Yet James MacIntyre of the New Statesman wishes to flag us offside, withholding his support until Britain take the World Cup field. His abolition of our footballing nation isn't going to happen, of course, primarily for the simple reason that very few people in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland would want it. FIFA have little reason to demand an end to this long-standing accomodation of the "home nations" who did so much to spread the modern game.
And the English presence at the World Cup could, in fact, help to clear up and explode two common misperceptions in our debates about identity, both English and British.
Some believers in Britishness fear that any expression of English, Scottish or Welsh identity must inevitably threaten to eclipse and end it. It is a view mirrored by hopeful English patriots who believe that the growing saience of a "true" national identity must ultimately ursurp and dissolve an ersatz British construct whose time has passed. Our World Cup patriotism could help us to realise that both of these either/or propositions are false, as long as we continue to want them to be so.
MacIntyre's objection is rooted in an imagined threat to the Union, along with a fear of a retreat to the "racial brand" of Britain's blood nations.
Yet the demand that Football Unionism would make us more securely British is daft. The Union has somehow managed to survive the century and a half since England played Scotland in the first ever international football match in 1872, the golden age of Welsh rugby and so much else in our separate, linked and shared British sporting histories. MacIntyre proposes to abolish (all?) of this, bringing uniformity in the name of "300 years of cultural integration". Does he really cheer for our British athletes at the Olympics, then refuse to do so when some of them don English colours at the Commonwealth Games? Will he watch Rugby League internationals and boycott Rugby Union? Our sporting identities are plural, overlapping and context-specific. We have an England and Wales cricket board. Ulstermen support the all-Irish Rugby Union team, and UKIP supporters in the golf clubs probably don't complain too much about the loss of sovereignty when Europe takes on the United States in the Ryder Cup. I support England but, in club football, I am happy to extend the "anybody but Chelsea" principle to Bayern Munich as well as Barcelona.
Norman Tebbit never extended his "cricket test", aimed at those descended from the South Asian sub-continent, to other ball games precisely because insisting that sporting allegiance must map citizenship would have provided a Tory argument for the break-up of the Union, while insisting always on British assimilation on the sporting field would present a threat to, rather than a glue for, our shared, multinational civic identity.
The broader lesson is that to seek to suppress English identity in Britain's name is both wrong-headed and self-defeating for the cause of sustaining consent and allegiance to Britain and British identity. Yet that would appear to have been the thinking in Downing Street, under Gordon Brown, in getting cold feet about the idea of the government encouraging local St George's Day celebrations, as revealed by John Denham in his Fabian speech last week.
But nor does the enthusiastic growth in cultural Englishness, at the World Cup or elsewhere, herald the inevitable death of a Britishness, which is inherently plural and so has always been a "both/and" identity. Those who believe that we can't (now) go on like this must similarly find it difficult to explain why we have managed to do so for so long. British citizenship and identity can contain meaning, and emotional resonance too even as swathes of Brits cheer on England, and others - including some of the Scots, Welsh and sections of the New Statesman readership - happily fail any "football test" of their patriotism.
As I have argued previously, the contest for English identity will include both pro and anti-Union strands, just as the expression of Scottish identity post-devolution has done.
Greater space for the expression of English identity is now both a anti-Union project to forge a post-British English identity, but also surely a pro-Union project to show that Englishness is not suppressed as one of the varieties of Britishness
A British unionism which insists it has no room for any English, Scottish or Welsh expression of identity will surely fail.
The claim is also that supporting England is a threat to our multi-ethnic nation. MacIntyre writes that:
"Englishness is ultimately, alas, a racial brand. Britishness, on the other hand, is cultural".
Why? Yes, Britishness is the civic identity and citizenship of a multinational state. But who says English is racially defined? Our prominent national symbols now surely prove the opposite.
We have had - and won - this argument in football, since Viv Anderson turned out for the national team in 1978. The NF and English supporters of the BNP have no national team to cheer for. They tried to hang on long after their time was up, but there was an evident absurdity in their chanting "one-nil" in the Maracana in 1984 as John Barnes' brilliant, mazy dribble gave England a two-goal victory over Brazil. Once there are mixed race and black players routinely all over the pitch, racists have no way to keep the purist score. "The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of 11 named people", as Eric Hobsbawm wrote, yet the fantasy all-white England has no place in this tournament: only the real, multi-ethnic England can play.
