Ruth Dudley Edwards: Reasons to be cheerful about the England football team and the Orange Order
Now I should warn those who are happy only when pointing sadly to their half-empty glass and looking for somebody to blame for it, that I intend here to be cheerful about football, Orange festivities, and — a bit — about the Northern Ireland protocol.
They don’t call me a contrarian for nothing.
I’m writing this the morning after the final of the European Championships.
I live in central London, near Trafalgar Square, which for the duration has been a Mecca for fans hoping to get into the Fan Zone legally or illegally to watch a match on the huge screen.
Yesterday, around midday, I wandered amongst a sea of young men in England shirts many of whom had carrier bags full of cans.
They had emptied my newsagent’s fridge before lunch and we agreed that some of these youths were likely to wake up the following morning with no memory whatsoever of the match.
We — which in this context means supporters of England — are of course disappointed, but there is plenty to be proud of.
I know nothing about football, but those who do convinced me some time ago that Italy was the best team and deserved to win.
And so it proved to be.
But what an achievement to have got to the final!
And with a team to whom Gareth Southgate has taught values that are in contrast to those of many show-offs of previous generations who spent all their money on champagne, cocaine and cheating on their wives with blondes on the take.
This band of team players champions the deprived, donates individually to charity and has promised to give to NHS charities a large part of its bonus for reaching the final.
It offers young people hard-working, decent, open-minded role models that reflect English society.
As the team photographs have shown globally, our brilliant young team is by far the most racially mixed in Europe (and probably the world), which is a true reflection of this tolerant country where the same is notably true of the Conservative front bench.
Forget about the few sad, cretinous bigots on social media this morning spewing racist bile at those who missed penalties.
Of course we hoped for a miracle, but Italy won fair and square, our players gave their all, the country is very grateful and it’s the World Cup next year.
Now, to matters Orange.
I was delighted that it was possible to organise parades this year and hope the day will be a great success.
Now I had been reading a lot about the bonfires and looking at photos and while I deplore sectarian graffiti and constructions so huge they are unsafe, it seemed to me that a great deal of what was said and written was a great fuss about nothing from people who either want to undermine loyalist culture or just like spoiling other people’s fun.
And I was right, and I hope everyone had a great time.
Mind you, when it comes to being pro-bonfire, I have form.
Growing up in the Republic I felt deeply deprived because fireworks were banned.
I ached to experience great bonfires with Guy Fawkes at the top.
The nearest I got to that was in 1987, when a Belfast friend took me on my first bonfire tour.
I wrote then. “I loved the tour of enormous bonfires. Perhaps I should have been offended that effigies of the Irish and British Prime Ministers were being burned as a protest against the Anglo Irish Agreement, but I wasn’t. I had been rather uneasy that the two governments had made a deal without consulting unionists and that a mass demonstration of a quarter-of-a-million Protestants had been virtually ignored.
“Considering the massive sense of betrayal throughout the unionist community, burning effigies seemed harmless way of letting off steam.”
The same applies now.
Nobody seems make much fuss in England about Lewes, where every year huge effigies of prime ministers are driven through the town and then burned on Guy Fawkes’ Day bonfires, along with others locals want to satirise like Jacob Rees-Mogg, Piers Morgan and Angela Merkel.
Why, one wonders, are the bonfire builders of Northern Ireland so parochial?
Why have they failed to widen their range of targets to members of the European Commission?
Ursula von der Leyen anyone?
They missed a golden opportunity there.
And that’s all I’m saying today about the Protocol, except that last week I watched Brandon Lewis and Lord Frost talking about it for more than an hour.
They seemed fired up and I felt hope.
And I’m raising my half-full glass to that.
• Ruth Dudley Edwards is the author of The Faithful Tribe: an intimate portrait of the loyal institutions
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