United under the flag of St George!

TODAY'S the day! On the other side of the world England and Brazil are preparing for what is expected to be the match of the World Cup tournament.The weather in Japan is hot, but not too humid, and The Evening Star will have first reports on the match on sale at lunchtime, and there will regular updates on this website.

By James Fraser

YOU can't miss them. Festooned from our houses and flapping in the breeze, almost every street in Ipswich and everywhere else boasts a cross of St George, the English

national flag.

But too often in the past, this emblem of our land has conjured up ugly connotations of racism, prized by the extreme right as a battle standard for their views.

Tomorrow, though, united we stand. The hopes of millions of England fans rest on the shoulders of the 11 men who will brave the mercurial magic of the boys from Brazil – and win, of course.

In the past weeks the country has been swept by football fever as the team progressed through the World Cup during the same period when the Queen celebrated her golden jubilee.

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Patriotic fervour was no doubt fanned by the two simultaneous events, yet a recent BBC survey found that more people define their Englishness with reference to England's football team. The Queen's flag is properly the Union flag, often called in error the Union Jack. But if Beckham is king, his minions are sporting the cross

of St George.

The widespread unfurling of red and white has been unprecedented with flag merchants reporting soaring sales, their wares fluttering from flagpoles, cars and windows. The more adventurous daub its image on their faces and even dye their hair.

Enthusiasm for the flag of our patron saint has truly flowered. The committee for Ipswich in Bloom has commissioned a suitably supportive floral display.

John Stebbings, secretary of Ipswich in Bloom, said: "To encourage people and businesses to enter this year's competition we have latched on to the football theme that is sweeping the county and have arranged red and white flowers to depict the flag of St George.

"With the Queen visiting the town in July we have asked to be judged just prior to her visit in the hope that the town will be looking its best."

No surer example of the unifying effect of flag-waving World Cup fever can be seen in Woodbridge Road. The Beijing Chinese takeaway sports not one but three St George crosses and the erstwhile stamp of racists such as the National Front and other extreme right groups now stands for multicultural tolerance. We would do well to remember the words of that famous Ipswich observer, the 18th century writer Daniel Defoe: "A true-born Englishman is a contradiction, in speech an irony, in fact a fiction."

Kong Wai Li, owner of the Beijing, has no doubt who is going to triumph tomorrow. "England will beat Brazil and go on to win," said the 36-year-old, whose parents moved here from Hong Kong 50 years ago. "A lot of people from Hong Kong support England. The former was a colony and teams such as Manchester United are very popular over there. It's the same with other former colonies in the Far East such as Malaysia. It will be the biggest match

since 1966."

Some people do not need the prompt of a World Cup to show their allegiance. It has been a long-felt injustice that UK nations such as Wales and Scotland have fearlessly embraced the Scottish saltire or the Welsh dragon. English people seem embarrassed, perhaps due to the hijacking of their own flag by far-right thugs.

But we need not be cowed by this, according to Ipswich father-of-two Bernie Bellamy. "I'm no racist but I'm proud to be English," said the 47-year-old factory engineer, who hoists the cross of St George at his Sidegate Lane home 365 days a year.

"Everybody else has a flag – the Scots, the Welsh. Are they all racists? English people for some reason have to keep it under wraps. We all celebrate St Patrick's Day, so why not celebrate St George's Day?''