Anyone But England: Nationalism, Racism, and UEFA

That sports fans from the Celtic nations should declare their support for England’s sporting rivals has become a regular event. Writers for The Times and The Spectator took predictable offence, finding in it proof of the Celtic nations’ regressive attitudes towards their neighbour, and of their neighbour’s comforting superiority,1 while the spoof news site, NewsThump, cheerfully appropriated both the protest and such objections to it, finding humour in Celtic churlishness and English arrogance alike, yet rendering their rivalry familiar and homely and harmless.2

Both responses miss the point. If England controls my country’s land, its resources, its taxation and public spending, if it inhibits my country’s investments and foils its prospects of economic development,3 if it encourages contempt for my country’s language and culture,4 while English and imported political leaders campaign for the abolition of its democracy, if it seeks to impose from Westminster the policies which that democracy has already rejected,5 then I am entitled to say (and I said on this occasion) that England as a nation has forfeited its right to demand my friendship and moral support. Moreover, if English nationalists deface Welsh political memorials with swastikas, if English residents in Wales boast that their presence damages the Welsh language, or if they denounce the Welsh people as ‘subnormal, subhuman Marxist vermin’ and demand their genocide, then a refusal to support the English team comes paradoxically to echo the stance of the English team itself in their dignified and heroic refutation of racism.

Of course, a number of different responses are possible to my position. One is to reaffirm the victimhood of the English nation,6 to conflate criticism and protest with prejudice and hatred, and to deny that such supposed hatred might have any actual and remediable cause. Another is to insist that those English who are hostile to the Welsh are atypical and should be disregarded, while those Welsh who are hostile to the English express the general inadequacies of their nation. A more thoughtful response might be to counter my comparison of my stance with Gareth Southgate’s, to point to the gulf that separates the Welsh Victorian quarrychild’s experience of exploitation and cultural persecution and brutalisation from that of his fellow, born to slavery or segregation on an American cotton farm.7

And this places me in a quandary. I can defend my simile to some extent, at least, pointing to Michael Hechter’s account of those first Celtic colonies as England’s trial run for global imperialism,8 or to Hannah Arendt’s account of Nazism, appropriating the British Empire’s example of exploitation and dehumanisation overseas to its expansionist policies here in Europe, and unleashing a form of intraracial imperialism and genocide on the world9 which we find repeated in Rwanda and Bosnia. Or I can cite Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, recalling his brutalisation as a Kikuyu speaker under the British Empire in Kenya, which he compares with the use of the Welsh Not and the bata scoir to brutalise Welsh- and Irish-speaking children in the UK;10 or I can point out the way its imperial history and exceptionalist attitudes affect attitudes to England and its sportsmen in its former colonies even now.11 But I think it no great disgrace to give ground now and again, and can quite afford to withdraw my comparison, since I can substitute another. In recent years I have quietly foresworn the poppy, actuated by an increasing distaste for the triumphalism and militarism and British nationalism that it has come to represent.12 Saunders Lewis, Kate Roberts and Gwenallt Jones also embodied a Welsh aloofness from Britain’s imperial wars,13 and were accused, as I am accused, and as Welsh political leaders are routinely accused, of disloyalty, racism and political extremism:14 of ignorance, barbarity and hate. And if the pacifism of those Welsh nationalists was misplaced, their integrity and humanity and intelligence has inspired and humbled me rather more than the brutish, thuggish, self-righteousness posturing of the British state.15

  1. Daniel Sanderson, ‘Scotland fans backing anyone but England.’ The Times, 14th June 2018. Stephen Daisley, ’“Anyone But England” is a sad reflection of Scottish society.’ The Spectator, 11th July 2021. 

  2. Lucas Wilde, ‘Pizza and pasta sales up 700% in Wales and Scotland.’ NewsThump, 12th July 2021. See also Neil Tollfree, ‘Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales, in awe of their superior neighbours, decide to support England tonight.’ NewsThump, 7th July 2021. 

