World Cup flag-waving madness lost on football-crazy fans
There hasn’t been a problem not made worse by wrapping the colours around it
The surest sign of the ethical vacuum at the heart of this tournament came over the weekend when the Brazilian minister for justice sprinted to the flag in a limp attempt to cajole domestic public opinion into ignoring reality. Photograph: Reuters
It kicks off on Thursday, a whole month of the World Cup. And it’s great really. Mostly in that it’s hard to take even a minor interest in sport and not eagerly anticipate the most popular event on the planet. But there’s some queasiness in the anticipation also; nothing a doctor can cure, unless maybe a doctor of sociology, or vexillology.
It’s the flag waving you see; can’t stand it. Hate it in fact. If the world doesn’t need any more of anything right now it is flag waving. There’s not a problem that can’t be made worse by wrapping a flag around it. It’s like trying to staunch the flow of reason with a tourniquet of bullshit.
Every time an athlete does a lap of honour, celebrating individual achievement by enveloping themselves in the colours of a nation that mostly contributed only disinterest, a little part of me burps. When it comes to flags, I’m with Hendrix, only flying the freak flag high.
Football though doesn’t do freak, or subtlety. Football flags are loud and ubiquitous. Objecting to fans waving flags is as futile as objecting to alcohol in a boozer. There’s something primal in the urge to show colours, clearly some instinctive need to belong by bellowing separateness.
The GAA for instance is built on supposed differences established by scrapes of a Civil Service pencil in Whitehall centuries ago. Regional stereotyping is the mostly harmless consequence and it at least results in a geographical edge over the often random choice of an overseas soccer club to pledge allegiance to.
Sense of identity No doubt there’s a profound sociological dimension to all of it. There usually is. Once dismissed as a long explanation for why ultimately no one’s to blame for anything, sociology is an easy gag, the drummer in the college band hanging out with real academics.
However even those most sceptical of the social sciences would probably concede the change in tone when flag-waving turns national. Even at its most light hearted the nationalism card involves an undertow of “them and us” separation, pandering to the profoundly sad fact that so many feel the most distinctive thing about themselves is the random piece of rock upon which they happen to have been spawned.
So much of the next month will come wrapped in faux-patriotism, from the relatively harmless to the systematically cynical, and all of it proving how running to the flag isn’t so much the last refuge of the scoundrel as the chancer’s dying kick. Calling on the flag is what you do when the locker is empty of anything substantial. For instance all you need to know about England’s hopes in Brazil is that Roy Hodgson insists that Wayne Rooney sings God Save The Queen.