Belfast Telegraph

Lindy McDowell: English public have given Brexit crisis and controversial Trump visit the boot... for something they can cheer about instead

Football frenzy: Harry Kane
Football frenzy: Harry Kane

By Lindy McDowell

Donald Trump is getting ready for England just now. But it would be fair to say England isn't especially getting ready for Donald. The US President is due to arrive tomorrow for a visit which, we know, will be marked by protests from some quarters and a huge 'Trump baby' blimp flown over London.

But honestly, if you've been in London this week, Donald Trump has not been the major talking point.

Nor Brexit.

Even though the current twists in Britain's EU exit strategising could be called the most pressing political issue of a generation, out and about in London this week that's not been what people have been talking about.

Not even Wimbledon, either.

Usually at this time of the year the old tennis nets and strawberries and cream theme is being flogged everywhere. Every bar you go into usually has a Wimbledon cocktail. Every restaurant a tennis taster.

But Serena and Rafael?

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This year, no.

Right now where London is concerned, there is only one king in town and his name is Harry.

Harry Kane.

Or if you prefer, Harry Maguire.

Or one of the other England squad who have risen from no-hopers to suddenly, stars of Russia 2018.

In Northern Ireland we are not generally great fans of England. And interestingly, this is a cross-community thing.

True, there is a sense that one side of the community tends to be more anti-Anglo than the other. But the reality is that down the years Team England 1966 never did command a lot of support from any section of the community here.

Remember when Norn Iron humbled England with that famous David Healy goal in 2005? How much more delicious was that victory in that it was En-gerland wee Northern Ireland was whipping?

Fast-forward to today, however, and the England team who have somehow made it through thus far in Russia have lost a bit of that old Anglo arrogance.

They're modest. A word you would not normally have associated with the England football team in the past.

But somehow Kane and Southgate and the rest have forged a new image of England.

Those boys in their M&S waistcoats are no longer the strutting stereotype of years past. This time round, football may not be coming home because it's theirs by right. But because... you know... it might just be their turn.

In fairness it hasn't always been the footballers themselves who've been overly bumptious. But the gobby, braggart commentators losing the run of themselves.

Which may be why something in the new English approach has struck a chord with people who would never normally have given them the light of day.

I was in Glasgow at the weekend and in a bar there, I listened as Scots footie fans cheered on England goals. As we all know here, that is not a usual thing.

Nor is the fact that all those big stories that should be dominating the headlines this week - the controversial visit of Trump, the Brexit developments which will have seismic ramifications for the future of the UK - those are not the stories that have captured and dominated the public imagination.

In England this week there's been only one talking point.

Can they beat Croatia? And can they go all the way?

It must be crushing for Boris Johnson, who sees himself as the new Churchill, to realise that in the real world he's currently eclipsed by Gareth Southgate's waistcoat.

Outside the Kensington branch of M&S - the chain provided the team kit - they've got a mega poster of the England manager whooping with delight after a previous win. It might have been a kindness to have lightened his teeth a little. But generally in England, in London right now, Southgate is seen as a saint.

Taxi drivers want to talk of nothing else.

Brexit? Trump? Seriously? Who cares?

That Trump baby blimp they're putting up to protest your man's visit - my fear would be it might break free of its moorings and interfere with aviation safety.

Otherwise, who cares?

Because right now a game of footie - or two - transcends all the heavy political stuff.

And no, I'm not sure either that this is a good thing.

But I do think it's an understandable thing.

What it comes down to is that people are looking for something they can cheer for. There's not been a lot of that recently.

Fishy Farage lands himself in deep water

Nigel Farage, Ukip's one that got away, is back in the headlines this week, over fishing-related controversy.

Nigel posted a pic of himself with a very large catch he'd landed under the caption: "Depressed over Brexit. Went Fishing."

Unfortunately for him, the fish in question turned out to be a protected species of shark and Farage faced a barrage of criticism for posing with the poor thing.

He later insisted it had been returned to the water.

But critics claimed the creature may, in the meantime, have incurred internal and external injuries "as well as physiological stress". Even sharks aren't safe from the Ukippers...

Down with that sort of thing, Mary Lou

Oddly the clenched fist salute seems to be having a bit of a revival just now.

It used to be the gesture most associated with plonker boys who saw themselves as tough types. But now, apparently, it's having a moment and anybody can air-punch.

Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald, in particular, is a big fan of the fist pumping thing. What is this clenched fist business supposed to convey to the rest of us?

Is it not just a wee bit... well... puerile, if not aggressive? It's dated and daft looking. Is there nobody who'll break that to Mary Lou?

Not a terribly sophisticated punchline.

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