May the best borough (that’s Lambeth) win the World Cup


At last a vote that we can all get behind. No, not the latest panto poll in the Commons — I’m talking about the World Cup of London Boroughs, currently drawing the crowds for the second year on Twitter. London’s 32 administrative districts (the City of London is apparently excluded) are paired off in six rounds, and anyone gets to vote in any of the draws. In a surprise result to last year’s final, Lewisham beat Islington, which did my partisan, south London heart proud, even if the result was an ominous and precise 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

This year we’re still in the early stages. Waltham Forest beat Bromley with 61 per cent of 553 votes cast, its supporters perhaps buoyed by the fact that it’s the first London Borough of Culture, or that Bromley is rubbish. Ealing hammered west London rival Hammersmith and Fulham by 12 per cent, while the north London grudge match, Hackney v Camden, drew a “crowd” of 1,002 and went to the wire, Camden emerging victorious on 52 per cent.

Lambeth, where I’ve lived for almost half my life, got off to a flying start with a comfortable win over Barking and Dagenham — “Who are ya? Who are ya?” — but we have our own derby taking place today as you read, against Southwark. The final is next Friday.

I don’t know the WCOLB account’s originator: his Twitter bio suggests he’s a 23-year-old “mathematician, pianist and human citymapper” called Hugo. But it strikes me that he has hit upon something big. The idea of pride in one’s identity has become tarnished by racism, nationalism and the fraught nature of identity politics. It’s difficult even to take joy in being a Londoner without outing oneself as a metropolitan elite ponce. But who could take issue with local, civic pride?

I’m proud Lambeth covers the largest area of any inner London borough and has a rich ethnic and social mix. I’m proud that it’s home to the London Eye, the Oval, the Southbank Centre, Brixton Market, gay pub the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I’m proud that William Blake lived here for a decade (he’s commemorated by stunning mosaics under the arches at Waterloo), and that Vincent van Gogh lodged in Brixton. I’m glad Kennington Park hosted John Wesley’s sermons and Chartist protests, and that all sorts of naughtiness happened in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.

But — this is the beauty of it — if Lambeth gets knocked out by Southwark tonight, I can switch my allegiance to the victor, having lived there for six years. Plus, I was born in Putney, brought up in Wandsworth and spent much of my working life in Croydon and Kensington & Chelsea. So I have a full gamut of glory-team, underdog and journeymen try-hard boroughs to whom I can plausibly pledge allegiance.

What WCOLB has shown is not only that we all need an identity to be proud of. But that, in London, where newcomers and natives alike can reinvent themselves, we get to choose what that is.