Letters: Football and nationalism

Can England ever play football without reliving war?


Sir: Please tell me how this is possible. Friday evening, summer in the air, the Wimbledon championships in full swing, and the quarter-finals of the Football World Cup are being played in Germany. England is scheduled to play in the quarter-finals tomorrow. And Germany won today against Argentina. We are all enjoying the competitions.

Yet nationalism rears its ugly head in Richmond. A 17-year-old boy, excited about the quarter-final football results, walking across the Richmond Green to meet up with friends at 8pm is, completely unprovoked, punched in the face and knocked unconscious. Why? Because he wore a Germany football T-shirt.

What sort of civilisation do we live in? He didn't provoke a fight. It wasn't at midnight with drunkards filling the street. It wasn't even England v Germany. Yet a teenager is not even allowed to show his allegiance to his favourite team by sporting one of their T-shirts, because it is Germany.

As I write this letter, the recently widowed mother of this boy sits in Kingston hospital, praying that her son does not suffer any lasting damage from this attack. I am shocked, saddened for this poor boy, and deeply troubled. As a mother of four small children, I am frightened about what this says about the England that my children are growing up in. Isn't it about time that England starts to look forward and not dwell on the past? It is 2006 not 1946. It is time to overcome these prejudices, for it is our children who suffer.



Sir: Whatever has G Atkinson (letter, 30 June) been reading or viewing for the past week if he finds, with reference to the Battle of the Somme "the lack of commemoration and awareness of the loss very disheartening"? And as for the extremely curious view that "the nation of England prepares for a football match on the actual anniversary of the first day of the Somme", what is his proposed alternative? A 24-hour silence?

I find this growing romanticising of the First World War and its soldiers, by people who could not have been there, nauseating. G Atkinson might care to reflect on the fact that the modern-day "drunks wrapping themselves in the flag of St George" would have been embraced as comrades by the tens of thousands of jingoistic lads, metaphorically wrapped in the flag and brim-full of drink, queueing up to enlist ninety years ago. Ignorance, drunkenness and shallow patriotism are by no means the preserve of today's football fans.



Alerted to Blair's restrictive laws

Sir: My thanks to Henry Porter for "Blair laid bare" (29 June). Over recent years, friends and I have expressed the growing feeling that the terrorist attacks on 11 September and elsewhere, both real and imagined, have been used as leverage to pass ever more controlling and restricting laws on us.

We are not politically active and have enough to do trying to earn a living and bring up our family, which counts towards the inertia I am sure the Government relies on and puts us in the situation of the frog in water being brought slowly to the boil.

I remember the Falklands conflict being initiated by a dictator focusing on an external "threat" as a diversion from attacks on liberty at home and see parallels here.

I was hugely relieved when Tony Blair was elected after the Tories' shambles, but am increasingly worried by his attitude and that of successive Home Secretaries towards individuals' rights and against the judiciary's "liberal" approach.



Sir: Your coverage of the Government's alleged assaults on civil liberties (29 June) does a disservice to those of us who are anxious to defend the essential as opposed to the less crucial liberties of the subject.

The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act is arguably a disproportionate response to the perceived threat to the safety and dignity of Parliament. But given its geographical coverage, the measure is scarcely an assault on the right of demonstration throughout the United Kingdom. Trespass on military property has carried criminal penalties under the Official Secrets Acts long before this administration. And can one seriously argue that the introduction of identity cards is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights when just about every other signatory has such a provision? As for the case of Walter Wolfgang, this was undoubtedly a case of OTT, but as you make clear, his detention under the Terrorism Act was brief.

There are undoubtedly some serious threats to civil liberty in this country. It is a matter of concern that the United Kingdom (unlike other signatories) has yet to find a means of restricting the movements of terrorist suspects without falling foul of the Convention. It is a matter of grave concern that this issue is being used by some British politicians to damn not just the Convention and the judiciary but also the European project in general, instead of seeking a sensible and considered way through the problem. If France and Germany can avoid these potential conflicts with the Convention, why can't the UK?

Detention without trial represents a fundamental threat to civil liberties. Some other restrictions do not. An indiscriminate attack on just about all the Government has done in this field since 1997 generates heat rather than light.



Sir: I congratulate The Independent for publishing Henry Porter's first-class article on Britain's disappearing civil rights and liberties.

The low-key, insidious attack on the right to the freedom of speech and movement, the whittling away of the right to demonstrate, the extensive powers quietly given to civil servants and the police are well-documented. But the first warning signs appeared in 1997 when Tony Blair began to use the justification that he was acting on behalf or representing "the rights of the people".

Anyone with even a limited knowledge of of the French and Russian revolutions or many modern dictatorships would be well aware that justifying government or state actions in the name of "the people" is a sure indication that the liberty of the subject is under threat. As Henry Porter points out measures which at first sight appear to be justified and innocuous are then abused.



Sir: In view of the Steve Jago case and demonstrations prohibited by the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act within 1 kilometre of Parliament, is it still legal to walk through Parliament Square and past Downing Street thinking, or mouthing silently to oneself, subversive, anti-government, anti-Blair and anti-Iraq war thoughts ?



Sir: We here in Australia are continually being told that, if we become a republic, we will not have the protection of the Crown against politicians seeking to remove power from the people. Why, may one ask, has the Crown not acted in the United Kingdom against such removal of people power?



