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Opinion

No, Wales doesn’t have to support England – and here’s why

16 Jun 2024 7 minute read
England fans in a fan park near the ground ahead of the UEFA Euro 2024 Group C match at the Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. Credit: Bradley Collyer/PA Wire.

Dafydd Mac

Is football going ‘home’? Who knows!

Do the people of Wales want it to go ‘home’? Well some do, some don’t, and many don’t care.

But what seems clear is that, win or lose, England is particularly keen that the rest of the UK get behind them.

I’ve had many English ask me why so many Welsh people won’t support England.

They berate the “pettiness” of the “support whoever’s playing England” mantra, and insist that as part of the United Kingdom we should support each other in our sporting endeavours.

“We’d support Wales, so why don’t they support us?” cried one disgruntled England fan.

The British media have been asking the same question and articles have been written insisting that we show our support.

A couple of years ago Stephen Daisley in the Spectator imagined what would happen if one of the other nations of the British Isles, Scotland, reached a tournament semi-final ahead of England’s World Cup semi-final against Croatia in 2018:

“England fans would throw their support behind the plucky 11 and battalions of BBC cameras would be dispatched to interview players’ families, friends and old PE teachers.

“The Prime Minister would discover long-lost great grannies who once had a fish supper in (Edinburgh suburb) Portobello.

“The Sun would give away novelty kits bearing the legend ‘It’s coming hame’; the Mirror would reprint the lyrics to Flower of Scotland for its readers to sing along.

“England, in short, would be a mate about it.”

Unfortunately, we know this is nonsense because Wales did get to a semi-final in 2016 and the reaction of the British press was largely to ignore the whole thing.

The Sun’s reaction was to suggest that Wales’ players were really English.

Compare the front page of the Sun when Wales played Portugal in the semi-final, with their front page for England’s quarterfinal:

Identity

So we know that England’s support for Wales was at best lukewarm, but why are so few people in Wales ready to support England?

The short answer is that English identity is often synonymous with British identity, and when we Welsh are asked to embrace Britishness what we are actually being asked to do is to embrace Englishness at the expense of Welshness.

Demanding that Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland support England is a classic example of this dynamic in action.

England and Britain are considered interchangeable, and therefore England are presented as the de facto Team GB at the World Cup.

Therefore it is considered only natural, in the eyes of many, that we in Wales, as British people, support England, and we are considered petty if we don’t do so.

This also explains why there was no such pressure put on England, Scotland or Northern Ireland to support Wales when we reached the semi-final.

There was no such feeling that Welshness could represent all the people of the UK in the same way as Englishness.

Neighbours

Many in Wales resent such an imposition of Englishness under the cloak of Britishness because it undermines what is an already fragile Welsh national identity.

Despite its cultural richness, Welsh culture is being slowly eroded by the soft power of its much larger neighbour.

Wales is geographically and demographically smaller than England. It is not an independent nation state and has little recognition on a world scale.

Unsurprisingly, smaller countries across the world often define their national identity against an “antagonistic other” which is often a large neighbouring country which has historically played the role of coloniser or oppressor to the smaller nation.

Thus the smaller nation’s national identity is often defined in terms of being different from the “antagonistic other”.

For example, Basque and Catalan identities define themselves against the dominant Spanish culture, and countries of the former USSR foster a national identity that is as un-Russian as possible.

The need to define Welsh national identity against an “antagonistic other” is unsurprisingly more pressing still because we also belong to a United Kingdom where British identity is considered synonymous with English identity.

In a world where English national identity enjoys constant validation by virtue of being equivalent to the national identity of a historically significant and influential world power, it is unsurprising that many feel the need to bolster a distinct Welsh identity by highlighting the differences rather than similarities from its “antagonistic other”.

This mitigates against the risk of fading into obscurity under the shadow of a British/English national identity.

The national football team is intrinsically linked to national identity. To support your national team is to show the world that you are proud of your country.

Therefore, if you identify with a national identity which defines itself against an “antagonistic other”, to support the latter’s football team is tantamount to the betrayal of the former.

England, however, has not in recent history been colonised or oppressed by a larger power and therefore does not define its national identity against an “antagonistic other”.

Therefore, while largely ignoring it, it can be much more relaxed about Wales’ sporting success because it does not consider their national identity to be a threat to their own.

Fabric

“But England is no longer antagonistic to Wales, we are all part of the same country, we should be supportive neighbours to each other” exclaims the England supporter.

