Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

2 May 2009

Almunia for Britain (sorry, England)

Apparently, Manuel Almunia – Arsenal FC’s Spanish-born goalkeeper – is considering changing his nationality in order to be eligible to play for England. As the story on the BBC website put it: “The Spaniard, who has said he would consider playing for England, will be eligible to apply for citizenship this summer having signed in 2004. And that would enable the 31-year-old, who has never represented Spain, to play for England under Fabio Capello”.

Well, I suppose if we can have an Italian manager, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have a Spanish keeper! Regardless of the question of the rules relating to eligibility for national teams, which I’ll return to, what amuses me about the way this story was reported is the automatic assumption that acquiring British citizenship makes you qualified to play for England. Not once in the BBC article is the distinction between becoming a British citizen and being eligible for the England team even pointed out. Indeed, the article quotes Almunia’s manager – the Frenchman, Arsene Wenger – without comment: “On the English side, for the national team, it is not so much a problem because if the guy decides to become English, he has had to observe and respect the rules like anybody else. Why should he then not be qualified to play for the national team?”

So Almunia is going to ‘become English’ now, is he? I thought he was going to become a British citizen! Does a naturalised Spaniard living in England automatically become English as well as British? I hope for Almunia’s sake that if he does take British citizenship, he will also take England to his heart and make her his adopted country; and that it won’t be just another case of a foreign national taking on British nationality as a flag of convenience to enable them to pursue the opportunities afforded to them here: in this case, playing for the England football team – but without any real identification with or love for England, but merely to fulfil the personal ambition to play in the World Cup Finals.

It’s an interesting thought, though: the idea that taking on British citizenship might automatically entitle one to be considered – indeed, might oblige one to identify – as one or other of English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish. In other words, in order to be British, you would have to also take on the national identity of one of the ‘constituent countries’ of the UK. This would make British nationality logically dependent on being English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish. In this sense, there would be no such thing as ‘British Spanish’ (or a Spanish Brit), nor, on the same basis, ‘British Indian’, ‘British Caribbean’ or ‘British Pakistani’. British English, British Scottish, British Welsh and British Irish (and, yes, British Cornish), maybe. Indeed, one might make a person’s Englishness (and Scottishness, Welshness, etc.) the true test of their Britishness – better than any Citizenship Test. Food for thought.

But I digress. There are two main things at work in this story: 1) the unthinking equation of, and slippage between, English and British identity throughout the BBC-website article, as demonstrated in the above quotes; and 2) the assumption that becoming a British citizen would be sufficient to qualify Almunia to play for England. Or should I say ‘presumption’, certainly on Arsene Wenger’s part, and maybe Almunia’s. I think, on the contrary, that you need to be English, not just British, to play for England. You can be English by adoption and not just by birth; but I do think that this adoption needs to take place. After all, adoption, though technically (legally) one way (the new parents formally declare the child as their own), is in fact a two-way process: in order to bond with its new family, the child must also emotionally adopt its new parents as its own. If Almunia and the football establishment want England supporters to adopt him into the family, he must also adopt us as his new home nation.

But talking of ‘home nations’, it isn’t even clear in the technical, legal, sense that by becoming a Brit, Almunia will be able to play for England. In an interesting discussion on FIFA’s rules on eligibility for national teams, a post on England Football Online concludes that the present FIFA rules leave a degree of ambiguity in situations where a player’s nationality “entitles him to represent more than one Association”: typically, in the case of someone who becomes a British citizen and who would therefore be eligible to play for any of the four national British sides, so long as he has never played for the national team of his original country, which Almunia hasn’t. In these cases, FIFA’s Executive Committee reserves the right to decide.

Here again, no automatic right to play for England by virtue solely of being British – but this time from the ultimate lawmakers of football. Would that our own lawmakers in the UK were such jealous guardians of the primacy of belonging to a nation over mere citizenship!

But at least if Almunia was declared eligible to play for England, on completion of his naturalisation, that would mean Arsenal would have two English players in their first team, instead of just one at present!

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12 Comments »

  1. As a Spaniard living in Cambridge, this post is a bit of sad to me. I don’t ‘feel’ to be British or English yet (it’s just a couple of years in this country), but I’m sure I AM and I FEEL much more English than many peoople living in the UK and having being born here. Before coming to the UK I had already read and enjoyed Shakespeare, London, English films, the English language and I listened the BBC eventually. I liked some English products as much as I regretted specific English policies and their frequent disaffection for Europe. That kind of attitude is exactly what many continentals make feel the UK to be a bit apart from the core of Europe.

