How Scottish independence debate and shared struggle against Covid have changed my attitude about 'anyone but England' – Christine Jardine MP
Of all the tracks that I know, all the songs that I have sung, this is one I would never have expected to be a constant ear worm this summer.
Stranger still, one that I am enjoying. It happened again this morning as I was walking the dog and I found myself almost skipping along in time to it.
“Three Lions on your shirt,
Jules Rimet still gleaming”
A song that used to make me scream and reach for the off button now brings a smile to my face.
I have no idea how it happened and why I am not constantly singing about a certain song that I need to be able to boogie.
Perhaps it’s because I find Frank Skinner and David Baddiel hilarious. Perhaps it’s nostalgia for my youth.
But I have a sneaking feeling that it might have something to do with Euro 2020. And my changing attitude.
I have always loved the beautiful game.
I can bore for Britain on the subject of the Brazil team of 1970, how it is criminal that the Dutch have never won the World Cup, and the talents of various German strikers.
But I have also been a victim of one of the less attractive attributes of football: rivalry. Total, uncompromising allegiance to your own team rather than your neighbour’s. Hearts and Hibs, Rangers and Celtic, Scotland and England It’s all the same.
Yes, I used to be one of that majority of Scots who, when asked in a recent survey which country they wanted to win, said: “Anyone but England.”
But somehow this summer it has been different, even though we were both in the same initial group.
Oh I was shouting at the TV just as loudly as every other Scot during that Wembley clash, and for that one match I was more than happy to see Raheem Sterling’s goal touch desert him.
But once we went out? Not so much.
After years, actually decades, of enjoying those moments when England football teams tripped over their own hype and came a cropper, I found myself cheering them on.
Oh I still enjoy extracting the proverbial from English colleagues, and they reciprocate happily. But it is just some fun. Banter.
I have a theory, of course. It is based on two things: the popularity of the Tartan Army and a subtle change in our relationships on these islands.
After the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, and our own experience of coming a cropper over ridiculous hype, we became a nation who treated the football as fun, rather than something in which to invest hope.
We were less inclined to pin our national pride to the football pitch even though we still produced individuals of world class.
Increasingly the antics of the Tartan Army, as they sashayed across the globe making friends, became the image of football tournaments we cherished, perhaps never more than when, at Euro 1992, a female Swedish police officer offered her cheek to a kilted fan for a quick peck through the fence.
Occasionally, as they did this summer in London, the pre-match antics can come close to getting us into the bad books.
But our kilted ambassadors managed to repair their image a little and charm their hosts by helping to clean up the mess they had made in Trafalgar Square.
The English – who let’s not forget had enthusiastically joined in the celebrations of us qualifying for Euro 2020 – even said we had played well.
There was a time when the annual clashes with the Auld Enemy were a rare opportunity – along with the Calcutta Cup – to express our difference. Our Scottishness.
On top of that, the Scotland squad was often largely made up of migrants to the English League while their team had no connection to our domestic game.
All of that changed when English clubs were banned from European competition and their talent came north. We were no longer carrying a chip on our shoulder that our club game was somehow deemed inferior.
And what was true in football was reflected in other sports, and aspects of life.
There is now a generation in Scotland which have grown up with their own parliament, own First Minister and a generally louder and more influential voice on the national stage.
The impetus towards resenting everything English and schadenfreude every time they were humiliated on the sports field faded.
Perhaps 2012 and the success of the GB and NI Olympic team at the London games encouraged us all to bask in each other’s glory a wee bit.
There was also the referendum, an increasingly bitter national debate and the desire on behalf of those of us who cherish the UK, with all its faults, to find common cause with our neighbours.
That has never been more vital than in the current crisis. We worked together through the darkest days of Covid. We applauded the NHS as one.
And we need the shared joy of sporting success when we are still denied unrestricted time and celebrations with loved ones from wherever in the country.
Perhaps the cauldron of Covid-19 has matured our attitudes to one another.
The rivalry undoubtedly remains and I don’t think the time will ever come when I can regard an England team as ‘mine’.
But the days when I happily supported whoever England were playing, and genuinely cheered every goal they conceded are, I suspect, past.
I can now wish the England football and, for that matter, rugby teams well, in the same way that I always have Wales and Northern Ireland, confident that it does not in any way undermine my Scottishness.
I might even at one point be happy to see football coming home.
Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.
If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.
Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.