Michael Kelly: Hoping England lose is just no fun any more

ACCORDING to my wall chart, we should have no problems reaching the semis. After winning our group, we'll probably face Australia.

And if I've put my stickers in the right places, we've got the chance to eliminate the cheats from France before facing our first hard game against Brazil.

You've got it. I am supporting the British team.

This is on the back of an impeccable record as a Scotland supporter. I skipped lectures to turn up at Hampden for midweek afternoon internationals. I missed my cousin's wedding to see Alan Gilzean's only goal dump England in 1964. I was at Wembley in both 1967 and 1977. A ball still runs smoothly across my lawn.

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Sure, then I hoped England lost every game. Because in those days, England was our main rival on the pitch – one we realistically challenged. Now we are not even in the same league and the theory of "my enemy's enemy is my friend" is no longer a valid excuse for a mean and grudging attitude to our closest neighbour and best pals. It's not fun any more.

In fact, it is increasingly counter- productive. Scotland is in terminal decline as a sporting nation.

With Andy Murray having peaked last year and now in danger of becoming Montgomerie-with-a-racquet, we make little impact on the world scene.

At last week's Sevens at Murrayfield, we won the plate, when any self- respecting host nation would have made it well into the latter stages of the main competition. As such deadbeats, we are in no position to criticise any other nation's efforts.

And "Anyone But England" jibes leave us open to a devastating response. Like the one in the advert in the World Cup pull-out in Saturday's Scotsman: a T-shirt with the slogan SNP– Scotland's Not Playing.

That works well as a political slogan, too. It sums up what is worst about the push for independence – a group of malcontents sitting in the huff on the sidelines blaming big brother, the selectors and the manager – anyone – for their inability to hack it at the top.

They'd like to pick the ball up and go home. But it's not theirs, so they'd settle for bursting it.

Sport is an excellent proxy for international success generally. Important parts of the mix are population size and the availability of other resources.

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It is no coincidence that the most successful sporting nations – the United States, Russia and now China – are also among the biggest in the world. Take the hint from our slide down the sporting world's rankings. That's where an independent Scotland would be in terms of economic prowess.

In sport, we are already classed with the Norways, Icelands and Irelands. Do we really want to join that impotent arc of absurdity as an independent economy?

The alternative is much more attractive, challenging and rewarding – being part of a United Kingdom with critical political and financial mass, giving Scots the scope of a big stage to develop their talents to the full and to make a satisfying significant contribution to overall success.

If, as the majority do, we want to continue with that successful Union, then we should beware the political price of hostility to England .

Back in the old days, the English hardly noticed us. That lack of awareness was part of our irritation. But it was much safer for us than the scrutiny to which we are being subjected since devolution.

The English are now unsettled by the huge subsidies they hand us. They are upset at our viciously negative attitude to their football team. They are right. We're pathetic. Hampden will host matches during the 2012 Olympics yet, despite the assurances from football's governing body Fifa that it will not affect our privileged status as a international team, the SFA wants no Scots in the GB team. That's insularity for you.

It's an academic point anyway. There are no Scots good enough to make the team. Craig Gordon? You're not suggesting a Scottish goalie, are you?

Given that unionists are the vast majority, we should be brave enough to denounce those who use any spurious reason to support any team playing England.

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How can any Brit hope for a win by the US on Saturday when American politicians are attacking BP because of the mistake made by its American sub-contractor in the Gulf of Mexico?

Of course, support has to be emotional rather than rational, and it is understandably difficult to cheer on a team if there is no feeling of attachment.

Neutrality is the most extreme position Scots should take – not groping around for a reason to urge on Algeria and Slovenia.

However, our close ties with England call for us to see beyond prejudice and swing behind the home nation.

Enlightened self-interest was a concept Scotland gave to the world. It is now time to bring it home. England are going to do well in the World Cup. We'll derive more utility from enjoying their wins than crossing fingers and hoping for an early setback.

More importantly, anti-English feeling feeds the separatists. Their strategy of erosion means that we have moved beyond the realm of sporting banter.

In these dangerous times, the political consequences of hatred are too severe for Scotland.

Unionists should join with me in loud and vocal support of England. It is not enough just to sit passively in front of the telly and politely applaud every English goal. No, get out into the workplace, the gym and the pub and make the case for supporting the only British representative in the tournament.

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That is the argument. We are British and this time England represents the whole of the United Kingdom. They would gladly support us if the roles were ever to be reversed.

Not that we need to be waving the flag of St George. We have got a perfectly good standard that was designed specifically for this kind of occasion. The Union flag shows the full part we play in team GB.