England need a unifying force for the Euro

It feels like the European Championship comes out of the fog of an intensifying culture war on Friday, in which Gary Lineker finds himself accused by Laurence Fox of moral supremacism, and where the tortured conversation around the knee triggers an intervention of the Prime Minister. Minister. The sensitivity of these debates shows how profoundly society has changed over the past 25 years, since England last played major tournaments at Wembley. Because Euro ’96 was a tournament defined less by outbursts of indignation than by an outbreak of shameless chauvinism.

The cover did little to dispel a caricature of English football as blatantly xenophobic. A knockout victory over Spain on penalties and a semi-final with Germany was enough for the Daily Mirror to simulate an image of Stuart Pearce in a WWII helmet under the title “Achtung, Surrender”, with then-editor Piers Morgan allegedly hatching a plan to drive a tank to the Embassy from Germany. To pick up the Star of the day that week was to read the front page statement, “Herr We Go, Bring on the Krauts,” alongside a suggestive image of Claudia Schiffer with the tagline: “Ooh, ja, Claudia.”

It was a time without social media, and you can only imagine what serious online referees of public discourse would do with such excess today. The actions of the Red Tops effectively sparked a motion in parliament earlier today condemning the “frenzy of anti-German nonsense in the tabloid press,” but overall the outrage came from Germany, with Suddeutsche Zeitung lamenting how the offending publications were “read by people who don’t care who runs the country, as long as she has big breasts”.

It wasn’t all soapbox provocation, however. One of the main reasons that Euro ’96 has such a lasting hold on the collective conscience is that it has allowed, to a degree seen in a few showpieces of the sport since, an unhindered expression of England’s national pride. . Review the footage from the England game against Scotland and all you see is a red and white carpet, the St. George’s Cross happily sewn onto every spare t-shirt and hat without thinking of any broader connotations , as the country succumbed helplessly to the tensions of Three Lions.

David Baddiel, who co-wrote the song, returned to this show with great nostalgia, remembering a time when displays of patriotism could be joyful and non-threatening, where they were not at risk of being misinterpreted in a polarized political climate. Ed Miliband, when he was still considered the future of Labor, gave a speech in 2012 describing Euro ’96 as the time when the flag of England was recovered from the forces of the extreme right, ensuring that he was more associated with honest people who were passionate about football. than with the thugs of the English Defense League.

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