“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 serving as it does as 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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