Rana Malook argues against a short press conference with a young Footballer being used as a platform to raise the complex issue of national identity.
Once upon a time not so long ago I was traveling on a routine FinnAir flight from Helsinki to Manchester. It was a medium/small sized air craft and the only thing separating me from first class was a thin curtain. Naturally it didn’t take me long to begin conversing with those around me including the privileged folk in the visibly opulent echelons of first class. It’s an old habit. I’m a humanist, it comes with the territory. On this occasion however I had good reason to. I had partially recognized a chap sitting in front and yes it indeed turned out to be Tuomas Haapala, a Finnish International footballer who’d just signed for Manchester City.
Time flew by as we chatted merrily about football and all things related. It was understandable; he’d just moved to a new country and didn’t know anyone. And for me, it was the first time I’d had a conversation with a professional footballer, an International one at that. Over the course of the next year, we became good friends and remain to this day. Looking back, that year was somewhat surreal. Meeting footballer in an unfamiliar, informal environment challenged the frequent stereotypical views popularized in the mainstream media. I quickly realized that as a population, much like any other, footballers were misrepresented.
Recent remarks by Jack Wilshere have raised questions about national identity. His comments were obtuse, but he’s not the first to make them and probably won’t be the last. However upon reflection, are they really comments that mirror the general view held by “English” footballers? I’d argue not. Are they merely comments made by a young man still trying to learn and understand the world around him? I’d argue yes. But what I must draw attention to which no one appears to be doing is the validity of the question itself and its potential intention.
In my post-graduate years I had the pleasure of studying Globalization as a concept and its various meanings and implications. Part of the study involved delving into the unavoidably complex topic of national identity and the plethora of politics involved in its formation. After minor exploration and enquiry I discovered that the issue raised far more questions than answers. One thing that became clear however was the fact that concrete definitions of what is/isn’t “English” don’t do any justice to the truth.
Whatever the intention of the question, it set in motion a chain of events which led to another social media witch hunt. Kevin Pietersen’s tweet was merely a reactionary one on twitter. He has every right to react, but he’s not a journalist. The numerous articles which sprung up in the immediate aftermath however were written by journalists, who for the most part, merely inflamed the situation by choosing to arouse emotion instead of encourage thought and enquiry into a serious matter.
And yet, it did also form once again a narrative adopted by the media that’s consistent only with itself. Subliminal projections of “Oh look here’s another footballer that said something stupid” through condescending suggestive questions were rife across numerous news streams. It reminded me of what Tuomas told me on that flight many years ago. He spoke of the frustration he and a lot of footballers feel when stereotypes are constantly promoted like "Arab" villains in Hollywood propaganda films he grew up watching. It was a valid point.
Contrary to Wilshere's comments and those of a few handpicked others, I'm certain that most footballers, like most people understand that we live in a modern, multicultural society which is evolving and thus inevitably constantly redefining and shaping its identity.
The excuse for this type of journalism and tactics, is often given as a monetary one. A quick story, a quick bump in weekly web traffic, a quick buck and a pat on the shoulder for the Journo in question. Which isn't right, but fair enough when other topics are involved. It's a business after all. But perhaps on occasions when the topic is sensitive, with potential to affect dynamics of a highly integrated society, such tactics are irresponsible.
I know plenty of naturalized folk who make vast, invaluable contributions to this country’s GDP through educational, entrepreneurial, intellectual and sporting means. Contributions that fuel the prosperity of this country. Contributions that are English to their core. So If these people feel "English" and want to define themselves as such, then wouldn’t it be a tad “unEnglish” for anyone to deny them? Since when did being English cease to be about England and its welfare as a country, and become some mythical and dated notion linked to birth, ethnic origin et al? I mean seriously who do we think we are? The Monarchy? It doesn't take a militant optimist to work out that the "English" population are neither that arrogant nor delusional.
Wilshere’s comments were naive, but the question posed was aimed at the wrong person at the wrong time and the intentions weren’t perhaps as sincere as they should’ve been.
image: © Ronnie Macdonald