    These 2 years I’ve learned to appreciate British values, and even some policies, the politeness anf friendliness of almost everyone, the strange quietness of the cities and people, the evergreen landscapes, the houses reminding past times but giving you the real sense of ‘owning a piece of land’, the colors, the traditions kept at all price and even, and this is saying much, even the ‘honest food’…

    But then, suddenly, you look at your neighbours or some people in the street. They never go to watch a British film, or even ‘a film’. They spend their life eating junk food, and the closest point of Bristishness in their life is when they order fish and chips on a Friday night (and I like f&c!). Culture and beauty is so absent of their lifes as if they lived in the middle of a remote jungle. They don’t speak proper English, but some strange language pronounced in an uncomprehensible way. They are NO MORE English than they could be Moroccan, Vietnamese or North American. Miserable lives, lack of any awareness or even concern about what means to be from a given place, whatever that means, and no English or British pride at all. Of course, they have a UK passport and enjoy all the rights. Yes, they could play in the national team, ’cause they make some 20-30% of the population, in an optimistic estimate.

    Would you object any of them playing for England? Aren’t you demanding a bit too much from Manuel Almunia, and nothing from your own mates?
    Even if he would play for convenience, I’m pretty sure that some of the current players also play for convenience, not just for defending their flag.

    I also disagree when you say there is no such thing as a British Spanish or Bengali. Obviously, there was no such thing in the past, but there will be some similar thing in the future. In the same way, the more than half million Brits permanently living (or should I say being hosted?) in Spain should never BE Spanish Brits, should they? For me, they are already Spanish, and their children will be Spanish, although with a different mother language.

    We’re in the 21st century. Let’s respect the rules and let people live their lives free according to the law.

    However, good point in the last sentence of the post! (mode irony off) 🙂

    Comment by Noches Blancas — 2 May 2009 @ 10.03 am | Reply

    • Thanks for your interesting reply, Noches Blancas. I’d be happy to consider you as an honorary Englishman, as you do seem to greatly value English culture and society. If Manuel Almunia feels the same way (and I’ve no reason to believe that he doesn’t), then he’d be welcome to play for England as far as I’m concerned; so long as he genuinely felt he had become at least partly English in his heart and not just in his British passport.

      I’m not sure I agree with you about the strata of society you characterise as having little awareness of their Englishness, though; and it’s significant in my view that you start repeating the word ‘British’ at this point. There’s an implicit social-class agenda involved here that seems to have rubbed off on you: junk food-eating, slobbish, ignorant English working class (or under-class) versus cultured, educated and more broad-minded British middle class. On the contrary, the kind of people you describe here are just as much an integral part of English culture and society as the parts that you admire so much; and I feel sure that, come World Cup-time, you’ll see many more replica England shirts on their backs, and English flags flying from their houses and cars, than you’ll see the educated middle classes displaying: which doesn’t make them any more truly or patriotically English than the middle class, but certainly isn’t less worthy of being categorised as taking pride in their country.

      And I didn’t actually say ‘there is no such thing as a British Spanish or Bengali’, or words to that effect. The point I was trying to make was that ‘true’ Britishness involves having a sense of belonging to and identifying with one of the four (five) nations of the UK, and not just having a British passport. In other words, you can be a British Spaniard; but if you really belong, you’ll also be regarded as a Spanish Englishman (or Scot or Welshman, etc.). And, as far as I can tell, you seem to be well on the way to being such – though still with much to learn about us English.

      Comment by David — 2 May 2009 @ 11.15 am | Reply

  2. The lunatics really have escaped from the asylum !!! I went to Mongolia on holiday once, can I play for them? I’m pretty good you know.
    What is the point of a national team if anyone can play for them?

    Comment by tommy — 2 May 2009 @ 8.24 pm | Reply

  3. Frenchman, Arsene Wenger: “On the English side, for the national team, it is not so much a problem because if the guy decides to become English, he has had to observe and respect the rules like anybody else. Why should he then not be qualified to play for the national team?”

    I ought to tell you that I have been an Arsenal fan for over three decades. I think Wenger should keep quiet and do what he is supposed to do. By the way, I think he is plank of a football manager. He is trying to sign Ryan Babbel from Liverpool. That particular bloke can hardly control the football. Plus, Wenger is psychologically damaged, i.e. a narcissist! What did he spout the other day. Something about winning the champions league for the team and fans now instead of just for himself. What? I s,pose that’s why he sees Almunia’s treahery as okay ah?

