England out, but not down

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The Independent Online

National mood and national identity exist, and they do matter.

It is surely no overstatement to say that with England's elimination from the World Cup, a remarkable passage of modern history has come to an end. When future generations look back on life in Britain in the early summer of 2002, they will discover a time when the Golden Jubilee and the most popular sporting show on earth combined to create an atmosphere of blithe escapism. For a few weeks, life felt different as the vast majority of us were brought closer together. In a splendidly mixed metaphor, a London vicar referred to the Jubilee as "a shot in the arm for social glue", and the progress of the England team to the quarter-finals of the World Cup ensured that this phenomenon lasted. Life's real issues may not have gone away, but it would be wrong to say, as some republicans and cynics have, that our recent preoccupations have no wider relevance. National mood and national identity exist, and they do matter.

We of course recognise that the Scottish, Welsh and Irish members of the kingdom should not be lumped in with those who have been caught up in the England cause, but even they might be happy to acknowledge that the thousands of England fans in Japan appear to have taken their cue from their Scottish and Irish counterparts in showing a much friendlier face to the world than their predecessors. That is something to be heartily grateful for and it represents as big a change in the national game as that effected by Sven Goran Eriksson on the approach of the England team. Meanwhile, the arrival of Turkey and South Korea in the World Cup semi-finals ought to signal that the concept of the "emerging" footballing nation is surely gone for good; it is much less patronising to see all nations as subject to a constant process of evolution. And 2002 might go down as a year when England redefined itself.