Given its popularity, international football might be viewed as a prism through which the imagined community of the nation becomes closer to a manifest reality with matches providing examples of that community collectively rejoicing or crying. The sport potentially sheds insights on the complexities of ethnic and national identity, as it is a medium through which allegiances are (re)produced and expressed. Alongside the internationalisation of club teams, international representative teams also appear to be becoming more trans-national with players born outside that country, but with family connections to it, playing in the national colours. Increasing flexibility of regulations governing international representation means that countries can potentially select from a considerably broader pool of talent, drawing on players with ethnic or cultural connections to the country. For example, for a number of decades now, the Republic of Ireland team has included sizeable numbers of non-Irish born players, sons and grandsons of Irish emigrants. Similar tendencies are clear in the selection of English-born players of West Indian origin for football teams representing Caribbean countries. Colonial connections and related migration flows explain France’s selection of players born in places such as Algeria or Morocco but brought up in France. The successful French teams of the late 1990s and early 2000s drew heavily on players from a multiplicity of ethnic and geographic origins. Conversely, many African countries select French-born players of African origin thereby reclaiming some of the sons of their extensive diasporas and a sizeable number of players born in Europe have competed in the Africa Cup of Nations in recent years. In this way, historical colonial relationships and associated migration flows provide the backdrop to the more eclectic nature of national representative teams. Elsewhere this amalgamation of both civic and ethnic senses of national identity, has allowed teams like Turkey and Croatia to tap into their extensive emigrant pool.
David Storey is Principal Lecturer in Geography at the University of Worcester.
Chapter 1. Football, Place and Identity
Chapter 2. Nations, Nationality and Football’s Changing Rules
Chapter 3. Switching Allegiance
Chapter 4. African Connections
Chapter 5. The Boys in Green
Chapter 6. Ireland’s Border-Crossers
Conclusion: Political Football