The fitba season’s no sooner over than the World Cup begins, for some a nightmare, others a joy. Politicians are wading in and the demands to know which side you’re supporting are starting. But, it’s a game, not diplomacy or war by another name, though with some folk you’d never know.
This week Ruth Davidson made an impassioned defence of the Union with a call to solidify it by a joint UK bid to host a future World Cup. How that would entrench it wasn’t explained, nor who might host the final, though it would be hard to see it coming to Hampden Park or Windsor Park, Belfast. It would seem destined to divide more than unite.
However, it’s neither going to happen nor is it any dafter than past suggestions from the other side. There are some partisans who have claimed that the 1979 referendum was lost due to the calamity that was Scotland’s debacle in Argentina in 1978. The idea that if only Don Masson had scored that penalty against Peru, a Scottish Assembly was guaranteed was equally ridiculous.
It’s a game with the ability to both excite and depress a nation, as England will savour in coming days and Scotland has felt over past campaigns. But, that’s all. The game itself is important and it’s why I’ve always sought to support the SFA and clubs of whatever size. It’s good for communities and well-being. Football can reach audiences other things can’t, whether the homeless, the unfit and unhealthy or even those with dementia.
Good work is done by many and more power to their elbow or even foot. It can make entire communities feel good as cup celebrations show for teams both large and small, and for small towns and entire nations. But, the game has also changed, becoming much more of a spectator than participatory sport as TV money has flooded in and our society has changed over recent decades. That’s a shame in many ways as kids miss out and it’s also affected the World Cup.
When I was a child it was the biggest event by far and a rare chance to see football on TV but now the Champions League dominates and football appears almost nightly on our screens. I’ll watch some games this time but not with the same passion that I did as a child during the 1970 tournament in Mexico, rushing out the door heading for school trying to catch every possible moment of games kicking off early in the morning, before TV schedules began to dictate. Almost every child was the same as we raced to get to classes before the bell rang.
I’ve watched the glory and dismay for Scotland in every competition thereafter including heading to the last one they qualified for in 1998 and seeing all three games from the heartache in the Stade de France against Brazil to the debacle in St Etienne versus Morocco. But, it’s not to be this time though I thought Gordon Strachan was very unlucky. Scotland won’t be there and it’s getting harder to qualify but I live in hope!
So, the question then demanded is who will you be supporting? It’s fired at you like a Peter Lorimer shot from the 1974 team, which was just outstanding. It’s also sometimes asked not innocuously but poisonously with a demand that you must support England as the only Home Nation team represented or it’s a sign of racial prejudice.
But, why? I’m a Scotland supporter, they’re my team. If they’re not there, then why do I need to follow another one rather than just enjoy the games that I choose to watch. As a fitba fan, I’ve teams I follow but equally I’m perfectly capable of going and enjoying a match at any standard without committing to one side or other. Indeed, on occasions I’ve been to a game with a hankering for one side then, for whatever reason, I’ve changed my allegiance during the course of it.
Of course, there is the ‘anyone but England’ brigade and I suppose I was part of that when the two nations were great rivals. The animus towards the likes of Alan Ball and Emlyn Hughes was revelled in by them as much as us, but it remained genuinely good-natured. But sadly, as their team has prospered, ours has declined. The Home International championship that saw the annual “auld enemy” fixture has ended, and now the teams play at different levels, if not in different leagues. There are a few who seem to think that supporting Scotland demands some vicarious pleasure at hoping for an England defeat. I’ve long since moved on from that as it neither lessens the pain of a Scotland loss nor is it how I feel about the English team.
It isn’t the same now, not only do I admire and indeed envy the skill of the likes of Sterling or Kane, but I have huge respect for the multiracial nature of their team. I recall a fixture a few years back now where Beckham and other white players stood shoulder to shoulder with black players suffering dreadful racial abuse in some eastern European country. Likewise, I always admired Gary Lineker and that has only increased since he retired and managers like Bobby Robson were gentlemen – not the ogre I thought Alf Ramsey was. I’ve been genuinely sad for them more recently when they’ve been unlucky, knowing the pain they feel.
I’ve also seen both sides of their fans from organised violence to wonderful people just loving the game and supporting their team. Equally Scots fans – myself included – have been no angels over the years despite the recent good reputation of the Tartan Army.
So good luck to England, if they win my English friends will be happy and I’ll be delighted for them. Scotland’s future isn’t dependent on either our team’s success or their team’s failure, it’s only a game after all.