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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 June 2006, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
The fight to keep flying the flag
By James Clarke
BBC News, England

Car with two England flags
They are certainly not the only ones
The World Cup has not even started and already a familiar sight is spreading on the streets of England - cars and houses flying the St George's flag.

For the tournament four years ago, and even during Euro 2004, flags on cars seemed accepted as one way of showing support for the team and pride in being English.

But this time round car flags have been branded dangerous to motorcyclists and horses and claims have been made they will increase fuel usage.

Maybe worst of all their owners have become the butt of jokes, with one common line being that the flags are fitted to cars to identify substandard drivers.

'Party poopers'

Meanwhile some taxi drivers have had to fight to be allowed to fix flags to their cabs, school pupils have been threatened with a ban on carrying flags and people flying flags from buildings warned to keep within advertising laws.

Any turning of the tide against flying the flag will come as a disappointment to those who spent years trying to stop it being hijacked by the far right.

England flag

Mark Perryman of Englandfans, the official England supporters' club, said: "I live in Haringey in London and I've seen people flying England flags, but also flags from Poland, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, Angola and this morning I was overtaken by someone flying a Brazilian flag.

"I've got absolutely no problem with that, it's a multicultural society and I can't see why people should have a problem with supporting England.

"I think about a third of the people I have seen flying the England flag have been black or Asian."

But many of the objections to the St George's cross this year have been based on safety concerns rather than political worries.

The RAC Foundation and the British Motorcyclists Federation (BMF) issued a "flag flying charter" with advice for motorists on how to best display flags on their vehicles, concentrating on making sure they are designed for car use, secure and not blocking views of the road.

BMF spokesman Jeff Stone said: "We don't want to be seen as party poopers but a wayward flag hitting a motorcyclist in the face could be a serious own goal."

'Feel-good factor'

The RAC Foundation pointed out any driver whose flag falls from their car could face prosecution under the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Act 1986, which demands "vehicles, parts or accessories shall be such that they are not likely to cause danger to other road users".

But a spokesman for the foundation added: "The feel-good factor of getting behind the national team can reduce road-rage - there is evidence flag-fliers let other flag-fliers pull out, and are more forgiving if they make a mistake."

Pie with England flag design
Even pies have got in on the act

In Hampshire, police received reports from horse owners saying flapping flags were startling their animals.

Pc Derek Grist, equine liaison officer, said: "I do have concerns that motorists may cause an animal to bolt and possibly cause injury to itself, its rider or innocent passers-by."

Taxi drivers in Ashfield in Nottinghamshire have been banned from flying flags from their passenger windows amid fears they could poke passengers in the eye or fly off and hit someone - though flags on the driver's side of the car are still permitted.

Cheltenham Borough Council originally banned its cabbies from flying flags for safety reasons, only for councillors to change their minds after a public outcry.

I was at Old Trafford last week and I reckon about 25% of the cars had a flag on them
Mark Perryman, Englandfans

And Dr Antonio Filippone of Manchester University said the drag caused by flags on cars would cause the vehicles to burn extra fuel.

But it is not only flags on cars which have received criticism - a Wearside man who covered the front of his house with England flags, plus the odd union flag, was told by his housing association to take some down after complaints from neighbours.

Among those with a flag on display are Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell, who has two flags on her official car, and many fans still see flying the flag as an integral part of following the national team.

When England played Hungary in a World Cup warm-up friendly last week, about 50 fans arrived at Old Trafford nine hours before kick-off to place 35,000 red or white plastic rectangles on seats at either end of the ground so fans could hold them aloft to form a St George's cross design before kick off.

England fans with union flags in 1992
The union flag used to be the England fan's banner of choice

And a giant England flag which, folded up, takes eight people to carry and is too big to fit through stadium turnstiles, is being taken to Germany by a group of fans keen to show pride in their country.

When England won the World Cup on home soil in 1966 most of the flags being waved in the crowd were Union flags rather than St George's crosses - a tradition which remained in place by the time England made the semi-finals in Italy in 1990.

It was only 10 years ago, when Euro 96 saw England host a major tournament for the first time in 30 years, that the flag of England replaced its British equivalent as the supporters' flag of choice.

Mr Perryman said: "Two things happened in 1996. Labour didn't come into power until the following year but already people knew they were probably going to bring in devolution, and also we played Scotland for the first time in years, so people wanted to celebrate being English rather than British."

But what is his view of the safety fears over flying the flag?

"I was at Old Trafford last week and I reckon about 25% of the cars had a flag on them. I didn't see a sea of people on the pavement blinded by them."

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