Cycling should be as normal as breathing

Sir: Peter Forster has the diagnosis right, but the solution wrong (Letters, 29 June) regarding cycling misdemeanours.

If the majority of people are to use cycles as transport, cycling must - like walking and breathing - be perceived as a normal activity. Compulsory lessons and testing for cyclists would produce the opposite result, making cycling into a restricted and controlled activity.

Any overall benefit is doubtful, as the only cyclists left would be those who were conscientious enough to take the test - a group who were probably the safe cyclists in the first place. Voluntary encouragement to get trained and tested is likely to result in more cycling and more people undergoing training.

Perhaps the best solution is for the cycling community to start policing itself. As cyclists, we are in the ideal position to tell other cyclists that it is unacceptable to cycle on pavements and jump red lights. Hearing the message face-to-face from another cyclist is less likely to provoke an adversarial reaction. Only when we have got our house in order can we expect to be listened to and respected by other road users.



Sir: I can endorse Mr Crutchfield's remarks ("Police condone lawless cycling", 30 June), but suggest that the individual officer may not be wholly to blame. In Oxford last year, I saw a woman on a pedestrian crossing struck by a brakeless cyclist.

The incident was ignored by a policeman who was well placed to intervene. While I and others were retrieving her scattered belongings, the victim asked him to explain. He replied to the effect that she wasn't injured and that it wasn't policy to prosecute cyclists.



Sir: A healthy body costs the NHS more in the long term (letter, 27 June)? This may well prove to be true. I have just accompanied my 81-year-old father on a visit to his oncologist, where the possible treatments were discussed.

He is able to go ahead with chemotherapy only because of his amazingly healthy heart - a direct result of having been a cyclist since he first learnt to pedal, only giving up with great sadness last year over a fear of falling off because of frequent dizzy spells.



By-election lessons for Labour voters

Sir: Mr Blair warned voters in the general election that, if they voted Liberal Democrat, they could get a Tory government, but in the Bromley by-election, those who voted Labour helped elect a Tory MP. This will continue to happen until we replace our 19th-century voting system with a system which would let us place candidates in order of preference.



Sir: New Labour seem to have forgotten, but many others have not. Tony Blair promised in 2004 that he would resign if and when he became a liability. Since then, his and his party's standing has continued to decline, and on Thursday they lost what had been one of their safest seats. However, it appears that nothing will ever convince the Prime Minister that he is not indispensable.



A happy day at the races

Sir: I refer to Chris McGrath's article (26 June) on the Royal Ascot meeting. I have been a regular attender over the past six years and have always thoroughly enjoyed it. My party of three this year included one lady who is eighty years old.

We all had a most marvellous day last Friday and were delighted with the new racecourse. We had reserved seating in general admission, which was well worth the £20 it cost us, adjacent to the horse walk with a wonderful view of the winning post.

There were plenty of facilities for food, drinks and betting. We all agreed the new grandstand was fantastic and no mean feat, coming in under budget and on time, unlike other large projects. Ascot racecourse should be praised, not criticised.



Hypocrisy and terror in the Middle East

Sir: Western hypocrisy and duplicity in the Middle East couldn't be starker. Imagine if Milosevic arrested a democratically elected government, shelled villages and cut power and water to a million people.

This is what is happening right now to Palestinians. If Israel was any other country in the world, what it is doing would rightly be called collective punishment and ethnic cleansing. They would be subject to sanctions and threatened with bombing and our media would cry out.

We are told "terrorist" Iran is building WMD and should be subjected to sanctions and perhaps war. Israel has nuclear weapons and terrorises a people. Nothing is said. Why?



A 'puritan' replies

Sir: Blinded by his anger, David Hockney (letter, 1 July) would ascribe public opposition to smoking to an arid, politically correct health puritanism. Most of us have turned firmly against smoking in pubs and cafés not out of sanctimoniousness, but because we find the smoke and nicotine unpleasant if not repellent.



Victoria Cross puzzle

Sir: Being no expert on decorations, I could not help wondering whether your "Freeze Frame" (Extra, 27 June) on the Victoria Cross celebration was a kind of puzzle corner. Sir Tasker Watkins, who is said to have been awarded the VC in 1944, seems to be wearing the George Cross. The gentleman on the far right, whose is indicated as wearing the Victoria Cross, is wearing, instead, a neck decoration which appears to be that of the Royal Victorian Order.



Crime reports

Sir: Richard Ingrams (1 July) says: "The reason for the apparent decrease in crime is that people have given up reporting something like a break-in to the police because they know that nothing will be done about it." All of my home insurance policies require a crime number if any claim is made after a break-in. So the only unreported break-ins should be those where little or nothing was taken, or those suffered by the uninsured. Although he's right that nothing will be done about it.



The names of judges

Sir: Matthew Norman, in his article "Thank heaven for High Court judges" (30 June), avers that it is "a measure of the near-obsessive secrecy in which the English judiciary likes to robe itself that no amount of internet burrowing will turn up so much as the first name of the High Court Judge Mr Justice Sullivan". Mr Norman perhaps missed out on the world of books whilst learning his trade. The briefest reference to Whitaker's Almanac will reveal the name of Hon Sir Jeremy Sullivan, born in 1945.



World Cup consolation

Sir: At least Tony Blair won't be able to claim that England only win the World Cup under a Labour government.



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