JOHN HUMPHRYS: I’m no football fan or monarchist… but even I can celebrate the two new faces of patriotism
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
By this time on Monday morning the nation will be walking around with big soppy grins on its face, possibly nursing massive hangovers from too much celebrating. Or mourning.
Some of us — admittedly a very small minority — will be doing neither. I’m one of them. Or at least I thought I was. Now I’m not so sure.
I dreaded the arrival of Euro 2020 because I knew exactly what to expect. Endless tedious discussion in every paper and programme of a sport I’ve never really understood and never appreciated.
Marcus Rashford has been awarded an MBE for his campaign against child poverty and Raheem Sterling for working to end racial discrimination in sport
Then there’s William. And where was William on Wednesday night? Why, at Wembley of course
For me it has been about young men being paid more for running around a pitch for 90 minutes trying to kick a ball into a net than a nurse earns in a year for saving lives. And often risking their own lives in the process.
It’s about the big clubs increasingly controlled by foreign money men whose only interest is in becoming even richer at the expense of loyal supporters who can scarcely afford the scandalously expensive season tickets.
How in God’s name could anyone have seriously approved sending the World Cup to a country like Qatar? In football, money doesn’t just talk. It shouts from the stadium rooftop.
Real sport, for me, was epitomised by the family my sister, Anne, married into. The most famous rugby family of all time: the Williams family of Taffs Well. Seven of the sons played for Cardiff, most for Wales, too. Bleddyn was the greatest centre in the world.
They played for the love of the game because rugby was an amateur sport. Their reward was the honour of representing their club and country.
When I stood in the terraces of Cardiff Arms Park as a youngster watching my country beat England yet again, I shared their pride. It was linked to patriotism.
I wince a little when I write that word. I have always been a little scared of it.
Too often it is hijacked by nationalists. For them it means ‘my country right or wrong’. At its worst, patriotism can breed a militant form of nationalism that becomes the jingoism that sent a generation to die in the trenches in 1914.
In recent decades, football has been shamed by brainless yobs who demonstrated their own perverted patriotism by roaming the streets of foreign capitals beating up anyone who wasn’t shouting ‘Inger-land’ or sporting a Cross of St George.
That helps explain my unease when big international football tournaments come around. It’s true that the worst extremes of hooliganism have been controlled, but I still struggle to see patriotism through the prism of a football game.
I wrote a few weeks ago on this page about the massive wave of celebration that swept the country when England won the World Cup in 1966. It was magnified a thousand times because we had beaten a country with whom our nation had been at war less than a generation before.
That patriotism is more benign now. Our opponents on the football field are just that. Opponents. No more, no less.
We heard a few yobs booing when the Danish anthem was played, but the real message from the stadium had already been delivered by those young men on the turf.
So the patriotism cultivated by a smiling monarch or even a cup-winning national football team just papers over all that
All of them had been blessed with a natural skill, but they were impressive in other ways, too. They may be rich and privileged now, but several had tough childhoods and are trying to help other poor kids.
Marcus Rashford has been awarded an MBE for his campaign against child poverty and Raheem Sterling for working to end racial discrimination in sport.
They’re not all saints, but enough are role models for the country to take some pride in the team as a whole. And that gets to the heart of patriotism.
A nation needs role models. Someone whose behaviour we can applaud and unite behind. So where else should we look once the tournament is over and the cheers (or sobs) have died down?
Perhaps just a short drive from Wembley to Windsor Castle where an elderly lady called Elizabeth spends most of her time. This may seem an unlikely suggestion from someone like me who has never been a monarchist. My father drummed it into me as a small boy that in a real democracy we must all have equal opportunity whatever our birthright. It stuck.
Yet even I can see why the Queen inspires unity, the precondition for patriotism.
We all expected that when she lost her husband at the age of 95 she would sink pretty rapidly into a decline, or at least hand over her duties to others.
Instead, the opposite has happened. She seems determined to show there’s plenty of life in the old girl yet — often smiling and even laughing during her frequent public engagements — and seemingly unbowed by the troubles in her own family.
She has managed to quell even the slightest scepticism at her right to rule. It will not be an easy act for Prince Charles to follow. But he, too, seems to have gained more respect in recent years — perhaps because he has kept a fairly low profile and just got on with it.
Then there’s William. And where was William on Wednesday night? Why, at Wembley of course.
He is, apparently, as genuine a football fan as the best of them. Watching him leap in the air with joy at every goal England has scored suggests there might be another unifying figure in the making.
You may argue that the institution of monarchy can never unite us because it embodies and perpetuates the inequality and class divisions that still characterise our society. So the patriotism cultivated by a smiling monarch or even a cup-winning national football team just papers over all that.
But it’s also possible that the monarchy unites us because it sits above all those things that divide us. Who’d want to live in Japan now they’re about to celebrate the most gloomy Olympics in history?
The obvious truth is it’s easier to be patriotic when there are things to cheer about. That might be a football trophy. It might also be the prospect one day of King William.
Ever wondered what all those professors in all those grand universities do with all their time? Well, obviously, they do lots of utterly impenetrable things like trying to discover where the universe ends and what it’s actually in. And why.
Or maybe they’re trying to find a way of fusing atoms together so we can have nuclear power without all that nasty radioactive waste — free energy and no global warming.
You know the sort of thing. The greatest minds of our time have been working on them for ever without actually finding the answers.
I won’t bore you with all the technical stuff, but if you enjoy your biscuit with the chocolate side facing upwards then you’d better start thinking again
But here’s a chap who set himself a truly formidable task and has completed it. And if it doesn’t win him a Nobel Prize then my name’s not Einstein.
He is Charles Spence and he’s a food scientist at Oxford no less. He has discovered the right way to eat a chocolate biscuit. He’s discovered the wrong way, too.
I won’t bore you with all the technical stuff, but if you enjoy your biscuit with the chocolate side facing upwards then you’d better start thinking again.
It’s absolutely fine to bring the digestive up to your mouth with the chocolate on top because that creates visual anticipation of the taste to follow.
But then — and I hope you’re concentrating — you must flip it over before you take your first bite because most tastebuds are on the surface of the tongue.
Thus the full taste can be picked up by direct contact with the chocolate and the sensation of chocolate melting on the tongue adds another dimension.
So far so good. But. Isn’t there always a ‘but’ when new horizons are crossed? The professor says it may taste better if the first bite is taken without closing your mouth. That’s how you get the full benefit of the crunch and texture.
I have just one question. How exactly can you take a bite without closing your mouth? I await the Prof’s call.
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