As Harry Kane splayed balls into the Nice night sky on Monday evening, I couldn’t help feeling it was a performance by the English football team that felt appropriate to its country’s existential crisis. In the same way that idiots setting fire to things in Marseilles the week before felt the perfect embodiment of the Brexit Leave campaign’s obdurate nihilism.
Nothing summed up Brexit like England’s shitshow against Iceland. When the men from the land of fire and ice bagged their second goal I let out an involuntary ironic cheer followed by a hollow laugh. I’ve tried not supporting England before, but as soon as the whistle goes my heart invariably starts racing, I begin palpitating and shouting, “come on!” like one of Pavlov’s dogs dressed up like a full kit wanker. Not this time. My heart just wasn’t in it. When the final whistle went, I looked on enviously at Iceland’s team – a proper team – and what it meant to them. I felt ashamed to be British, and not for the first time that week either.
A week has passed now since the momentous decision, and it’s been a regular mantra this last seven days – “j’ai honte” or I am ashamed. I’ve said it to my French friends via text and email, to the Polish woman at the boulangerie, the staff at the cafes I like to go to in the daytime, and even to my oncologist. I remember how my American friends felt during the Bush years, and I wonder if a similar stigma now tarnishes les rosbifs, the stupid, drunk, obnoxious bad boy of Europe. The English and the Welsh – and to my further chagrin, the Cornish – opted for a future of isolationism, navel gazing and abject self loathing of which I don’t want to be a part of.
A lot has been said about racism already that I can’t be bothered to go into because it’s too depressing, but if the very best excuse for Brexit was a rejection of multiculturalism, then we have a serious problem. I know France has its own predicaments, and the emboldened and jubilant visage of Marine Le Pen is a terrifying one with elections looming in 2017 and Hollande regularly beating his own personal best popularity scores (negative PBs), but we’re not yet seeing halal shops petrol bombed and pig’s heads hung outside mosques and civilians on public transport being told to go back to their own countries. À Dieu ne plaise!
Where does this all leave us? Britain needs a new Prime Minister, and it looks like a toss up between a shaved ballbag in glasses as drawn by Robert Crumb, verses a woman Frankie Boyle described as a “hawk that’s had a This Morning makeover”. Meanwhile Claire and I have been struggling for months deciding whether or not to go home, but this has taken the decision out of our hands.
We want to be European, and if we have children then we want them to be European too. We’ve been looking at ways to ensure we can stay should a tit-for-tat programme of repatriation eventually ensue. Chances are Britain won’t need to control its borders now as there’ll be a stampede for the exit (who’d want to go and live there?) I need to take the idea of speaking fluent French more seriously, which means more language exchange, more watching the French news and more entering into the spirit of things. Football’s not coming home, and neither are we, but the chickens have certainly come home to roost.Follow @jeres