    Nobody can “become” English! If I go and live in China does that make me Chinese? Of course it doesn’t! I do not believe that you identify 100% with a nation unless you were born and bought up in that nation, (by identify 100% I mean that you would be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for that nation) or have some valid connection to that nation via your parents/grandparents or other close relations such as cousins. You must have some connection that makes you nostalgic about that nation when you are abroad. You must yearn for that nation’s culture when you are abroad. You must feel it when that nation’s teams play international games. There is no choice in the matter. In other words, your nation has a psychological hold on you whether you like it or not.
    As far as Almunia goes, I think he is a very good goalkeeper. However, I do not respect him one bit. If he is Spanish and not Basque, Catalan, etc than he is a traitor to Spain, plain and simple.
    I do not care if it’s just sport. He is a traitor. Wenger is no better. You are English, Spanish. or French if you feel it to be so. If you don’t feel it then you have no right at all to call yourself English, Spanish or French. One other thing about Almunia. If he is willing to sell his arse so easily then he can’t be very trustworthy. What else does that say about him? No doubt Wenger would be off at the drop of a hat if a “bigger” club came in for him. He said as much a few months back, i.e. something like, I am at Arsenal at least until my contract runs out.

    “I also disagree when you say there is no such thing as a British Spanish or Bengali. Obviously, there was no such thing in the past, but there will be some similar thing in the future. In the same way, the more than half million Brits permanently living (or should I say being hosted?) in Spain should never BE Spanish Brits, should they? For me, they are already Spanish, and their children will be Spanish, although with a different mother language.”

    “British Spanish”? “British Bengali”? Like I have stated already, if I go and live in China does that make me an Chinese Englishman? What about an English Chineseman? The whole concept, if you can call it that, is absurd. All this, “i’m half this and half that” is illogical. The whole concept can be bought down quite easily. Ask a Bengali person born and bought in England if they’re English. I bet they say, “No! I am a Bengali!” They will never say, “No! I am a Bengali Englishman!” Or “I am an English Bengali” They just won’t say it because they know what they are and what they’re not. We know what we are and what we’re not to. I am not british; I am English.

    No! The “Brits” living in Spain are not Spanish. (The majority of these are English; NOT British. There is a vast difference between the two you know). They won’t claim to be Spanish either. To claim that they would say they’re Spanish is a lie! Children are a different matter. Though I bet English children born in Spain call themselves English before Spanish. It really depends on what their parents nationality is.

    “There’s an implicit social-class agenda involved here that seems to have rubbed off on you: junk food-eating, slobbish, ignorant English working class (or under-class) versus cultured, educated and more broad-minded British middle class.”

    I agree. I think this has it’s roots in the Norman yoke and the battle of Hastings. This idea is spread around the world by organisations like the bbc and british airways.

    “They are NO MORE English than they could be Moroccan, Vietnamese or North American. Miserable lives, lack of any awareness or even concern about what means to be from a given place, whatever that means, and no English or British pride at all.”

    Thank-you for highlighting this. This is the result of ingestion of decades of politically correct codswallop via the so-called establishment.
    Just for your information, I am one of these people. I talk funny! I wave flags! I go ballistic when England play! I sing patriotic songs! I love my country more than anything! You really should not judge a book by it’s cover. I am sorry that your idea of what you fought England was, sort of isn’t! The real English people aren’t perfect and I suppose you ought to remember that they have had to put up with decades of negative press.

    Comment by M Anderson — 2 May 2009 @ 8.27 pm | Reply

    • @M. Anderson and Tommy, I agree with you that Almunia could never be English in the same way that someone born and brought up here could; although if you accept that definition of what makes a person English, then someone of a Bengali background born and brought up here, and who did say they they were English first and foremost, not Bengali, would in fact be English.

      I was making a similar point to what you both say when I said that Almunia’s commitment to England (the team and the country) should really go deeper than just changing his formal nationality on purely opportunistic grounds. If that’s what he’s doing, then I think it devalues British citizenship almost as much as it devalues his claim to ‘be English’.

