National Anthems

I have divided loyalties when it comes to football.  I’m half-Scottish, married to a Welshman. My first team is Wales and my second team is Scotland.  When I was growing up nobody in my family was interested in sport, except for my Scottish grandpapa.  His first team was Scotland and his second team was whoever was playing against England – especially if they beat them.

I’m not in that camp. I’ve lived in England all my life but I would always call myself British, not English.  However, this incarnation of the English football team has completely won me over. They play for each other, they play as a team, they are modest in victory and resilient in defeat.

I have watched most of the matches in this tournament, and as a choir leader I probably pay more attention to the singing of the anthems than most viewers.  I love some powerful group singing, and I think it says something about a team when they all know the words and sing their anthem confidently.  At the beginning of the tournament I was sure I could see a correlation between strong singing and strong performance on the pitch.  

The Welsh football team sing as loud and proudly as their rugby counterparts, and they played well – to start with.  The Italians are also very good at singing their anthem – which looked and sounded so rousing I had to look it up.

Brothers of Italy, it starts, Italy has awoken… It finishes off with them declaring – twice – that they are ready to die for Italy.

Allons, enfants de la patrie, sing the French.  Come on, children of our homeland, the day of glory is here!

Land of my fathers, land of warriors, poets and singers, great people who have shed their blood for freedom… Land! Land! I am true to my land.

There is a beautiful country, sing the Danes, where the beech trees spread wide by the salt eastern shores…  this is Freya’s hall, where ancient warriors rest.

I’m starting to see a pattern here. Most national anthems involve people singing about the land they inhabit, or about their links to past generations of the country, ancestors, heroes and warriors, inciting a feeling of camaraderie with other people of that nation.

Compared to that, the English have a rough deal.  I have a problem with England using the British national anthem as their own, since it should belong equally to the four home nations, but in addition to that it’s a poor anthem.

Instead of singing about their country, and a feeling of belonging to either a nation – a physical land, or an ideal – or a brotherhood, they are asking God to look after the queen. I’ve nothing against the queen, but the words of our national anthem don’t commit us to taking any action. We don’t commit ourselves to each other or our homeland, we just say a prayer for an old lady.  I wish they would sing Jerusalem instead – the old radical Blake’s words are stirring, and specifically about England, although I’d prefer something without religious affiliations.

Sadly, the correlation I observed didn’t last beyond the group stages.  Before their match with Denmark, Wales sang as well as ever.  Denmark didn’t sing particularly strongly and they won 4-0.  

Whatever the outcome on the field, singing a song together is one more way to pledge allegiance to your team and country. I wish England had a better tune and better words!