Jack Wilshere and the English

Robert Henderson, England Calling, October 28, 2013

The young England and Arsenal footballer Jack Wilshere put the cat emphatically amongst the politically correct pigeons when he came up with the novel idea (in these pc times) that only Englishmen should be picked to play for England. Answering a question about whether Manchester United’s Belgian-born and raised teenager Adnan Januzaj , who is of Albanian descent, should be picked for England if he qualifies by residence Wilshere said

The only people who should play for England are English people,” he said after training at St George’s Park in preparation for Friday’s World Cup qualifier with Montenegro.

“If you live in England for five years it doesn’t make you English. You shouldn’t play. It doesn’t mean you can play for a country. If I went to Spain and lived there for five years I’m not going to play for Spain.’


These are truly remarkable public statements by a young English footballer on the edge of a probably glittering international career. Political correctness has now such a grip on British society that any statement which suggests national identity is valuable and should be preserved risks a media cry of “racist” followed by an ensuing witch-hunt. It is made all the more remarkable by the fact that he is making the point about being English, a doubly risky business in 21st century Britain where the idea of Englishness is alternately portrayed by the white liberal left elite and their ethnic minority auxiliaries as “dangerous” or “non-existent”, often, absurdly, both by the same person at the same time. Wilshere was taking a real risk with his career by speaking as he did.

Wilshere has backtracked a little as he faced the all too predictable attack from politicians, the mainstream media , liberal left interest groups and members of ethnic minorities.


Wilshere clarified early reports of his words which suggested he wanted only those born in England to play for England. In a response to the South African cricketer Kevin Pietersen who plays for England Wilshere made it clear that he was not advocating that only players born in England (or the rest of the UK) should be eligible, but rather that some unspecified period of cultural acclimatisation is necessary: “ To be clear, never said ‘born in England’ – I said English people should play for England.


A sense of national place is demonstrably not simply derived from living in a country. As Wellington said to those who insisted on calling him an Irishman, ‘Just because a man is born in a stable it does not make him a horse.’ To that I would add that if a man is born in a house but later chooses to live in a stable, he does not become a horse.


But there are also examples of individual ethnic minority and immigrant sportsmen giving direct evidence which suggests that their heart might lie otherwise than with England. The England cricketer Mark Ramprakash has an Indo-Guyanese father and an English mother. Ramprakash might seem just the type of second generation immigrant who would be fully assimilated into English society, whose entire loyalty would be to England. Yet the prominent cricketing journalist and commentator Christopher Martin Jenkins wrote this about him: ‘Colleagues on this touring party [the 1993/94 West Indies tour side] have suggested of him …that Ramprakash sometimes seems more at home with West Indian players, that his cricketing hero and chief confidant is Desmond Haynes; that he would be just as happy in the other camp [the West Indies]‘ CMJ Daily Telegraph 16/3/94).

Another good example of the immigrant player not fully assimilating in the one-time England captain Nasser Hussain. Hussain was born in India and came to England aged six. He has an Asian father and English mother. In an interview with Rob Steen published in the Daily Telegraph he said ‘If anyone asks about my nationality, I’m proud to say ‘Indian’, but I’ve never given any thought to playing for India. In cricketing terms I’m English.’

As with Ramprakash, Hussain might be thought to have a pretty good chance of assimilation into English life. Yet here we have him saying that he is proud to describe himself as Indian. I do not criticise Mr Hussain or any other player of foreign ancestry for feeling this way. It is an entirely natural thing to wish to retain one’s racial/cultural identity. Moreover, the energetic public promotion of “multiculturalism” in England has actively encouraged such expressions of independence. But none of that makes them a suitable choice for an England team.

If those born and raised in England from a young age have difficulty assimilating, the chances of immigrants who come here well into their childhood becoming English in their thoughts and outlook is considerably less. Take the case of the black England footballer John Barnes who came to England aged 12 from Jamaica. He makes his anti-English feelings shriekingly clear in his autobiography, viz:

“I am fortunate my England career is now complete so I don’t have to sound patriotic any more.” (P69 – John Barnes: the autobiography)

“I feel more Jamaican than English because I’m black. A lot of black people born in England feel more Jamaican than English because they are not accepted in the land of their birth on account of their colour.” (P 71) {Snip} “I tried hard for England out of professional pride not patriotism – because I never felt any. (P72)


Qualifications based on legal definitions of nationality, birth or residence are practically irrelevant in the context of national sporting teams, for the instinctive emotional commitment and sense of oneness, which are an essential part of a successful national side, cannot be gained so mechanically. That is particularly true of a country like England which currently has no legal status and possesses a history stretching back 1,500 years. Being English is a matter of culture and ancestry.

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