Monday, 9 August 2010
England v Hungary: the Tebbit test
Our kind children have combined to buy C and I tickets to Wembley for the England versus Hungary match on Wednesday. It will be our second visit to the new Wembley, the first being the U-21 international between England and Italy, which was in fact the first game to be played there after its opening. That was a 3-3 draw, the first goal scored by Italy so quickly we missed it, but the views were good and the noise perhaps a little forlorn, but not without the odd pulse of support.
The match is, of course, my Tebbit test, a test I properly claimed to have passed in a poem called Preston North End (from An English Apocalypse, 2001). It was an important point of difference between my father and his Hungarian refugee friends. My father preferred England: his friends stuck by Hungary. Neither my father nor my mother were in the least patriotic as far as Hungary was concerned. Sometimes, I thought, it was with them as it was with Larkin and Coventry ('You look as if you wished the place in Hell'), but my father's closest friends were Hungarian, and whenever he asked about my latest literary exploits it was the Hungarian aspect that really interested him.
Maybe it was a kind of cussedness that made him dig his heels in about Hungary. The place had treated him very badly in the thirties and in the war - in effect the Hungarians did not regard him as Hungarian, it was the country cast him out, not the other way - and he never looked forward to going there. Though he did, with us once, and later. Not that he was the only exile to cast an angry eye back. There is a prose poem of the great expatriate Hungarian poet, Victor Határ that begins with an arraignment of the poet as a traitor to his country which he turns immediately round, wittily but with real fury, on Hungary.
The Hungarian football team of the last thirty years or so has been a shambles. I follow it to a degree and wish the team well, but the extraordinary Fifties, as well as the very good Sixties and early Seventies are long gone. I would like Hungary to have more pride and self-respect, though pride doesn't always suit it. The fascist right are the chief proponents of national pride and they are on an aggressive high there now. I can't regard going there as a pleasure while that is the situation - though dear friends and some literary business will always draw me.
In spite of myself I still feel an odd surge of something when I see the team in their red-white-and-green, the colours of the national flag. How deep these symbols go! All the deeper when you really don't know what sort of atavism they conjure or symbolise.
The heraldic: like the sound of the czimbalom.
Even the sound of the national anthem.
And then there is the colour of the soil. Things you can do nothing about.
But it is the England team - threadbare, rebuilding, wounded old-young England - I shall want to win. 'I know King Priam. I have lived in Troy.'