Stop The Press! Manchester United Starlet Might Play For England!

“The lowest form of popular culture – lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives – has overrun real journalism.” – Carl Bernstein

An eighteen year old scores twice for Manchester United turning an unimaginable defeat into victory. Although Belgian by birth, he qualifies to represent through various lines of descent – Turkey, Serbia, Albania and perhaps even one day, Kosovo. And not forgetting England, if he chooses to reside on these shores for the next five years.

This hypothetical fact subsequently unleashes a chain of events that goes on to dominate the chatterings of the football week. The England manager makes a tentative enquiry as to the young man’s eligibility which in turn prompts a member of the England squad to suggest that “the only people who should play for England are English people” which consequently sees the issue explode into an examination of what national identity and Englishness actually is. Much navel-gazing ensues. Images of mythical village greens, summer fetes and bunting-strewn street parties are evoked much like a David Cameron speech that seeks to justify this country’s standing by using One Direction as a beacon of pride. All this remember because of a ‘what if?’

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen to the era of the non-story. A golden age in which real news bolstered by fact rather than half-baked opinion is relegated to the fringes by cheesy throwaway pop songs banned for allegedly propagating misogynist ideology. Where a nymphette cavorting suggestively on-stage with a backing group made up of dancers in bunny costumes causes more outrage nationally than the appalling conditions and demands teachers have to work with on a daily basis. Where the dead are vilified for hating their country without the obvious right to reply. Welcome to Wilshere’s England.

To be honest, it’s not Jack Wilshere’s fault. He’s entitled to his opinion and his response to Kevin Pietersen’s ticking off regarding the issue of whether non-English people can represent this country (“With all due respect Mr Pietersen the question was about Football! Cricket, cycling, Athletics is not my field!”) did enough to place him firmly towards the UKIP end of the ignoramus spectrum.

The issue really isn’t about whether or not Wilshere believes that English players are “brave” or “tackle hard” – though if his views are representative of the majority of football folk in this country, it may go a long way to understanding the perennial mistrust of players of the louche calibre of Glenn Hoddle, Matthew Le Tissier and John Barnes on the international stage. The remarks and the ensuing non-debate however, do tell much about how willing we are to obfuscate the real stories, papering over the cracks for fear of facing up to some very harsh realities.

One of those realities is that interest in the national team is probably at its lowest than at any point in living memory. Even the shambolic Graham Taylor years generated emotions beyond that of apathy. Having grown weary of self-deluding hype and overblown expectation, football supporters increasingly shrug with indifference when the international break comes around again. A quick straw poll I took on Twitter yesterday indicated that the vast majority of people would prefer to see their clubs win the league than England triumph at the World Cup. I’d imagine that many of these people actually possess within them a sense of patriotic pride but they’d probably be denounced as Marxist enemies of the state in the current climate.

The Wilshere non-story played into the hands of the most insular aspects of this country’s character. The kind of fear of the unknown and exotic that keeps Paul Dacre in a job and seems to be lapped up by huge swathes of the population of ubiquitous ‘middle England’. Was it any surprise that ‘proper’ Englishmen like Harry Redknapp and Alan Shearer voiced their support for Wilshere’s quasi-Rivers Of Blood comments? And is it any wonder that the rest of the world sees the country as an irrelevance when the best it has to offer is the outmoded perception of English footballers being courageous and steadfast? They’ll be telling us to watch the final scene of Blackadder Goes Forth next and telling us to marvel at the sacrifice of those brave Tommies as they went over the top. Which would again miss the bigger picture; that scene representing as it does a denunciation of the idiocy and crimes of those charged with power.

By focusing our attentions on Wilshere and Adnan Januzaj, we inevitably end up talking about the smaller picture. English football is in dire need of reconstruction and thankfully FA Chairman Greg Dyke is at least trying to do something about it rather than harking back to some sugar-coated past that probably didn’t even exist in the first place. Realistic ambitions are being set and his commission of looking into ways of improving the England team is at least a step in the right direction. Something needs to be done. And blaming foreigners is not it. But taking potshots at Greg Dyke probably is.

Credible journalists have an ethical duty to report the truth but they also have a moral obligation to cut through the bullshit. And this week has seen a whole steaming pile of that dumped on our screens and papers. Wilshere’s rant plays to the jingoistic agenda of The Daily Mail and The Sun but the left-wing press is equally culpable when it devotes time and energy to nervously fretting over the significance of it all. One might think that to ask a difficult question may result in you not being invited back to the next powder puff press junket or something. Keep trotting out those non-stories, boys and girls. They get us angry and we can at least vent our spleens at the telly and the Unknown Other.

