14 July ~ The 2010 World Cup has ended with the Spanish bull triumphant. Among the vanquished are a French cockerel, a South Korean tiger, a German eagle, an Ivorian elephant, an Algerian desert fox and three English lions. As we sift through the ruins of England’s tournament, and demands grow for thorough reform of our creaking football structures, here is a plea that we start by ditching the three lions – and bring in the badgers.
Unlike the emblems of Spain, France, South Korea, Germany, Ivory Coast and Algeria, which are all homegrown, ours is foreign. There are no lions in England except in zoos, and nor would they like it if they did live here – it’s too cold and wet. The Football Association’s three lions are a French import, borrowed from the heraldic device of England’s Norman kings, proclaiming their pride and vanity. How like a king to style himself as a lion – the king of the beasts with a roar to strike fear into any foe – and how unlike the England football team.
On the day of England’s fateful game against Germany in Bloemfontein, the News of the World featured a cover with Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and John Terry, all with lions’ jaws wide open, next to a picture of a real lion, with the headline Watch these lions roar! Thousands of travelling England fans waited all game, but the roaring never happened. Instead, there were at best a few faint mews.
The three lions are one of the factors inflating our expectations. And each time we are disappointed, wondering why our lions have let us down. So let us admit that we are not lions, and probably never have been, and instead adopt an emblem that more accurately reflects the true global status of our team. Enter the badger. He’s as indigenous as they come, having lived and thrived in England for thousands of years. Like English people, but unlike lions, the badger is home loving and spends hours, if not days, at a time indoors. More encouragingly, the badger is strong, determined, brave and surprisingly fast, though for short distances only.
There are other English animals to choose from. There’s the fox, which is wily and resourceful, two qualities we could all do with in an England team. But the relationship between the English and the fox is ambiguous. On the one hand, like the badger, the fox is a hero of children’s literature, but on the other, he’s a detested pest to many, hunted with dogs until the practice was banned in the 1990s. Badgers, by contrast, have been protected by English law since 1837, clearly revealing the soft spot we have for them.
In Germany badgers are called dachs and dachshunds were specially bred to hunt them, their long, sausage-like shapes ideal for diving down badger sets. This helps make sense of Bloemfontein – how hopeful could we be of our badgers’ chances when they took on the creators of their greatest canine tormenters? And that’s the true beauty of England becoming known as the badgers. When they lose, we can shrug resignedly and say: “Well, they’re only badgers.” Gregory Mthembu-Salter