Battle Hymns of the Invaders

By Barnes, Simon | The Spectator, June 24, 2000 | Go to article overview

Battle Hymns of the Invaders


Barnes, Simon, The Spectator


IT is not the drink that's the problem; it's what the drink leads to. And as night follows day, heavy drinking leads to singing and it is the singing that leads to trouble. That is the reason for the trouble in Belgium: the relationship between the England football team and the art of song.

It is a fact of life that you can drink yourself beyond speech, just as you can drink yourself beyond consciousness, but in between these two states there is a long twilight of song. You are no longer capable of discussing the reason for your preference for the five-man midfield over 4-4-2, or the importance of the comic dimension in Proust, but you can still fill your lungs and sing.

Most of us, at some stage in our lives, have had the kind of drunken evening that ends not in orgy but in communal hymnsinging. There are states of intoxication that can be released only by the singing of `He who would valiant be'.

The more of you there are to sing, the more satisfying a racket you can make. You wish to trumpet your crapulous solidarity to the world: liquor goes down with a merry noise. It is balm to the soul - after a few verses, God's in his Heaven, no foe can stay your might and you'll with a dragon fight.

Which is all very well so far as it goes. I can hear all kinds of singing from my window as I write these words: whitethroat and lesser whitethroat, to be specific. The reason they are making their merry noise is simple (or complex) enough: territory. The song means `This is mine'. One of the most intoxicating sounds that this country can offer is a territorial dispute, a battle of songs, between nightingales. …

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