Arriving in Manchester yesterday ahead of the Super League grand final, I came across a reprint of an old World War II poster at Piccadilly Station.
“Dressing Extravagantly In Wartime Isn’t Just Poor Form, It’s Unpatriotic,” it read.
It struck a chord with me, given I had been thinking about patriotism and sport since the great league writer Dave Hadfield wrote a piece for The Mirror outlining how much he was hoping England lost to Australia in rugby union last week, and why.
Rugby league fans here in England have been celebrating the defeat all week. They’re delighted that their grand final at Old Trafford is sold out while there will be plenty of empty seats across town at the Etihad tomorrow when England meet Uruguay in the World Cup.
But they also see a victory over the rival, bigger code, as much more important than one over the Wallabies.
This sort of enmity is foreign to most Australians – it seems desperately provincial.
But is it?
Surely it is more provincial to cheer anyone in green and gold, regardless of whether you care about the sport, as if it proves something about the worth of a country.
The Wallabies winning or losing does not make Australia a better or worse place. They are 15 individuals playing 15 other individuals. Australia’s medal count at the Olympics represents nothing more than what I just wrote – the number of medals Australia picked up at the Olympics.
All the rest is just jingoism, the insecure desire to be seen as a ‘sporting powerhouse’ that is ‘punching above its weight’.
In the case of Australia’s relationship with Britain, it has always been a case of trying to prove your worth through sport to people who don’t really think sport is measure of worth.
I think you appreciate sport, even international sport, without being particularly patriotic. Just see it for what it is.
As someone who has spent a lot of time here, I understand, appreciate and agree with David Hadfield’s sentiments last week about wanting the England rugby union team to lose.
It makes sense that in Britain, which gave us our language, political system, customs – and sports – that people would attach themselves to ideas and history rather than set of colours. An obsession with winning sporting events to prove some sort of point is something that former colonies may one day grow out of, I guess.
If 18th century England had been populated by Australians, I have serious doubts they would have actually found Australia.
Me? I consider myself a rugby league person ahead of an Australian. I decide my preferences for other sporting results based on the effect it has on rugby league.
I am not completely without patriotism – I once wore an Australian flag as a cape to an AC/DC concert in Pittsburgh – but I’m not particularly patriotic. I like the Boomers and the Socceroos because they are underdogs but I don’t care one way or another about the cricket teams or the Davis Cup side.
Is that a crime? Does it make me an enemy of the state?
A successful Wallabies side was good for rugby league last week because it makes the Super League grand final a bigger event tomorrow.
But further success hurts rugby league because it takes publicity and – potentially – players from us. So, if pressed, I’ll be leaning towards Wales, where rugby union is a working class sport like it is in the north of England and whose success would have little impact on rugby league, good or bad.
Fans of both codes are converging on Manchester now. I’m about to go outside and join them. I plan to dress extravagantly.