Wha’s like us? Maybe quite a few others. The English rugby scribes, for example. They can get very parshial in Lions years when the touring party is about to be picked and it’s not uncommon for them to predict what’s basically a white-shirted whiteout. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with backing your team, of course, and as I say we do it too, but some of the London-produced papers have Scottish editions and sub-editors must guard against pro-English write-ups slipping over Hadrian’s Wall. In rugby that’s like fumbling the ball a yard from the tryline.
I’ve mentioned before the man from the Times who once confessed that among his colleagues it was something of a parlour game to correctly guess how few Scots would be called up for the Lions. The other day this fine chap, whose stuff I enjoy, was compelled to begin his column: “I do seriously, genuinely regret that in my coverage of the Lions squad last week there was no proper acknowledgement of the eight Scotland players who were selected … ”
He took abuse for this, some of it vitriolic, which comes with the territory these days, and the rest of the piece lamented how good-going debate and lively argument, which should be part of the fun of being a passionate sports fan, have got lost amid a social media tsunami of name-calling and nastiness.
Last week sub-editors on the Sun didn’t make a blooper on the football pages as the story headlined “Och aye the who?” was kept out of the Scottish edition. “England stars quaking in their boots at these, erm, household names,” it continued. The report from Steve Clarke’s Euros squad announcement was designed for English consumption but presumably it was spotted by an expat Scot and popped onto Twitter for our dubious delectation.
Predictably, we got hot and bothered. We ranted and raved. “Is it any wonder,” remarked one aesthete of the Scottish passing-and-running tradition, channeling the lyricism of Sir Walter Scott, “that these arrogant f*nn**s fall flat on their a***s at every tournament?” Then came the inevitable: “Pin it up on the dressing-room wall!”
Does this still happen? Do teams in this sophisticated, scientific age of mind-doctor motivation continue to pounce on rash or clunky statements read as disrespectful or dismissive? For the future of the newspaper industry it’s heartening to think we still retain that power. But are you even allowed to use Blu-Tac or Sellotape at Wembley, venue for our Euros meeting with Harry Kane & Co on 18 June?
Me, I wasn’t offended. You’ve got to know where the Sun is coming from and who the target readership are. Even so, some in England thought the headline would act as a red rag to a bull being ridden bareback by Stephen O’Donnell, although the Motherwell man is probably one of the Scots who will be a beautiful mystery to our friends in the south. Dan from Lincoln tweeted: “I love my England football team as much as you guys love Scotland but this really doesn’t help our cause and will give you motivation to beat us.”
Here’s the funny thing: this must be one of the less obscure squads we’ve put out there in readiness for an Auld Enemy clash. It contains players from Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Leeds United and Aston Villa who all compete in “the best league in the world” (© every English commentator). But that’s all the headline is - a bit of fun. There’s going to be a whole lot more of that before 18 June and already I’m looking forward to a revival of the yarn about Scots on the Wembley construction crew who, before the pitch went down, hid Saltires, Lions Rampant, tartan scarves and a dark blue strip in an attempt to help us win there at some point in the future and maybe round about the next four weeks. Is it true? Well, the Sun - Scottish edition - told me so.
Our relationship with England has never been more delicately poised. As we agonise over indyref2, some across the border are now saying: “No, we insist, off you jolly well trot.” Let’s keep the ribaldry halfway decent, though: the other stuff is big and important, this is only a game.
The squad? It may have bemused some English observers but it didn’t surprise our fans with typewriters, Olivetti oracles and Corona claptrappers. Well, apart maybe from the omission of Leigh Griffiths. I’ve yet to speak to a journalist who didn’t think he was worth a place, even in less than tip-top condition. In a tight match when a winner needs to come from somewhere or an equaliser has to be found, who would you rather have on free-kick duty, 20 yards out, left side of the net or right, it’s all the same? But what do we hacks know, eh?