Nothing’s changed. Despite the heaving pubs and bars, the red-cross clad paraphernalia and the extra 500,000 pints of beer drunk (or spilt), football hasn’t come home. That said, during the competition, on the baking streets of England, a sense of national pride and patriotism surfaced that even you might have forgotten you held, I certainly had. Whether you donned an England shirt, got a bit too passionate as a pundit, or found yourself peering through a pub window to check the score, England, for a short time, was thrust to the front of everyone’s thoughts.
Perhaps this shouldn’t come as such a surprise, most of us do after all live in England. Whilst the Welsh and the Scots have wrestled for more devolved power and a sense of national identity, back in Blighty we seem better acquainted with Great Britain (or the UK), the union flag (though not legally representing Britain), and of course - The Great British Bake off (before it moved to Channel 4). Maybe the iconic red stripes on a backdrop of blue and white lend themselves to being printed on cushions and used in the Conservative Party logo better than the England flag.
The flag of St George, the England flag we simultaneously love, hate and love to hate, has for many, come to represent some fairly distasteful, and sometimes down right racist organisations such as the EDL. Not something you want your party logo, or the cushions in your kitchen to say about you. But during the World Cup, like every other World Cup since ’66, such connotations were thrown out, as the car-window flags came in. Almost as if those red-cross-racist associations never existed. If they did, the World Cup certainly posed a challenge to them. It is quite incredible that in 2018, if you are willing to distil it to its material components, a piece of white fabric with a red cross printed on it can mean so much and be quite so divisive.
Despite the flag drawing red lines between different parts of society, the World Cup has shown when individuals from every corner of England band together, they have the potential to produce a force for good. If we had won the World Cup, I am certain the flag would have become such a prolific symbol of national pride, that all our previous assumed associations would be no more. The same way the London 2012 Olympics took the county both by storm and surprise, despite our collective scepticism beforehand. And if you are feeling that national optimism still, perhaps Brexit too could be seen as a force for good that more than 46 percent of us can be proud of.
The English spirit, frequently misplaced but never lost, unites and recognises collective achievement, no matter what your background, party or stance on our relationship to Europe. That is not to say Ireland, Wales and Scotland are lacking in spirit, far from it, there is a lot we could learn from them and their national pride. England is something we can still be immensely proud of. And what better time to celebrate it then when the country is faced with the most significant, and difficult change to its relationship with the rest of the world this side of the 21st century. If we are able to harness the English spirit in our approach to Brexit - or a second referendum - admittedly easier said than done, the outlook for England, and the whole of the UK, would certainly appear to be a whole lot more rosy post 2022. In order for that to happen, we require a leader we can believe in, who will sell us a positive and constructive vision of the future we can rally for and subscribe to, reigniting our pride in this slightly strange but rather wonderful nation, that despite all the odds, never really changes.