Meanwhile, migrant workers are working under slave conditions to realise the crooked dreams of the Qatari World Cup, Harry Redknapp has a new book out, a cyclone leaves chaos and destruction in India and an eighteen year old boy has had a lovely week off. I couldn’t care less though as I’m going to spend all day watching videos of kittens doing vaguely amusing things on YouTube. That’ll give me something to talk about at work tomorrow…

Further reading: That Was The Football Week That Was: Rain, Racism & Repetition 

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10 Responses to Stop The Press! Manchester United Starlet Might Play For England!

  1. Pierre du-tout October 13, 2013 at 6:40 pm #

    What gets me about the Wilshire story is that he wasn’t talking about immigration, but representing a country in a football game. I think I agree with his stance. If you’re not born or bred in this country why should you play for this country. I think that Is a fairly valid argument. How this puts him on par with a UKIP member / daily mail reader is beyond me.

    • Greg October 13, 2013 at 8:48 pm #

      His comments, misguided as they were, may not put him on a par with UKIP/Daily Mail ideology but to think such pronouncements can’t be used to push and reinforce an agenda would be naive.

      This country prides itself in welcoming people from all nations and if they contribute to its economy and institutions who are we to say that they cannot take on citizenship and therefore act as ambassadors for it.

      As I clearly state, Wilshire’s views are neither here nor there. It’s the overblown response to a purely hypothetical discussion point that poses the most danger when there are far more pressing matters for us to concern ourselves with.

  2. Pierre du-tout October 14, 2013 at 7:25 am #

    It was a quiet week for the media. Greg dyke didn’t have his platform until Thursday and then they were waiting for the internationals. They clearly needed some debate to fill the pages.

    I agree with the pointlessness but that’s the industry they turn a profit by turning a non story into a story. That’s been going on for years since the scandal columns in Victorian times.

    I was merely picking up the hypothetical debate (following your lead) that’s all.

  3. Michael October 14, 2013 at 7:30 am #

    Not the first time Wilshere’s made an idiot of himself and probably not the last. Remember him making a ‘properly hilarious’ joke on twiter last season where he pretended to confuse Danny Simpson and Theo Walcott…

    The funny thing is we’ve had naturalised players for ages. Tony Dorigo, anyone? John Barnes? Luther Blissett? William Bryant, born in Belgium in 1899, was capped in 1925. Brian Stein, born in Cape Town, played for England almost sixty years later.

  4. Pierre du-tout October 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    It’s a good point Michael – out of 1211 (wikipedia) capped players 2 of the 4 you mention to support your point moved to England as children.

    Not really the same as an adult ‘choosing’ a country which was what Wilshire tried to get across (I think). Did Brian Stein really get his first cap at 60+

  5. elliott October 14, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    Link for the kitten videos please.

  6. Neil October 14, 2013 at 7:28 pm #

    Hypothetical future – 6 years hence
    Januzaj plays 10 indifferent games for England as they continue to struggle on the world stage. Meanwhile he rips apart the PL winning Man U two titles almost single handedly.
    Resisting the opportunity for a big move to Real he is cut low by a Wiltshere reducer in the first 10 minutes of the season opener against Arsenal. He barely plays at the top level again. After a year out he goes on loan to Standard Leige and never manages to break back into the first team squad at United and leaves for a sojourn around middling European teams.
    Meanwhile Kosovo realises its independence from Serbia. Januzaj appeals to FIFA to allow him to play for the only country he previously couldn’t choose. The Mail’s headline runs “The man who hates the Queen.” The robots decide enough is enough and rise up against their masters….

  7. Michael October 15, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    Far as I’m aware, the only country Junazak’s chosen to represent is Albania. His voice has been noticeably absent from this non-story.
    Doesn’t matter if it’s 2 or 200, to be honest. The point is that it’s nothing new. Wilshere’s an idiot. Has been before, will be again.

  8. Michael October 16, 2013 at 8:09 am #

    PS Pierre:

    Sixty years later = after 1925. If you’re going to be a pedant, you really should have used a question mark too…

  9. Lanterne Rouge October 19, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    I’d rather get a contentious throw in when my club is 5-0 down and already relegated than England win the World Cup

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