  3. Gwynfor Evans, ‘Wales as an Economic Entity.’ Wales (September 1959), pp. 34-40. Republished by Bella Gwalia, 15th March 2017. Owen Donovan, ‘The Flotilla Effect Revisited.’ State of Wales, 30th October 2017. Jori Ansell, Jamie Bevan, Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, Dòmhnall Mac Nèill & Graham Sandercock, ‘Proclamasiwn Cynrychiolwyr Cymunedau’r Ieithoedd Lleiafrifol yn Sgil Brexit.’ Cymdeithas yr Iaith, undated article from 2016 in Welsh, English and other Celtic languages. ‘Channel 4 show criticised after calling Llŷn Peninsula “Cheshire-by-the-Sea.”’ Nation Cymru, 14th September 2017. Siôn Barry, ‘Cardiff Airport's nearest rival Bristol reports big increase in Welsh passengers.’ Wales Online, 12th January 2018. ‘Wales “told to be grateful for what it does get” on infrastructure spending.’ Nation Cymru, 11th October 2018. John Ball, ‘Why Wales is richer than opponents of independence claim.’ Nation Cymru, 5th December 2018. Jill Evans, ‘The inequality between Wales and London is the deepest in Europe – and Brexit will make it worse.’ Nation Cymru, 26th January 2019. Marcus Hughes, ‘The Treasury says it won't devolve air passenger duty to Wales because it would hurt Bristol.’ Wales Online, 7th March 2019. ‘UK has higher level of regional inequality than any other large wealthy country.’ The University of Sheffield, 3rd September 2019. Jonathan Edwards, ‘Wales is paying for HS2 but it will harm our economy – we must receive the £5 billion we are owed.’ Nation Cymru, 12th February 2020. Judith Evans, ‘Welsh government cries foul on post-Brexit farm funding.’ Financial Times, 26th November 2020. ‘Wales’ Government should stop “fretting” about their “little status” Welsh Secretary says.’ Nation Cymru, 24th February 2021. ‘“Double whammy” on Rail funding: £500m lost to Wales since 2011 and a future funding squeeze to come, says new report.’ Cardiff University, 20th March 2021. Craig Johnson, Jack Price & Helen Tilley, ‘How is the Brexit trade agreement affecting the Welsh economy?’ Economics Observatory, 25th March 2021. ‘Simon Hart says he will overrule Welsh government on tax-free port in Wales ‘come what may.”’ Nation Cymru, 19th May 2021. Laura Clements, ‘Five reasons people in Wales are so worried about plans for a free trade deal with Australia.’ Wales Online, 20th May 2021. Andrew Potter, ‘How are Covid-19 and Brexit affecting ports in Wales?’ Economics Observatory, 25th May 2021. Shane Brennan, ‘Second homes reaching crisis point for communities in Wales.’ The National, 5th June 2021. George Monbiot, ‘Second homes are a gross injustice, yet the UK government encourages them.’ The Guardian, 23rd June 2021. Gareth Axenderrie, ‘Simon Hart warns M4 and A55 “are not just Welsh roads.”’ The National, 23rd June 2021. Liz Saville Roberts MP and Mabon ap Gwynfor MS. ‘Holiday homes in Wales and the housing crisis.’ The Guardian, 30th June 2021. Siôn Barry, ‘High speed rail should be reclassed as an England only project says Welsh Affairs Committee.’ Business Live, 14th July 2021. 

  4. Gwynfor Evans, Land of My Fathers: Two Thousand Years of Welsh History (John Penry: Swansea, 1974) pp. 366-374. ‘Over 80% of anti Welsh language comments are from English people[.] 36% live in Wales.’ Barn Cymro, 12th July 2017. Oli Dugmore, ‘Let it go: the Welsh language should be consigned to history.’ The Tab, undated. Judith Judd, ‘Welsh Language Should Die.’ The Independent, 23rd October 2011. Cathy Owen, ‘The BBC was actually trying to find someone to talk about “why the Welsh language should die.”’ Wales Online, 3rd August 2016. ‘Call for sacking of Newsnight editor after Welsh language row response.’ Nation Cymru, 23rd August 2017. Louise Tickle and Steven Morris, ‘“We’re told we’re anti-Welsh bigots and fascists” – the storm over Welsh-first schooling.’ The Guardian, 20th June 2017. Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, ‘Anti-Welsh bigotry is rife. It’s just as well we’re a tough people.’ The Guardian, 15th March 2018. Ifan Morgan Jones, ‘If Katie Hopkins is gearing up to attack Welsh language schools, you know they must be good.’ Nation Cymru, 9th September 2018. ‘“Moribund monkey language” author slammed for fresh attack on the Welsh language.’ Nation Cymru, 14th December 2018. ‘Jeremy Vine under fire for “disgraceful” attitude to the Welsh language.’ Nation Cymru, 29th December 2018. ‘Second Llanrwst Tory councillor in anti-Welsh row’ (Adele Channer-Clarke described Welsh as a ‘crappy, dying language’). Nation Cymru, 30th August 2019. ‘Guardian criticised after suggesting Welsh language is pointless.’ Nation Cymru, 2nd February 2020. ‘Language expert left “speechless” after Sky News suggests Welsh is “pointless.”’ Nation Cymru, 21st February 2020. ‘Financial Times removes anti-Welsh language comments after online backlash.’ Nation Cymru, 4th August 2020. ‘Huw Edwards slams former Telegraph editor for anti-Welsh language article.’ Nation Cymru, 5th February 2021. ‘The Times republishes 100-year-old editorial asking: “Is the Eisteddfod worthwhile?”’ Nation Cymru, 21st August 2021. 

