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NI provides a good example of how inclusive English football team can be

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An unexpected aspect of the Euro 2020 football tournament — aside from England’s progression to the final — was the effort to define “English identity”. It’s a harmless pastime, but also impossible. Another strange feature was the arguments over whether England should be supported by non-English folk.

I plead guilty to improperly defining identity. At every Northern Ireland election study, we ask people to categorise themselves as British, or Irish, or Northern Irish etc. In using questionnaire surveys, a complex question is reduced to box-ticking.

That reductionism is needs-must. When we allowed open-ended replies, hundreds supplied essays about the complexity of their identity, some of book length. It took weeks (and lots of funding) to analyse the responses.

That, though, proves the point. Identity is multifaceted, not straightforward. And remember: Northern Ireland’s population is only 1.8 million. England’s is 30 times larger.

My first World Cup abroad supporting England was Italia 1990. Much human life was present, a sizeable chunk unpleasant.

Following England was a tough gig. The moron quota was high. During that Sardinian stay, one of our party flew back early, sickened at having seen only heads kicked, not balls. It was rough, white, male and often violent hooligan territory.

Fast-forward to Euro 2016 and England fans were again involved in violent clashes in France, while Northern Irish and Irish fans enjoyed themselves. It was tempting to conclude nothing had changed.

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