I don’t know the first thing about theology or religious history. But I am very good at constructing flimsy arguments based on information found in Wikipedia articles. And I’ve also worked out why England didn’t do well in the World Cup, although I don’t really know the first thing about football either.
I think we (I say we – I actually spent very little time on-pitch) lost because we don’t have a very good Patron Saint. England’s saint is Saint George: it is his cross that appears on our flag and that we play under. But George isn’t in an exclusive relationship with us, oh no. In the first instance, take Georgia, the ex-Soviet republic which shares its name with our saint. George is Patron Saint of Georgia too. And check out their flag too. It’s five times more Saint Georgy than the flag of England. Given the fact that Saint George was born (in what is now Israel) and died (in what is now Turkey) about five hundred years before England even existed and the likely truth that he almost certainly never visited England, his ‘Englishness’ is reduced even further by his patronage of a very, very, very small number of other places, including Egypt, Bulgaria, Aragon, Catalonia, Romania, Ethiopia, Greece, India, Iraq, Lebanon, Lithuania, Palestine, Portugal, Serbia, Macedonia, Ukraine, Russia and Syria and also the cities of Genoa, Amersfoort, Beirut, Botoşani, Drobeta Turnu-Severin, Timişoara, Fakiha, Bteghrine, Cáceres, Ferrara, Freiburg im Breisgau, Kragujevac, Kumanovo, Ljubljana, Pérouges, Pomorie, Preston, Qormi, Lydda, Lviv, Barcelona, Moscow and Victoria, and the Scout Movement and sufferers of diseases including leprosy, plague, herpes and syphilis and also groups like farmers, archers, horses, saddle makers and sheep, shepherds and soldiers and (most appropriately of all) the city of Rio de Janeiro and a Brazilian football team called the Corinthians. Even more annoying is the fact that most of those places are closer to the places Saint George lived and died in than England is. We’ll probably find out he didn’t even slay a dragon next!
Some countries have got it right. Saint Patrick was born in Britain and spent much of his life in Ireland, while Saint David was born (and died) in Wales. If we choose a home-grown British Saint from the pantheon of the great and good that populate English history, I suspect the football wins will start rolling in. Who to pick? The Wikipedia article on ‘English people’ features Alfred the Great, Elizabeth I and William Shakespeare. But they are all far too obvious. Perhaps we should pick one of the others on that page? What about Michael Palin? How about Kate Winslet, or David Beckham, or Sting? Saint Sting certainly has a ring to it.
Regardless, there’s a delicious irony in the fact that the rising tide of (sometimes extreme and fascistic) British nationalism raises a non-Briton to the rank of supreme icon of Britishness. If George were alive today, UKIP probably wouldn’t want him in the country. The recent party political broadcast by the English Democrats featured a song called ‘(This is England) Land of Saint George’. Is it though? Hopefully, by the time of the General Election in 2015, the parties will be invoking Saint Daniel of Craig, and by 2018, England will again raise that blunt gold instrument we call the World Cup under the banner of Saint Sting. Let’s all chant together now! ‘Clap clap clap-clap-clap, Eng-lish-man-in NEW YORK!’