Darcus Howe applauds blacks in the World Cup

Blacks usually support Brazil because they look like us; this time, we were for England

In the World Cup, England never had fewer than five black players on the field of play. This huge fact was hardly ever mentioned. To mention it would have detracted from the nationalistic surge - a white England that took brief pride in its superiority, but needed to draw nearly 50 per cent of its players from an ethnic group that accounts for around 3 per cent of the population.

Once the nationalistic surge produced zilch, it was game over and we were back to square one. Plastered over tabloids and broadsheets alike were statistics of how we account for one-quarter of the prison population; tales of drugs and black-on-black violence; and hatchet jobs on the head of the Crown Prosecution Service because he dared to admit that Britain can be a racial hell-hole.

No journalist, no football commentator, seemed to warm to England's new community because it brought the nation so far in the World Cup.

I was pleasantly surprised, though, by the quiet and intelligent support offered to the England team by the Caribbean community. The debates here in Brixton were electric. People from the Caribbean usually support Brazil, primarily because the players look like us (Brazil is a nation of manumitted slaves), but also because they play the game like West Indians play cricket. Yet this loyalty was transferred almost wholesale to England.

Blacks, however, did not take part in the surge of nationalism. I have always maintained that there is a certain vulgarity about an old civilisation such as England screaming its head off to rival South Korea, Turkey and Senegal. We should by now have reached that state of dignity where we think that it is not who wins or loses that matters, but how the game is played. Yet we plunge into nationalism with the same spite and venom as nations that are only an hour or so old.

When reality hit the nation in its white face, illusion immediately set in. After the defeat by Brazil (a team with ten men!), the pundits said that, in four years' time, Sven-Goran Eriksson's young team will have matured enough to win the World Cup. Oh yeah? While the rest of the world stands still?

But for now, let us hail Rio Ferdinand, one of the biggest stars of the competition, who reminds us that Peckham is home not only to the darkness of Damilola Taylor's murder.

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