The Two Captains: Harry Kane, England [left] and Gareth Bale, Wales [right]. Photo- [SkySports]

‘God Save the King’ – But Only in England?

Hannah looks at the problematic nature of the English football team singing the UK’s national anthem God Save the King as their national anthem ahead of the clash between England and Wales in the World Cup.

Wales and England are set to face each other in the final group game of the Football World Cup on Tuesday with kick off at 19.00. As usual, before the whistle goes, the two nations will proudly sing their national anthems.

Now this is where it gets very sticky. A national anthem? The United Kingdom has a national anthem, ‘God Save the King’ but this is not the Welsh or English national anthem. Gareth Southgate’s team, however, have been singing ‘God Save the King’, prior to each match at the World Cup even though this is not the English national anthem. There is no agreed national anthem of England, so it is usually taken to be the same as for the United Kingdom as a whole. The Welsh team will sing ‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ also known as ‘Land of My Fathers’, as they have done in their previous two matches against USA and Iran.


Credit: BBC News

‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ is the unofficial but universally recognised national anthem of Wales and it is the first year that the anthem has been sung at the tournament as the last time Wales were at a World Cup, they sang the UK’s national anthem.

Welsh sports historian, Huw Richards, believes that 116 years of history means that Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau now “represents who we are” in a way ‘God Save the King’ simply cannot. In that sense, for many players, history also means that ‘God Save the King’ has come to represent Wales’ greatest rivals and much oppression.

At the 2012 London Olympics, Team GB played football matches in Cardiff, and despite wearing the jersey, Welsh footballers Craig Bellamy, Ryan Giggs, Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey and Neil Taylor all decided not to sing the national anthem.

It is no surprise that the national anthem of the UK is seen as being associated with England because English sporting associations and bodies make no legitimate or continuous effort to sing any other song such as ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, both of which are familiar to the majority in England.


Credit: Getty

It is only since the Commonwealth Games in 2010, that Team England has used ‘Jerusalem’ as the victory anthem. The Commonwealth Games Council for England conducted a poll of members of the public which decided the anthem for the 2010 Commonwealth Games. ‘Jerusalem’ was the clear winner with 52% of the vote, ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ received 32% of the vote and ‘God Save the Queen’ received only 12%.

This clearly indicates that much of the English population also do not want to sing the national anthem of the UK as the English anthem and they would rather associate their Englishness with a different song.

In 2000, a rendition of ‘Jerusalem’ was adopted by the English Football Association as the England football team’s official song for the UEFA Euros in 2000 that was co hosted by Belgium and the Netherlands. The FA, however did not keep this up and in the following international matches, there was a return to ‘God Save the King’. ‘Jerusalem’ has been the English Cricket Board’s official hymn since 2003, being played before the start of play each day of home test matches, although ‘God Save the King’ was the anthem sung by England players before the T20 World Cup Final in Australia a couple of weeks ago illustrating the inconsistencies.


Credit: BBC News

Similarly to football, in international rugby union matches, England uses ‘God Save the King’ as the national anthem where its problematic nature is emphasised especially when playing other teams in the United Kingdom.

At international rugby league matches, England used to sing ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ as their national anthem but since 2005 they switched to ‘God Save the King’. At international darts matches, England uses “Land of Hope and Glory” as the national anthem.

Surely England should have their own national anthem, something that it appears many would desire. Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland should have the space to identify with the national anthem of the UK if they so desire. Currently there is not a space for this as federations and associations in England are not recognising how they are projecting Englishness onto the identity of singing the national anthem of the UK.



135 thoughts on “‘God Save the King’ – But Only in England?

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