Aidan Smith: Time to forget the rivalry and watch the football

NOT supporting the team from south of the Border in the Euros doesn't make me anti-English, writes Aidan Smith

The latest Paddy Power advert. Picture: Contributed

What are we to make of the advert for the European Championships where the Tartan Army are reduced to tramping a gloomy hillside, with the only consolation appearing to come from their copious supplies of deep-fried confectionery and the knowledge that the Krankies are still alive and still in gainful employment?

“Where the hell are you from? We’re from Skoat-land,” sings/whines a bloke with burst-sofa orange hair. You might then spot the retired footballer, Frank McAvennie, gnashers to the fore, and the burly form of another ex-pro, Andy Goram – but I’m afraid I needed the office’s celebrity Z-list expert to confirm that the burly chanteuse with the Saltired cheeks is Michelle McManus. Oh how quickly some of us forget, if indeed we ever knew.

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But there is additional succour for this motley band. Their team may not have qualified for the Euros beginning in France on Friday but they’re going to enjoy England cocking up – and this actually being a commercial for betting they’ll be putting money on this outcome.

Is it ironic, this depiction of us as snivelling and spiteful? Is it post-ironic or perhaps goalpost-ironic? Is it funny? Is it true? Have Scotland just been dobbed in by an Irish gambling firm as being anti-English (again)? Well, the ad could certainly be funnier. If we can’t get a game then why can’t we be portrayed as droll outsiders? Groucho McMarx types, perhaps, who – re-working the old gag – don’t wish to participate in a tournament which has opened its doors to Iceland, Albania, everyone. Or maybe we could be Caledonian versions of Noel Coward dispensing pithy bon mots -–make that bonnie mots.

But really, does feeling disinclined to shout “England ra ra ra” during a football tournament actually make you anti-English? I’ve never supported England and have never felt bad about that. My English friends don’t expect, or want, me to support England when we watch their games down the pub. My English wife knows what I’m like and if I suddenly started cheering Roy Hodgson’s boys she would probably worry I was suffering the early onset of dementia or suspect me of having an affair.

This time I’ll be doing what I always do: enjoying the football bonanza featuring some of the world’s top players, lamenting that Scotland aren’t involved, appreciating that our non-involvement reduces the stress levels drastically – and laughing if the debate about Scots and their non-support of England starts to overheat.

Who says Scots should support England? The politicians, always so keen to pretend they like football, such as David Cameron, who’s such a big fan of Aston Villa, West Ham United and presumably any other team playing in claret and blue? The kind of people with the finely-tuned antennae, and maybe the well-paid research posts to match, who can find racism anywhere? It’s certainly not anyone who understands football and football rivalry.

Do Spain, if Portugal haven’t qualified for a tournament, get all sulky and offended when their Iberian neighbours won’t support them? No, they understand that’s not possible, that you’re most competitive with those closest to you and if you seek to dull that edge then you might as well go the whole hog and award every team a prize, which is a problem with the development of our footballers.

But you know, I reckon England have given up on us. I don’t think they want our backing anymore. The simpering seems to have stopped. The English look at the world, some of it newly-configured, and see proud, independent nations capable of standing on their own at these great displays of passion and patriotism of which Euro 2016 is the latest, and want to be just like them. They’ve also realised, not before time, that with all their obvious advantages and their domestic league being rich to the point of obscenity, they shouldn’t require any additional help.

Some Scots, in failing to summon up sufficient enthusiasm to support England at previous tournaments, complained they found the jingoism offensive. They couldn’t stand the shrieking commentators and the constant references to 1966. I don’t really mind any of this. If Scotland had somehow managed to win the World Cup would we not be reminding everyone about it, every single minute of every day? Is this not the land where sports journalists were once dubbed “fans with typewriters”? The land of Arthur Montford, the much-missed voice of oor fitba, who once shouted through his microphone at a dawdling Scottish captain: “Watch your back!”? The country which beat England in a fairly meaningless encounter in 1967 and instantly claimed this made us the new world champs? This is banter, though – this is rivalry. Obviously we don’t want it getting out of hand but lose the rivalry and we should give up on sport.

Muhammad Ali was the most bantersome sportsman there’s ever been. “I saw Sonny Liston the other day … ” began one of his interviewers. Quick as a flash, Ali deadpanned: “Ain’t he ugly?” Certainly England have provided much incidental humour in their unsuccessful attempts to repeat 1966, and how’s a Scotsman supposed to respond if not with a smirk?

It seemed apt when every living Englishman painted a Cross of St George on his lawn and pressed a hot ear to a radio for gravely-intoned updates on the condition of Wayne Rooney’s troublesome metatarsal. When half the team signed whopping deals for “How we won the World Cup” books before a ball bad been kicked. When they went out in the quarter-finals and the Wags shopped the pain away, taking their total tournament spend – a glorious Daily Star fact, this – to £1,034,239.

That was the England of 2006 but in another anniversary year it seems our internecine nearest-and-dearest have some fine young players and want to tone down the hype. So would I be relaxed about them winning the Euros? Now you’re 
asking …