Jack Wilshere – What Is It To Be An Englishman?

Today a guest post from The Beck.

Last night, the Telegraph released an interview with Jack Wilshere.  He was speaking to the infamous/famous Henry Winter about his views on the possibility of Adnan Januzaj representing England.
This is what he was directly quoted to have been saying:
“If you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English, the only people who should play for England are English people.”

“If you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English. You shouldn’t play. It doesn’t mean you can play for a country.  If I went to Spain and lived there for five years I’m not going to play for Spain.’’
Immediately after I was aware, I began to ask myself if there was any way I could possibly defend Jack for his comments and I realized that I couldn’t.
I’m aware that he is a young man, 2 years younger than me, and that he’s possibly lived a life growing up where his national identity was never in question and his views on “Englishness” was always pre-defined by his surroundings. Questioning the intellect of most footballers will usually not get you very far in accomplishing anything, but I truly believe he has brought up an interesting subject to discuss and to elaborate on.  In the first quote, Jack directly attributes that that his version of being English is universal and cannot be changed.  His version of national identity appears static and archaic to me.
“If you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English” – and I suppose you’d have to ask, why not?  Who sets these time constrictions on what it would take for someone to have an accurate grasp of English identity and culture? The government certainly does based on both research and economical aspects.  When Jack is saying this, he’s not thinking about all the players who became citizens elsewhere and played for their new adopted country, whether they loved that country, or were grasping that culture and identity is completely subjective and personal to them, it is not something we can decide for others.

Luis Figo, once dismissed Deco for being part of the Portuguese team prior to the Euro 2004 (where they were both hosts and finalists and Deco played a vital role), Figo said:

“I don’t think people would be happy in Spain if I had become a Spanish national and played for the Spanish side,” said the Real Madrid midfielder. “It’s something that distorts team spirit and I don’t agree with it. If you’re born Chinese, well, you have to play for China.” 

“It looks like you’re trying to take advantage of something. That’s my opinion and I’m not going to change it because he is in the team.”

Figo there has already decided that Deco was using Portugal, taking advantage of a situation, when in fact it was Portugal who were taking advantage of his new citizenship too.
Deco responded by saying:

“I don’t regret choosing to play for Portugal, I was born in Brazil and it would be a lie to say that I’m Portuguese now and not Brazilian. But I love Portugal and I love playing for the national team.”

See Deco’s experience is also subjective, he recognizes his Brazilian identity to be higher than his  Portuguese, but it is not difficult to imagine it the other way around.  We live in a very multicultural society in an ever-growing multicultural world, we recognize many different tribal and nationalistic ideas and associate them and stereotype them with what we/our governments and media see fit.  The debate was high and live last night, many were suggesting that age mattered, that there was a certain point where players stop adapting to culture or want to belong to another culture, that it is just purely convenient for them to swap nationalities so that they gain caps.
Marcos Senna became a citizen of Spain at the age of 29 and won the European Championship with Spain in 2008.  Many would argue that he did so to his advantage, but did not Spain get the advantage too?  Was it not convenient for Spain to have a citizen of its country play for them and win them the trophy?  So many questions; you all know where I am going with this. Plenty of players in the Spain squad feel more Catalan than Spanish, yet they play for Spain, they love Spain, they play for Spain because they know collectively they will win trophies (some play for Catalonia too).
Owen Hargreaves is another good example, born in Canada, raised in North America, moved to Bayern Munich at 16, lived there until he was 26 before moving to Manchester.  He amassed 42 caps for England until the injuries got the better of him, he probably felt more German than English at times? Or more Canadian than German? Or more English than Indian?  I don’t know, it gets all confusing, but are we in the game to guess what players feel and how they think before asking them how they truly feel?

I feel like that is one of the biggest flaws in this debate, we assume what players want and ultimately believe they want to “take advantage”, expecting them not to be as “English” as the “Englishman” (vague term, so vague).
Colin Kazim-Richards born in London, raised in England, plays for Turkey, his mother is a Cypriot Turk and his father is Antiguan, does it get confusing yet?

“It’s difficult because half my family is Muslim, and the other half is Christian. I’ve always felt Turkish, though. My nene [grandmother], she can’t speak English. Half of my family, their first language is Turkish, and so I went to Turkish school before I played football, although I can’t remember any of it now”

Owen Hargreaves may have grown up feeling German but playing for England, Colin Kazim Richards may have felt Turkish in that interview, but felt very English had he been a better player?  Who knows?  I just find it hard to see how footballers and fans have the audacity to tell players and people how to feel and what to be about their national identity? It is you, yourself that gets to choose what you want to be, not them, not an oppressor or a simpleton.
“But you have to have English roots.”
Say that to all the Jamaicans that came to the U.K. in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and became part of the English national team in the 70’s, how they themselves must see the irony in the apparent need for roots. The need for those former Jamaican men that became naturalized British citizens to play was huge.  Besides, the whole concept of English roots is absurd.  If you need to look into that, there are thousands of pages about DNA and how none of us are a 100% anything, (except me; I’m a 100% pure blooded twat.
Each government that is part of the EU/EEA has substantially given each person a chance to discover another country and become a resident of it, perhaps even share the national identity of it.  I am a person who has taken those chances (through war and opportunity), a person who feels no particular tie to one specific country/administrative state/stateless state, but half a dozen, Iraq, Kurdistan, Norway, England, Wales, Hong Kong.

