No, my friends, your eyes are not deceiving you. They are everywhere. They are up in the windows of the terraces of London. They flutter from car windows. They are suspended from bridges. They fly from aerials. In just four days, they will be slathered in lipstick and white greasepaint on the faces of thousands of us, opening our mouths in a hysterical yodel of support for our boys.
Never in history has the flag of St George been so popular. Never has it been so prevalent in the decor of our streets. Three million have been rushed out in the last month by one factory alone; leading British supplier Local Boyz Ltd has sold out; in the factories of Kowloon and Guangdong, whole production lines are being converted to the desperate task of meeting the patriotic demand.
By Sunday evening, when Becks and co meet Henry and the rest of the French, I predict that the entire nation will be punctuated with the red and white symbol, like some vast vanilla and strawberry pudding; and what makes it all the more extraordinary is that, 25 years ago, it was a mere curiosity.
The flag of our country was the Union Jack, or the Union flag, as sub-editors – quite rightly – insist on calling it. We all knew that the flag of England was the red cross of St George, that faintly disreputable Cappadocian merchant who made a fortune out of selling bacon to the crusaders.
But we didn’t think of it as our flag, did we? We didn’t go around painting it all over our girlfriends’ noses, or wearing it on our bras or our underpants, not unless we were more than averagely peculiar.
So what does it mean, professor? Vot are ze semiotics of zis flag? I will tell you. It means most obviously that we are keen supporters of the English football team, and are hoping against hope that Becks will banana it past the French. But there is more to it, I contend, than that. The popularity of the English flag is a huge political message, a statement of exuberant loyalty, and also of a certain frustration.