Anything but thought (Observer)

Henry McDonald says that “our hatred of all things English reflects a collective inferiority complex”, in his regular column for the Observer.

Bobby Robson says he is praying for Ireland. Gazza, too, says he is rooting for Mick McCarthy’s side. Even off-duty British soldiers who lamely tried to hide their true profession by claiming to be engineers in a downtown Belfast pub last Friday during the Argentina game say they want Ireland to win. Everyone in England, and outside of it, it would seem – with the exception of neo-Nazi micro groups – wishes the Republic well in the World Cup.

And yet what do most of our compatriots, or at least the ones interviewed in print and on the airwaves, say in reply to this widespread English goodwill? Answer: ABE.

The ABE syndrome is the international equivalent of ABU, Anybody But United – Manchester United, that is. ABE stands, of course, for Anybody But England and, like ABU, is rooted in sullen jealousy, self-doubt and a collective inferiority complex.

As with all such conditions ABE is fuelled in large part by the inadequacies of those who express it. ABE is an attribute of a negative nationalism defined by what you are not; made as the mirror image of the Other. It is the anti-thesis of a positive, confident patriotism. It is, in essence, ‘anti’.

ABE was in abundance last Saturday morning when Radio 4’s Today programme went along to The Submarine, Ireland’s Premier soccer bar in Dublin. When asked about their reaction to England’s victory over Argentina 24 hours earlier, one Irish fan pushed his face in front of the microphone and gave this illuminating answer.

‘I’m a patriot, so I hate England,’ he said in reply.

It is hard to discern if this response reflects the feelings of the majority of Irish soccer fans towards England. Certainly the more vociferous elements have disgraced themselves in recent years at Lansdowne Road. Think, for example, about the booing of Rangers players in the Scotland squad during the last international friendly in Dublin. However, the man in the Submarine probably supports an English Premiership side, possibly even one whose star players are wearing the white jersey and the three Lions on their shirt during the World Cup.

After the World Cup is over and football comes roaring back on to our television screens in mid-August, this patriot will again be cheering on the likes of Beckham, Butt, Scholes, Heskey and Owen with no apparent sense of irony.

None of this is to ignore the far-right vermin that latches on to England away games; the type of fascist trash who rioted at Lansdowne Road in 1995 comes to mind here. Yet to identify with Ireland, and as an axiom of that make sure that you must hate England, is to stoop to the very level of the Combat 18, BNP and NF goons who regularly drag their nation’s reputation into the gutter (thankfully, so far, not in Japan). ABE demeans the authentic republican virtues of tolerance and respect for diversity – the kind of values the Irish, in their eternal quest to be the most loved people on the planet, claim to cherish.

But having said all of the above it would still be better if England are knocked out before the final, preferably in the quarter-finals. This wish for an English exit in the latter stages is not motivated by ABE at all, but rather the hope that the World Cup final is not between England and Ireland. Such a scenario with all the associated chauvinism, bellicose nationalism and regurgitated historical grievances on either side would be too much to bear. Ireland winning one-nil against Brazil with lots of intermittent camera close-ups of lithe Brazilian dancers doing the samba in the stadium is a much more mouth-watering prospect than football-against-the-old-enemy.

PS: Never mind ABE, what about this for a classic case of MOPE (Most Oppressed People Ever).

The Short Strand in east Belfast is now another Warsaw ghetto according to the SDLP’s Alasdair McDonnell. That must mean, therefore, that loyalists are pounding the area with Panzer tanks, strafing the streets with Stuka bombers, demolishing communities house by house with flame-throwers and mortars, massacring people in their hundreds of thousands and carting off survivors to concentration camps in the Castlereagh Hills.

Close to a million died from starvation, disease, mass shootings and shelling inside and out of the Warsaw Ghetto. Those who survived the torments in the enclave were then shipped to industrial killing centres such as Auschwitz.

Such comparisons are the kitsch association of relatively minor sectarian skirmishes with the incomprehensible human disaster of the Shoah.

To compare the fate of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto to nationalists living on a sectarian interface in Belfast is an insult to the six million who died in the Holocaust.

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