06 June 2010

Three Lions, Two Nations and a Headache

Well, it's World Cup time again. Or at least, it will be on Friday. And with it being 1998 since Scotland last made it to an international tournament, and with England making every one since then with the exception of Euro 2008, we once again face that vexed question: who should Scots support? And for me personally, who am I supporting?

Now, I suspect that most of you know my background by now: born and raised in Northern England, went to study in Scotland, felt at home there, found the arguments put forward by the SNP persuasive, went back to England for work and I'm still working there now. So, being English, in England, surrounded by English people, you'd think this'd be a no-brainer for me, right?

Wrong. Because the bit I skipped in that potted history was my Dad, who's from Paisley, and my Mum, who tolerates football only becuse it's in the family's life anyway. So that's a Scotland fan and a woman who wouldn't shed a tear if football were abolished tomorrow.

Now this is important. Remember the Tebbit Test, when Norman Tebbit suggested deporting anyone of Pakistani descent living in the UK if they supported Pakistan rather than England in the cricket? Well, of course they're going to support Pakistan. In fact, it's probably easier for them to do so when you factor in that most people don't give a toss about cricket except when the Ashes are on, whereas football is absolutely everywhere. But I know why they would because what I do is the broad equivalent: the house is physically in England, but behind the front door, it's a different story. The family got the Daily Record. We'd just about get a Radio Scotland signal. Then when BBC Scotland and STV came on Sky, that was an absolute boon. Generally, though, in my family, we usually know and care more about what's happening in Scotland than a couple of miles down the road. So I grew up supporting Scotland.

And that means that supporting England is a decision I have to take rather than an automatic reaction.

Here's another factor that I consider: it's easier for me to support England in this World Cup than at any other time in my life because of the people I'll be sharing it with. Where I'm from, and where I'm back living now, is just far enough away from Manchester to get the first Man U fans. There are a lot of Wigan fans (and I count myself among them), some Bolton fans, a few Preston North End fans (and PNE fans be warned: if Trevor Hemmings gets his hands on your club, Deepdale will be a housing development by Christmas), a couple of City fans and the odd Everton and Liverpool fan. There's also a family of Arsenal fans. They have no connection at all with London, so we're still trying to figure that one out. But they're all partisan to a fault, to the extent that if Man U are on at the local pub, it'll be full at kick-off, but if Man U aren't ahead by half-time, the place will have cleared. And apparently, Sir Alex Ferguson is incompetent. Well, he is if you listen to my neighbours. They don't look at the wider game. They don't see the other team on the pitch. They're the exact people the tabloids manage to whip up into a frenzy and who go around looking for a scapegoat when it inevitably goes wrong. They're the ones who blame Ronaldo for getting Wayne Rooney sent off after he attempted to perform a vasectomy on a Portuguese player using his football boots. And let me tell you, they didn't take kindly when I pointed out that attempting to kick someone's bollocks off would meet any reasonable definition of violent conduct and that as such, the one player on the pitch who got Wayne Rooney sent off was - get this - Wayne Rooney. But they're the stereotype: the ones who swallow the tabloid view that a scrappy 1-0 win against Algeria with Algeria having a goal disallowed for reasons known only to the Assistant Referee is the stepping stone that was needed, and the trophy surely beckons! Under those circumstances, it's hard not to wish for the penalties to come and end the madness around me.

But this time is different, in that I'm work alongside a group of guys who actually enjoy football for football's sake, and they're more realistic. They'll cheer on England with the best of them, they want England to win the title but they're not ignorant of the other 31 teams in the tournament: they see the bigger picture. Hell, it was one of them who suggested to me that the USA might be a decent bet to win Group C (and having secured odds of 4.8/1 at Betfair, it's hard to disagree)! They're England fans, but they're football fans as well, so it'll be hard not to enjoy the games with them, and if we do end up going to watch a game in a group, it'll be hard not to get caught up in the atmosphere and cheer with them.

But the truth is, I'll support the players I have in my fantasy football team and the countries I have money on. So I'll be cheering every goal scored by Peter Crouch against Slovenia and Algeria, but not against the USA as I have Carlos Bocanegra in my squad as well. So I'll be cheering for Uruguay, who I wagered would top Group A (Forlan's in my squad too), the USA (sorry guys, there's money on it), and Germany and Brazil, who I've taken to meet in the Final at 20/1. I might not have an emotional interest in any of the teams, but I do have a financial interest in some of them and that now comes to the fore.

