Euro 2020: England v Germany - who should Scotland be supporting?
It seems fitting to note Andy Murray’s return to Wimbledon action on the eve of another crunch clash between England and Germany international football teams.
There’s an increased spotlight on tennis press conferences following Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from, initially, the French Open and now Wimbledon because press conferences, even the thought of them, were making her anxious.
There’s one question that probably won’t be thrown at Murray. Or if it is, he will certainly think twice about answering the way he did that last time, 15 years ago. It was the 2006 World Cup finals. Scotland were not there, as was becoming the norm.
“So who will you be supporting,” someone enquired of Murray, who was sitting next to Tim Henman as they took part in a joint interview. The Scot, playing up to his friend next to him, quipped “whoever England are playing against”. And boy did he regret it.
His next few Wimbledons were played out against a backdrop of significant hostility – 'well, if he’s not one of us, if he’s not rooting for our boys, why should we cheer for him?' was the thought process.
Even though he won the singles title so thrillingly in 2013, and again in 2016, this suspicion continues to an extent to this day. Of course there’s no recent evidence available since Murray has not competed since 2017. Still, you’d wager that at least one wag will have cried out ‘C’mon England!’ yesterday evening in a bid to needle the Scot or gain a cheap laugh.
Remarkably, a throwaway comment has proved more resilient than his right hip, which Murray has had to have resurfaced. That’s been one reason for his long absence from centre court. He’s since had time to reflect on the strange introduction to elite-level sport.
“The whole notion that I don’t like English people is nonsense,” he said in 2015. “I work with English people on a daily basis. I am going to get married to one. I live here. It is just nonsense. That’s the thing that upsets me the most about it. Some of my family are English. I am also getting married to an Englishwoman so my in-laws are all English.” He has since been blessed with four children with Kim, all half-English.
Even when Henman came out on numerous occasions to defend Murray and stress how his comments were a joke, it didn’t seem to have much effect. The damage had been done. It illustrates what a delicate, potentially explosive subject matter this is. It’s the thorniest of thorny questions, which, to this day, still causes politicians to trip up.
While Murray was asked who he would be supporting in the forthcoming World Cup, this year, for the first time since 1998, there is a slight adaptation required: now Scotland have been eliminated, who are you supporting?
The assumption for those who know nothing about cross border rivalry, or at least choose to be wilfully ignorant about such things, is that backing automatically transfers to a closest neighbour once your team is eliminated, which seems an utterly baffling concept. So tonight, for example, Scots should cheer for England.
It’s nonsense, of course. The Auld Enemy are not known as the Auld Enemy for nought.
Murray was right, even if he was being playful. The majority of Scots, perhaps even him included, will want England to be beaten by Germany tonight because, well, that’s just how it is in the court of sporting rivalry.
It’s also how it is when you’ve spent the last couple of weeks growing increasingly irritated by the one-eyed nature of a lot of the commentary of games at Euro 2020 on network television. England is the prism through which everything is viewed – for example, even though the identity of Wales’ opponents in the last 16 had come to light due to results, the main takeaway from the night Denmark thumped Russia 4-1 and Belgium defeated Finland was the fact that this combination of scorelines meant England had qualified. Fair enough. But the Wales angle was almost ignored, which isn’t good enough.
It’s a common complaint at major finals. The endless repeats of Gazza’s Euro 96 goal against Scotland does not make it any easier to feel compelled to wish England well, nor does Rio Ferdinand’s confident assertion that England would win easily against Scotland in the Euros re-match two Fridays ago. “I can’t see anything else, I’m telling you,” he said. “I’ve never been this confident about a game in a major championship.” What, even against Panama, Rio?
So here we are. England v Germany has come round again. We know, because we are being told ad infinitum, that the tournament has now “opened up” for England. Win tonight and the Euro 2020 crown is all but theirs.
The last 16 clash at Wembley is being shown on BBC One, which means tuning in to Lineker, Ferdinand, Shearer et al. The intriguing part of it is that the England team itself, led by the impressive Gareth Southgate, are a likeable bunch who will have no truck with the disrespect displayed by others in their corner. They are, or at least should be, good to watch.
There is no finer sight in football just now than Jack Grealish or Phil Foden bearing down on a full-back. These are players we should want to watch for as long as possible in a tournament.
So now Scotland are out, who will we be supporting? I can’t speak for everyone, but I know who I will be cheering for - ITV co-commentator Ally McCoist. It seems, everyone, on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall, can agree the former Rangers manager has been the star of the tournament so far.
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