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Nicole Carroll: A one woman mission to make a name in football

When did the St. Georges cross become the symbol of choice for England fans?

with 10 comments

My Dad has never been a travelling fan of England, but one of my earliest memories is of a huge Union Flag he kept in my parents bedroom. This flag must have been 15 ft length ways by 10ft high, with Birmingham written across the middle. A mate borrowed it and it never returned to my house.

Union flags at England games seem to have had the same sort of fate. Look back to the videos of England playing in the 80’s, or even Italia 90, and you will see England fans adorned in the red, white and blue of the Union flag, with just a spattering of the St. Georges flag. Now, the St. Georges flag dominates the football stadiums which England play in, and they are used on all the merchandise which is sold prior to any tournament.

Has the Union Flag been relegated to decorating novelty items to sell in London souvenir shops, or in a rush of nostalgia, will England fans bring our their old and dusty flags which are buried in the loft and remember the England support of old?

The Union flag is a literal representation of the unification of England and Scotland, and it also represents Wales although there is a physical symbol for Wales on the flag. It was created using the popular symbol today – the St. Georges cross, overlaid onto the Scottish flag, known as the St. Andrews, to create the flag we know of today. The flag hasn’t been adopted by law as the flag for the UK, however it has become the flag to represent the UK through its usage.

In contrast to the flag which represents a number of countries, the St. George’s cross or flag is representative of England alone, although the patron St. George is the patron saint of many countries. Up until 1959, the Cross represented both England and Wales, but since Wales got their own flag, it has been associated solely with England.

It’s hard to explain the recent resurgence in popularity for the Cross in fans, as there doesn’t seem to be much information as to why they’ve dropped the Jacks and picked up the Crosses. Some will argue that with Scotland and Wales attempting to separate themselves from English parliament, then perhaps football fans are also reflecting how all the nations now feel separated from one another, and now use separate flags to represent this.

It seems that the usage of the St. Georges flag is both political and for footballing reasons. The politics of devolution could be attributed to football fans adopting a flag which is symbolic simply of England, and represents a social need for England fans to feel separate from the other nations and adopt something which is representative of England alone.

The St. George’s cross has also become a huge marketing tool. The simple red on a background of white has become a part of “Brand England”, and the selling of car flags and various adornments for the body and house in the simple flag all contributes into buying into the “Team England” brand. As stated before, the Union flag seems to be printed across anything for tourists to buy, whereas the Cross is used for the general public to be able to buy into being an England flag – a simple symbol which makes the bold statement of “I am an England fan”.

Perhaps with English fans seeking to adopt purely English symbols when supporting their national team, then this could potentially call for a rousing English anthem, rather than God Save the Queen, who is the figurehead for the United Kingdom? It’s about 20 years ago since we last saw Union Flag’s present at a World Cup tournament, perhaps in 20 years time we will be hearing an entirely different anthem to spur the England side onwards in future tournaments.


Written by Nicole Carroll

June 25, 2010 at 9:54 am

10 Responses

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  1. Alrite Nicolle,

    I remember when the St Georges flag was starting 2 be used more & more. IT’S something 2 do with ENGLISHNESS. I don’t remember who brought it up back in the 90’s but they saw how it was used by Rugby fans and the togetherness it brought 2 the fans. Plus u have 2 remember that ENGLAND supporters had a bad reputation around the world up2 and including ITALIA 90. The UNION JACK was seen as part of that ERA! The Union Jack was representative of a different time in England footballing history. I like the sea of white u get at ENGLAND games now. I’M irish btw. No disrespect meant by that!


    June 25, 2010 at 10:56 am

  2. […] Read more here: When did the St. Georges cross become the symbol of choice for … […]

  3. Being Welsh I’d like to point out that our flag is one of the oldest in the world, it may have been “officially” changed in the 50s but its history stretches back a lot further.

    During Italia ’90 I remember a lot of the merchandise (such as footballs etc.) being covered in flags of all nations competing. It’s from those experiences as a youngster that I know what the flags of UAE and Cameroon look like! I think it’s a shame that the bunting you see around the place is now universally St. George, it would be good to see a bit of variety.

    I’m also not a great fan of the “Brand England”, plain crosses are great, when they have a company name emblazoned across them I feel a bit queasy.

    As you say it’s not often you see Union Flags at football tournaments – but they are still there at England games, albeit totally swamped by the St. George cross.


    June 25, 2010 at 1:35 pm

  4. Oh, and in addition – GSTQ.

    If I were any good at sport I would happily represent Britain. However, I could never, ever sing GSTQ. It’s absolute dirge and says nothing positive about the country at all. It’s all about an unelected head of state. Absolutely shameful.

    It’s not even a good tune!


    June 25, 2010 at 1:37 pm

  5. You forgot the cross of St Patrick, which is the third cross that makes up the Union flag.

    If you look at colour footage of the 1966 World Cup final at Wembley, you will see that there are some English flags in the crowd, albeit amongst a sea of Union flags.

    I guess the English were just slower to reclaim their national flag from the Union flag after the high-water mark of Britishness that was WWII.

    We started ditching the Union flag in great numbers in the early 90s and it was practically replaced by the flag of England by 1996.

    I’m English rather than British, so I wouldn’t touch the Union flag with a barge pole let alone a flag pole. Let Gordon Brown and David Cameron fly the Union flag, the Cross of St George is the flag of the people.


    June 25, 2010 at 1:50 pm

  6. The COSG is a remarkable symbol. Unlike like many other national flags which are often complicated and not particularly memorable,it is bright,simple and unmistakable. You see it once and remember it. Design is important.

    Another very memorable flag is the Tricolor which has been the symbol of France since the revolution of 1789. It replaced the fleur de lys which was always a complicated, difficult and rather exclusive emblem.You had to want to like it to like it.

    English soldiers first took to the the COSG in the early middle ages. Its appeal has never faded. I’m not surprised it has replaced the Union flag which, in design terms, is a bit difficult.


    June 25, 2010 at 3:52 pm

  7. Yes, it was the middle ages. I believe it was Henry V at Agincourt who first used the St. George Cross when going into battle against the French.

    Henry V, was of course, born in Wales – and oddly there were Welshmen on either side of that battle. History is far less clear than some make it out to be sometimes.


    June 25, 2010 at 8:54 pm

  8. I’m English, not Br*tish, and I wouldn’t wipe my arse on the ‘Union’ Flag.

    The CoSG fills me with pride whenever I see it, that other rag merely reminds me that my country is the last to live under the yoke of Br*tish oppression.

    Here’s to English independence.

    William Gruff

    June 25, 2010 at 9:55 pm

  9. The Cross of St George has indeed been the symbol of England since the 14th century. As well as wearing it on shields, surcoats and horse trappings; as a pennant it flew from our ship’s masts heads and adorned the sails of the fleet that defended these shores from the Spanish Armada. It has history, meaning and connections with the nation of England that the Union Flag could never have.

    I have always associated the Union Flag with Empire and the Cross of St George (which used to fly from every village church even in my youth) with the people of this land.

    What has happened is that we have seen within this union there are some more equal than others, and have reached instinctively for the one symbol that defines us uniquely. I can’t think why you are surprised.


    June 26, 2010 at 5:06 am

  10. Nicole, you could almost ask your question the other way round: why did England supporters ever use the Union Flag as an English symbol when it’s the flag for the UK? The fact that they don’t anymore is a sign that the former conflation of England with Britain as a whole has broken down to a large extent.


    June 26, 2010 at 6:43 am

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