Thursday, June 29, 2006

Countries, flags and confusion

click photo to enlarge
An England football (soccer) fan in Germ-
any was asked recently why he was carry-
ing a Swiss flag! At the last England match a loudspeaker announcement welcomed "United Kingdom" fans. This prompted a lot of excitable responses which can be politely summarised as "excuse me, we are England fans!" It's not surprising that people elsewhere get confused about the names and countries of the British Isles - so do many of its inhabitants! So, in the interests of peace, harmony and international goodwill here is my attempt at elucidation.

The British Isles is a geographical term describing the group of islands off the coast of mainland Europe. It includes the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom (UK), properly called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, is a political union that includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Great Britain describes England, Scotland and Wales (but not Northern Ireland). The Republic of Ireland is an independent sovereign state that is not part of the United Kingdom (though its territory was until the early twentieth century). Pretty clear really isn't it!! Now, about the flags! England's flag is a white rectangle with a red cross of St George (as above). Scotland's flag is dark blue with a white saltire (diagonal) cross of St Andrew. Wales' flag is a rectangle split horizontally into green and white, with a red dragon superimposed. Northern Ireland's flag is like the flag of England, but with a white star at the intersection of the cross, on which is a red hand, and above which is a crown. The Republic of Ireland's flag is a green, white and orange vertical tricolour. The Union flag which is used to represent the UK is the familiar three coloured flag with vertical and diagonal crosses in red, white and blue. Now, if you've got all that, and you can be excused if your head is spinning, the only other important fact to remember is that there is no love lost between these nations on the soccer pitch. Furthermore, you confuse these countries to the natives at your own risk!

The amount of England flags being flown during the World Cup is quite staggering. There are a number of jokes doing the rounds about those that display them. However, there is an unintended, serious, and very positive benefit. The English flag has, in the past, seemed to have been appropriated by English nationalists of an extreme right wing persuasion. If the current display gets rid of that association, and returns the flag to the people as a whole, it will be a good thing. My photograph above shows one of the millions (?) being flown from cars, and some of the many on display on houses.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen