Football flies the flag for ‘Brand England’

“Countries are not brands. They are countries.” So said our columnist Mark Ritson, in a recent examination of the concept of nation branding exercises. Many of you who weighed into the online debate sparked by that particular column took Mark’s side.

I disagree. If your behaviour and values, the things you do and the things you say are judged by others, then you’re a brand whether you like it or not. England and Great Britain are certainly both brands when it comes to other countries’ perception of aspects of our behaviour.

As a result, Lord Triesman’s removal from the chairman’s office at the Football Association for making indiscreet allegations about the Russian and Spanish football authorities does, in my opinion, harm our national brand while we are trying to pitch ourselves to the world as the perfect venue for the 2018 World Cup.

On a similar theme, English football fans have not had the best of reputations. It has taken a long time for that negative image of travelling English fans to change. There are still problem elements but the authorities have tried to instil a sense of responsibility in those that travel abroad to support England.

“England and Great Britain are certainly both brands when it comes to other countries’ perception of aspects of our behaviour”

Other factors have helped. A new and sensational Wembley Stadium has probably instilled some pride in English fans. And the relative gentrification of football at home might mean that an average England football crowd is now a more “family friendly” affair than previously.

But mud sticks for a long time. A friend of mine who follows Scotland told me years ago that win or lose, Scottish fans wanted to show they could integrate with supporters from other countries and to be the best fans in the world to actively differentiate themselves from their England counterparts. Ensuring your values and behaviour are seen by outsiders as distinct from your rivals, especially when your logo or branding is on show – am I missing something or is this brand management?

Countries and their peoples are perceived and judged by others. In turn, the behaviour of those that “represent” the countries either confirm that perception or disprove it. So in a sense, we all have a responsibility to be “clued-up” and “on-message”. Despite our separate feelings about a media that practises entrapment, Triesman should have been savvy enough to know that while representing brands such as the FA and the 2018 bid, he needed to watch what he was saying. No matter who he was speaking to.

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