So, having basically confirmed that I'm a cold-hearted greedy bastard, here's my two cents on the whole should-Scotland-support-England question.

And my answer is this: who cares?

I remember when the UK press latched onto this debate in 2006 - not helped by Jack McConnell announcing his support for Ecuador in a triumph for relations within the Union - and there was a point that baffled me at the time: England has fifty million people, one of the most famous football leagues in the world, a decent club honours list at European level, and of course, the 1966 World Cup. Scotland has just five million people, an SPL that is seen as a basket case by most observers, an ever-decreasing UEFA co-efficient and a national team that hasn't reached an international tournament since 1998 and whose sole international honour is the 2006 Kirin Cup. So why was England so worried about what its neighbours think? Of course, this time, they don't seem to mind either way, but we'll see if that changes as the tournament progresses. But frankly, if I were an England fan, I'd lose no sleep whatever over what Scotland fans thought.

As to Scotland, it's embarrassing that this has become a political issue. I tire of fellow Nationalists discussing this seriously. After all, the whole point of civic nationalism is to see Scotland come forward as an independent nation in its own right on its own merits. So why keep looking at things in terms of England? Why does it matter?

But the Unionist position is equally baffling. First, I don't get why anyone would want to see support a political union with a country that they wanted to see fall flat on its face. Then those that do support England, well fine, that makes sense. But here's another thought: if you're supporting England because we're in a political union, then bear in mind that we're also in one with ten other teams besides England in this World Cup: it's called the EU. Will these political fans cheer on France, who cheated their way into the tournament? Will they support Portugal against Brazil? Will they support Germany against Ghana and Serbia? If you're going to choose a national team to support because of politics, then you have to see it through. If you can't, then the notion of supporting one team in particular looks shaky.

Now, this is, as usual, a ridiculously long post about a subject that doesn't really merit it. But it's telling that this has become enough of an issue that it takes up this much time and thought.

It's amazing how many people - both in Scotland and England - enjoyed Euro 2008, because they could afford just to sit back and watch the football for its own sake. Maybe it's time to reclaim that spirit, and either pick a team to adopt for whatever reason we fancy, whether it's for personal connections or the wager we've put on, or just not bother cheering for or against specific teams and simply enjoy the games.

As I said, I'm fortunate in that I'll be enjoying this World Cup relaxing with friends, talking about the games and putting a couple of daft bets on (which reminds me, I'm running the office sweepstake). I can afford to chill out and have a laugh for a month.

And that, I think, is the best way to watch one game of football, never mind 64!


Holyrood Patter said...

i dont think its taken all that seriously. theres a susepnsion of disbelief at times among english people, mainly to do with the tabloid fernzy you mentioned. i see it in footballing terms (and your right, lots of politicos with no interest in football talk about too much) and as a scotland fan, england are our derby. im a morton fan, and i wouldnt support st mirren. they are eminently more succesful than we are, so its more like a city/united derby (pre arabs/americans).

as something of a football purist (i see team efforts like cambiassos goal in 2006 as more enthralling than solo efforts like maradona in 86) it gets me most years to see what i perceive (perhaps blinkered) as englands arrogance in the tournament, and to a degree ignorance. rather than informative pullouts about interesting countries, we get their stupid quirks, corrupt legues, and basically encouraged to have a chuckle at their expense. quite what other countries would think of a team where your captain shags a teammates missus is a side issue. in my view, the english press and to a degree public dont embrace the tournament for what it is, a celebration of football.

Anonymous said...

Just spare a thought for those of us who couldn't give a rats arse about the "beautiful" "game", the only reason I have the football on at all is to see if you really can see the grass grow, I tell you, it's far more exciting and educational to boot.

Graeme said...

I always hope all the home teams lose so I don't have quite so much crap on my tellybox. I remember 1994 fondly.

Sophia Pangloss said...

Ah'm afeart ah'm wi' yer mother on this yin Mr McNumpty. Ah wid love tae go tae Sooth Africa, armed wi' ma sharpest hat-pin, an' burst aw their baws afore even a kick's been had. England, Brazil, or Upper Volta, ah cannae even work up a shiver o' excitement.

Enjoy it tho, an' however it ends, may the fitba' win.

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