  5. Simon Johnson, ‘Tony Blair admits mistake over Scottish devolution.’ The Telegraph, 2nd September 2015. Richard Wyn Jones, ‘Professor Richard Wyn Jones’ excoriating verdict on the Wales Bill plans for devolution.’ Wales Online, 28th October 2016. Joel Day, ‘Wales on the BRINK: Shock poll reveals SURGE in support for scrapping of Welsh Assembly [sic].’ Express, 17th February 2020. ‘Coronavirus lockdown: English Conservative MP’s call to scrap Senedd “wrong.”’ BBC News, 12th April 2020. Libby Brooks, Steven Morris and Lisa O'Carroll, ‘Boris Johnson accused of plan to “emasculate” UK devolution.’ The Guardian, 12th July 2020. ‘Shrewsbury MP deletes tweet calling for Welsh Parliament to be scrapped after backlash.’ Nation Cymru, 15th October 2020. Libby Brooks, Steven Morris, Rory Carroll and Nazia Parveen, ‘“A disaster”: Boris Johnson adds to his devolution problems.’ The Guardian, 17th November 2020. Ian Craig, ‘Mark Reckless joins the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party.’ South Wales Argus, 19th October 2020. Neil Hamilton, ‘UKIP Leader: Devolution is a “Constitutional Virus which is Killing the UK.”’ UKIP, 17th November 2020. Will Hayward, ‘The Senedd has refused to agree to the UK Government’s keystone Brexit legislation: “It is about the imposition of political power to undermine Welsh democracy.”’ Wales Online, 9th December 2020. ‘“Actively hostile” UK Government means “we’re sleepwalking towards the end of the Union” says Drakeford.’ Nation Cymru, 14th July 2021. ‘Tory MP insists he’s not “speaking through his hat” as he bemoans Wales having different laws to England.’ Nation Cymru, 26th July 2021. ‘Tony Blair wanted Assembly leader to be called “Chief Executive” not First Minister.’ Nation Cymru, 26th July 2021. ‘Tony Blair’s government wanted Assembly to be “subordinate”, says former minister.’ Nation Cymru, 27th July 2021. See also, from Scotland, Richard Murphy, ‘Boris Johnson wants to grind Scotland down. It’s time for Holyrood to fight back.’ The National, 23rd July 2021. ‘UK Department for Transport refuses to rule out overruling Welsh Gov on M4 relief road.’ Nation Cymru, 31st August 2021. 

  6. See Michael Kenny, ‘The Genesis of English Nationalism.’ Political Insight, 1st September 2016. DOI: 10.1177/2041905816666124, which explores the link between English support for Brexit, and English hostility to the Celtic nations. See also Kate Connolly, ‘Britain’s view of its history “dangerous”, says former museum director.’ The Guardian, 7th October 2016. Matt Broomfield, ‘Britons suffer “historical amnesia” over atrocities of their former empire, says author.’ The Independent, 6th March 2017. Shashi Tharoor, ‘“But what about the railways …?” The myth of Britain’s gifts to India.’ The Guardian, 8th March 2017. Gideon Rachman, ‘Brexit reinforces Britain’s imperial amnesia.’ Financial Times, 27th March 2017. 