I am a piece of all of them, but I am also none of them.
I’ve seen many people over the age of 30 adapt to a new culture and totally capture it, a friend of mine never felt American and moved to Japan, he speaks the language, lives the culture, is part of the Japanese identity, especially to himself (as he might be an outcast to others).  Who am I to tell him that he’ll never be Japanese to me? Isn’t that an oppressive archaic view of nationality and personal identity, that someone’s personal state of national identity is directly related to my own lack of perspective?
Who is Jack Wilshere or any of you to say Januzaj won’t fall in love with British culture/values/identity and become more than a naturalized citizen?
Who is to say he won’t feel English or British in 6 years? People change, people adopt values that adhere to their reason sometimes, it is not always back to tradition and thinking that it always is perhaps why we are having this debate right now (or I’m having it by myself).
What is a nationality, but a giant tribal government construct on what you are or who you should be?

You know, I grew up with a Geordie, a Brummie, a Mancunian, a Scouser and a Cornish man and none of them could ever tell me what it meant to be English other than to point to regurgitated stereotypes  that some of them were not even fond of.  To each of them, it was different, they had different views on many different things, and the thing that made them English to me was probably the language and the location.

To measure someone’s Englishness is an exercise in taking a stereotype from a world full of propaganda, stereotypes and agenda’s and turning it against those who do not practice it.  You could effectively have English ancestors, be born in England, raised in England but not feel English.  People are very complex and to simplify them is a disservice to both their thoughts and abilities to change and grow and become more than a piece of propaganda or national pride (tribal/government construct).
If you look at all countries as if they were all going through a constant transitional cultural change, I believe your view on nationality would change, but most only see it in the moment.
Have a lovely day.

Should you wish to take The Beck to task or agree with him,he can be found on twitter

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323 comments on “Jack Wilshere – What Is It To Be An Englishman?

  1. Discussion is good.
    Arguing is bad.
    Calling each other names is worse.
    PLEASE,lets not go down that road.Not here.
    Not ever.


  2. Paul N
    There are plenty of examples of countries fast tracking passports for sports people.
    I can’t think of a country that hasn’t done it.
    Is it right?
    It’s quite different from someone living in a country for years first and then becoming a sports person for their adopted country.

    If Arteta wants to play international football, we could arrange a game for him in Dublin.


  3. Hear hear!


  4. DC, if the country fasts tracks the paper work, what are you going to do? The problem is corruption.

    I find it more dangerous to make people second class citizens in certain regards.


  5. I don’t disagree Paul.
    Football, of all sports should be as inclusive as possible.

    France won a World Cup and the Euros with quite a mixed bunch of players.
    It changed mamy French people’s perception about their ‘second class’ citizens too.
    Football can be a force for social progress.


  6. Who is arguing? Not me. I know who tackles and who doesnt 🙂

    Its called Clarification. Lol..haha


  7. Interesting exchanges. But beware, this “interview” was never about “what Jack said” although it purports to be (a kid footballer, come on!); it was a device employed by the Telegraph journo to suit a (right wing nationalist anti-immigration Telegraph) agenda. Following a good bit of friendly (off the record) discussion, you prod and prompt an innocent question, knowing the answer; and “develop” it a bit. Manipulative “journalism”, very English too. It becomes a “story” (look what Jack said). There is no story.

    It is absurd to imagine anyone, in any country, saying their national side should not be represented by their country folk, and achieve success on the basis of national pride. Jack unquestionably meant this, how could he not, and Wenger said, of course!

    Ah, but the devil is always in the detail, (how English do you have to be, to be /English enough, 5 years, 6?) and how on earth is your average footballer to know arguments to this extremely vexing and complex issue. A journalist with a shred of decency might have posed this conundrum: so, Jack, a couple of million Brits probably live abroad, some have kids assimilating into foreign (or “global”) cultures, speaking good French and Portuguese, or Hindi and Swahili, do they qualify enough for Englishness, although some barely set foot in merry England, except for the odd holiday? Then you have an interesting discussion, with perspectives and opinions, contradictions; preferably with a representative group of young people, because the conundrum is very real.

    Bloody Telegraph. Jack never stood a chance.


  8. By far the most interesting are the British track and especially field athletics teams, broadly representative I can imagine of first, second and a few third generation immigrant families. Here the joke is, if you took out all the Malawian and Zambian names, what is left of the Zimbabwe national football team? In years gone, not much.
    People move; culture and nationality is dynamic, not static. There are some rules, and those keep changing. Identity is no longer represented by geography, whether past or current location, but by ideas and sense of belonging. 5000 (mainly females) convert annually to Islam in UK, I read yesterday. Thus some little piece of their culture derives from the Arab world, where most have never been, except possibly on a haj. In Africa it is much more potted (no African has much idea of their origins beyond grandparents, or not even); names mean little, we are mixed, people are itinerant, they move about. For Jack, its simple; he’s English, and good for him I say, but had he all the facts, and ways of digesting them, he may be surprised if you shook his family tree just what fell out!

