The idea of Parramatta born and western suburbs-bred Blake Austin representing England devalues and disrespects the jersey.
It is wrong, plain and simple.
Austin isn’t English and he shouldn’t be playing for England.
There are plenty of good players from England, players who dream of representing their country, who Wayne Bennett should have picked instead.
I myself am a tri-national. Born in Australia to a New Yorker mother and a Lancastrian father, I have citizenship of all three nations. While I am very proud of my heritage and my citizenship of Great Britain and the United States of America, this country is my home.
While I can, have and will again sing both God save the Queen and The Star Spangled Banner (although I really prefer Jerusalem and America the Beautiful) with pride, it is when I sing our ridiculous anthem – even with its girts and unused verses – that I know where my heart truly belongs.
This is not an unfamiliar story for the multitudes of Australians who still have passion and allegiance for the nations their heritage derives from.
Whether Mediterranean, Scandinavian, south east Asian, Balkan, Baltic, etc, there are multitudes of us who have strong links to their heritage. However, for the most part, it is their allegiance to this nation that is paramount.
There is no question that I support English and USA national teams when they compete. I have been known to stay up to stupid hours to do so. However, when they play Australia I always want the Australian teams to win. Always.
If I had been gifted with any sporting ability whatsoever, it would be my dream to wear the Green and Gold. I wouldn’t dream of robbing an Englishman or American of a chance to represent their nation by taking their jersey.
You know who your mob are. You know where you belong. You know what feels right. You just do.
You can’t fake pride for a jersey. You can’t fake pride for a nation.
You shouldn’t try. You shouldn’t have to. It should be involuntary.
When the Viet Minh communist revolutionaries had the French Far East Expeditionary Corps besieged at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, one of the ways they tried to get the defenders to surrender was by playing La Marseillaise (the French National Anthem).
While many of the French soldiers openly wept at the sound, it did not encourage them to surrender at that point (they eventually did). It did the reverse. It encouraged them to dig in and fight harder.
I can’t imagine Blake Austin will either swell with pride of tear up when he hears God Save the Queen. I can’t imagine it will spur him to greater efforts.
Napoleon Bonaparte remarked something along the lines that a man will not lay down his life for any amount of gold, but he’ll do it willingly for a piece of ribbon.
Real, passionate allegiance is that ribbon.
Former English rugby league international Gary Schofield is disgusted by Austin’s selection:
“I don’t want Australians in the dressing room… He’s Australian … I want GB to be full of British lads, as simple as that.”
You’ve got to wonder how many of the English team agree with Schofield’s sentiments too – and whether it will impact the mood and morale.
I’ve talked to Raiders co-captain Josh Hodgson before about his national allegiances now that he’s settled in Canberra. When I enquired if he would ever consider donning the Green and Gold, he was unequivocal: he was, is and will always be an Englishman.
He looked quite disturbed when I raised the concept that his son George – who at the age of three can already punt a ball better than kids aged ten – would be eligible to play for Australia and might choose to.
Hodgson is a fiercely proud Englishman. As are Elliott Whitehead, John Bateman and Ryan Sutton. They dream of representing their national side, wearing the jersey, belting out the anthem and then showing their opponents just how tough the English are.
Blake Austin was born in Parramatta and raised in Sydney’s Western Suburbs. The image the world has of ‘peak Australia’ may be Bondi Beach, or the Red Centre, or the outback, or the Great Barrier Reef, or even Sydney Harbour. However, peak Australia is Sydney’s west. It is the biggest concentration of people in Australia. It is what most of us are.
Blake Austin is peak Australia.
He is Australian to his core. From his Doonside and Mount Druitt roots, to his sleeve tatts and goatee, to his coaching of the uncoachable Doonside Roos, to his appearance on The Footy Show as a kid to playing for the Australian Schoolboys In 2009.
Yet this weekend he will return to Western Sydney and represent another nation.
How can that possibly be right?
It is the same type of rubbish eligibility rules that saw Semi Radradra able to represent Australia that will allow Austin to play for England.
However, it is not just wrong that he has been selected. It is wrong that he accepted the selection.
When Austin played for the Raiders we found him to be a lovely bloke. We liked him. We like him still. But I don’t like that he’s doing this.
A national team is no place for mercenaries. The whole point is for people to represent their nation, their people. That pride and passion can unite the players to lift to new levels of effort and achievement.
This is not like during World Cups where minnow nations are necessarily boosted by players with tenuous connections. England is not a minnow nation. However, this selection disrespects them like they are.
The very idea of “Queenslander” being yelled by anyone else is outrageous.
Wayne Bennett is a proud Queenslander and he should know that better than most. The guy who wrote Don’t Die With the Music in You” is the master of motivating players to get the best out of them. He would know to his core the value of passionate allegiance in getting the very best out of players.
How can he possibly hope to fabricate that passionate allegiance with Austin?
How can Bennett see it as acceptable to select players who don’t hold England as their primary and passionate allegiance? How can Austin possibly try to justify linking arms with his teammate s for the anthem? Will his teammate s even want him to try?
Even if Austin does brilliantly and England wins the competition, the selection will still not be proved right.
Blake Austin is an Australian. He is not an Englishman.
His selection demeans the jersey. It demeans the team. It demeans the competition.