Twelve years following the opinions of England fans

 

 

In the twelve years I have been following the English national football and rugby union teams I have read numerous match day reports, opinion pieces, tweets and online comments, both prior to and following an international match or tournament. I have listened to radio phone-ins and watched pre and post-match analysis. I have been fascinated by debates around team selections, tactics and the latest news from inside the training camp.

While the comments and insights given by journalists and pundits are interesting, the opinions of ordinary fans are equally, if not more, intriguing, especially when individuals offer various theories to explain the national team’s shortcomings.

Starting with football, it has been a popular mantra to blame “pampered millionaire lifestyles” to explain our team’s shortcomings in tournaments and in big games. What this doesn’t explain is why the multimillionaires that make up the German and Spanish national teams, along with a series of high-level club sides such as Barcelona, Bayern Munich or Manchester City have enjoyed success. Elite club and international sides are stuffed with players earning huge salaries but their bank accounts, sports cars and designer clothes don’t seem to have an adverse effect on their performances.

Fans also highlight a “lack of passion” among our international players. I don’t think anybody would deny that passion, grit and patriotism are admirable and important attributes for athletes to possess, but these are not the only ingredients for success. This was exemplified in the Euro 2012 quarter final against Italy. On that night the England team battled hard, putting in a valiant defensive effort and kept the Italians at bay for two hours. The problem was not a shortage of passion or work ethic. In a number of areas, the English were simply second best. The Italians controlled the game, enjoyed more possession, created more goal-scoring chances and were, ultimately, better at penalties. This brings us to the next point, England’s woeful record from spot kicks, which currently stands at just one victory out of seven. In eleven tournaments in which England has participated from the 1990 World Cup through to Brazil 2014, we have exited six through the dreaded shootout.

Penalties have consistently been an Achilles heel for England and the national team’s record has prevented them from progressing to semi-finals and finals of international tournaments. If a team reaches the knockout stages of a World Cup and European Championship then there is a fair chance that they will face a penalty shootout. It is therefore imperative that England work to slay this bugbear.

As rugby union players do not earn the fortunes that their football counterparts receive, England rugby internationals are not readily accused of being lazy multimillionaires, bored by England duty. However I have encountered a few posts which claimed that England’s disappointing World Cup display was due to a low number of “working-class” players in the squad. Disparaging comments were subsequently made about the high number of players who had attended fee-paying schools. Two-thirds of the World Cup squad were privately educated and were thus regarded as being “too privileged” and therefore unwilling to put in the hard yards on the pitch and in training. I don’t know whether they have been following the same rugby that I’ve been following. Two of England’s brightest talents last season, Jonathan Joseph and Anthony Watson, attended independent schools. Ex-captain Chris Robshaw, a player with a prodigious work rate and an excellent defender, is, like Joseph, an Old Millfieldian. England has consistently produced many successful and talented privately educated players: Wilkinson, Dallaglio, Carling, the Underwood brothers and many more.

One comment attributed the media’s focus on Sam Burgess and the scrutiny over his selection by England to “elitists” in newspaper offices and at the RFU, who took a dislike to Burgess because he was a rugby league convert who had attended a state school in Yorkshire.

It is true that it is only a minority of people who are posting these opinions and I am not suggesting for one minute that they are representative of the wider English supporting population.

All English football and rugby fans will admit that our national teams have their problems and weaknesses. But attributing these to footballers’ salaries or where our international rugby players went to school? I’m not buying it.

Plenty, if not most, fans aren’t either.

 

How “right” are the “far right”?

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A Front National rally. Photo:  By NdFrayssinet (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Across Europe there have been a number of political parties who are regarded as being on the “far right” or “extreme right” of the political spectrum due to their opposition to immigration and nationalistic attitudes towards citizenship and the nation state.

Although it depends on what news sources or political scientists you consult, far right parties in Europe are generally thought to include France’s Front National, Hungary’s Jobbik, the Greek Golden Dawn, the Austrian Freedom Party (FPŐ), the Sweden Democrats, the Danish People’s Party and the British National Party (BNP).

Some centre-right figures are unhappy about the use of the term “far right” to describe extremist groups and parties as it implies that centre-right politics is a moderated, watered-down version of an ideology which has been viewed as fascistic and racist.

Under the headline of ‘Europe’s extremists aren’t really on the right’, The Spectator, following the European Parliament elections in May 2014, wrote the following:

‘… from Sweden to Greece, the nasty parties have, in important ways, become more far-left than far-right. The parties which triumphed this week are those which offer a perfectly logical combination of xenophobia, nationalism and state authoritarianism.’

The Spectator has a point. A closer examination of far right parties reveals that many have embraced statist, protectionist and big government style policies traditionally favoured by social democrats, socialists and other ideological leftists.

The different sides to these parties’ platforms are summarised in The Weekmagazine:

‘These parties are right-wing in a very European sense: they tend to be nationalistic, favouring promotion of Christian values and strict limits on immigration but also support a strong welfare state for native Europeans. Their overarching theme is that the benefits of a country should go to the Europeans who were born there and pay taxes there, not to newcomers.’

This form of “welfare chauvinism”, a term used by news site The Conversation,and defined as ‘welfare for all, provided they’re us’ was documented in an interesting article published by the Guardian in the summer about the far right in Scandinavia. The Danish People’s Party (DPP), according to the paper, were promising larger increases in spending than the then-governing Social Democrats through extending eligibility for unemployment benefits from two to four years, reversing the cut made by the Social Democrat government. The DPP’s leader pledged to divert resources away from refugees and asylum seekers and into improving elderly care, promising ‘one hot bath per week’ for the elderly and infirm living at home. In neighbouring Sweden, the Sweden Democrats have pushed for a “more generous policy regarding primary school teachers’ pay.” Schools and healthcare are mentioned as priorities for the party while a party spokesperson is quoted by the Guardian as saying that they represent ‘traditional Scandinavian social democracy and nationalism.’ There are noticeable similarities between the DPP and the Sweden Democrats and other parties in Europe categorised as “far right”. France’s Front National have a protectionist, anti-globalisation agenda designed to protect native workers, businesses and industries and have advocated for the renationalisation of key state assets.

The Hungarian Jobbik, a party infamous for its anti-Israel and anti-Jewish rhetoric, state on the English version of their website that they are opposed to ‘globalised capitalism’ and promise to deliver universal free mobile internet and free dental care for all citizens. They would also allocate revenue generated through a ‘hamburger tax’ to promote active and healthy lifestyles. The British National Party’s economic nationalism is not too dissimilar to Jobbik’s or Front National’s. In recent general election manifestos, the BNP have voiced their opposition to laissez-faire capitalism, globalism and Thatcherism and have pledged to renationalise public transport, utilities and Royal Mail as well as increased public ownership in financial and banking.

By combining their traditional nationalistic, anti-immigration and anti-EU stances with liberal economic policies, these parties might be looking to bolster support among working-class voters. If this has been the intention then the strategy seems to be paying off in some quarters – both Front National and the DPP have attracted substantial working-class support in recent years.

Whatever the reasons, this blend of different ideologies and policy positions should make us rethink how we go about defining and categorising “far right” parties. Political scientist Cas Mudde, who studies the far right, claims that these parties share a common set of characteristics: nativism, populism and authoritarianism.

Terms like “nativist populist” or “authoritarian populist nativist” are clunky and cumbersome and are not the ones which headlines writers would readily use but this provides a good start on how we analyse and categorise parties on the “far right.”