Jack Wilshere and the English

Robert Henderson

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?  (https://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.

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19 Responses to Jack Wilshere and the English

  1. ADW says:

    It’s ironic you should cite Nasser Hussain, because no player did more to revive England’s fortunes. He took over as captain when England were the lowest-rank side in the world. By the time he finished they held a much more respectable position, and the ground work had been laid for the 2005 Ashes win. His chief contribution was to end the losing culture that pervaded the team, and he did so in concert with the Zimbabwean coach, Duncan Fletcher.

    He might be contrasted with Pietersen. KP is a much more talented batsman, but is wholly committed to no cause other than his own. If KP was not such a phenomenal (if inconsistent) talent he would never be chosen for England or indeed anyone else (I doubt the South Africans would put up with his attitude any more than the English want to).

    It seems to me unwise to generalise about which “groups” or ethnicities or whatever will be committed to the cause. If someone is not giving his all the selectors should not choose him. Plenty of white English players over the years have fallen into this category. Gooch was, like KP, tremendously committed to his personal standards but forever trying to pick and choose when he might be available. Think of all those who went on Gatting’s rebel tour knowing substantial bans to their England careers would result. And so on.

    Hence, to rule out someone like Hussain on the basis he is insufficiently “English” howsoever defined would be no more sensible or desirable than it would be politically acceptable.

    • You are completely missing the point. I am railing against the employment of those who are not English playing for England. Whether they are successful or not, and most have not been, is irrelevant. Unless national sides are restricted to those who are true nationals they become meaningless.

  2. Robert Black says:

    Dear Mr Henderson,

    Please may we reprint your excellent article in our journal, Candour?

    Best regards,

    Rob Black

  3. ADW says:

    But how do you propose to define “English” so as to exclude not just those born and/or raised elsewhere, eg KP, but also ethnic minorities who have been born and raised in England (which seems to be what you are suggesting, correct me if I am wrong) without some invidious racial classification, of the type beloved only of the far right in other countries and, with some heavy irony, the far left in this country (who I suspect you would agree seem to hold sway over many public institutions such as the BBC, the education sector, social workers etc)?

    Surely better to have a requirement of nationality along present lines (ie birth/passport/residency) and then for the selectors to exercise their discretion to exclude the uncommitted (eg KP) but pick the committed (eg Nasser Hussain). Also exclude the inept eg Hick, whose problem was less his nationality and more the fact he was never more than a flat track bully at test level.

    • The High Court has decided that “English” is an ethnic designation implying common ancestry, history and language. It seems to me that that would be a perfectly suitable definition of who is and who is not English. “British” is another matter – once upon a time it too might have been thought to be an ethnic designation but, alas, those days have gone.

  4. Master Distiller (Third Floor Distillery) says:

    To answer the question “Who is English?”, it may be better to approach it not only by the ancestry, history and language qualifiers, but also by genetics(DNA). There are genetic markers for all ethnic groups. In fact, the ability of geneticists to determine one’s ethnicity is getting better and more accurate all the time. It shouldn’t be too hard to discern who his English and who is not.

    Using myself as an example, my mother was born in England to an English mother and an Anglo-French father at the end of the war. My father was born in the U.S. to parents both of whom were of pure English ancestry. Technically speaking I’m seven-eighths Anglo-Saxon (English). As to whether I would pass Mr. Henderson’s “English” test or not, I don’t know but I doubt it. In my own defense I would add that I and my siblings heard non-stop the glories of the British Empire and English history in particular during our formative years. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, hearing our tribe’s history and accomplishments did instill a pride in me and I suspect my siblings as well. Although I am American by birth, in my heart I consider myself English.

    The old stereotype of the English being very civil and genteel seems to have gone extinct. I have met many Englishmen during my travels around the globe, but damned few were cordial or acted with any sense pride in their identity. Why is that? What happened? We created the modern world and this is how we carry ourselves? No matter where I go, I always carry in my heart the pride of my special heritage… It is time for all of us English to do the same.

