I’VE supported West Ham ever since I can recall. Most of my immediate ancestors are from London, my father was born a few streets away from the old Boleyn Ground at Upton Park (his father worked much of his life at Mount Pleasant Post Office, Faringdon; and my other grandfather at Liverpool Street station). And then there are those images, conveyed by crackly wireless across the Atlantic, from the 1966 FIFA World Cup. I would read about the matches a few days after they had happened in my father’s copy of the Guardian Weekly printed on crinkly airmail paper. In the winning England team were three West Ham players: Bobby Moore (captain), Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters. I also liked the club’s founding name, Thames Ironworks: something solid and Victorian-sounding about that. Yet this season West Ham has faced relegation (again) and I could not give a row of beans. While I admire the national team, its diversity and their manager, I can no longer support England.

What happened in the half century since the World Cup victory? I left England for a second time and have not lived there for 48 years, but England also left me. On visits over those years, every four or five on average, I was aware of change; a coarsening of ambience and a growing disregard for the things I regarded as most important. The final abrupt straw was Brexit, a feckless repudiation of both self-interest and international responsibility based on a fictitious and arrogant English view of Britain’s national history and place in the modern world.

The Brexit vanguard is what commentators regard as those suffering from pessimistic nostalgia, resentful about something they have lost but can’t actually describe. Some of those (and it’s not possible to know what proportion) are hard core football supporters, fanaticism for a team perhaps the only thing they really do believe in. But Brexit and football have something significant in common: the antagonism created by othering. Whether connected to football or not, contempt for continental neighbours boils down to mindless nationalism ‒ English nationalism because the Scots and Ulster sensibly voted to remain in the EU. All nationalism is abhorrent, but this is intensely personal: the waving of that flag with the red cross of St George (born in Cappadocia to Greek parents) on a white background is a signal that I and others could eventually be deprived of our British identity. It has become a thoroughly offensive symbol.

So, it’s very difficult to identify with or support anything that bears the name England these days. The term is tainted by xenophobes. But that’s the bigger picture. What about football as a game? On the face of it, it’s aged rather well. The game I played at school and enjoyed following for years after 1966 has not changed that much unlike rugby and cricket, which are almost unrecognisable. But when West Ham lost 1-4 at home some weeks ago to Newcastle my reaction was that they had been beaten by Saudi Arabia. Not long ago, Newcastle were performing even more poorly than West Ham, but shedloads of money arrived to buy a new team. The fact that it comes from an authoritarian regime that oppresses women and murders journalists adds insult to injury. Investment in football by such governments is known as sportswashing and it’s becoming more prevalent.

Why bother to play the game at the highest level such as the EPL (English Premier League)? Gone are the days not far distant when an unfashionable and relatively poor team such as Leicester could win. There is no level playing field, just a very steep hill labelled money. Create a table of annual expenditure and the result will probably look remarkably similar to the end-of-season standings. On second thoughts, maybe the league is necessary. Someone wrote that professional football matches consisted of thousands of angry old men shouting invective and obscenity at twenty-two young men kicking a ball around a patch of grass for ninety minutes. How would they otherwise occupy themselves?

No one seems unduly bothered about the incredible amounts of money locked up in football ‒ and sport in general. This wealth is generating nothing of value and is another factor exacerbating the growing divide between rich and poor. Everywhere public health facilities, community recreational provision and people’s services in general are ailing. There should be some means of stripping football and other financial sinkholes of substantial parts of their wealth to benefit citizens through their governments. Yet the latter of all ideologies seem happy to let financial disparity grow while facilities for the people disintegrate.

It is interesting that a target of populists is what is regarded as the educated elite ‒ experts, people who actually know something significant and put it across in a considered and rational way. They are the new enemy. Yet popular culture and entertainment remain sacrosanct in spite of the disproportionate amounts of money they harvest for another elite ‒ that of the super-rich.

The culture of professional football symbolises much that is wrong with the modern world. Monetised and commodified, and wrenched away from local and community roots, it has long since become thoroughly corrupted. Reactionary and foul-mouthed supporters, mindless propaganda from management, hysterical commentary, now backed by the wealth of world-class authoritarianism.

It’s an unpleasant picture and when interwoven with personal identity challenges, long-held allegiances decay.