World Cup 2022: Row over Sunderland City Council's support for England during Three Lions' World Cup campaign

A war of words has erupted over Sunderland’s support for Gareth Southgate’s England squad during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

Opposition councillors have called for Sunderland City Council to fly the England flag outside the authority’s City Hall HQ offices during the campaign, which began against Iran on Monday, November 21. The Three Lions won their first game 6-2, with goals from Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish.

Lib Dem councillor Stephen O’Brien branded council bosses “killjoys” back in 2018 for not flying the St George’s flag at the old Civic Centre as the last World Cup got underway.

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The council later reversed the decision, agreeing to fly the flag on England’s match days during that tournament – a move the Lib Dems have described as a u-turn.

Now Cllr O'Brien is calling for the Cross of St George to be flown again for the duration of 2022’s winter tournament - or at least on England’s match days. The side will next play on Friday, November 25 against the USA and Tuesday, November 29 against Wales in the groups stages of the competition.

Calling for the local authority to support the national team, he said: "It has been really disappointing not to see the St George’s cross flying from the flagpoles at the Council’s City Hall since the World Cup started.”

The councillor added: "I hope residents from other World Cup nations will also be flying their flags and adding to the vibrancy of our diverse city.”

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Cllr Stephen O'Brien outside Sunderland's City Hall.

Council leader Cllr Graeme Miller hit back and said the authority had been following national guidance during the 2018 tournament, which took place in Russia.

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He said: “The Cross of St George flew in the 2018 World Cup as England went into the group stages and the Government issued guidance and encouragement to see the flag flying on public buildings.

“Guidance and notices from the Cabinet Office and Number 10 are not u-turns. Neither have we had a new request from the Lib Dems to raise the flag.

“Nonetheless, and of course with the squad’s Sunderland connections, we all wish the team well and are raising the flag for England matches.”

Cllr Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council.
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Sunderland natives and former SAFC players Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford are among Gareth Southgate’s England squad.