  5. M. says:

    “… they are not accepted in the land of their birth on account of their colour.”

    Not on account of their colour, but on account of their race, their ancestry. And their ancestry is not English. End of story!
    And this will not change no matter how you try to trivialise the whole thing with “colour”, “skin”, or any other leftist bullword.

    • Well, the concept of race includes skin colour. Moreover, it is the difference which is seen as most definitive of the racial type of a person. For example, although Dravidian origin Asians are of a noticeably different physical type in terms of facial features, hair and so on from blacks of African origin, they would both be naturally described as black by most people. There is also the example of the variation of physical types within the a broad racial class, variation which nonetheless does not stop people being described as black, white, brown and yellow.

  6. ADW says:

    Ok so despite the fact that you spent a lot of time in the Wisden piece and the aftermath saying that coloured players did not have the same commitment, you say that misses the point. Your second point is that only “English” players should be chosen to play for England. With this I agree, so the question is how to decide who qualifies to play for England – and the other nations as well. I assume you would not exclude Maori or Pacific Islanders from playing for New Zealand, or Aborogines or those of Greek origin from playing for Australia – provided they met some sort of non-racial residency/citizenship qualification. Now for the English. Should David “Sid” Lawrence have been excluded, even though he was born and raised in England? Or Hussain? What of mixed-race people? Many black Caribbeans would have some “white blood” since not a few slave owners had relations with female slaves. Are you really suggesting a dna test for all prospective players? And what explanation would you give a black person whose family had been in England for five generations for them not being allowed to play for England?

    The fact is that there are now a multitude of different races living in England. There is little hope for society to survive if they are going to be told not to assimilate (as the multicultural priests would have it). Telling them they will never play for the national team isn’t going to help in this regard.

  7. Nobby says:

    None of the people you mentioned are English, so the answer is ‘no’. The English shouldn’t be asking how to best suit the immigrant, but how the immigrant can best suit us. If an immigrant comes to England and can’t live with the truth they will never be English or considered as English is of no concern to a nation of millions.
    In these types of discussions I like to flip over the direction of thought. So, why after 200 odd years of being resident in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Americas, is the “white man” not now thought of as an Aborigne, Maori, Zulu/Bantu/etc or Native American? How long do they have to live in these lands before they, too, can be thought of as one of them?

  8. ADW says:

    Well, it would be a bit bizarre if suddenly the All Blacks were to exclude white players (no puns please) on the basis that they were not “true New Zealanders” (or “true Aotearoans” if you prefer).

    My point is that you are confusing ethnicity and nationality (possibly culture too). White New Zealanders and Australians like to think of themselves as distinct on ethnic, cultural and national lines from the British or Irish that most are descended from. Aside from Andy Caddick not many would ever contemplate playing for England, even if they qualified to do so.

    Test cricket is between nations, not ethnicities or cultures, and has always been so (apart from when Apartheid South Africa played, but even they included both Afrikkanas and English, who are reasonably distinct on every measure other than skin colour). If it were otherwise we would have a pretty invidious time of it trying to take dna samples for suspect players. Is that really what you have in mind? If not, how do you propose determining eligibility?

    I quite agree that the mercenaries like Lamb, the Smiths, Pietersen or anyone falling into that bracket (Dipak Patel for New Zealand years ago, for eg) should be excluded. But that’s not on ethnic grounds, it is on the grounds of nationality.

  9. W.S.Becket says:

    He is quite right. I am English and live in Wales but never in a thousand years could I become Welsh. If an English team with English (not British) players went to the bottom of the league it would simply be because the team was not good enough. To revive its fortunes with Brazilian or French players is cheating.

  10. david brown says:

    just a couple of offside comments – this article and other readers comments can be found on http://www.amren.com/news/2013/11/jack-wilshire-and-the-english

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