The more you see of Jack Wilshere, the more admirable he becomes. He seems to have taken wholeheartedly to fatherhood, a path he embarked on when he was barely out of short trousers. And then there’s the agreeably relaxed way he was toking on a Marlboro Light outside a London nightclub the other day. It bought a nuclear storm on the poor lad’s head, of course — quite why is beyond me. There’s no suggestion he’s a chain-smoker, unlike the great Brazilian Socrates, who did about 40 a day and won the World Cup. He, of course, was a doctor. Young Jack did the smoking community no favours by initially claiming he was holding the fag for someone else, though he later came clean. It turned out that Arsène Wenger, who was particularly pompous about Marlborogate, had offered Jack ‘support’. Good grief — it was just a fag, not a needle full of smack.
But then Jack, bless him, waded in to the fetid undergrowth of the nationality debate, with remarks of great common sense which, predictably, brought howls of outrage. Following a couple of brilliant goals from a teenager called Adnan Januzaj for Manchester United, it emerged that the FA thought it might be a good idea for young Adnan to pull on the Three Lions of England. Januzaj was born in Belgium and is available to play for that country, as well as Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Turkey. One thing he’s definitely not is English, and Wilshere had the guts to point it out. ‘The only people who should play for England are English people. If you live in England for five years, it doesn’t make you English,’ he said. ‘If I went to Spain and lived there for five years I am not going to play for Spain.’
Now anyone with an IQ above that of a roll-up knows what Wilshere was on about. If national sport is to have any meaning, then broadly you should come from the country you represent. It’s clearly not to do with where you are born, as some claim Wilshere meant, but who you are, where you learned your sport and — sorry — how you sound. It would have been extremely weird if Kenny Dalglish had played for England. We shouldn’t take the argument about where you learned your sport too far, or Andy Murray, who spent his teenage years in Barcelona, will turn Spanish. But no one would deny that Andrew Strauss is English. Strauss learnt to play cricket here, speaks with an English accent, and has a slight English awkwardness. Nasser Hussain is another example. He might have been taught by his Indian father Joe, but it was in the nets at Ilford. And to settle matters, Nasser was asked by David Gower, after Essex had won a cup semi–final, whether he’d celebrate with champagne. ‘Nah mate,’ he replied. ‘We’re from Essex. We’ll be drinking lager.’ All the proof you need of nationality.
KP and Trott, despite both living here for ten years, marrying English women and fathering children here, are slightly different. They’ve never quite shaken their Saffer accents. And Pietersen, bless his Three Lions tattoos, can never quite lose that Boer brusqueness. ‘It’s your country not mine,’ he said when a journalist asked him about women throwing their underwear at him. Hmm, not really kissing the badge there, Kevin.
Of course it doesn’t matter if some of our sportsmen were born overseas. Mo Farah, who was born in Mogadishu and trains in Oregon, is as British as they come. On the other hand, Tiffany Porter, who captained the British women’s athletics team at the World Championships, was born in Michigan and sounds it, however much she waves the union flag.
So I reckon Jack’s on to something. Get him on to Greg Dyke’s football commission sharpish, though make sure there’s time for fag breaks.
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Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.
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