But while the “Welsh-not” is no longer hung around the necks of our school children who were beaten for speaking their mother tongue in the classroom, the relationship between the countries remains unequal.

Political, economic and cultural power still rests in English hands, and not a day goes by when Wales isn’t reminded of this.

England still enjoys greater economic and infrastructural privilege than Wales, one need only to compare rail transport in both countries to be convinced of this.

Furthermore, English culture is constantly validated as superior, while Welsh culture is done down.

If every Welsh person got a pound every time they were the subject to a sheep shagger joke, or told the Welsh language is gibberish, we’d have enough money to electrify the Newport to Swansea line!

So when Welsh people refuse to support England in the World Cup, it’s nothing personal or ‘petty’ – we are simply defining ourselves as Welsh in the face of an identity that would seek to undermine our Welshness.

And the call to arms for Wales to embrace its Britishness/Englishness in the wake of England’s sporting success at this World Cup suggests that we are correct to think so.

Benefit

I actually think, and hope, that England’s success in the World Cup could be indirectly beneficial to Welsh national identity in the long run.

It may remind the world – and England themselves – that Englishness, Welshness, Scottishness and Irishness are not the same.

If England embraces its own identity as being fundamentally Englishness, and not something that needs to be pressed on others, we can all benefit.

So, all I ask here is that England’s supporters don’t take our lack of support personally.

Let us grumble if England win and enjoy our nationalistic schadenfreude if they lose!


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Llyn
Llyn
27 days ago

The majority of those (mostly armchair fans) in Wales who support England do so because they want to be part of something and wouldn’t have any interest England if they weren’t any good. How many of these Welsh England supporters will also be “supporting” Scotland? How many Northern Ireland matches have they watched in their life?

Caroline M Grant
Caroline M Grant
26 days ago
Reply to  Llyn

The big difference is. that Scotland doesn’t expect any other Nation to support us, if they do that’s great – but we don’t have that entitled attitude. We respect England as a seperate Nation but don’t – apparently get that respect back.

Alun
Alun
27 days ago

Some really good points raised. For me, my team play in the English pyramid so I don’t want England to fail, nor will I be hanging St George’s flags outside my house. It’s a strange one. Plus I was born in England and lived there for first few months of my life before my Welsh parents returned home to where I’ve lived the rest of my life.

KCarp
KCarp
27 days ago

Exactly this! Why should we HAVE to support them?! I am Welsh not English or British!

Scott Yeates
Scott Yeates
27 days ago
Reply to  KCarp

Your 100 percent right they English not Welsh I support Scotland our brothers in arms

Rhddwen y Sais
Rhddwen y Sais
27 days ago
Reply to  Scott Yeates

England won Scotland lost that is just a statement about the result. 8

Richard Thomas
Richard Thomas
27 days ago
Reply to  Scott Yeates

Scotland are not “our brothers in arms”. Scotland cares about Scotland, they couldn’t care less about Wales. It only wants somebody else to stir up division within the UK to undermine England and advance it’s own cause. Joe Jordan cheating his way to a penalty tells you a lot about what they think of Wales in the football context too. Yes, football is competitive, but they weren’t bothered about beating Wales fairly. Just because you share a common foe it doesn’t make you allies; a Newport supporter and a Swansea supporter might well prefer to see Cardiff lose each week,… Read more »

Ben
Ben
27 days ago
Reply to  KCarp

Who told you that you or anyone has to support England? Speaking as an Englishman i don’t give a toss, if you support us or not.

Dai
Dai
27 days ago
Reply to  Ben

Well said, your teams problem is normally the media who spout off and talk rubbish. Never really wanted England to win but always wanted Ian Wright to win something, so passionate and a great bloke.

Mozart
Mozart
27 days ago
Reply to  KCarp

Calm down dear, your under no obligation. Phew

Riki
Riki
27 days ago
Reply to  KCarp

The Welsh are thee British! It seems 15 people don’t know their ancestors origins. Last time I checked, British comes from Briton, which a coined by the Romans for the natives to Britain. Those the English call “Welsh” – foreigners! I am from Wales, and I am a Cymro Briton, I Am NOT WELSH!!!!!

Last edited 27 days ago by Riki
Stun
Stun
26 days ago
Reply to  Riki

Riki – Brythoneg cenedl cyntaf Cymro ydych chi!

