More Scots back England than their World Cup opponents

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WALK into almost any bar in Scotland at lunch-time a week tomorrow and you will expect to see kilted-up Tartan Army fans, pints in hand, eagerly gathered around the television.

The crest on their football tops will reveal an allegiance not to Scotland but to Argentina, and their songs will centre on the exploits of Maradona, not Dalglish.

Scottish football fans traditionally love to hate England and the schadenfreude climaxes when the Auld Enemy flop on the biggest stage of all, the World Cup. But times may be changing, according to a survey commissioned by The Scotsman.

When MSP Andrew Wilson suggested Scots should get rid of the "national chip on the shoulder" and support England, his comments were widely greeted with derision.

The executive committee of the tartan army, who viewed the proposal almost as sedition, voted against it 86-0. One of Scotland’s leading brewers, Tennents, then launched a marketing campaign to encourage the tartan army to cheer on England’s opponents in every match, with slogans such as "Och Aye Kanu", referring to the Nigerian midfielder.

Digby Jones, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, even said that anti-English racism was preventing many English people from working in Scotland.

But now, our poll, published on the eve of the World Cup, suggests that the anti-English sentiment is anathema to a large number of Scots, who will be happy to support Sven-Goran Eriksson’s team.

The survey found that almost a third of Scots will support the English football team in the World Cup, while just one in six said they would cheer on England’s opponents during the three-week competition in Japan and Korea. More than half (53 per cent) said they didn’t mind who won.

The result contrasts markedly with the view that the majority of Scottish fans cannot wait to see England beaten by their first-round opponents - Sweden, Argentina and Nigeria - in football’s premier event.

The report found that anti-English sentiment was, in fact, much greater among Irish people living in Scotland. Almost four in ten said they would support England’s rivals, with just 19 per cent cheering on the Three Lions.

The telephone survey of 750 adults aged 18+ by Scottish Opinion hinted that anti-English rivalry was largely rooted among younger adults in lower skilled jobs.

The greatest opposition to England came from men aged between 35 and 44, where more than three in ten said they would actively support whoever plays against England.

Support for England was highest among people aged 65+ (40 per cent), where just one in 50 people said they would support England’s opponents. In the AB social group, 35 per cent said they would follow England, compared with 23 per cent of skilled manual workers. More men will support England’s rivals than women (22 per cent versus 14 per cent), but the majority of women (60 per cent) don’t care either way.

Although just one in six Scots wants England to lose, the poll found that four in ten English people living in Scotland agreed with the statement: "Most Scots dislike the English". A similar number of Scots agreed with the statement.

The poll, however, did find a much higher level of support for the Ireland football team, with 52 per cent of Scots backing Mick McCarthy’s team and just 2 per cent backing their opponents. Almost half said they were ambivalent.

More than seven in ten English people living in Scotland said they would support Ireland during the campaign, with none saying they would support Ireland’s opponents.

John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said the poll demonstrated that while the English were not the most popular of neighbours, they were not exactly hated north of the Border.

But he added: "Perhaps the most disappointing news of all for those who would prefer the bonds between the two countries to be stronger is our evidence that dislike of the English appears to be strongest among younger Scots.

"Only 28 per cent of those aged 45 and over believe that most Scots dislike the English, but no less than 43 per cent of under-45s take this view.

"There is, then, little reason to believe that the minority who dislike the English is gradually declining in size," he added. "If anything, the opposite is more likely to be true. Indeed, younger Scots will also be among the keenest supporters of England’s opponents in Japan.

"Our findings clearly indicate that the Scottish media have a delicate balancing act to perform in the next few weeks. They will clearly be talking to a divided audience, half willing to regard England as a substitute for the absent Scottish team and half hoping for the cross of St George to hang bedraggled in disappointment."

Hamish Husband, the chairman of the West of Scotland Tartan Army, was surprised so many Scots would support the Auld Enemy, but said the fans themselves had tried to take a more balanced view in recent years.

He said: "A lot of us are trying to take a more mature view, we are trying to downplay the rivalry. We are trying to stop all that ‘stand-up-if-you-hate-England’ rubbish. We will never be able to support England, but that doesn’t mean we have to support their opponents."

Scottish Opinion polled 750 adults from across Scotland by telephone between 24 and 27 May.

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