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Why I want England to win the world cup

(The Herald, May 2010)

Since 1966, I’ve had to listen to Scots going on and on about how the English keep going on and on about 1966. And all that. Four decades and more of discontent and ill-will. If Scotland was a law firm, it would be called Grumble and Haver.

History, of course, has a part in this. Proud Edward’s Army (and all that). Now, I like The Flower of Scotland: good tune, great for whistling. But neither we (nor Wallace) actually sent him homeward. He was in Flanders at the time on other business. Naturally, it did make him think again. And he thought about it for a few months then he marched up the road and kicked our teeth in at Falkirk. Granted, that encounter was a game of two halves: the decisive moment coming late on with the introduction of Welsh longbowmen (their contribution equivalent to Beckham’s 92nd minute free kick in the qualifier against Greece in 2001). I note we have forgiven the Welsh their discourtesy of 1298. The SNP and Plaid Cymru are now pals. Alex, do you not know your history? We have not, though, forgiven England it’s malfeasance down through the centuries. (And as for the parcel of rogues, well, we don’t want to even open that).

So, here comes the World Cup 2010. And look: “Anyone But England”, say the hilarious t-shirts. Such sentiment lends power and veracity to the well-kent quote: “Wha’s like us – Damn few and they’re a’ embarrassed”.

Ach, say some, it’s just rivalry. What deluded, crow-pecked mind still believes this? The last time that Scotland was a rival to England on a football field, Elvis was with us, the internet wasn’t and a Snickers bar was a Marathon. Here’s a dictionary definition: “a person, organization, team, etc. that competes with another for the same object or in the same field.” In that sense, England, yes, are our rivals. So too are Brazil and Argentina. The Ford Ka is a rival to the Ferrari F430 and Hussein Bolt gets worried when he sees Chick Young lacing up trainers.

Some point out, reasonably, that it is the English media and it’s hyperbole which annoys. So choose different media. Watch foreign coverage on the internet, mute the sound and play Lady Gaga on your iPod. This will calm you as you watch 22 millionaires running around a field.

And anyway, had Scotland won the World Cup in 1966, do you think our media would be less irksome, less smug? (Lisbon Lions, anyone? The 3-2 win over England in ’67, anyone?) There’d be re-runs on our TV sets every Hogmanay, national holidays on Jim Baxter’s birthday. Only last year I saw Archie Gemmill’s goal provide the basis for a contemporary dance piece at The Theatre Royal. Iconic, yes. Didactic, perhaps. But had this piece been based on Geoff Hurst’s third goal in the 1966 World Cup final, there would have been people outside the venue with placards; letters to this newspaper. Fans with Laptops would cyber-attack the Theatre Royal.

I don’t claim to be non-partisan. (Even if I did, I’d find it hard to argue my case). Football needs the partisan. Without bias, we wouldn’t care who wins and football would be like motor sport or golf. My bias is Scottish - but that that should prompt me to wish malice on Theo Walcott or Steven Gerrard is simply demented.
Of course, on one level, nobody gives a monkey’s. It’s just football. Two teams of sweating halfwits who all own forty cars. On the other hand though, that Wayne Rooney is superb to watch. I’d happily see him score three in the final and I’d happily see him rub it right into the wrinkled noses of the muttering hordes of self-righteous bean-heads who populate this country. And don’t get me started on the Gaels. Those water-fearing clowns make the ordinary, Central Belt bigot seem like Nick Clegg. They just won’t let it go. And, yes, while football should stir the passions, it really shouldn’t make you clingy.

But as for English hyperbole? And the constant reminders of former glory? We’re just as bad as them and worse for pretending that we’re not.

Come on, England!

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