Written by Staff Writer by Louise Egan
It’s doubtful anybody thought the morning commute in the UK at the moment would entail sipping a cup of tea in a heart-felt way, sobbing silently to a tune from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in a blackened version of a Dickensian charity shop or debating the merits of a 15-minute Concorde time slot in the Radio 1 breakfast show.
Not really. The British people are united on one issue, and that’s football. That is, some Football. That would be England’s whole National Team — the “Team” played in all three versions of international football’s largest tournament, the most coveted medal in any sport besides the Olympic ones.
To the football lover, there are two legs to the group stage, or 24 “If I’m Premier League,” as they call it, each with a first leg (that’s a qualifier, not a round) against another qualifying side. Then the teams meet again in the second leg, which is now the knockout phase, and can reach the final.
There are, of course, 13 nations in the qualifying group — including some minnows like San Marino, Gibraltar and Kosovo — but some nations have already found themselves in the hat thanks to the odd qualifying round (matches are played exactly one year in advance of the World Cup), so the last group stage games will feature the British Football Team.
The Paralympic Team, too, includes individuals with physical or mental disabilities who compete in events of different disciplines. This team, however, will not qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
In the wake of last month’s England qualifying defeat by Slovenia, which consigned the team to the second round of the UEFA European Qualifying Group Four, a high-profile group of 23 players initiated the politically charged movement, known as “The Nine,” by kneeling down and, in some cases, linking arms, during the national anthem before matches.
The group included the team’s captain Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Michael Keane, Kieran Trippier, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Gary Cahill, Jordan Henderson, Trent Alexander-Arnold, James Tarkowski, Danny Rose, Jesse Lingard, Jamie Vardy and John Stones.
The gesture, which was greeted enthusiastically by the English public, was not universally welcomed by all of England’s footballers or other sporting stars across the UK. Manchester United and English soccer star Jesse Lingard was reported as saying: “It’s absolutely disgusting. None of those players should be kneeling.
“A lot of people in this country paid to see them. It’s disrespectful and you know the rest of the team has been in a lot worse situations than them kneeling, so just leave it be.”
Chris Baillie, the editor of the Leyton Orient fanzine, The Arsenal, said the movement needed to be left alone. “Football should be a game and the politics shouldn’t be mixed up. That has done no harm to football, it might even have helped,” he said.
“It’s absolutely disgusting they would stoop to such a low as the likes of Alli, Kane and Stones.
“I know some people are disappointed the English FA hasn’t banned them and I understand that. But it shouldn’t be up to the FA to choose between the fans.”
There’s also been plenty of attention on the UK’s lack of a league.
The Football League, the body responsible for English football league competitions, released a statement saying: “Our clubs have no connection with the Uefa European Union from 1995 onwards. Their whole brief and focus now has been on whether teams in the top league can get promotion.”
It continued: “We as the governing body, wholeheartedly support the national team, and whilst it’s a key focus of our ambitions of our leagues to bring success to English clubs, that need not necessarily have any effect on the national team.
“Our clubs have both professional and amateur teams, we are committed to building success for those clubs in their leagues, but are not going to choose between the success of both teams.
“We also feel strongly that club football is important. Professional football does so much for the football community, raising thousands of pounds through gate revenue and merchandise and supporting so many worthwhile charities.”
The formation of the national team back in 1934, and the subsequent tradition of mergers and conquests, is a classic British sporting story, in part a tale of survival, but most of all of the acceptance by politicians and sporting fans alike, particularly in the wake of World War II.