  7. My own understanding of the cruelties of slavery and its ongoing legacy of cruelty and misery – the torture and even crucifixion of recalcitrant slaves by their Christian owners, or the lynching, cooking and partial consumption of black men suspected of murdering whites – was hugely increased by reading Orlando Patterson, Rituals of Blood: Consequences of Slavery in Two American Centuries (Washington, DC: Civitas/Counterpoint), 1998. 

  8. Michael Hechter, Internal Colonialism: The Celtic Fringe in British National Development 1536-1966. London: Routledge, Keegan and Paul, 1975. The book explores how England dismantled the export economies of its Celtic satellites, dismantled their industries, increased their agricultural output to satisfy its own import needs, and did so while vilifying and oppressing their languages and cultures and encouraging forms of discimination which persist at the time of writing. 

  9. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism. 1951. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2017. 

  10. Wanjuki Maina, ‘Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: We have normalised negativity towards African languages.’ Nation, 8th February 2019. For Parliament’s attempt to render the Welsh language extinct by imposing English as the medium of education in Welsh schools, enforced to some extent by the brutality of the Welsh Not, and for the motivation of the policy in economic exploitation, justified by racism, see John Davies, A History of Wales (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2007), p. 387, 455-456. 

  11. Patrick Gathara, ‘Why I so enjoyed watching England lose the Euro final: English arrogance combined with colonial history and denial are feeding schadenfreude across the world.’ Al-Jazeera, 12th July 2021. Vinay Lal, ‘Anyone But England: Some Thoughts Of An Indian On The Euro 2020 [sic] Final.’ ABP Live, 12th July 2021. Ben Quinn, ‘England’s Covid unlocking is threat to world, say 1,200 scientists.’ The Guardian, 16th July 2021. Julia Buckley, ‘Why it seems like everyone hates the English abroad.’ CNN Travel, 17th July 2021. 

  12. For a veteran’s condemnation of the perversion of Remembrance Sunday, see Harry Leslie Smith, ‘This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time.’ The Guardian, 8th November 2013. 

  13. For Saunders Lewis’s pacifist activism against the use of a location in Penyberth, Llŷn, for training RAF pilots in the techniques of aerial bombardment of civil infrastructure and housing, see Gwynfor Evans, Fighting For Wales (Talybont: Lolfa, 1991), pp. 32-42; for his journalistic stance against Welsh involvement in World War II, see Richard Wyn Jones, The Fascist Party in Wales?: Plaid Cymru, Welsh Nationalism and the Accusation of Fascism (Cardiff: CUP, 2014), pp. 54-58. Kate Roberts describes being ‘driven to the Welsh Nationalist Party’ by the death of her brother in World War I, for the sake of a ‘British Empire’ which notified her parents of his death by a telegram in English, which being Welsh monoglots, they were unable to read, in Saunders Lewis, ed., Crefft y Stori Fer (Llandysul: Y Clwb Llyfrau Cymreig, 1949), pp. 11-12 — both the Welsh-language original and my own crude translation are available here. Gwenallt Jones’s experience of imprisonment as a conscientious objector during and after WWI form the basis of his novel, Plasau’r Brenin (Llandysul: Gwasg Gomer, 1934). The novel remains untranslated, except for sections which appeared as ‘The King’s Mansions’ in my own short-story collection: Rob Mimpriss, Prayer at the End: Twenty-Three Stories (Cockatrice, 2015). 

  14. Greg Heffer, ‘“It's SABOTAGE” Fury as Welsh politicians set out THEIR Brexit plan KEEPING free movement: LEADING Welsh politicians have been accused of trying to “sabotage” Brexit after they laid out demands for Theresa May to water down her plans for a clean break from the EU.’ The Daily Express (archived), 23rd January 2017. Block capitals the paper’s own. ‘Apology call after Cairns dubs opponents of “Western powerhouse” “anti-English,”’ Nation Cymru, 10th September 2018. ‘Welsh Gov Covid briefings “riddled with anti-English sentiment,” former Times editor claims.’ Nation Cymru, 29th March 2021. ‘Welsh Tories accuse Drakeford of “flirting with hostile nationalism.”’ Nation Cymru, 14th July 2021. 

  15. Anushka Asthana, ‘Theresa May would go to war to protect Gibraltar, Michael Howard says.’ The Guardian, 2nd April 2017. Daniel Boffey and Lisa O'Carroll, ‘UK sends navy vessels to Jersey amid post-Brexit fishing row with France.’ The Guardian, 5th May 2021. 

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