Monday, May 04, 2009

geordie & scouse national identity

Liverpool convincingly trounced Newcastle United yesterday, which set me thinking about the cultural similarities between the cities.

The recent appointment of Alan Shearer - who looks eerily like a cross between Robson and Jerome - as manager of the ailing Newcastle United caused great jubilation in the city.

This wasn't just about a club hero coming home, there was something in the delirious optimism of Toon fans that few others could ever deliver.

In Pies And Prejudice, Stuart Maconie speculates that Newcastle United's fans are so derangedly passionate about their team because the city is anomalous in being so large with only one club.

But why isn't this true of Leeds at three times the size (even if you allow for a little split of affection with the rugby team)? Why doesn't it apply to cities of similar size to Newcastle such as Leicester?

It's not to do with a unitary focus of club, but the passion with which a people focus on their culture. A serious proportion of Geordies regard themselves as Geordie first and foremost rather than English or British. It is, in many sense, a nationality. It shares much in this with Scousers. This may be to do with their geographical positions as ports facing the outside world, but whatever the cause they both have a very separate identity, and there is nothing else like it in Great Britain outside of Welsh and Scottish national feeling.

All four nationalities are prone to sweeping up their compatriots in huge swells of unshakable, ineffable pride, stuff dismissed by baffled outsiders - those more in thrall to English reserve - as sentimentalist claptrap.

Not even Cornwall, despite its historical distinction and linguistic heritage, can muster the strength of patriotic emotion that readily pours forth with little prompting from these other four.

For the cities with more than one club, there is usually a deep-seated rivalry that can never be overcome. Yet, as Maconie notes elsewhere in the same book, Scousers attending the Liverpool-Everton FA Cup final in 1986 sang in unison 'Merseyside Merseyside Merseyside'.

I guatrantee that you won't hear the whole crowd at Manchester United vs Wigan singing 'Greater Manchester, Greater Manchester, Greater Manchester'.

As Merseyside was one of those weird administrative regions put together in 1974, it seems scarcely credible that the unity of feeling was really about affinity to a recently contrived municipal district. They took to this new identity because it cut them away from the greater Lancashire with which they never identified and gave them an administrative body that recognised what they had felt for centuries, that they were a breed apart.

Map of Merseyside

(It should be noted that with the typical idiosyncratic twists of boundary makers, Merseyside has a long sliver only a couple of miles wide sticking all the way up to encapsulate the swanky seaside resort of Southport. Here, more than thirty years after it was deemed to be in Merseyside, you can still find car stickers huffily proclaiming that the town is really in Lancashire - they too see Scousers as a separate identity).


Paul said...

Many on the Wirral insist that they are part of Cheshire too :) The blue rinsers of Heswall and West Kirby were made up when the L postcodes were replaced by CH a few years back.

Martin Porter said...

...and then because someone had a sense of humour they tagged blue-rince Southport onto the top.

Well, I suppose it meant all those well paid footballers could send their kids to private schools whilst still technically being in Merseyside.

merrick said...


you'd think (genuinely in liverpool) Merchant Taylor's would be posh enough for them wouldn't you? But no. Doesn't charge enough, probably.

eric the fish said...

Periodically, we get letters to the local freesheets (next to the unbiased restaurant critiques of establishments who just happened to have bought an advert)from the 'Wirral in Cheshire' brigade. There was one chap who alternated between this moniker and 'Wirral Out Of Merseyside Campaign'.
The name Merseyside did exist pre-1974 though.
The solution to all this new-fangled change is to wait until all the old people have died before introducing it.