    Bloody Telegraph.


  9. And anyway, aren’t we all just that little bit African? It’s in the DNA. Someone tell Cesc.


  10. By the way greetings PosA’s. I’ve been on holiday! Yay!!!


  11. Well said ZimPaul.

    Jack was done up like a kipper by the, er, journalist in question. The ensuing furore over the lad’s off the cuff response creates a contrived and shallow debate about national identity which merely serves their own nefarious agenda.



  12. In Portugal, where I’ve never been. It’s quite poor in the rural hinterlands. I felt at home. I noticed an awful lot of English long and short term visitors, yikes. A Liverpool supporter, bless him, joked when I asked (at a “Kelly’s Bar” in some picturesque village during our last but one match) “Yeah mate, this is where older English folk come to die”.


  13. Great comment Zim.
    As said above Jack needs to watch Aaron. Next time he faces the dragons and they breathe a sinister question he needs to use the shield.


  14. double canister, lol.

    ZimPaul nailed in on Jack – so much for that discussion then.

    and pedantic george is right, of course. So behave. He won’t bar you, but he may brain you.

    Trying to find highlights or Ramsey compilation of the Wales game, but have so far found zip.


  15. Today’s post is up and its a Podcast.


  16. i said: in that they should be above shallow concepts of patriotism and nationalism via football (a sport)
    you said: Football, of all sports should be as inclusive as possible

    …..thank you

    i said: for i have no issues with jack nor do i care what he said (something i have repeated) im just against all this ‘englishness’ and this narrow minded patriotism/nationalism
    you said: But beware, this “interview” was never about “what Jack said”

    …thank you

    i said: others can well try and get exposed as little englanders all they want…not our jack…our jack should tell them all to fuck off and that due to the manner they have treated his team and teammates that he refuses to comment to pricks in media.
    you said : As said above Jack needs to watch Aaron. Next time he faces the dragons and they breathe a sinister question he needs to use the shield

    ….thank you

    out of all the commentators here i see that we aint that far apart..we all say equal/similar things…some say it kindly others say it not so kindly..the idea is the same though…except of one person ..we wont say names … 🙂


  17. My bad, Paul.


  18. George: “Discussion is good.
    Arguing is bad.
    Calling each other names is worse.
    PLEASE,lets not go down that road.Not here.
    Not ever.”

    I am sorry, George.


  19. No problem Gains,its a bit rich coming from me,I know.


  20. Lol Daddy George, make that Sav guy from Australia apologize too? he’s missed the entire point of what I was trying to say, over and over, then goes on to attack my “above you all attitude”, despite apologizing, time and time again and making sure to come back and reply to clarify instead of running away and saying something like “lets agree to disagree” whilst repetitively insulting things that is not part of the discussion, he’s missing the point and if that’s how some of you feel that I am doing, walking over other opinions and acting like my own is the best, I inherently apologize.

    I am trying to promote different ways of thinking on this issue and I will continue because I feel it is not being recognized.

    Focus on the issue, not the person.

    “The joy and pride felt from nationalism and ethnicity I find bizarre”

    I stand by this, people always tell me to be proud I came from people who invented algebra and what not, and I’m like, why should I be proud I had nothing to do with it.

    If I was proud of that, I’d be asserting my pride into something I did not take part in, for me, I am proud of current things, you can argue about the forms of linguistics derided from pride and so on.

    You might assert your pride in ethnicity, just like J.R. Tolkien might have asserted his Anglo Saxon pride in his writing. But it is not something he achieved.

    I am sure Tolkien knew that Anglo Saxons did many negative things as well as positive, to take pride in it suggests he ignores a certain part of history or *crazily* believes Anglo Saxons are superior in some form.

    The point is, if you are proud of your own ethnicity, but you were presented of all the things they did bad and good, why would you be proud of them at all on a whole, you would not, you would be happy/glad they did some things and unhappy they did others.

    We casually draw pride from things that I feel are meaningless when studied.

    I believe identifying yourself with your ethnicity is often a catalyst for subconscious divide between you and your fellow man, in such a multi cultural world, we have to ask why it matters so much and why we let it divide instead of unite?


  21. Hunter, you totally get it, I love you I think.


  22. Beck,perhaps some people just disagree with your conclusions.


  23. whichever side of this many sided fence people sit and however their experiences have skewed their bent, the real fact is that the world is a “great big melting pot” and usually its differences which are highlighted and used to separate people rather than common ground sort. In the future will we be amalgamated into just one country, where differences are a good thing and not a dividing line. utopia perhaps but in the meen time I don’t think we should get to hung up on the musings of young lads


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