Jack Wilshere row: How do we define Englishness?

England footballer Jack Wilshere has caused a stir by saying only "English people" should play for England.

It follows the news that Manchester United teenager Adnan Januzaj could represent England despite being born and raised in Belgium. But what makes someone culturally English and could Januzaj ever qualify?

Penalty shootout failures

Seared into the mind of many an English football fan are the successive failures at penalty shootouts in World Cups and European Championships.

The rot began in the 1990 World Cup semi-final in Turin and continued in successive tournaments, to the extent that it has now become something of a tradition.

Little is known of Januzaj's penalty-taking pedigree, but is he bad enough to play for England?

Confusion over national identity

Since the Act of Union in 1707, British identity has frequently been confused with Englishness and vice versa.

Peter Mandler, who is a professor of modern cultural history at the University of Cambridge, said: "For most of the 19th and 20th Centuries, when people described British values, they said 'English' instead of 'British'.

"People weren't sensitive, they didn't care. But since the mid-20th Century they became more sensitive.

"Being British and English should not be a confusion. They are not mutually-exclusive categories."

Foreign Roots

"Thus from a mixture of all kinds began, that het'rogeneous thing, an Englishman."

Daniel Defoe's poem, The True-Born Englishman, reflects how many see England - a "mongrel" nation forged from Celts, Angles, Saxons, Danes and Normans.

Successive waves of immigration in the 20th Century have given rise to the notion that England is unique in its composition, a mixture of all things good from all countries.

However, this is simply wrong according to Professor Mandler: "The English are no more mongrel than any other European country - it's a story that people tell themselves, but it doesn't describe the country."

Wheelie bin angst

Few things separate the English like wheelie bins. Depending on your views they are either street clutter or a necessary and practical way to manage our waste.

The bins have provoked fierce opposition, with the Daily Mail spearheading a "Not In My Front Yard" campaign highlighting the "growing fury at the plastic monstrosities blighting our streets and gardens".

However, the invasion of the German invention, which began in the 1980s, is nearly complete.

Birmingham, one of the last parts of England where bins are not supplied, is in the process of introducing them.


Cricket is perhaps the most quintessentially English of all sports. Its seemingly archaic rituals of having a break for "tea" and dressing in white lend the game an Englishness that few others can match.

Yet the national team has never balked at recruiting foreign-born players. In the modern era Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott are among several England stars born in South Africa.

This history of poaching players dates back to Victorian times when an Indian Prince, Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji, played for England on 15 occasions.


"We've been sitting here since Christmas 1914, during which time millions of men have died, and we've moved no further than an asthmatic ant with some heavy shopping."

Rowan Atkinson's Blackadder typifies the sarcasm that English humour is famous for.

The English love of irony and pathos also either leaves foreigners reeling with delight, or scratching their heads looking for the joke.

Obscure contests

If you ever feel the need to chase after a cheese rolling down a hill, take part in a stinging nettle-eating competition or pitch your gurning skills against others, there is a good chance you are English.

A multitude of barmy competitions take place annually across England.

However, like most English sports, foreigners tend to do it better. The winner of the 2013 cheese-rolling competition was American Kenny Rackers.


Real ale, cream teas, Yorkshire Pudding and fudge. Not the stuff of a healthy sportsman's diet.

It is is unlikely that Januzaj, or any of his Man United teammates start their day with a full English breakfast.

But some see an appreciation of these more unhealthy culinary gifts to the world as imperative in any quest to be a red-blooded Englishman.


In films, the typical Englishman - often portrayed by Hugh Grant - is polite to the point of being almost uncommunicative.

It also is well noted that the English love a queue.

However, this love of politeness can be tempered by a fine selection of swear words that can regularly be heard up and down the high streets of the country.

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