I write this on the Sunday afternoon before the biggest football match faced by any British national team since the 1966 World Cup final fifty-five years ago. You know the one I mean, – when England beat West Germany 4-2.
I cannot tell what the result has been by the time you read this column but I can imagine many Scots will be either crying into their cornflakes, having drawn the curtains, turned off all forms of incoming communications – be it the wireless, TV or Smartphone – to avoid any mention of England winning the 2020 Euros – or, alternatively, be pouring themselves a glass of Prosecco and munching on a piece of cold pizza from the night before while contemplating how to wind-up any English people they know or, just as importantly to them, as many they don’t know and will never meet.
Yes, we are here again, the moment when the most dominant emotion of our Scottish psyche might be schadenfreude – the taking of pleasure from the misfortune of others. It is a thoroughly unattractive trait and we should be honest with ourselves and admit we too easily embrace it – especially in regard to England and anything English.
From the outside looking in, Scots taking the position of “Anyone But England” (ABE) is embarrassing, it displays a childish ignorance and petulance; a mean-spirited closed mind that is well balanced only because the bearer has a chip on both shoulders.
It is tempting to believe levels of Scottish hatred towards England and the English is worse than ever due to Tartan Army chanting in Leicester Square, what has been appearing on social media and the abominable front page of a pro-independence newspaper that presented the Italian team manager in Braveheart rig-out and pleaded with him to save us from an English victory.
Some Scots might have chosen to support Italy because it was their “second team” after Scotland – due to an association with the country through a relative, or friends, or ancestry – while others might admire their style of play. Fair enough. But if they have simply chosen Italy after having supported first Germany and then Denmark against England during the knock-out stages that Scotland failed to reach then that is surely the beginnings of bigotry.
Predictably, the volume of the pre-match hype has been turned up to eleven (just as it would be whichever home nation might have reached the final) while the Prime minister has been photographed outside Downing Street standing on a giant English flag almost the size of the street. (I’ll let you into a secret, Boris would have done the same for the Scottish or Welsh teams if they were the finalists – it’s about votes.)
Some Scots like to blame the English commentators for a certain arrogance or bias but that surely is just a veil for denying one’s prejudices. Most commentators see it as their job to whip up the emotions and undoubtedly get carried away when it comes to national football match after a season of work when they are not allowed to show any preference for domestic teams playing each other. As a Hibs supporter I’m used to commentators wanting to talk only about Celtic or Rangers (even if they are not playing), just as the English variety might want to talk about 1966, or Gordon Banks’ save from Pele in 1970 or Paul Gascoigne’s goal against Scotland in 1996. It is all chaff of no consequence and has nothing to do with the hopes, dreams and fears of the players pulling on their national strip and having the privilege of playing for their country – no matter where in the world that is.
I’ve watched many a Scotland V England game or followed England’s trials and tribulations in the tournaments they have qualified for and what used to be friendly competitive banter has grown topsy over the last few decades to define us as sour and mean-spirited. During the last World Cup I lived in France and when the French reached the final the locals were moved to tears that us British ex-pats cheered them on.
In current circumstances through lockdowns meaning limited social interactions we are left with social media to observe and judge how people are behaving and unsurprisingly I’ve found accentuated attitudes. People putting Italian tricolours on their Twitter profiles (having replaced the German and then Danish flags) and openly making some blood and soil comments about England-supporting Scots being deported after independence. Thankfully that has in turn disgusted some Scots (including some pro-independence voters) who have responded by “coming-out” as England supporters and defending their choice.
The perception I take is that there is actually a fightback against ABE that’s more visible this time. Scots are, more than I have seen before, professing support for England, because they are our neighbours, our friends or on this occasion, the underdogs. (I know England enjoyed home advantage but it has been fifty-five years, remember, and in that time Italy has won two World Cups and the Euros once.)
If we unionists and nationalists alike want to be civic and joyous then cheer on our own team, be it local or national, and applaud good play by opponents – and sing our national anthem – but don’t boo the opposition’s.
Schadenfreude is ugly. It demeans us. It’s time to drop it and move on.
Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org and served in the Scottish and European Parliaments for the Conservative and Brexit Parties respectively.