Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Column, June 13, 2006

IT must be an odd job being a copper sometimes. If you take a softly, softly approach, then if things blow up you’re accused of doing nothing, hiding your head in the sand, plodding.
Then if you take a proactive approach and ask people to use a bit of common sense, you’re accused of over-reaction, overstepping the mark and not knowing your place.
Clive Wolfendale has probably been a copper long enough to shrug off the less temperate reactions to his remarks last week about England fans flying their multiplicity of flags in Wales.
Let’s look at what, exactly, he said shall we? Well, he said that he wished people would reflect before festooning their vehicles in St George flags and driving them through Wales.
Note, he didn’t tell them not to, he didn’t say it was against the law, he even said he would fly a flag himself when England were playing.
No, as someone whose job it is to keep the peace he asked people minded to deck themselves in red and white to think a little about the sensitivities of the communities in which they were planning to do that.
There are parts of Wales were such displays will not raise an eyebrow – my own backyard of Deeside for instance, where English and Welsh rub along together because geography and economics have forged a mixed community over generations.
But further west where communities see their character as being under threat from holiday homes and house prices, such flying of what they see as a foreign flag might not be greeted so kindly.
That doesn’t make it right, of course, you should be able to fly whatever flag you want whenever you want. But Clive Wolfendale isn’t charged with policing some mythical Xanadu where the lion lies down with the lamb and fans of opposing sides cheer one another on, full of the Corinthian spirit.
He has to look after the policing of North Wales where some people won’t blink at a St George flag, while others will see it as an act of antagonism.
As for the outrage at his suggestion that flag-waving is a prelude to violence and racism. Well, again, in an ideal world this would not be the case. And the vast majority of England fans flying the flag are perfectly law-abiding, gentle souls who would not dream of becoming violent or racist.
But once again, let’s deal in reality shall we? If any set of fans have got form for racism and violence it is a tiny minority that support England.
Now, the police have done a good job of stopping them going to Germany by confiscating their passports well ahead of the tournament. But that does mean they’re stuck in this country where they are a problem for the police here.
And the other thing you ought to note about the outraged reaction to what Mr Wolfendale said is that most of it came from politicians.
Politicians will do anything they can to hitch their clapped out old wagons to sporting success stories, witness them falling over each other to sign an early day motion urging the England team to bring the World Cup back to the UK.
An early day motion is sometimes a valid means by which a politician can bring to the attention of the Commons a matter of concern.
They cost £2,500 a pop of taxpayers’ money and so putting you name to one that supports England in the World Cup might be seen as a waste of and MP’s time and our money. Take note Albert Owen (Ynys Mon) and Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside).
The Tories have shown no more sense on this issues with David Jones fatuously commenting that flying a little flag on your way to Colwyn Bay isn’t going to spark any violence. And of course, that is what Clive Wolfendale was aiming his remarks at wasn’t it, people flying one flag, not idiots draping themselves, their cars and their bull terriers in the flag and then getting lagered up in the Welsh resorts before letting everyone one know where they were from as if we hadn’t all guessed already.
And Clive Wolfendale had a wider message to give out – the rise in domestic violence and racism during football tournaments, often linked with increased alcohol consumption.
The politicians so quick to condemn him were strangely silent on that topic. But then, they may be the very politicians who voted through 24-hour opening for pubs. Wouldn't want to be accused of hypocrisy now would we?
Coming up with a political solution to domestic violence and racism is a bit of a big ask for politicians more comfortable signing early day motions.
Best leave it to the police to deal with stuff like that eh?
I’M a sad, racist, bigot. Well, so I’m told in an e-mail that arrived last week after I declared my support for Ghana. Bit of a blow really, as I regarded myself as such a sunny chap.
Apparently this is because I don’t default to supporting England when Wales aren’t in a competition. It’s odd this assumption that underneath we’re all English, and our Welshness is just an add-on option. Like we’re a fundamentally English car with a bit of Welsh trim.
Anyway, my correspondent dropped that one line bombshell and followed it up, when questioned, to say that it was because I assumed all Welsh people would not be supporting England.
I don’t think that’s what I wrote, I just said I wouldn’t. What other Welsh people do is entirely up to them and if they want to support England that’s absolutely fine. But a lot of Welsh people I know won’t be and they’ve chosen other teams to shout for.
A lot are behind Trinidad and Tobago because of the Wrexham link, but I went for Ghana because I learnt about the country in school and that’s as good a reason as any (one devout Welshman I used to work with was a die-hard Spurs fan for no better reason that some Londoners who moved to his village gave him a Tottenham strip when he was five – out of such random events lifetime devotions are born)
If I had genuinely wanted to wind up England fans then I’d have chosen a team from their group to support, but I didn’t.
As I write this Ghana are preparing to take on the mighty Italy. Let’s hope an upset will have set the competition alight by the time you read this.

POST SCRIPT. No such luck. A 2-0 drubbing. Played well, and one or two penalties ought to have gone their way.

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