Our civic Britishness may have the advantage of being inherently plural, but each European nation has had to develop a civic patriotism too. Le Pen gambled and lost when questioning the patriotism of the French team in 1998. Look at the team carrying Germany's hopes this year too. The Scots carefully developed a civic patriotism, which could include new Scots and old, in the early 1990s. So it is with England. As Gary Younge set out in the New Statesman, why he can now cheer for England, one would hope that white Guardianista liberals would get over their instinctive fear of any patriotic expression at all, or at least not attribute their unwillingness to do so to race.
I'm English and British, because I was born and bred here. I want to stay British too. But if we lose that argument, and ever get to the day when they are handing out English passports instead, I have no doubt about my entitlement to one. Any English project which denied that would prove entirely stillborn. There is nowhere to send me, and millions of others, "back to". Nor do Glasweigan-born Asian Scots face any existential threat from Alec Salmond's hopes of an independent nation.
Yes, "Black English" is an unfamiliar term, compared to "black British". That we were slow to pluralise the idea of the English perhaps largely reflects that new Commonwealth immigrants, like the British/English themselves, tended to forget there was a difference and conflate the two in the immediate post-war decades, when any distinctive English dimension was largely absent.
But if we do not often use the word (yet), we certainly have the thing itself. That's why you see the St George's Flag on the people carriers of British Asian families with 2.2 children, and Dizzee Rascal appropriating the flag of St George to top the pop charts. And so those who want to escape or retreat from mongrel Britishness to a pure, white England will be sorely disappointed once that conversation begins. An independent England would be a multi-ethnic one from day one. 98% of Britain's ethnic diversity is to be found in England, though the plurality of Englishnesses - in terms of class, regional, urban/rural identites and so much else - extends far beyond race. A cultural return of Englishness will reflect the wide range of varieties of Englishness too.
The question now be what presence Englishness should have outside of our football summers (qualifying permitting). Does England want to be more than a 90 minute nation?
This is itself a major and welcome shift. Football was a source of national embarrassment in the hooligan era. Yet, in 1996, football's return home saw England find a way to join the carnival instead. Today, as the St George's Flag flutters from the car windows there is also a sense that the traditional tabloid rollercoaster, where England must always be either the best or worst team in the world, has given way to an enjoyment of the tournament without quite believing we will win the penalty shoot-out at the end.
Perhaps here we have, whisper it, learnt from the Scots. Modern Scottish identity surely hit its nadir with the farcical hubris of Ally McLeod's promise to win the 1978 World Cup - the humiliation not erased by Archie Gemmill's wondergoal against the Dutch, later immortalised in the Trainspotting film. When the subsequent devolution referendum fell short of the votes required, Scots intellectuals bemoaned the shortcomings of a nation of "90 minute patriots".
But Scotland developed a healthier relationship with both football and politics. The Tartan Army developed what David Goldblatt calls "a carnivalesque caricature of Scottish identity" in which the craic mattered as much, perhaps more, than the result. Post-devolution, Scotland has an occasional presence on the footballing stage, but it no longer places the whole burden of carrying a national psyche on its footballers.
What the English want remains unclear. If we do wish to be more than a 90 minute nation, we will have to work out how and where to have that conversation. But, first, let's watch the football.
One very rarely hears calls for a British World Cup team now. That partly reflects the rise of English cultural identity. Perhaps as important is the diminishing of Celtic footballing talent, as MacIntyre notes.
How different it was in the mid-1980s, and when I recall that both the Daily Mail and Shoot! magazine used to regularly discuss the proposition of a British World Cup team, and when one could easily pick a balanced team.
How about ...
Stevens (Eng), Ratcliffe (Wal), Hansen (Scot); Sansom (Eng),
Strachan (Scot); Robson (Eng); Souness (Scot); Whiteside (N.I)
Dalglish (Scot); Rush (Wales).
A hell of a squad and subs bench could include Shilton (Eng), Jennings (NI), Donaghy (NI), Gough (Scotland), Van Den Hauwe (Wales), Butcher (Eng), Hoddle (Eng), Wilkins (Eng), McIlroy (NI), Barnes (England), Hughes (Wales), Lineker (England).
How would that lot have fared against Maradona's Argentina in 1986?