The 6 nations rugby tournament is one of the few good thing about February. It’s too cold and miserable to enjoy your life and there’s nothing much to look forward to in the immediate future. You’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to go outside without a jacket, and this year, it won’t stop fucking snowing. So it is nice that there is some decent sport on television for once. When it is played at the highest level, rugby union is almost uniquely compelling viewing, and we are treated to watching our national team play against good opposition every year. Ignoring the weekends where the rugby takes a break for FA cup matches, such as the absorbing prospect of Millwall vs Blackburn in the 6th round (try to remain calm), it is a really great excuse to stay indoors all afternoon.
The one downside to the 6 nations (aside from getting caught up in a discussion about why the FA cup doesn’t just call the 6th round a quarter-final round like every other knockout competition ever devised), is that I find myself being “forced” to listen to other country’s national anthems, and being reminded how great they are in comparison to our own. Take the unnecessarily pugnacious Italian anthem, which ends with every Italian shouting
“We’re ready to die,
Italia has called. YES!”
It’s pretty morbid and we aren’t actually at war, but the song never fails to stir something in me. I don’t actually care about Italy, but dammit, I can respect the passion of the people who do. You get to yell and everything at the end, it’s great.
In England it’s pretty much unheard of for people to dislike the national anthem, even though it is the musical equivalent of pond sludge. It is slow, dull and pointless. For a start, it is almost 400 years old (although the words king and queen have alternated over that time), and was written at a time when all English people were furiously trying to commit themselves to a life of non-enjoyment while fervently worshipping a god who kept hitting them with bubonic plague. The dreary, monotonous hymns you had to sing in school assembly (“..To be a pilgrim.” et al) are based on the same, barren style of painful commitment. It really has no bearing on any of the last 50 years, at least. If the song appeared for the first time today (with no-patriotic lyrics), I genuinely think that everyone in the world would hate it
Footballers are regularly lambasted for not singing along when the national dirge is played at the start of matches. Now, maybe they don’t know the words (#cheapdig) but more likely they just don’t want to sing some total shit song. And I for one empathise with them on this. I don’t sing the anthem under any circumstances, just as I don’t sing hymns or shitty x-factor pop guff. If you want me to get involved, it has to be a good song, or at least mean something to me.
“Hold on,” you say, “the NATIONAL ANTHEM doesn’t mean anything to you?” Correct. I am somewhat patriotic – I support all British athletes, but I stop short of hating foreign people, and I am not afraid to criticise British things that are stupid. I’d like to think this is an appropriate level of patriotism. But let’s get something straight, I don’t believe in god (at least, not the one in the song), and I don’t see the point in the queen. So why should I sing about them both? I don’t hate the queen, I hope she lives a long and happy life, which I also wish on everyone else in the world. I also think that she is in a far better position to do so than almost every single person who has ever lived, simply because of some hereditary privilege, which I think is out of order.
I hope that when the queen inevitably dies (in the long distant future), we as a nation take the opportunity to replace the national anthem. I’d actually prefer to do it today, but I suspect a new monarch will be the only catalyst that will actually allow this change to happen. Hopefully, the new song will be interesting, relevant and something myself and my premier league footballing chums can muster up the desire to sing and shout along to. It would make the 6 nations more interesting, anyway.