What’s a Scot to do, asks Aidan Smith as he contemplates the political ramifications of victory in the Rugby World Cup for Owen Farrell’s England team.
England have won through to the final of the Rugby World Cup while, in the immortal words of public-park ranter Colin Reid, we’ve been “pumped oot”. Reid’s anguished post from a verdant corner of Edinburgh has gone viral. Normally, he says, there’s lots of athletic activity in the open space, only on this occasion, offering up a camera-phone panorama, the sport being played is “effing quidditch”. He invites us to be amazed and appalled at the sight of grown men and women frolicking on imaginary broomsticks and concludes with a desperate groan: “It’s s**** being Scottish.”
If there was a World Cup for laughing darkly at ourselves then we might stand a chance of winning. But there isn’t and nor is there one for effing quidditch so, yet again, we must decide whether we should lend our support to the dear neighbours in the south.
What can we offer? Lorryloads of, er, fertiliser to ensure the red rose is in full bloom in Tokyo come Saturday? A know-our-place willingness to get down in the dirt and grease the axles of those chariots in preparation for all the low swinging required to urge the men in white shirts to glory and what would be the second planet-conquering triumph by an England team this year? The first World Cup was in cricket which didn’t bother us overmuch. But rugby is different. We play this game, currently hold the trophy for the annual match against the Auld Enemy, and that pumping oot was sare tae bare.
England’s Brexity Brigadoon
Something else is different this time: it could be the last occasion where we ask this question of ourselves as fully paid-up fellow members of the same United Kingdom. By the next World Cup in whatever sport, assuming England reach the final and we’re once again home before the postcards or NFI, our status may be very different.
So I suppose we should factor Brexit into Saturday’s big match against South Africa. What would a victory do for the national – English – mood? I think we can safely say that the good folks will be thrilled. As head coach Eddie Jones remarked after the semi-final victory over the mighty All Blacks: “It’s great we’ve given the country something to cheer about and with Brexit they probably need it.” But will the country – England – be thrilled to the point of spontaneously combusting with pride, with imperial fantasy, with delusion about its place in the world? I think we should be told before we consider casting our votes for Owen Farrell, the hail-fellow-well-biffed captain, and the rest.
England’s Brexity Brigadoon was first glimpsed, tantalisingly, with the outcome of the 2016 referendum. Since, there’s been three years of frustration and prevarication for the Leavers, with middle-class liberal elite conspirators squirrelling the ball into the ruck and refusing to release it, and possibly Brexiteers are worried the delay might last the full Brigadoon 100 years.
But a great sporting hurrah – especially accompanied by VE Day-quantity flag-waving (the Cross of St George this time) and Women in Love-quality manly grappling between joy-unconfined floppy-haired rugger-buggers hopefully retaining their clothes unlike Oliver Reed and Alan Bates – could provide fresh and demented impetus to the cause. One thing, the politicians will be following the rugby very closely, hoping to exploit and carpetbag and pretend they’ve always been big fans. Another thing: they’ll fail at this miserably. Remember in football Gordon Brown getting himself in a fankle by declaring for England at the 2006 World Cup? Or Tony Blair waxing lyrical about a Newcastle United legend he was too young to have ever seen play? Or David Cameron thinking that Aston Villa and West Ham United were one and the same?
Boris Johnson at prop?
Cameron, despite his background, would be even less convincing as a rugby man so it’s just as well he’s no longer around, a thoroughly inconsequential character who absolutely no one curses at least five times a day. So who among House of Commons’ front rows look like they could do a job in rugby’s front rows? Well there’s Boris Johnson who you might remember in a school photo-up, oval ball in hand, smashing into a little kiddie in a vainglorious charge for the try-line. That sort of challenge might get you a red card in a real game. The same should apply to no-brain politics but if England lift the cup I bet Johnson would love a general election the next day. In 1964, Harold Wilson feared a working-class no-show at the polling stations if Steptoe & Son wasn’t cancelled. The chaos of British politics may belong in the rag-and-bone yard right now, but Johnson would hope to captain his team to a victory of their own. That way school Nativities wouldn’t have to be cancelled, casting the PM as Herod.
So what’s a Scot to do? The hype over the next few days might be difficult to stomach, though we should hope the sub-editors of English-based newspapers will do their jobs properly and, in the tartan editions, keep jingoistic headlines to a minimum. Among TV commentators, in English football for sure, jingoism abounds. These guys are fluffers and fanboys who’d report on Harry Kane’s days off up the shops if they could. There’s usually a bit more reserve about rugby’s mic-men, sworn as they are to the honourable code of Bill McLaren, but in this weird, unsettling year, don’t be surprised if they go a bit mental.
Can I have England win? This lot can play a bit, don’t just stick the ball up their jumpers, and I like Eddie Jones and still feel bad about that abuse he took at a railway station from moronic Scots. Yes, yes, but can I be big and mature and see them triumph? I can, although I won’t actually be watching the final. I’ll be down my park outlawing the quidditch.