The World Cup has got me thinking, not about the lacklustre start to the tournament or the supposed controversy over the vuvuzela, but the way in which the England flag is subjected to ritualistic defacement by its owners. Allow me to explain: I have seen many England flags with the word “England” printed across them. It is almost as if it is there to remind the owner which nation the flag belongs to. “Yeah mate, it’s an English flag cos it says England on it. INGERLUND!”. Unlike the Georgian flag, of course, which looks like the English flag but has 4 smaller crosses in each of the white fields. You will never see the word “Ireland” emblazoned in the central field of the the tricolour nor will you see the name “Wales” plastered over the dragon on the Welsh flag. In the US, defacing the Stars and Stripes is seen as sacrilegious while wrapping yourself in it isn’t. These nations and all the rest, for that matter, don’t engage in this kind of flag desecration; they know who they are and what their flag represents. So what’s going on with the English flag? Do the English need to be reminded that this flag with the cross of St George is their flag or is vandalism symptomatic of the confusion that surrounds Englishness and English identity?
English football supporters will often print the initials of the club’s name in each of the white fields on flag. Naturally this can only work if the club’s name has four initials – Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (THFC) works, whereas Liverpool Football Club (LFC) would not…unless a Liver Bird was placed in one of the fields and even then the symmetry of the flag would be disrupted. On the other hand, the supporters of Milton Keynes Dons FC (MK Dons FC) are pretty stuffed whichever way they turn!
I think the worst case I have seen is the blatant hijacking of the flag by sporting goods companies. I saw one flag today with the JJB and Umbro logos in the bottom fields. Logos! If there is a logo to be put on the English flag, shouldn’t it be that of the Bank of England or a similar institution? Better still, why not just put “For Sale” across the flag?