We live in an age in which a person’s nationality and its meaning have never been so vague. The evolution of mankind both technologically and culturally has, in large part, coalesced to make the human-race as egalitarian as ever.
The internet and its endless communicative possibilities have opened up and allowed humanity to link up and create a hive mind of global proportions. Looking through a football lens, it is incredible to think that there are massive fan communities of British clubs throughout the globe; from Mexico to Uganda to the Philippines. Aside from some isolated tribal communities, living in the heart of the Amazon, there is hardly a corner of the Earth in which football has not infested. This has allowed a Manchester United fan living in Mumbai to develop as deep and as vested interest in the club as a man local to the Salford area. Some onlookers may question the legitimacy of such a variety of fandom but what is true is that the said hypothetical fan, of which there are thousands, will identify just as much as a Manchester United fan as he will as an Indian.
Culturally too, we have progressed. From the despair and chaos of the Second World War, we have developed such an entrenched mistrust of totalitarianism we have constructed the European Union. A theoretical utopia where free movement of peoples, cultures and ideas can move as freely as water. This harmonious environment has allowed citizens of other nations to come to Britain and settle and make themselves a life and vice-versa. Again it is just as likely that a family originally hailing from the South of Italy, would move to Glasgow and develop an unshakable connection to Celtic. This free movement of peoples have generated a massive subset of folk that carry duel nationalities. At the turn of the last century, where whole communities upended their lives and sought to build a brighter future they made the “New World” their destination, America. It was, and is, far from uncommon to see subsets of people such as Italian-Americans or Irish-Americans, but as the world shrinks and migration is far easier to attempt we are seeing strange and beautiful combinations of peoples. When cultures mix and identities blur a person’s nationality can become as difficult to decipher as a Rubik’s Cube.
Consider the former England, Bayern Munich and Manchester United midfielder Owen Hargreaves. Born in Canada to a Welsh mother and an English father, yet schooled in his profession in Germany. In the end he chose to represent England but the journey to selecting the nation he favoured and identified as must have been dizzying. The fluid interchangeable nature of a person’s nationality has never been more prevalent in football than in the last number of years. In the last two World Cups Jerome Boateng and his brother Kevin Prince-Boateng have lined up on opposing sides, Jerome for Germany and Kevin for Ghana. The ability to gain citizenship via the naturalisation laws has further muddied the waters, the key example being Spain’s ‘signing’ of the previously Brazilian Diego Costa.
England and Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere waded into the ambiguous debate with this quote “If you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English”. The stocky midfielder went on to say “The only people who should play for England are English people’’. Whilst on the face of it I ostensibly agree, international football should be the competition between the very best set of players that any nation can put in the field, I disagree however with his binary sentiments. It is impossible for Jack, me or anyone to know how someone feels about their heritage. The continued diaspora from the collapsed Yugoslavia and the mass outpouring of displaced people from the Middle-East, most notably Syria, will create a whole generation of folk that are unsure of their place in the world. It is highly likely that if our government allow refugees to settle in the UK then in a generations time we will see someone who sees themselves as a Syrian-Englishman ply his trade in one of our professional leagues.
It has been strange, in the last half decade, to witness a regression in the nation’s comfortability in accepting immigration. Of course fear and the increased threat and/or awareness of terrorism has forced large swathes of ‘The West’ to regress their thinking and seek more of an isolationist style of life. In America Donald Trump wishes to build a wall to protect his country from Mexican ‘invasion’, as though the poor folk wishing for a better standard of living were led by the modern day Genghis Khan, forcing his Mongol horde through to pillage and murder. In Britain we have seen a huge uptake in voters for parties such as the BNP leading to the much discussed and debated vote on whether or not to remain in the EU.
In Spain we are likely to see the latest melding between football and the ever complicated debate on nationality. In this weekend’s Copa Del Rey final between Barcelona and serial Europa League winners Sevilla in the Vicente Calderon. Earlier in the week it was announced that the Spanish government had banned the Barcelona fan’s right to display their estelada flag, a symbol for the continued fight for Catalan independence. The fight for autonomy is as part of the Barcelona DNA as Lionel Messi, Johan Cruyff or the iconic blaugrana strip. The reason that Barcelona have grown into such a leviathan of a club is because they are not just a football club. The eleven players inside the Nou Camp are seen as the army of the Catalan people fighting in a manner and a style that emphasised the ideals of the people. Even the club’s motto “Mes que en club”, more than a club, represents just what Barcelona mean to the folk of the region. When you compare them to city rivals Espanyol, who lack the same fervour in ideologies, you can see just how much of a difference their stance on the matter has made.
In lieu of their iconic flags it was touted that they would draft in up to ten thousand Scotland flags, the saltire. It was their way of demonstrating their demand for a vote on independence. Their view was that if Scotland had the right to vote on their future then surely it was only fair that the Catalonians were afforded the same opportunity. The decision, on appeal from Barcelona’s lawyers, has been reversed and the right to drape the estelada flag has been won. As much as I would have liked to see the amusing image of an ocean of Scotland flags it is probably the correct decision.
Censorship of any variety should always be fought.