Not victorious... but happy and glorious

Superfans: This road in Oldham has been dubbed England’s “most patriotic” street. © Getty

Can the warm glow last? England may have crashed out of the World Cup, but Gareth Southgate’s young lions have sparked a new-found patriotism that is surging across the nation.

“We might live in a time where sometimes it’s easier to be negative than positive, or to divide than to unite, but England: let’s keep this unity alive. I love you.”

This stirring message of patriotism and togetherness befits the speech of a poet or politician. In fact, it comes from a footballer — one of England’s World Cup heroes, Kyle Walker.

He tweeted it yesterday after England’s 2-1 loss to Croatia. And while the nation’s World Cup dreams died, something more profound has been revived: a pride in English identity.

“[We have realised] there is an England that we can share,” writes Sunder Katwala in The Financial Times. The key factor in this is the England team itself.

Unassuming, modest, open: the young lions exude virtues previous generations conspicuously lacked. What’s more, the squad is ethnically diverse with players hailing from provincial cities across England.

Then there is their leader, Gareth Southgate. Polite, thoughtful, and as much a gentleman as his famous three-piece suit suggests.

“In England, we have spent a bit of time being a bit lost as to what our modern identity is,” said Southgate. “I think as a team we represent that modern identity and, hopefully, people can connect with us.”

And so they did. At least 26.5 million watched England’s semi-final. The football anthem Three Lions soared up the charts and, most symbolically, the flag of St George has flown proudly on city streets.

In recent years, the England flag has become a contested symbol. Used by far-right movements like the English Defence League, for many it has represented a xenophobic and hostile brand of English nationalism.

What is more, English identity has long-suffered under the dark historical legacies of empire, colonialism and slavery.

And while this history cannot be ignored, Southgate’s team has created something: a new positive English identity — one that everyone can share and be proud of.

But how long will this feeling last?

The pride of lions

Reality will sink in soon, some argue. England’s World Cup run was thrilling, but the national schism of Brexit will soon have us at each other’s throats again. For all the triumphant jingoism, England is still split between the London elites and the forgotten provinces — the haves and have not’s. Football cannot solve all of society’s ills.

A real change has happened, others respond. Sport influences countless aspects of daily life, and the dignity and class that England showed inspires us all. Furthermore, the public screenings and pubs filled to bursting reinvigorated a sense of English community that was in danger of being lost. If the nation can unite for football, it can stick together too.

You Decide

  1. Should everyone be proud of their country?
  2. Is sport the most powerful way to bring people together?


  1. Consider the country “England”. Write down all the words you associate with it. Share your ideas with your classmates. Are your ideas mostly positive or negative? Should people be proud to be English?
  2. Consider the following statement: “As the world’s greatest game, football has a unique power to bring people together.” Do you agree or disagree? Why? Write a 200-word piece arguing for or against the statement. Use as many rhetorical techniques as possible.

Some People Say...

“Patriot: the person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he’s hollering about.”

Mark Twain

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
According to a survey by British Future, only 11% of the public associate the England flag with negative English nationalism. The majority of respondents believe it to be “a healthy expression of national pride”. Another poll found that 61% of the public felt that the flag should be flown more often. However, young people are less likely to be patriotic. A YouGov survey found that 45% of 18 to 24-year-olds are proud to be English.
What do we not know?
If England will ever win the World Cup. Despite the wide praise for the England team, they also missed a great chance to get to the final. As the BBC’s Phil McNulty writes: “there will be a burning sense of missed opportunity.” The next major tournament England will compete in is the European Championships in 2020.

Word Watch

Conspicuously lacked
Previous teams have been notorious for their celebrity lifestyles, player spats and retinues of high-profile WAGs.
Ethnically diverse
Eleven members of the 23 man squad are from Caribbean, African or mixed-race backgrounds.
Provincial cities
Fifteen of the squad are from the north of England. Only Harry Kane and Ruben Loftus-Cheek were born in London. Six of the players come from Yorkshire.
Three-piece suit
Southgate has become something of a fashion icon, with thousands of fans wearing waistcoats in tribute.
26.5 million
The actual number will be higher as ratings do not include those who watched the game in pubs and on big public screens. The most watched TV broadcast in British history is still the 1966 World Cup final with over 32 million viewers.
Period of history beginning in the 16th century in which Britain established overseas colonies across the world. At its height, it was the largest empire in history, and by 1913 it ruled over 23% of the globe’s population.

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