God save our gracious ears – watching rugby

February 20, 2009

For the second Saturday running I felt extremely uneasy as fifteen massive Englishmen lined up with their tumultuous thighs and red swooshes anticipating 80 or so minutes of intense oval-ball sport.

It wasn’t just that we were hot favourites to lose comfortably to the Welsh, nor the fact that circumstance meant I had to watch the game standing up in a pub in Balham (I used to love this type of occasion, now I just yearn for my sofa and no idiots. When did that happen?). Even my habitual spark of nationalist jealousy couldn’t be blamed – being mainly English, I always feel a little envious that other home nations enjoy playing us a great deal more than we do playing them.

The feeling had surfaced before the Italy game. Now, sipping my lime and soda and surrounded by an increasingly lubricated rugby-shirt wearing crowd, I realised entirely what was causing my uneasiness. It was the droning durge of an ‘English’ anthem preceding the game.

If there are not enough reasons from history for the Irish, Scots and Welsh to dislike the English, then singing the National Anthem before rugby matches would be grounds enough. That God Save the Queen is probably the worst anthem of any nation is, in this case, irrelevant. But grabbing the United Kingdom’s Anthem for ourselves is a perfect example of everything bad about the English mentality – a nation in which patriotism often serves as a mild excuse for jingoism, and, increasingly worryingly, zenophobia.

Am I alone in carrying a sense of shame at the folly of our choice of song? Some intense research (well, a quick look at wiki), reveals some good company. In April 2007 the following early day motion was tabled in the House of Commons: This House believes that it is time that England, when competing as England rather than as Great Britain or the United Kingdom, should adopt an appropriate song to be the English national anthem, in the same way that Scotland and Wales do when they compete as individual nations; further believes that it is quite wrong that England use the British national anthem when competing as England rather than as Great Britain or the United Kingdom, particularly when playing the other home nations who also have God Save the Queen as their British national anthem; and therefore believes that all English sporting associations should adopt an appropriate song that English sportsmen and women, and the English public, would favour when competing as England.

The language of Parliament may be dated, but the sentiment is fresh. Thank you Greg Mulholland, Liberal Democrat MP for Leeds North West, and Peter Bottomley, Ann Winterton, Simon Hughes, indeed all 24 MPs who signed the motion – and especially to Evan Harris who added the amendment: ‘and further believes that the song should have a bit more oomph than God Save the Queen and should also not involve God.’

On further investigation I discovered several Facebook groups – notably Changing of national anthem from god save our queen to LAND OF HOPE & GLORY, with 12 members, and Change National Anthem From GOD SAVE THE QUEEN. To RULE BRITANNIA, with 34 (‘the reason for this is we should be singing about the glory of our country, and not one person’, interesting…) – a post on a Billy Bragg forum from 2004, saying that Jerusalem is the obvious choice, an article in the sport section of The Guardian from December 2003, asking whether Britain has the worst Anthem in the world, and a campaign with 77 signatures to change the US national anthem to Lynard Skynard’s Freebird.

The masses are revolting. I’ve written to Greg Mulholland MP to tell him.