Norman Tebbitt challenged the patriotism of ethnic minorities in the UK in terms of the ‘cricket test’. Who for example would someone of Indian heritage support when India was playing the MCC?
It’s not such an easy question to answer and it’s got little to do with patriotism. Supporting a team is about more than just where you live.
I’m Welsh and live in England so who do I support when they play each other? For me it’s an absolute no-brainer. It’s Wales every time even though I spent just 17 years of my life there and lived only a few miles from the border.
Most often this becomes apparent during the Six Nations. I support Wales first every time. However I’m inclined to support England last and that’s partly down to history, from the defeat of Llewelyn ap Grufydd to the exploitation of coal and the suppression of the Welsh language, and partly because the English tend to be rather ungracious in victory. I’d probably blame a lot of the latter on the tabloid press.
There is a twist to the rule. I was born in South Africa where I spent just two years of my life. I can hardly claim any sort of cultural affinity with the country since neither of my parents were South African. In fact they’re both Welsh. And yet I do support South Africa when it is competing with other countries.
This gave me a problem in the latest rugby World Cup when Wales played South Africa in one of the semi-finals. In that case it was my formative years which took precedence but then when Wales lost by 3 points I went on to support South Africa in the final. Better, I said, to lose narrowly to South Africa in the semis than to be lathered by England in the final. But then South Africa did a brilliant job to beat England and win the Cup: a next to perfect result.
Occasionally, but rarely, I will support England in a contest in which Wales is not competing and so it was in the last football World Cup. I was won over by Gareth Southgate’s decency and his obvious leadership quality so I leant him my support. But to be honest I was not unhappy that England did well, it reached and was knocked out in the sem-finals, but not too well. The English can be insufferable when they win.
To some extent my support for England’s football team strengthened as it did well in this year’s UEFA cup. Gareth Southgate grew in my estimation with his support of his players and with the moral high ground he occupied by virtue of his open letter. I wanted him and his players, who themselves had shown great character and principle, to do well. But my support fell short of 100% because I felt uncomfortable aligning myself with English supporters from the racists who booed the team to the likes of Boris Johnson and Pritti Patel who saw it as a bandwagon to jump on and thereby to sanitise their own racist tendencies. I know they constitute a minority but, in the words of the poet, they turned me off.
Of course it’s much easier when the UK is competing in its own right. I am British, my passport is British and I have spent most of my life in the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. So I enjoy the Olympics because my support for the UK is simple and uncomplicated.
There’s one final twist and that’s the British & Irish Lions. I will always support them in New Zealand and Australia but what about South Africa? On the one hand I can keep my options open and then simply support the winner. Alternatively I can count the number of Welshmen in the Lions team. If it’s a good number, maybe five or six with the captaincy thrown in, then I’ll support the Lions. But if it’s only one or two I’d regard that as an injustice and throw my chips in with South Africa.
And one final, final twist. When Europe plays the US in the Ryder Cup I always support Europe and I’d do it if there were no Welshmen in the team. In fact I’d do so in then unlikely event of their being no British men in the team because I became European a long time ago and Brexit notwithstanding I will always remain so.