The positive image of continental European footballers at British clubs could help Blair win a referendum on the euroby Simon Kuper / July 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
Last season, about half the players in the English premier league were foreigners, most of them from other EU nations. The football writers’ association has chosen a continental European as its player of the year for four out of the last five years. The 1999 winner was David Ginola, the Frenchman who also figures in shampoo advertisements on television and is thus known to many people who don’t like football. Ginola has also been voted Britain’s best-dressed man, as has Ruud Gullit, the former Dutch footballer.
Chelsea, the London club which Gullit used to manage, has transformed itself from an outfit featuring second-rate British clodhoppers into one of Europe’s best sides with a largely foreign line-up. Chelsea is managed by an Italian, Arsenal and Liverpool by Frenchmen and, until recently, Wimbledon by a Norwegian former Marxist. Those four outnumber the total number of foreign managers in the English top division between 1900 and 1995.
In short, foreigners are taking over English football clubs. This is not happening in many other business sectors. Only if you work in one of a few select offices in central London are you likely to have many continental European colleagues. Nor do Britons encounter continental Europeans in many other spheres of daily life. They may be served by an Australian in their local pub or by a naturalised Bangladeshi in their local Indian restaurant, but unless they live in central London they will meet few continental Europeans. Just 1.6 per cent of EU citizens are permanent residents of another EU country, and few of those live in Birmingham or Sunderland.
It is true that the British increasingly visit continental Europe, where they meet continental Europeans. However, most of those contacts are shallow: with waiters, petrol pump attendants or strangers in nightclubs. And it is no exaggeration to say that, even ten years ago, to most Britons the French were people who wore berets and smelt of garlic, while the Dutch wore clogs and smoked drugs. They were all forever caving in to the Germans, and if you went on holiday to poor southern European countries such as Italy or Spain, you were likely to be cheated.
Although public debate in Britain about the EU is dominated by a low level euro-scepticism, most people do not hold strong views about Europe. But many Britons do care a great deal about football. The only comprehensive survey…