Jessica, Mo, Greg, and snatching our flag back

Yesterday was one of the greatest days in the history of British sport, and I didn’t watch a single second of it.  Great Britain won six gold medals, and meanwhile I was spending six hours on a round-trip via coach to Birmingham, where I was performing at a poetry festival.  What’s more, at about half-six that evening, I was offered a ticket to the Olympic boxing: which would have been fine, but for the fact that I was over a hundred miles away at the time.  Timing, eh.

It was a tiring day of travel, and so I fell asleep on the crowded bus home, my novel untouched in the bag beside me.  I woke to the news on my Twitter feed that, in the space of one glorious evening, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford had won gold for Great Britain.  Somewhat saddened that I had not seen these victories in real time, I walked into Victoria train station, where I saw dozens of Union flags hanging from the ceiling of the concourse.  And then the funniest thing happened.  I broke into the widest possible smile.

This was a big thing for me.  Maybe even huge.  To be diplomatic, I have an awkward relationship with the Union flag.  It’s all those years in my teens when I saw it draped outside pubs as a warning for my sort to steer clear.  It’s all those times I saw it emblazoned across flyers for the British National Party, which every now and then found their way through my letterbox.  But there I was, grinning at those fluttering flags like a friend I’d not seen in years.

The Union flag had been kidnapped some time ago by the BNP.  But last night, Jessica Ennis, Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford snatched it back.  For me, Britishness – if it means anything – has always meant a sense of belonging to a greater whole, despite our disparate backgrounds.  In a society that is still so riven by class division and economic inequality, this is perhaps an aspiration rather than a reality, but that night in Victoria station it felt gloriously possible.  I have our wonderful gold medallists to thank for that.  And now, I think, it is time to go and watch their highlights.


  1. Tim says:

    RE: Britishness 2012

    When asked in a press conference if he’d have preferred to run as a Somali, he said to the journalist: “Look mate, this is my country.”

    Farah added: “This is where I grew up, this is where I started life. This is my country and when I put on my Great Britain vest I’m proud. I’m very proud.

  2. Nils Boray says:

    I was lucky enough to be in the stadium last night – managed to pick up tickets for a wheelchair space for my wife, and seat for me for the princely sum of 50 quid. Bargain.

    Realised half way through the night that we were on for one of the biggest events in British sporting history – World Cup 66, Matthews Cup Final, Henry Cooper decking Ali – This was just as big, maybe bigger. They’ll be talking about Super Saturday in 40 years time – and I was there.

    Agree with every word you say. I’m white & British and have been having to put up with NF/BM/BNP/EDL/Whatever they call themselves next/ pretending that they have some kind of call on what being British is about for most of my life. Well sod ’em all.

    It was also good at the stadium last night seing Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce & Veronica Campbell-Brown winning Gold & Bronze for Jamaica in the Women’s 100m – many supporters in front of us had both Jamaican flags and Union Jacks – and there was a very clear affection for the Jamaican team from the GB flag waving hordes – as well there should be.

    I’m on a high today – can’t stop smiling !

  3. […] often a symbol of division and oppression, has suddenly become instead a symbol of togetherness but Musa Okwonga expresses it so much more eloquently than I ever could so go read him instead. And read his […]

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