places are taken by players who either cannot play for England or whose commitment is doubtful. In fact, the case is
worse than that because Overseas Players have an almost guaranteed place in their sides and 30 (50%) of the Interlopers are capped players – a good guide to first eleven inclusion – as opposed to 130 (40%) of the English players. Hence approximately 50 (25%) of the 198 first team places are generally taken by the disqualified and the dubiously committed. The effect is most pronounced in pace bowling.

There are thirty six new ball places in county sides. Twelve are normally taken by official Overseas Players. Add Mortenson, Van Troost, Lefebrve and Curran, who enjoy the anomalous status of being qualified to play in county cricket but not for England, and the total of new ball places for England qualified bowlers is reduced to about twenty. However, some of these are taken by players who are never going to come under serious consideration, for example Cooper, Radford and Connor. The pool of current England qualified bowlers, even including Interlopers, who frequently take the new ball and who merit serious consideration for selection, probably comes down to the following fifteen: Cork, Foster, Ilott, Watkin, Igglesden, Taylor, Mallender, Bicknell, Newport, Jarvis, Malcolm, McCague, DeFreitas, Lewis, Caddick. Five of these are Interlopers, three of whom have already been given extensive opportunities and been found wanting. It is small wonder that the selectors have problems with selecting a first rate pace attack from such a restricted field.

The position with batting is healthier – I will stick my neck out and say that there are at least two young players – Ali Brown (a stupendously talented player) and John Crawley – who will be recognised as great by the end of their careers. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that the unequivocally English batsman gets far more opportunity than his bowling counterpart because of (1) the preponderance of bowlers amongst the Overseas players and Interlopers and (2) the greater number of top order batting places – say the first four – compared with opening bowling opportunities. Spin bowling and wicketkeeping have not been significantly affected by Overseas Players and Interlopers, although the
practice of employing fast bowlers as Overseas Players may well have contributed to the emphasis on pace in the past fifteen years.

The question of England’s cricketing strength is not simply a parochial matter, for the finances of other Test playing countries benefit hugely from tours of England. If England
continues to fail consistently, or even succeeds with a side which is not felt to represent England by the unequivocally English, eventually Test attendances in this country will
fail from want of pride or identification. The same will probably happen when England tour abroad. Then all will be impoverished, some countries perhaps to the point at which
they cannot continue to play Test cricket – I think particularly of the West Indies – Moreover, although other nations may enjoy beating England now, continual winning will
soon dull their pallets. Then, I suspect, they will realise that a successful England is not merely financially desirable, but an important psychological feeding block around which they all enjoy mustering.

In the nature of things, it cannot be proved conclusively that England is failing primarily because of selection policies, at national and county level, which unduly favour the employment of Interlopers and Overseas Players.  Conversely, it cannot be conclusively disproved. But the balance of probability, as our legal friends say, is overwhelmingly in that direction. England’s performance has declined steadily since the relaxation of qualification rules in 1969. Perhaps most significantly, England’s fortunes have waned most dramatically since the mid eighties, by which time most of the pre-1969 vintage of English players had retired and since when more and more Interlopers have entered the game. To argue, as some still do, that the employment of great foreign players has raised the standard of the English game is demonstrable nonsense. It is also noteworthy that while England have been employing Interlopers, the rest of the Test playing world has retained, in practice, strict
national selection policies. In the case of the West Indies, they have even ceased to select white and Asian players, since when they have become the most powerful cricketing
nation. (This is almost certainly a deliberate policy. Viv Richards, I seem to recall, has proudly described the Windies as ‘An African side’.) Interestingly, in the old West Indian sides one has the nearest analogy to the present England Team, full of racial tension and inter country rivalry and so often unsuccessful when on paper they had a strong team.

That is the problem described. What can be done to improve matters? Official Overseas Players should be excluded completely, preferably immediately. This could be done by the
TCCB meeting the existing contractual financial obligations. This would not only have the beneficial effect of freeing many new ball bowling places for England bowlers, but would remove a damaging psychological effect. At the county level the Overseas Player has occupied the place of the League Pro. This trait has been particularly pronounced in the case of pace bowlers. The result has been that young English players have not learnt to take responsibility and without doing that the transition to Test cricket becomes doubly difficult. Negatively, England would benefit because Overseas Players would be denied opportunities to take responsibility and gain knowledge of English conditions.

The position regarding Interlopers is undeniably difficult. Nonetheless, I think a combination of rules, restraint and common sense can produce a workable solution. I suggest that any white player raised abroad with a birth and/or parental qualification for England should only be accepted as England qualified if his parents have not formally emigrated or, if they have, the person has been continually resident in Britain for ten years. If it is legally possible, such a player would be expected to take British nationality and renounce his original nationality. White players without at least one British parent and a British upbringing should be absolutely excluded.

Because of legal restraints, it is currently impossible to formally refuse cricketing registration to British and other EEC nationals on grounds of race or origin. However, the
counties could exercise a self-denying ordinance and refuse to employ other EEC nationals such as the Dutch and Danish. As for those born in Britain of black  and Asian parentage, I
would simply suggest that county clubs and the England selectors think carefully about employing such players in view of their generally poor performance in the past. They might, in particular, care to think of the inordinate number of county opportunities given to graduates of Haringey Cricket College (for example, to Ricardo Williams, Carlos
Remy, Steve Bastien) and the staggeringly poor return which has resulted from such an investment. (Only Alleyne and Piper command regular county places). Coloured immigrants without a British upbringing should be absolutely excluded. Both England and county selectors would benefit from understanding one of the fundamentals of moral philosophy: the fact that something is legal does not necessarily mean it is morally right.

The counties should reflect on the fact that Derbyshire has the lowest membership and the highest number of Interlopers and ask themselves whether the two facts are related. Members need to identify with their players, perhaps to an even greater extent than England supporters. What must a Derby member feel when he sees his average team comprised of three West Indians, an Australian, a South African, a Dane and five

Perhaps the most fundamental argument against playing men of doubtful commitment remains to be made. Let us suppose that an England eleven comprised largely, or even entirely, of Interlopers was supremely successful. What would be the point? If national sides are to have any meaning they must represent nations in fact as well as name. That is their raison d’etre. A respectable case can be made against the idea of national sporting representation. None can be made for ersatz national sides. Let us hope that we never see a Dutchman opening the bowling for England.

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