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Comment: Playing for England should be for people who feel English

I have lived in England for 13 years - but I do not feel English
  • @mattbutler503

There was no need for Jack Wilshere to backtrack on his statement that if you are not English, then you should not play for England. Instead, to avoid accusations of xenophobia, he could possibly have modified it to say if you do not feel English then you should be precluded from playing for the Three Lions.

Despite Fifa rules being relatively stringent on nationality compared to other sports, I am eligible to play for England. And Ireland, for that matter. But, discounting my obvious lack of talent, I would refuse the offer from either of them if the phone call should come. Because, as much as it would be an honour to play for the country that invented football, the only team I could play for is New Zealand.

I have lived in England for 13 years and have been made to feel welcome, most of the time. But I do not feel English. I can make proper tea, know how to stand in an orderly queue and have learnt to say "fish" instead of "fush", yet I still consider myself a Kiwi. New Zealand is still home. As, if the rumours are correct, Adnan Januzaj feels like a Kosovan-Belgian. And, as he came to this country with almost 17 years of life experience behind him, the odds are he will still feel like a Kosovan-Belgian on his 23rd birthday, when he would be eligible to play international football for England, if he is still living here.

If only it was as simple as asking a player "do you feel English?" But that is, of course, impossible, because the issue of nationality is a grey one, as Gareth Southgate, the England Under-21 coach, said this week.

Southgate has a multinational squad at his disposal, including the Ivory Coast-born Wilfried Zaha and Saido Berahino, who arrived in England from Burundi as a toddler. But the key point is they were brought up here and consider themselves English. England is home.

As Southgate said: "We have lots of boys in our squad who were not born here, whose families have fled here. There are some wonderful stories and they are all incredibly proud to play for England. The world is changing. People move and work abroad. It is important to know why someone wants to play for you."

Compare Southgate's comments with the situation in other sports of people playing under flags of convenience. Like Riki Flutey, the New Zealand-born England rugby union player who qualified for the red-rose side having lived here for three – three! – years. Before the 2011 World Cup Flutey excitedly talked of being able to go "home" to play for England.

Or how about the New Zealand international cricketer who had just picked up his passport before touring England a few years ago, speaking about his plans after the series. "I am going travelling for a couple of weeks then heading home," he said. Auckland? Wellington? Eketahuna? "Cape Town," he replied.