Could we ban the endless drone of James Corden?

The chubby actor and No.1 New England Fan loves everyone except noisy, bantering, old-school supporters.

Mick Hume

Mick Hume
Columnist

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Never mind all those droning vuvuzelas, the plastic horns that have been drowning out pretty much everything else in South Africa over the past week. The most irritating constant noise at the World Cup 2010 to date is James Corden.

Not only is Corden boring for England on television even more often than Adrian Chiles, while redefining ‘belly laugh’ to mean building a comedy career on the fact that he has a fat one. What grates most is Corden’s appointment as the public face of the New England fan, who proclaims his love for the beautiful game, but fears and loathes the ugly dinosaurs of the traditional football crowd.

Look at Corden performing the number one World Cup tune ‘Shout for England’ with Dizzee Rascal on television or YouTube, and you will see him playing the part of his TV character – Essex wideboy handyman Smithy – leading a crowd chanting the old standard of Seventies football boys, ‘Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’.

Yet read the diary Corden wrote in the otherwise excellent World Cup supplement in The Times (London) last week and a slightly different image emerges. In an article that one might have thought was a send-up if the author was wittier, the all-round entertainer gave a heart-rending insight into how ‘I find it hard to “be” an England fan’.

To illustrate his national identity crisis, Corden told the tale of how delighted he and his friends had been to find a ‘safe’ (ie, empty) pub where they ‘could eat olives, ask for low-fat mayo and most importantly not be looked down upon for not drinking pints’ whilst watching one of England’s warm-up games. The trouble was that ‘Men, real men. Actual. Men’ then spoilt things by intruding into the bar. Suddenly says Corden, ‘All around us is banter, lad banter! The talk is a little too loud, the language a fraction too blue’, but nevertheless James and his pals ‘bravely’ carry on ordering wine by the glass and discussing how ‘wonderful’ Adrian Chiles is…

The drama reaches its climax when the beery lads start singing ‘Stand up if you hate the French!’ and suggest that their celeb mate ‘Smithy’ should join in. Corden and his chums valiantly remain sitting however, ‘because we love England just as much as these guys, the only difference is we don’t hate anyone’. They then declare this achievement of not standing up in a pub to be a great moral victory. ‘We’d won the match and we’d staked our claim’, concludes the elated Corden. ‘We’d shown in one solitary moment that not all England fans are the same.’

Sadly, Corden admits that on the way home he spoilt it by doing his ‘geezer’ Smithy bit to placate another drunken fan, and is filled with self-loathing. (On that last point at least we can sympathise with him.) The article was called ‘Make a stand and sit down if you love England. (No, I am not making this up, it’s here.)

While Corden and chums don’t hate the French, it would appear that they do hate the ‘actual’ England fans in the pub with their ‘lad banter’ and beer, spoiling their enjoyment of their charcuterie and civilised chat. Yet in his ‘Shout’ performance, dressed in a red 1966-style shirt, Corden is indulging in nostalgia for an imagined golden age of football fandom, shouting the terrace war cries of yesteryear whilst safely ensconced on stage or on tape. This is a warm-yet-sanitised version of football’s past, which the New Fans fantasise is far removed from the roughhouse realities of having to watch the ‘footie’ alongside beery louts today. (Though I would not have liked to see James and his mates ask for olives or Sancerre by the glass at football in the ‘good old days’ of piss-soaked terraces that I recall, or in the pubs frequented by ‘Actual Men’ that my old dad drank in, circa 1966.)

No, many of us fans do not ‘hate the French’. But neither do we confuse football songs with real life, or imagine that football should be played and watched in the atmosphere of a polite dinner party. And so long as we are dealing with mere words, we will defend the right to hate whatever team, player, country, ethnic musical instrument or comedian that you choose.

On balance, I am – of course – opposed to any call for a ban on James Corden; even self-loving lumps of hilarious lard are entitled to freedom of expression (though whether they are entitled to at least half an hour of it every night on primetime television is another matter). But for some of us football dinosaurs, our enjoyment of the World Cup would not be noticeably impaired if he and his ilk were bravely to sit down quietly somewhere with a bag of olives for the next few weeks.

Mick Hume is spiked’s editor-at-large. He will be writing on the World Cup for the next three weeks.

Read on: spiked-issue Sport

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