She was the Sir Alex of the UK. Sovereign in the land of the Beautiful Game, where football is a synonym of national identity, Elizabeth II will have during her 70 years of reign well understood the importance of the round ball for her subjects.
By Sara Menai, in London
The crowned heads, in England, it is not what misses. Already because a monarchy allows it. Also because the shortcut is all found when it comes to qualifying the dominants, whatever their chosen field. In football, Manchester City, the last king of England, succeeding Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United some time ago, depending on the results of the domestic championship, all held this media title for a while. But if the sovereign lexicon is so easily used across the Channel, it is above all because a small piece of woman has carried the supreme function to such a level for 70 years that no one has seen any blasphemy in borrowing her attributes. Impossible to hide, at a time when his subjects are about to say goodbye to him: Elizabeth Alexandra Mary of the Windsor house, known as “Queen Elizabeth II” , for 70 years, carried the English crown at arm’s length. The world has changed a lot since 1952 but under her hat and her colorful tunics, she was also a base on which all of British society was able to grow, suffer and rebuild itself.
Closer to champions
The round ball did not escape this. If his working-class imprint is omnipresent, the Beautiful Game has gradually been appropriated by royalty, well aware that in England it is a real source of pride for its subjects. Since 1939, the FA has had an honorary president drawn from the royal family. During her reign, Babeth’s duties therefore led her to attend many meetings from the stands and in particular to present the FA Cup trophy, before passing the baton in 2005 to her grandson, William. Another royal privilege, the ennoblement of his subjects. Each year, a certain number of people who have distinguished themselves by their talent are honored. Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Kenny Dalglish or Sir Matt Busby have been knighted, proof that football is part of the DNA of this island. They will not be the only ones, Another distinction given by the sovereign, less prestigious, but not the least. Brian Clough, Gary Lineker, Bill Shankly, Frank Lampard or even Arsène Wenger, and of course David Beckham in 2003 having received from the hands of the sovereign the medal of the Order of the British Empire for “services rendered to football”. It’s starting to make a nice selection. Becks, very close to the royal family, was also present at the two recent royal weddings and dreams of one day being ennobled, but what his tax setbacks revealed by Wikileaks a few years ago prevent…
But the role of the monarchy vis-à-vis football is not limited to distributing the good points. She also poses as a first supporter of Three Lions, even if it means being very often as disappointed as its 67 million subjects. Last summer, Elizabeth II hoped that football would come home. Rarely, on the eve of the Euro final at Wembley between England and Italy, she even spoke. It was Buckingham Palace that posted a message of encouragement from the Queen herself: “Fifty-five years ago, I had the chance to present the World Cup to Bobby Moore and I saw what it meant for the players, the management and the staff to win the final of a major international football tournament. I send you all my congratulations and those of my family for reaching the final of the European Championships and send you my best wishes. »
His ancestors had banned football
Far from the gilding of Buckingham, English football comes first from the peasant tradition and then from the working class, light years away from the practices of the nobility, preferring polo, cricket or rowing. It was first Edward II, then Edward III, kings of England in the 14the century, which prohibit by royal decree what most resembled current football. At first only in the streets of London: “As long as there is this commotion in the city because of these big balls from which many evils could arise, we order a prison sentence for anyone who indulges in such a game in the future. God save us. » Vade retro satanas! While the Black Death decimated nearly a quarter of the English population and in the midst of the Hundred Years’ War, Edward III took a very dim view of this sport which entertained his subjects instead of attracting them to an exercise he judged essential to sting the Kingdom of France: archery. Each subject must be able to defend the homeland rather than wading, drunk, in the mud. Among other distractions of the time, such as cockfighting, Edward III therefore banned football on June 12, 1349. Almost a century later, his heir Edward IV (1461-1470) followed the line of royal prohibition by declaring: “It is forbidden to practice football, because every able-bodied and strong person must favor archery. The defense of the Kingdom depends on its archers. » In total, through the various sovereigns that England has known since medieval times, more than 30 laws or royal decrees have tried to ban football, and it is only much later, during the Victorian era at the end of the 19thethat the game, pre-industrial and now framed by rules, will tend to become more professional.
Forever Blowing Bubbles?
If some members of the royal family are happy to share the name of the team they support, like Prince William with Aston Villa, the queen, duty of reserve obliges, was supposed to remain neutral. It is for this reason that she never publicly revealed the name of the team she secretly supported. For a long time, it was believed that the heart of the sovereign leaned towards the Gunners. Not for Petit’s ponytail or Titi Henry’s free-kicks, but because the club was created by workers from the Royal Arsenal arms factory, the name the club carried until 1891. is also the queen who, in October 2006, was to inaugurate the brand new Emirates. Due to a herniated disc, The Queen had had to send her royal husband, and to be pardoned, the sovereign had invited the Gunners in February 2007 to share tea and scones with her in the salons of Buckingham. Just that.
It is also the only team in the kingdom to have received this honor. A very young Cesc Fàbregas, 19 years old at the time, had revealed after this visit that the queen had slipped to him to be a supporter of the London club. Later, during a tour of New Zealand, Prince Harry had revealed to him that “most of the royal family supported Arsenal” . It was enough for our British friends to be convinced that Zaza is a Gooner. However, a few years ago, it was another version that the British tabloids delivered… During a conversation with Buckingham staff, the queen would have revealed her fondness for… West Ham! The story dates back to 2009. Surprising a football conversation in the halls of the palace, Elizabeth II would have expressed her love for the Hammers. It is hard to imagine the 95-year-old sovereign with a pint in her hand, a Michail Antonio jersey on her back, a Saturday afternoon in front of a good Brentford-West Ham and yet, that would make her have something in common with Barack Obama, MC Hammer and Matt Damon. The fact remains that only the national team will be able, following his disappearance, to offer him a tribute worthy of the name. And too bad if the anthem will then become God Save the King.
By Sara Menai, in London