I know cricket isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ so I should start by explaining that there is currently a cricket tournament being held here in England and Wales. It’s called the ICC Champions Trophy and it involves the top eight cricket playing nations. Two groups of four are currently playing each other at various venues for a place in the semi-finals next week. (Enough about cricket!)
So yesterday Pakistan were playing South Africa at Edgbaston in Birmingham. There weren’t many South African supporters there but most sports writers today have estimated that there were 20,000 or so cheering for Pakistan. Now I accept of course that some of those 20,000 may have flown over from Pakistan for the tournament but my feeling was that the vast majority of them were from the UK, almost certainly from England and probably from in and around Birmingham.
That should come as no surprise: Birmingham City Council’s website reveals that according to the 2011 Census 144,627 (13.5%) Birmingham residents classified themselves as being in the Pakistani ethnic group. The same page also states that of the 238,313 residents born outside of the UK, 45% arrived in the last decade. So nearly half of the crowd could have come here reasonably recently and still be supporting the team they see as their own but what about the other half? Why were they not supporting their ‘home team’?
This got me thinking: “How long, once one has emigrated, does one hold on to one’s national identity?”
I was born in this country and admit that I have never considered living in another one. However if you do choose to leave the country of your birth there has to come a time when you support the activities, sporting or otherwise, of the country you’ve chosen as your new home, doesn’t there? Even if you don’t, what about your children and any children they have?
Perhaps the most interesting statistic of all on the council’s website is this:
“The Census shows that most people (86%), regardless of ethnicity, consider themselves to be British.”
So, assuming those at the cricket yesterday were a representative sample, approximately 17,000 of them consider themselves to be British but go to a sporting event dressed in the colours of another country and in some cases sporting a flag as well.
In case you think I’m picking on Pakistanis here, I should point out that there were, in my judgement, just as many British passport holders at the Oval today supporting India and the West Indians as there were rooting for Pakistan at Edgbaston. In fact Chris Gayle, the West Indian batsmen, is quoted as having said that playing at the Oval is like playing a home game.
I have a long-standing friend (at my age I’m inclined not to call them an ‘old-friend’!) who was born in Wales. My understanding is that his parents moved to London when he was just a baby well over 50 years ago. He still supports the Welsh rugby team and even has visions of his sons, who incidentally were born in London to an Irish mother, playing for Wales. So despite having been educated in England and worked in England for nearly 40 years he still sees himself as Welsh and even hopes his sons will likewise!
There are obviously a number of possible reasons for all this. I think it is only reasonable to consider whether we, the English, are partly to blame. Is it part of our ‘national identity’ not to completely welcome those of a different ethnic origin (Is Welsh a different ethnic origin?) into our culture? Do people differentiate between their national identity and which team they support?
I don’t know the answer – I just find it strange.