Blair hits out at Scots who will not back England in World Cup

TONY Blair last night rebuked Scots who support any team playing against England at the World Cup and urged fans to rally behind their neighbours.

The Edinburgh-born Prime Minister also risked the ire of the Tartan Army when he appeared to let slip that he would back Scotland as long as they were playing anyone but England.

Mr Blair told a BBC Radio Five Live World Cup phone-in: "One of the things that irritates me most about football fan talk is when people say 'I have got to absolutely detest the opposition.'

"I support England very strongly, but if Scotland was playing - not England - but a game against someone else why [take the attitude] that I don't want Scotland to win when they are part of the United Kingdom?"

His comments will be seen in some quarters as a veiled criticism towards Jack McConnell, the First Minister, who announced that he would not be cheering for England in the World Cup.

Unlike Gordon Brown, the Scots Chancellor who has stressed that he is supporting England, Mr McConnell told a radio station last month: "There are people who think that as First Minister I should automatically support England (instead of Scotland, who did not qualify), but football is not about politics, so I'll not be."

The First Minister said he would be following teams that contained Scottish-based players such as Trinidad & Tobago, who lost to England in Nuremburg last Thursday.

Mr McConnell's comments have been blamed for an English-based company cancelling a conference in Carnoustie.

Pete Wishart, the SNP culture spokesman, last night said that Mr Blair's views on the issue would have little impact on Scots football fans - who were capable of deciding who they wanted to support.

He said: "The debate surrounding the World Cup has become quite ridiculous. The idea that Scottish football fans need politicians to tell them who to back is bizarre.

"Football is all about friendly rivalry. Scottish fans don't support England because of our historic rivalry [on the pitch] and we are quite capable of making up our own minds who to support."

Mr Blair side-stepped declaring a public holiday should England win , saying it would involve various protocols.

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