The Bluebell Abbey Guide to Being British Part 2: Football

Posted on March 28 2018

The Bluebell Abbey Guide to Being British Part 2: Football

Football – Britain’s gift to the world and its most popular sport, played by practically every civilised nation, and Australia.

On the surface, it may appear to be simply a harmless game based around kicking an inflatable object at a frightened-looking man as he huddles in three-quarters of a rectangle, but in fact, football is far more than that, and intrinsically linked to what it means to be British. So with the World Cup fast approaching, what better time could there be to discuss the nation’s relationship with the beautiful game?

The game of football, like the United Kingdom itself, is steeped in history. In ancient times, before the Roman’s brought fantastical concepts like roads and bathrooms to the nation, Britain was little more than a collection of small tribes competing to establish dominance over their neighbours, and fans of the Premier League will appreciate that little has changed. From its roots in the exclusive boy’s schools of the nineteenth century, football soon spread throughout the world, with Sheffield United credited as the first professional team; a title they have been quietly trying to shed for more than 150 years.

For many Britons football is a love affair that begins early on – a life-long contract that reads… “I (insert name) promise to show boundless loyalty to (Insert name) despite the fact that this will almost certainly cause me enormous amounts of heartbreak, and to love them to the exemption of all others, except perhaps for a brief period of experimentation with Manchester United when I’m away at University and think no one will judge me”. After all, what other explanation can there possibly be for people supporting Rotherham?

The game’s impact on both the nation and its psyche, however, cannot be underestimated. As well as giving us the chance to queue for something, it allows us to wave flags, indulge our national pastime of binge drinking, to laugh at ourselves when things go wrong, and of course to hold a grudge – after all we still haven’t forgiven Germany for the 1966 World Cup, and we actually won that one – in short, all the things that make Britain great.

Take our famously contrarian attitude to authority for example; something best symbolised by the referee – either a trusted figure of cool, calm judgement, or blind, depending on how your team is doing at that exact moment. Or the opportunities the game offers – such as the chance to cry without the usual national stigma attached to ‘having emotions’. Should your pet die in a tragic accident with a runaway wood-chipper, as a citizen of the United Kingdom, you are expected to handle it stoically, punctuated by the occasional statement like, ‘well, I guess she had a good run’. However, should God forbid, your side go 5-1 down to Yeovil Town at Huish Park, then it is expected – demanded even, that you sob into a pint glass whilst wailing, “Why God, why?”

Yes, FIFA might be more corrupt than a Russian election, and as a nation our playing style is premised almost entirely on bald-faced optimism, and there’s certainly no escaping the fact that every World Cup seems to culminate in a penalty shootout - two words guaranteed to have the entire nation reaching for the Imodium – but nothing is more tied up with what it means to be British than football. Or as Liverpool legend, Bill Shankly put it,  “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you, it’s much more serious than that”.

For unique British products to help get you through the World Cup, including real ales and boutique gins, visit

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