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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 June, 2004, 10:27 GMT 11:27 UK
To fly or not to fly?
by Zoe Gough
BBC News Online, Birmingham

Flag of St George
Shopkeepers have reported record sales of the flag
They are everywhere. It seems you cannot go down any street at the moment without seeing cars, shops, houses and pubs festooned with St George's flags.

But are these patriotic displays just an indication of support for the England squad in Euro 2004 or do they represent something else?

In some quarters concerns have been raised that the recent surge in the number of the flags on show on England's streets, has little to do with supporting the national football team and is more a statement of discontent with the state of the nation.

Shopkeepers have reported their biggest ever sales of the pennants this year which have coincided with increasing calls from civic groups to be proud of our nation and football team.

But is that the only reason for such outward displays of patriotism?

One pub chain recently attempted to ban the flag because of its links to hooliganism, and a flag manufacturer is looking to produce a "softer design".

BBC News Online tracked down some flag bearers and non-flag bearers in Birmingham to see what they thought about the trend.

Geoff Marlow, owner of Kings Heath Photo Centre, said he will be hoisting a huge flag above his shop in the build up to Euro 2004.

Gary Timmins
I think 99% of those flying flags won't be going to Euro 2004, they are putting on a show
Gary Timmins

"I'm all for it, it's our flag so why shouldn't we be entitled to fly it, you wouldn't go up to Scotland or Wales and tell them not to fly theirs.

"The reason is football, there is no need at other times.

"I had it up during the World Cup and had no bad reactions."

Kings Heath builder Gary Timmins, 34, an England fan who is following the team to Portugal, admitted he thought the flag was being used by many to declare their annoyance against immigration issues.

"It is about patriotism and I think it is a big statement from people because they think they are getting pushed about and hear about people who are coming into our country and within two or three weeks getting everything.

"I think 99% of those flying flags won't be going to Euro 2004, they are putting on a show."

Non flag-bearers Tina Chauhan, 22, an administration clerk from Moseley, and Ali Azam, 22, a security worker from Moor Green, said they feared it could be used by some to incite racism.

"There can be problems with it and that needs to be pointed out," Tina said.

Dan Steel
I think it is over emphasised patriotism. I love football but I wouldn't put one on my own car
Dan Steel

But Lorraine Reeves, 42, an assembler from West Heath, said her only excuse for not flying a flag was that she was about to trade her car in for a new one.

"I'm proud to be English and it's a pity we don't show it more often, we always have to wait for it to be football, it should be all the time," she said.

"If you go to a lot of Asian shops they are the ones who are selling them."

Dan Steel, 27, a church worker from Stirchley, said: "I find it quite bizarre and couldn't work out what it was about although I noticed it started more after St George's Day.

"I think it is over emphasised patriotism. I love football but I wouldn't put one on my own car.

"I expect the BNP are happy about it."

Theresa Price, 55, a cleaner from Kings Norton, said: "I have put it up because I am English, I put it up for anything, the cricket, the rugby and the football. It is pride in our English teams.

"I think people banning it is stupid, I work in a pub which has got all the flags up and not one woman in there says anything about them being up."

Theresa Price
I have put it up because I am English, I put it up for anything, the cricket, the rugby and the football.
Theresa Price

Shopkeeper Patricia Sandford, owner of Ace Party in Northfield, said she had sold more flags this year than ever before and expected to sell out.

"We have sold them to women and to non-white people, there is no fear attached to them," she said.

And Tim Tansley, marketing manager for House of Flags who make the flags, said demand had increased 100% on last year and individual orders were becoming more common, especially for middle class homes.

"Flying a flag is definitely becoming more popular, the football is emphasising the St George's flag because England are the only home team but when the rugby was on we had lots of business from supporters of the French, Italian and Irish teams.

"Our typical customer is definitely not the stereotypical football fan of five or 10 years ago."

Despite this he said the firm was just about to sign a deal to produce a new style of St Georges cross which would remove it from negative connotations.

Andrew Houseley, director of the Commission for Racial Equality Midlands, said he was concerned that some people felt threatened by the increase in flags on display in public.

"We understand how the flag could instil fear as it has been hijacked by racists in the past," he said.

"But, the only way to remove this fear is to reclaim the flag from the racists who wrongly claim to be the only keepers of the flame of Englishness."

Pub withdraws St George flag ban
20 May 04  |  West Midlands
Pubs ban St George for Euro 2004
19 May 04  |  West Midlands
Up and down day for George's flag
23 Apr 04  |  Leicestershire
St George battle goes on the web
23 Apr 04  |  Norfolk

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