National anthem and football – why?

I WAS IN Liverpool on Bank Holiday Monday, not for the Eurovision Song Contest prep but to see Tranmere Rovers over at Birkenhead. It was my 86th ground of the current 92, a project that started for me in the 1980s. I had two interesting chats with Uber drivers about Liverpool, the city, and of course, the football clubs. A day or so earlier, Liverpool fans had jeered the national anthem and of course, this caused some controversy. The Uber drivers were both interested in knowing what people “down south” thought about the reaction of the Liverpool fans.

They were asking the wrong person as they were talking to an anti-monarchist, but it has often crossed my mind why football seems so compelled to attach itself to things like the national anthem, the military and faux nationalism. We’ve seen it many times over the decades, from using football as a recruitment drive in World War One to flypasts and poppy day demonstrations. Sometimes, football seems to think we are still in the age of conscription and empire, today people choose to go into the army, navy or air force, it is a occupational choice. They are not volunteers, they are not being made to join the services.

There is no more a connection between football and the armed forces than any other job or career. Similarly, do office workers or retail staff sing the national anthem at every opportunity? Remember that in the past, British television used to close down at night with “God Save the Queen” and some cinemas would play it at the end of their screenings. Fortunately, we got out of that habit, but football still insists on this outdated form of homage, allowing itself to be cast in the role of master and servant.

The royals have never been particularly fond of football, which dates back to the class system – football was the game of the sweaty-handed songs of the soil, not top-hatted Etonians. Prince William supposedly supports Aston Villa, but this seems totally unimaginable in reality. Like David Cameron, the so-called Villa fan, it may suit him to say he is a football man.

In the modern age, supporting the royal family, like religion, is a personal choice and individuals should not feel they are being commanded to pay homage to them. As for the Liverpool fans, my Uber drivers both explained that the jeering was not against the King or his family per se, it was against the establishment. This goes back a long, long way, longer even than the Thatcher era when her government was keen to forget about the city of Liverpool.

I don’t usually agree with many things that come from Liverpool’s fans, but on this occasion, I’m with them.

Neil Fredrik Jensen

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