Last edited 26 days ago by Stun
Brad Bull
Brad Bull
25 days ago
Reply to  Riki

It’s time to reclaim what’s been coopted by the Germanics.

Ron Puma
Ron Puma
27 days ago

Who can forget Johnson crassly covering Downing Street in a huge England flag for some quarter final match but couldn’t even manage a tweet of support when Wales qualified for the World Cup.

There’s clearly a conflict of interest when the same person is UK PM and FM of England that extends well beyond sporting events.

Last edited 27 days ago by Ron Puma
Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
27 days ago

There should be no pressure from the ‘British’ press for the other countries of the UK to support England. We don’t have to and have very very good reasons not to, as discussed in the article. For me, it comes across that we are told we should support England as a duty because we share the same island (even though that sharing is far from equal), well my duty isn’t with England, it’s with Wales and so I’ll be supporting Spain and Scotland instead, no matter what the press wants.

Richard Thomas
Richard Thomas
27 days ago

I think the reason why you get the sentiments described in the article is that most English people have nothing against Wales, played no part in oppressing the Welsh language or culture other than the crime of merely being English. If Wales has suffered by an English hand it wasn’t something they ever called for or sought to be complicit in. There are a few bigoted loudmouths in England as everywhere who always do their best to give a nation a bad name, but most English people are just like the Welsh, normal people trying to get on with life… Read more »

Dai
Dai
27 days ago
Reply to  Richard Thomas

True, as I wrote in another article, it’s normally your media not your people.

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
27 days ago

Sorry, but I only support one team and that’s Wales. But this keeps on coming up in conversation every tournament Wales isn’t in. “Are you going to support England because Wales never qualified?”, they say. As if It’s our duty to do so. In the past I’ve listened to Radio Wales do many a phone-in asking this very same question. But I never hear radio stations in England do the similar like 5 Live or Talk Sport. Never . It’s like we’ve got to be deferential and forelock tugging because it’s England. I can remember when Wales was the only… Read more »

Rhddwen y Sais
Rhddwen y Sais
27 days ago

Da lawn Lloeger.

Karl
Karl
27 days ago

You support who you feel aligned with. As a Welsh European, I do not feel the need to support the country next door, I have no affinity with.. if we ain’t there, I support the Germans, lived there a while and feel a connection. And enjoy there style of play. Arrogance doesn’t win a friend.

Riki
Riki
27 days ago

Englishness is only synonymous with Britishness because we embraced their terminology for ourselves! If we hadn’t (We shouldn’t have), they couldn’t get away with using the terms interchangeably. Let’s not ignore our part in why they can and do such a thing. The British (Britons) are thee Welsh! And this will NEVER Change! Also, it’s the English press, you complain they are used interchangeably and then proceed to do the same. I feel no kinship with those who don’t know their nations history and those who willingly call themselves foreigners on their own island. Wether you speak Cymraeg or not… Read more »

Last edited 27 days ago by Riki
Jack
Jack
27 days ago

It’s not the World Cup, it’s the Euros. Why does this article contain so many references to the World Cup?

Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
27 days ago

Who could forget Cymru reaching the semi final in 2016? Not just because we did it but I’ll never forget the strange silence of reverse jingoism as England held its’ breath in fear that we might get even further. All that broke the silence was the p**s taking papers and Talk S**te going on about our English born players. I never bought or read those papers before but that’s when I turned my back on Talk S**te.

paul thomas
paul thomas
27 days ago

I would rather slit my wrists than support them. Don’t understand how the question is even being asked!!

gerwyn
gerwyn
26 days ago

I watch the Prem week in and week out and love it , I am welsh so not a hypocryte i follow football so do want England to win of course I do. saying that though I am a Cardiff fan and want Swansea to be relagated 🙂 no love lost there 🙂

Rob
Rob
25 days ago
Reply to  gerwyn

How many players in the Premiership are actually English? The Premiership is watched week in and week out by fans across the planet, so wheres the hypocrisy?

Johnny Gamble
Johnny Gamble
25 days ago
Reply to  gerwyn

I support Atletico Madrid and watch La Liga. So does that mean I have to support Spain!
As Rob quite rightly said The Premier League has a Global audience outside Little England.

onedragonontheshirt
onedragonontheshirt
26 days ago

This non-story gets churned out every time a major tournament comes round… why not expend your journalistic energy on bigging up the Welsh club sides with European ties coming up, or the women’s team who have a couple of crucial qualifiers in July. Y’know… actual news.

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