Journalist’s question to Schmeichel show why it’s hard for Welsh fans to support England
Gareth Ceidiog Hughes
Even when you play international football for another country, your success is ultimately all about England.
That was the assumption behind the peculiar, yet entirely typical question from an English journalist to the Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.
The expression on the international footballer’s face as he answered the manifestation of extraordinary solipsism and entitlement ahead of the Euro 2020 clash between Denmark and England, was a mixture of amusement and incredulity.
He was asked what it would “mean” to the Danish team to “stop it from coming home?”
Schmeichel asked: “Has it ever been home? I don’t know, have you ever won it?”
England, although it has won the World Cup once (one less than Uruguay), unlike Denmark, hasn’t actually ever won the European Championship.
Schmeichel then went on to explain: “To be honest, I haven’t given any thought to what it would mean to stop England more than what it would do for Denmark.
“It’s what it would do for our country back home. The joy it would bring to a country of only five-and-a-half million to be able to do something like that, or compete with the nations we’re competing with.
“So, yeah, not really a lot of thought to England’s feelings in this.”
This is basic stuff. He shouldn’t really have to explain that he’s thinking about what a win would mean for his own country, not England. It should be patently obvious.
Yet he does, because large sections of the rather excitable English commentariat have not quite grasped that it isn’t always all about them.
This is something Welsh fans find themselves in the somewhat exasperating position of having to explain rather often, which is why so many reacted to Schmeichel’s comments undisguised glee. What he had to deal with is even more acute for us. This type of thing happens with nauseating regularity. It is pervasive.
Pretty much every time an international football tournament comes around, a weird and counterproductive pressure campaign begins to try to press-gang Wales supporters into backing the Three Lions.
Now, this may be heretical to say in some quarters, but there are some attractive reasons for backing the current England squad.
I happen to like the team’s manager Gareth Southgate. He is intelligent, articulate, and seems like a thoroughly decent human being.
I happen to quite like his squad, who seem to embody the best of what it means to be English. They are the antithesis of the kind of reactionary, jingoistic, festival of hooliganism that is often associated with English football at international tournaments.
However, nothing makes me less likely to support England than being told that I as a Welshman am obligated to support them. It puts off people who might otherwise be tempted to do so.
But even without that, there is no obligation for anyone Welsh to support England anyway.
Wales is a nation in its own right – yet it is often treated as a mere adjunct to England. The calls for Welsh fans to back England feel very much like an expression of this asymmetrical and toxic dynamic.
Our national identity is consistently undermined by a particular incarnation of Britishness which is really just an extension of Englishness. We are asked to embrace that at the expense of our own Welshness, and then told that we are “petty” if we do not.
In reality, we are merely rejecting the assumption that our identity belongs to another country and not to our own. We are merely stating that we exist in our own right. We are explaining that our Welshness is just as valid as any other identity – even Englishness.
Were this dynamic not to exist and were more of the English media to conduct itself with a modicum of humility, it would be much easier for this particular Welshman to support England.
But even if it didn’t, it doesn’t mean that I necessarily would, because like Kasper Schmeichel, I come from a different country.
It just so happens that my country is called Wales.