Outraged England fan reaction to minor flag detail on new Nike shirt is beyond embarrassing

Nike's new design ahead of Euro 2024 has come in for criticism from some supporters.
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

I was reading about Sargy Mann the other day, the British painter whose world slowly descended into darkness as his sight began to fail him. For a student of the aesthetic, a disciple of the visual world, there can presumably be nothing quite as devastating. But eventual blindness didn't stop Mann. Instead, he learnt to fill his canvases using a newfound inner vision - a translation of memory and touch into perspective and pigment. The effect of his later work is striking, vast daubed quilts of colour and instinct, perplexingly created by an artist who couldn't even see them.

It is on the subject of colour that Mann had an epiphany shortly after his blindness fully took hold. Covering a brown chair with a white dustsheet one afternoon, he was struck; 'You silly bugger. You won't be able to see it. You can make the chair any colour you like'. There are plenty of people in this country who would do well to adopt a similarly relaxed approach.

As a nation, we house discontented swathes who harbour a grumbling, noxious obsession with colour; skin tones, rainbow flags, camo paint. And now, it would seem, their vivid rage extends to the detailing on international football shirts too.

Earlier this week, Nike unveiled England's home and away kits ahead of their Euro 2024 campaign in Germany this summer. They are both, in my humble opinion, pretty nice. The away shirt in particular is an unorthodox little number that I cannot wait to pick up secondhand in a decade or so. On the collar of the home effort, however, is a cross that has made a lot of performatively patriotic keyboard hammerers, well, cross.

You see, unlike the actual English flag, this throwaway concoction is not entirely red. There's a dash of violet in there, a hint of cobalt - in fact, it's rather Mann-esque in its sensibilities, come to think of it. Nike's justification for the 'playful' design choice is that they wanted to 'unite and inspire', and in fairness, 'inspire' they have - a vengeful fury from a lot of anonymous Twitter accounts with Union Jacks in their bio. 'This is an attack on our green and pleasant land!', they froth in unison. 'It simply will not do! Next they'll be telling us that Saint George was actually Turkish and dragons aren't real! Woke-rati slander!'. Seemingly the only time it is permissible to add random blue lines to established national symbols is when it is in support of the institutionalised discriminatory practices of our police forces.

But here's the thing; it's only a shirt. Nike haven't bought the rights to redefine Englishness itself in any way, shape, or form; Buckingham Palace will not be remodelled into an outlet store any time soon, the next coronation isn't going to see Prince William shuffling down the aisle of Westminster Abbey in a bejewelled tech fleece. If you want to be angry at anything, be angry at the fact that these new shirts cost £125.

Or better yet, be angry at the manipulative grifters who have co-opted the flag and turned it into one of the burning pillars of a deliberately divisive and nonsensical culture war. If you must be irked, be irked at the likes of Lee Anderson, who has built a career on salting such wounds, and who no doubt let out a tiny squeal of delight as he came across Nike's revamp while pouring a Birra Moretti over his morning cornflakes. Or be incensed with Rishi Sunak and his Tory Party cronies for using Englishness as an excuse to sow the saplings of hatred and vilify inclusivity. Or be vexed with Tommy Robinson - or Stephen Yahtzee-Lemon, or whatever his real name is - for glorifying a kind of plastic hooliganism and reinforcing the sour, detrimental connotations between our shared national emblem and the bigoted dregs of alt-right discourse.

When all is said and done, this is not a leftist conspiracy or some devastating treasonous act. It is nothing more than a barely noticeable patch on a football shirt. Hell, it's not even embroidered. It's only ironed on. But the backlash speaks to a furious preciousness that threatens to drag this country down with it. Sometimes, it is okay to let the small things slide, even if they boil your bladder like a kettle. Change won't kill us all, and clutching at rigidity will lead to nothing but atrophy. There are bigger, worse things happening to the detriment of this dreary, fractured island we call home - why don't we focus on them instead?

Related topics: