I paused the game, cutting short the massacre of a cheeky Carthaginian general and his army, who had dared invade Southern Italy. I picked up the remote, and hit rewind.
It was one of the English commentators, talking about the coming match against Uruguay.
There was no team news, but they had some information on the officials.
“The officials are Spanish,” he said, with some gravity. “I am worried about that. Uruguay, Spain, they speak the same language.”
Eah? I sat staring at the screen for a moment. Had he just said that? His colleague didn’t seem to mind. Maybe it’s just me who found it vaguely sinister, but this is part of watching the English international football team in competition.
Weeks ago, before the competition started, Kevin McKenna, the fantastic Scottish journalist (yes, they do exist) posted a wonderful piece where he told his readers he would be supporting England. I thought it was a ballsy piece of work, and it wasn’t all just tongue in cheek, although some of it certainly was. Kevin wears his Celtic colours on his sleeve, and he’s very positive on the subject of Scottish independence, and I’ve always enjoyed his red streak of socialism. I had a feeling something was going to spark his ire when the full time whistle went, and I was right.
He wasn’t particularly happy about the reaction of many Scots on Facebook.
This one’s dedicated to him, and to my good friend Sean Thomas Graham, who wore his England top all day despite being a die-hard Scot and Tartan Army man. (Try and work that contradiction out Kevin!)
Of all the people I’ve met in my life, Sean’s the only one I know who says he’s a football neutral and means it. He harbours no bad feeling towards anyone, does Sean, and that’s what makes him such a pleasure to know.
This is for them, and the others who can’t understand the happiness myself and many feel at seeing England getting stuffed again.
I will tell you this right now. When Luis Suarez smashed the ball into the net to make it 2-1, my old man and I were delighted.
I mean that. We were delighted.
Neither me nor my father is a Scottish nationalist, although we both strongly support independence. Neither of us hates England, or the English, or ever has. Indeed, there is a Celtic player in the English national team, and I hope that he stays both there and at Celtic Park. I have worshiped many a player in the Hoops who could also have worn the Three Lions on his shirt; Hooper, Thompson, Sutton and Stubbs amongst them. I would have been delighted to see any of them wearing the jersey of his national team, and doing well in that strip.
But I wouldn’t have wanted them to win things in it.
I also have the sincerest admiration for any number of their players who have never worn the Hoops and probably never will, although I’ll cross my fingers. I think in the next few years young Sterling will become good enough to grace any club side in the world, and I think Ross Barkley is going all the way right along with him, which is to say nothing of the undisputed talents of Sturridge and Phil Jones and others, some in the squad, some not.
I will be as thrilled to watch them as I was whenever they played club football the season just past, and I hope, and I am sure, they will have great careers and win many, many trophies.
I just hope they don’t win any in the England shirt.
I have never felt any ambivalence about being a member of the Anyone But England club. It’s a natural thing for me, in much the same way as not wanting Sevco Rangers to win as much as a corner kick is, and with many of the same reasons flowing from it.
See, at a moment like this I find it useful to try and think as others do.
One of Kevin’s pet peeves is the Tartan Army. As someone who works on their fan’s publication, I know his view of them is largely skewed. He thinks they are a national embarrassment. I think they are a national treasure. At heart I’m a romantic, which to me manifests itself in rooting for the underdog. For years now the Tartan Army has epitomised everything the underdog should be.
In the first issue of Tartan Army that I worked on, I wrote a piece on the Del Amitri song “Don’t Come Home Too Soon”, which I love, because I think it perfectly encapsulates the Tartan Army attitude. When it comes to winning things we have no expectations at all. For Scotland fans, it’s the taking part that counts, because that’s what we’ve got. It’s perhaps the most unpretentious football anthem there’s ever been and they are the most unpretentious fans on the planet. I think there were two things which conspired to make them that way.
First was the gravitational pull many Celtic fans felt towards Ireland rather than Scotland. Many of our fans are Irish anyway, or come from Irish families. Others have more oblique reasons.
For a long time SFA selection policy, the bigotry of some sections of the Scotland support and a series of ridiculous decisions by managers to omit Celtic players or excuse Rangers players for pulling out of squads at the last second, kept it that way. Added to that, and continuing into today, there is a large section of the Celtic support which, for very understandable reasons, refuses steadfastly to support Scotland because they think it is, by extension, supporting the SFA.
I disagree with them on that, but I don’t have any debate with them on the central point; the SFA is not an organisation I, personally, have great faith in at the present time.
The other thing that transformed the Tartan Army into what it is today is the sharp drop in the numbers of Rangers fans who go to see Scotland. There used to be a lot of them, but it’s been a long time since that was the case. They have their own reasons and I don’t need to, or intend to, go into many of them here, but one in particular is important to this discussion.
Certain sections of that support dislike the idea of being Scottish, and consider themselves British first. Except, that’s not really what they are at all, as I’ll come to later.
The result of this is that the vast majority of the Tartan Army is drawn from fans of the clubs outside Glasgow, clubs who’ve had to exist for decades in the shadow of the two big teams from that city. This is an important point, because in this lies the reason for what Kevin and others see as a virulent strain of anti-Englishness in the Scotland support.
The Tartan Army is not anti-English. It’s anti-arrogance.
Ask its supporters how they feel about Celtic and Rangers. You’ll hear invective which makes you think every swear word was invented by a Scot. From almost time immemorial the supporters of every club in this land out with Glasgow have had to live with the status of Other, even when their teams – Aberdeen and Dundee Utd foremost amongst them – were on top and setting the pace. They’ve had to live with a media which thinks the whole game boils down to two teams, which talks about them endlessly, which considers them the only show in town.
This mind-set also permeates the halls of the SFA and the SPFL, and was in no small part responsible for the despicable efforts to shoe-horn the Sevco Newco into the top flight when it emerged from the ashes of Rangers’ liquidation. Ask the fans of other clubs what they think would have happened had Celtic run into similar trouble. They’ll tell you the response of the media and the governing bodies would have been exactly the same.
The Glasgow clubs are “too big to fail” and to Hell with how that idea affects the rest of the game.
Argue about that one all day and all night if you will. The fans of clubs out with this city believe it because this game has always treated them like the ugly stepchild. The resentment they feel towards both of these clubs is entirely understandable, natural and wholly justified in many, many respects and it stems, in no small part, from the attitude of the press.
These guys, when they are all dressed up as the Tartan Army, can leave behind their grievances and get behind supporting Scotland but that ends the second they switch on TalkSport or Sky Sports News or tune in to the other English-centric shows which permeate at a time like this. The same arrogance and dismissiveness they see in the Scottish press, filled to the rafters with people who can’t see past the blue or green halves of one city, is on full display, only it’s geared towards the glory of one country, and ignorant of every other person who lives on this small island.
The average English commentator looks at Scottish football the way the media in Scotland looks at all its own clubs but two. It’s regarded as an irrelevance. They worship the crowning achievement which is the EPL brand, and they lavish on it every conceivable accolade.
I love club football, and I love watching teams which play the game with passion and verve. I don’t like the politics or culture of Real Madrid, but I can see them without gritting my teeth. Indeed, when they are in full flow watching them is a sublime experience akin to seeing a great actor playing a villain. You can admire the art without liking what’s going on.
Yet over the last few years, it’s become increasingly hard for me to remain ambivalent about English sides when they play in the Champions League, for no other reason than I can’t stomach listening to the commentators as they revel in the glory of how expensively assembled those sides are and how great is the league they represent.
The truth is, that league is the most overblown on the planet, which the failure of its teams in recent years pays testimony to.
The irony, of course, is that the “success” of that league in attracting big name players from around the world is directly related to the abject failure of their national team. The number of foreign players in the EPL is staggering, and it gets no better as you dig deep into the youth setups at the clubs, which are all packed to the rafters with kids from Spain and Portugal and Italy and Germany and France.
Genuine, home grown talents are exceedingly rare.
Those players who’ve come up through the domestic game invariably have their reputations inflated all to Hell, and way beyond their actual ability. It has led to the “superstar” culture which sees someone like Wayne Rooney paid £300,000 a week … an appalling, offensive sum of money that no player is worth, and which, based on his performances at the very highest level in international football he certainly doesn’t come close to meriting anyway.
This arrogance, this utterly misplaced superiority, is one of the reasons – perhaps the principle reason – why a lot of Scot’s don’t want England to win anything. It has nothing to do with being bigots or racists or narrow nationalists.
That kind of smugness gets up your nose in any walk of life, and there is always a perverse satisfaction in watching a flash git walking into a lamppost or slipping on a pub floor coming back from the bar with a tray of drinks.
There’s also an undeniable beauty in seeing self-important prats like Adrian Chiles make bold predictions and end up looking like Kirk Broadfoot trying to work a microwave. The enormous feeling of satisfaction that comes from watching a supercilious bunch of studio talking heads trying to explain where it all went wrong, after writing off the Italians as too old and the Uruguayans as one dimensional and dependent on a single player – yes, in the same week as they fretted, endlessly, over where Wayne Rooney would play – is also invigorating.
None of this has anything at all to do with being anti-English. I feel the same smile creep across my face every time I see The Special One blowing his top on the touchline because his team isn’t winning. I love to watch blowhards like Pardew come unstuck and everyone, of whatever nationality, loves to see the wee teams knocking the big boys out of cup competitions. (As long as it’s not my own team that’s being knocked out haha.)
As the plucky underdog nation, isn’t it easy to understand wanting to see England get stuffed, purely as a response to the rampant egos their team represents? Most Scottish football fans have felt that way for years, about two teams from their own country. I am a supporter of one of those teams, of course, and I can tell you I have many, many, many friends amongst the fans of those other clubs, and I know many of them don’t like the team I support. It goes without saying that I don’t dislike them for that, any more than they dislike me.
You think any of us deliberately exclude people from our friends list because they wore the Three Lions shirt last night? As I’ve said already, Kevin was supporting England and so too was my man Sean. Think any of them are getting booted for it?
Yet even as I type this, and imagine him reading it, I can hear Kevin cry foul over that, and I can well imagine others doing the same. They are right to, of course. It’s not the only reason a lot of people in Scotland don’t want the English international football team to win anything.
Because yes, I admit it … there is a strain of intense dislike in there too, but I resent, and I refute, the merest suggestion that it is there because of any bigotry on my part.
I said earlier that a section of the Sevco Rangers support dislikes Scotland because they consider themselves British first. I also said that they’re not really what they think they are. I’ll explain what that means now, because it relates to the larger point.
What these Sevco Rangers supporters really are is a peculiar type of English nationalist. Their version of “Britishness” is tied up in a certain kind of English sentiment, in certain English institutions, in certain English legends and certain English slogans and idealism and, what’s more, all of this is as alien to the average Englishman as it is to us.
Unfortunately, the media in England has to take a lot of the blame here, and there’s a political culture down there which is stoking this stuff like never before.
It’s manifest in the distrust of foreigners and racist attitudes about them, and the throwaway remark about the Spanish officials speaking the same language as the Uruguayan team tonight is one example, as is a comment made just after the start of the second half when a commentator talked about how cheating and diving “isn’t in our DNA.”
I’m talking about the kind of mind-set that led to England’s 5-1 victory over Germany some years back being released in a double DVD box-set with The Great Escape. I’m talking about the abhorrent opening sequence of ITV Sport the last time England faced Argentina – “the old enemy” as everyone in the studio seemed content to call them – that of Harrier jets taking off from an aircraft carrier during the Falklands War.
How in God’s name are we supposed to support that kind of vile garbage, the kind that goes so well with that slogan you sometimes hear them use of “two World Wars and one World Cup”, as though no Scot’s or Welsh died on the same side?
In years past, their traveling supporters took great pleasure in bringing “Englishness” to the world by rioting everywhere they went. Thank God this competition is being played in Brazil, where the more reprehensible specimens of the “Little Englander” type can’t easily afford to go.
There is a certain type of Englishness, a certain narrow-minded, island race mentality, all militarism and Empire, steeped in very dark stuff, that I find distasteful and which I can’t bring myself to support in any way, shape or form, and I know a lot of English people feel the same creeping sense of shame, that feeling that you just want to take a shower, when they see Gary Lineker’s face light up at the prospect of “beating the Argies again.”
This is the kind of stuff that leaves a bad taste in your mouth.
Kevin will say, and he would be right to say it, that in one way I’ve made his point, and that he is referring to the Scots who have an equally warped view of our nation and our neighbours and who have foisted all their distrust and anger onto those south of the border, making hate their default position because they have an identity crisis.
I agree with him. These people are an embarrassment. The difference is, they express their narrow minded views on social media where you have to be looking for it to find it. This perverse version of English nationalism is practically shoved down our throats every time their country takes part in a major tournament.
It shocks me to see otherwise intelligent, articulate people preaching the narrow minded crap these guys do whenever the Three Lions are about to take the field.
I see Gary Lineker on TV and I know his record as a footballer and his reputation as a gentleman off the park, and I know he has friends across the game, and I cannot believe this is the same man who sat through scenes of the Falklands War a few years ago and then talked about that conflict in the context of the Beautiful Game.
There is nothing beautiful about that at all. It is abhorrent. I would have thought better of him – and by extension the team he was supporting – if instead of sitting there he’d got off the chair and told his producers that he’d never sit through something like that again.
I do not hate England, or England fans. I hate the version of England these guys promote, the version of England Ed Miliband ludicrously posed for last week, the version of England that, like their national league, is bloated, arrogant, full of itself, insular and blind to the rest of the world.
I hate it in no small part because it reminds me of the way a certain Glasgow club conducts itself, and the similarities between ITV Sport and others eulogising victory in war, and appropriating that for themselves as if only English soldiers fought, and the way Sevco Rangers has, nauseatingly, embraced militarism and positioned itself as the “club of the troops” should require no explanation or further discussion.
If this was confined to a small section of their supporters I would not care, and I would admire them as just another football team and their success or failure would be o no consequence to me, but the truth is the media down there has fed my distaste because they can’t stop themselves from rehashing this stuff every time they reach a major finals.
After last night’s result England will probably crash out of this World Cup in jig time. They haven’t done anything to justify their continued inclusion in the tournament, and I will breathe a sigh of relief that the endless, pointless, boring discussions about Wayne Rooney’s best position will be done with. There will be no more talk of who England can get in the second round and how easy their progression should be to the semi’s, at least.
But more importantly, it’ll be a relief to know we’re not going to be refighting the D-Day landings or the Battle of Goose Green this time around. It will be a relief not to have to watch Gordon Strachan or Martin O’Neill have to sit through that, or to watch Thierry Henry or Gianfranco Zola have to sit there on the leather seats and hide their own feelings of distaste through yet another discussion on how “continental players have a tendency to dive.”
I know a lot of people who feel exactly the same way, and it doesn’t make us bigots and it doesn’t make us small-minded, bitter nationalists. We feel like this because we have no time for those who are, and especially those who’s intelligence and position leaves them no excuse for it.
Kevin, Sean and others, I admire what you’re doing, but it’s not for me as long as these people are promoting this kind of nonsense.
We get enough of it in Scotland already. You know what I’m talking about.
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