Monday, 18 June 2012

An anthem unfit for purpose

As I was moved to Tweet on Friday night during England’s 3-2 victory over Sweden in Euro 2012, England has the world’s best goalkeeper, and the world’s worst national anthem.
Much as I might deny it at times, especially when marginal attributes are offered up as the very essence of nationhood, I’m a proud Briton and a proud Englishman. I spent every minute of those 90 on the very edge of my seat, by turns punching the air in exhilaration and throwing my arms up in despair. For me the football team is a real focus of national pride despite the rollercoaster ride it inevitably entails. 
Footballers tend to be from ordinary backgrounds and attain their sporting status through hard work and athleticism. Football is The Beautiful Game. It therefore seems perfectly reasonable to me that the national football team should be a focus of national pride, even if success and money may have gone to some heads. 
But when the national anthem is played at the start of a game, I struggle not to leave the room. Something which is supposed to galvanise national pride diminishes it. It is something which should - in theory unite all of us, including republicans and monarchists. There’s no reason why it can’t if the national anthem does its job. But it doesn’t. It simply isn’t fit for purpose. Could this even be the reason for England’s historic underachievement? 
Perhaps not. But the point is that it is used as a rallying point at all sorts of public - and indeed private - occasions the length and breadth of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. 
God Save The Queen is supposed to be a national anthem for Britain as well as England and other countries in the union. But remind yourselves of the words below and you will see there is no mention of Britain, England or indeed any other country. Nor are they implicitly referred to. No reference to the beauty of Britain’s historic landscapes, which are the focus for many alternatives, also given below. The whole song - the lyrics of which (with the variant ‘king’) appear to have their origins in the King James Bible - is about the Queen’s divine right to rule over us, an absurd idea which would be rejected by the vast majority of Britons today, religious or otherwise. 
I am a republican largely because I am a patriot. I am proud of this nation of ours for its democratic traditions, for its diversity of culture and people, for the beauty of its landscape, for its resilience in times of peace and war, for its tolerance, and for being a leader in science and innovation. I think in particular of Great Britons like Sir Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine, and Tim Berners-Lee, credited with the invention of the World Wide Web. But there are many more.
The point is our national anthem mentions none of this. Not even in the abstract. All it does is to absurdly link devotion to country with devotion to an unelected head of state. Any wonder then that so few of our sports stars openly declare themselves republican, despite republicans being 1 in 4 of us. I can only think of two - former England footballer Stan Collymore, and former England rugby player Brian Moore. And even the latter has felt the need to say under repeated questioning that he had no problem with singing the national anthem. 
Defy the devotion to monarch, and and questions will be asked about your devotion to country, is the way a small, thuggish minority would have it. I would invert that, and say devote yourself to an unelected head of state and you do both yourself and your country a disservice. For some of my fellow republicans, that would be going too far. But I stand by it. 
The evidence is there for all to see that God Save The Queen has undergone a widespread erosion of support, for the very reasons I have outlined. The Northern Irish long ago turned to Oh Danny Boy, the Scots to Flower of Scotland, and the Welsh to The Land of My Fathers. But the English too have increasingly turned to other anthems in other sporting arenas. Since 2004, England have used Jerusalem in international test cricket matches, the same anthem which has been adopted by Team England at the Commonwealth Games. Many fans of England’s rugby union team have also adopted those words of William Blake, set to a score by Sir Hubert Parry.
So how about it Football Association of England? Time to drop God Save The Queen? Time to consign it to the dustbin of history along with all those outmoded coaching manuals which we were for far too long wedded? 

God Save The Queen (standard version)
God save our gracious Queen,
Long live our noble Queen,
God save The Queen
Send her victorious,
Happy and glorious,
Long to reign over us:
God save The Queen.
O Lord, our God, arise,
Scatter her enemies,
And make them fall.
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their knavish tricks,
On Thee our hopes we fix,
God save us all.
Thy choicest gifts in store,
On her be pleased to pour;
Long may she reign:
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save The Queen!


And did those feet in ancient time.
Walk upon England's mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England's pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among those dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England's green & pleasant Land


Flower of Scotland
O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen.
And stood against him,
Proud Edward's army,
And sent him homeward
To think again.

The hills are bare now,
And autumn leaves lie thick and still
O'er land that is lost now,
Which those so dearly held
That stood against him,
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
To think again.

Those days are past now
And in the past they must remain
But we can still rise now
And be the nation again!
That stood against him
Proud Edward's army
And sent him homeward
To think again.

O Flower of Scotland,
When will we see your like again
That fought and died for
Your wee bit hill and glen.
And stood against him,
Proud Edward's army,
And sent him homeward
To think again.


Oh Danny Boy

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flow'rs are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.

But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh, Danny boy, oh, Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, and all the flowers are dying
If I am dead, as dead as well may be
I pray you'll find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.

And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me
And all my grave will warm and sweeter be
And then you'll kneel and whisper that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

The Land of My Fathers

The old land of my fathers is dear to me,
Land of bards and singers, famous men of renown;
Her brave warriors, very splendid patriots,
For freedom shed their blood.

Nation [or country], Nation, I am faithful to my Nation.
While the sea [is] a wall to the pure, most loved land,
O may the old language endure.

Old mountainous Wales, paradise of the bard,
Every valley, every cliff, to my look is beautiful.
Through patriotic feeling, so charming is the murmur
Of her brooks, rivers, to me.

If the enemy oppresses my land under his foot,
The old language of the Welsh is as alive as ever.
The muse is not hindered by the hideous hand of treason,
Nor [is] the melodious harp of my country.
Twitter: @andrewjchild