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Tuesday, 25 June, 2002, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Will English passion still burn bright?
Beckham with St George's Cross flags
David Beckham celebrates an early win in the World Cup

Before England's World Cup defeat, it seemed like the country had been blanketed by red and white flags. But will this new-found patriotism vanish as quickly as it appeared?
It took three weeks and more than seven hours of nail-biting football to find out that, when it comes to being world beaters, England still can't cut it.

Wimbledon fan with tennis ball crown
England's sporting hopes now rest with Tim Henman
That makes 36 years of hurt, and counting.

So as Sven and Co. settle back into the routine of home life, has anything really changed?

One of the most striking things about England's healthy five-match run in the World Cup was the effect on patriotism.

Side streets and high streets became showcases for the red cross of St George.

Suddenly, England's national flag could be seen fluttering from taxis, taped to shop windows, strung as bunting over pub doorways and worn like a designer fashion label.

The St George cross has crept out for international football tournaments in recent years.

But it was the sheer number of flags flown during this World Cup that seemed to indicate that, when it came to patriotism, there had been a sea-change among the famously flag-phobic English.

Women in England colours
Red and white became the fashion hit of summer
The question now is whether it will last? Was the flag waving just a feel-good fashion accessory or did it point to a deeper sense of English patriotism?

A bit of both, says politics professor Roger Eatwell, who feels some keen marketing helped boost the sales of St George's flags. Tesco says it has sold more than a million in recent weeks.

"It's just been easier to buy the flags at supermarkets and petrol stations. Companies have sophisticated stock management systems now, and they have planned for this some time in advance."

The fact that many of the flags had been made in low-wage economies such as China, also meant they were cheap and good impulse buys.

In search of identity

But it runs deeper, says Mr Eatwell, of Bath University, who believes men in particular are attracted to patriotism in these uncertain times.

Cheerful England fans
Fears of fans running amok proved unfounded
"A lot has been said about how males who are stuck in jobs traditionally done by women, they are emasculated and uncertain of their identity in a fast changing, globalised world.

"They will find patriotism - and the sense of identity it offers - attractive."

The problem in the past is that flag waving in England has been identified with racist thugs.

The rediscovery of the St George's flag has gone some way to smooth that, since the Union Jack has always been the rallying flag of the far-right in Britain.

Crowds outside Buckingham Palace
Jubilee weekend sparked a flag frenzy
(Although the flurry of red, white and blue at this year's jubilee celebrations suggests even that flag has lost much of its hostile associations.)

And England's performance on the pitch is not the only factor.

The conduct of England fans in Japan - they earned a glowing tribute from Fifa rather than the more familiar damning putdown - has helped soften the image of the flag.

Reclaim the flag

The World Cup magic has certainly worked for ordinary patriots, like Nigel Holmes, of Studley, Warwickshire.

"I previously avoided flags because of the right wing symbolism associated with them. But I'm more inclined to fly one now," he says.

The same goes for Scott Baldry, of Bristol: "At this present moment I would feel more free to fly the St George's flag."

I previously avoided flags because of the right wing symbolism associated with them

Nigel Holmes
Two months ago singer-songwriter Billy Bragg told BBC News Online about his urge to reclaim patriotism from extremists and celebrate Englishness.

The World Cup has hastened this process, he says now, and the flag of St George has taken on a new meaning.

So a simple sporting tournament has broken an age-old taboo?

Yes, believes Mr Eatwell, "there has been a shift towards nationalism being respectable".

"Most of us are not going to fly the flag after it's all over in Japan, although we might be more inclined to on St George's Day. But what we seem to be seeing is a relatively robust and healthy kind of patriotism."

Your comments:

It is great that finally English people can wave their flag without being called a racist. I hope it continues we have a great country, lets celebrate it.
Rob, England

Nationalism invariably turns into xenophobia. I far prefer the company of an individual from the other end of the world who shares some of my values and interests to one of those St George's flag-waving, tattoed halfwits we saw on our TV screens during the World Cup, who happen to hold the same type of passport as me.
Don Jenkins, UK

Finally, after years of personally flying the St George's cross and celebrating St George's day have we can at last celebrate the fact the we're proud to be English. What would make me really happy would be a big celebration and day off on the 23rd of April.
Richard Chapman, England

See also:

21 Apr 02 | England
24 Jun 02 | Wimbledon
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