      But this issue of English national identity versus British nationality (i.e. citizenship) is one of the key issues I was trying to point to here. The thing that Arsene Wenger, ‘Noches Blancas’ and maybe Almunia himself don’t seem to get is that there is a radical distinction between Englishness and British nationality: the assumption they were making seemed to be that all Almunia needed to do was become a British citizen and then he would be not only eligible to play for England but actually English. Of course, we know this is not true. But we also need to understand that they’re coming from countries where, unlike in England, the national identity (Spanish, French, etc.) is the same as the formal nationality. So in their countries, if someone became a Spanish or French citizen, then people would start to treat them as ‘Spanish’ and ‘French’ in both senses, not just in relation to the name of the country on their passports.

      This then links back to the point I was making about the validity or otherwise of terms such as ‘British Spanish’ or ‘British Chninese’, etc. Somebody of those backgrounds can well be British in the sense of that being their formal nationality; but to be ‘truly British’, they also need to embrace a national identity as English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish (or Cornish). This is ‘truly British’ in the sense of identifying with and embracing its culture and way of life, one of the integral features of which is that there are four (or five) distinct nations in the UK, not just a uniform Britishness. Therefore, the new Brit needs to ‘adopt’ one of the British nations as their own, in my terms, to be truly British. If Almunia truly goes that far – if he really decides he wants to be English out of love of England’s people and culture – then I think he’s worthy to put on the shirt. But not if, after his playing career is over, he says thank you very much and s**s off back to Spain.

      Comment by David — 3 May 2009 @ 9.01 am | Reply

  4. He’s Spanish, how can he play for England? Without meaning to be offensive a decision like this opens up the floodgates to all sorts of other scenario’s.
    What is happening to English football? Great keeper but we don’t need any Andy Townsends.

    Comment by tommy — 3 May 2009 @ 6.14 pm | Reply

    • True, which is why he should be allowed to do it only if he can demonstrate that he is making a real commitment to England, maybe even that he intends to settle here permanently. Otherwise, it devalues British citizenship, Englishness and international football if someone can switch allegiances temporarily simply in order to have the opportunity to play at the World Cup. Who knows whether, if he’d been playing in Italy, say, he might not have decided to become an Italian for the same reason?

      But there is an interesting problem about nationality and national identity at play here. Yes, he’s Spanish; but he can become (officially) British: by taking British citizenship. But, in contrast to other countries, there’s no way someone can become officially English, in this sense, as there’s no such thing as English citizenship. If there were, would we then accept Almunia as English? But as there isn’t, Almunia should demonstrate that his commitment to England is more than skin-deep and that he accepts that he needs to earn our respect and acceptance as an adoptive son of England, and not take it for granted.

      Comment by David — 4 May 2009 @ 12.53 am | Reply

  5. Mate, he’s Spanish, no matter what loyalty he may decide to feel towards England, he is still Spanish, our brave Gurkhas are loyal and willing to lay down their lives not merely kick a ball around but they are still Nepalese. He may aquire a piece of paper declaring he is British but it means nothing, my mates wife has a British passport but she is Morroccan, they hand them out willy nilly these days to anyone and in reality they are E.U passports anyway, so let him play for some other European team but not England. All the beaurocracy and technicalities of the law (look whom makes the laws)will never make him English and he should stick to his own country, if he isnt good enough for Spain thats tough. I was not good enough for England but I did not take on my wifes ancestral nationality and try and play for India..All the best mate, were never going to agree are we ?

    Comment by tommy — 4 May 2009 @ 9.43 am | Reply

    • Besides, he’s an Arsenal player; so as far as I’m concerned, he can go h***!

      Comment by David — 4 May 2009 @ 9.05 pm | Reply

  6. Why shouldnt he? In case anybody hasnt noticed the England team is already mostly made up of Africans,Irish,and Welsh players.Maybe about 4 can truly call themselves English.
    I am not a football fan but if I was I would support Northern Ireland as more of their players are of English descent than the so-called England team.

    Comment by Lee — 5 May 2009 @ 3.52 pm | Reply

  7. Tommy I salute you, you are a breath of pure English air, if you ever decide to stand for election I will vote for your party whatever it is !!!

    Comment by BobShaw — 5 May 2009 @ 10.51 pm | Reply

  8. Bob you’ve got a seat in my cabinet, I will be in touch once I move into office. As for Almunia , he was born and raised in Spain holding a Spanish passport with Spanish ancestry and he probably enjoys paella, I don’t mind the odd plate myself but I’m not Spanish and he is, hence he can not play for England now or ever.

    Comment by tommy — 6 May 2009 @ 9.16 pm | Reply


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