Sport and Exercise, School of Social Sciences and Law,
University of Teesside, Middlesborough, UK
The English national identity emerged and developed gradually from the 900s onwards, in the context of the seven kingdoms of the Heptarchy. In 973, Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia, Northumbria, Kent, Sussex, and Essex gave up their independence and a united English kingdom was created, to fight the invasion of Danish Vikings. The following 700 years saw a deepening and strengthening of the English identity, as the Kingdom of England was consolidated, including the introduction of a parliament, a successful merchant fleet, educational institutions and increasing military power. Around the year 1700, negotiations for a union between England and Scotland were intensified, and in 1707 The Acts of Union were passed by the respective Parliaments. The Kingdom of England was now the Kingdom of Great Britain, the first step towards the dissolution of an English identity into the larger, and rather indistinct, British identity. Britain became the world’s leading colonial power, and in 1801 Ireland also joined the Kingdom, again renamed as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The final stage of state formation was in 1922, when most of Ireland left the Union, and in 1927 the nation that we usually call the UK received its current name, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. By then, the words ‘English’ and ‘British’ had become interchangeable, and the English national identity was increasingly dissolved – at least on the surface.
The Kingdom outside of England, that is, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have enjoyed varying degrees of autonomy since they became part of the Union. During the Blair government, there were significant changes in the direction of increased autonomy, which led to enhanced national identities in the sub-nations; particularly the Scots and Welsh have been clear in their demands for ‘national’ sovereignty. Parallel to the development of these national identities, the question of ‘Englishness’, an English national identity outside of ‘Britishness’, were high on the agenda for public discussions among the indigenous English. In politics, academia and culture, people are looking for the English roots, and books, movies and music from the past 10–15 years reflect this interest and the uncertainty that is: What is it like to be English? Signs of the emergence of a new English national identity is also apparent within the world of sports. In his article in this update, Mike McGuinness takes English football as his starting point, tracking an historical development from 1966 to the present day. When England won the World Cup 1966, the stands at Wembley Stadium were a sea of Union Jacks. By following the tracks from then until today, in the form of pamphlets, buttons, stickers, and other ephemeral materials, McGuinness can clearly demonstrate the gradual shift towards an English identity, not least when it comes to banners. Nowadays the flag hanging from cars and houses when The Three Lions are on the pitch in an international championship is the English flag, the Cross of St. George.
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