Aidan Smith: Remember when not supporting England caused trouble on the streets and sparked a constitutional crisis?

The other day the SNP’s Stephen Flynn was asked in a TV interview if he’d support England at the Euros when Scotland weren’t playing and the answer came back quickly and forthrightly: “No.”

The clip was immediately posted on social media in anticipation of a pile-on which I don’t think ever arrived. What a contrast with the last time a major international tournament was staged in Germany.

During the 2006 World Cup our then First Minister Jack McConnell went totally tropical and announced he’d be cheering on Trinidad and Tobago in their game against the English and the UK went totally berserk.

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In England they were miffed. Newspaper columnists snorted. The West Lothian question was raised and with it the Barnett formula. Michael Portillo suggested the moment might have arrived to “uncouple” Scotland and let it drift into the North Sea with its “greatly reduced” reserves of oil and gas.

England begin their Euro 2024 campaign against Serbia on Sunday.England begin their Euro 2024 campaign against Serbia on Sunday.
England begin their Euro 2024 campaign against Serbia on Sunday.

Here, Portillo was dubbed a Scotophobe, so too Ken Livingstone, but Gordon Brown raved about Paul Gascoigne’s goal against us at Euro 96. More wailing and gnashing of wallies with former Scotsman editor Magnus Linklater rating the Broon declaration “as controversial a statement as has ever been issued by a Scottish politician”.

The mood darkened. The constitutional stooshie was officially “ferocious”. Broon and David Cameron tried to outdo each other regarding who was the bigger football fan, with the former’s aides dubbing the Tory leader an “immature twerp”. As one leader column put it: “An unseemly spat between two men bidding to become our next prime minister”. Then a seven-year-old boy wearing an England shirt was assaulted in Edinburgh. Then a disabled man in Aberdeen followed by smashed windows in Coatbridge. Tony Blair, still PM, condemned the incidents in Parliament. The columnists cranked up the vitriol. We were a “chippy little outpost devoid of confidence” and an “enfeebled, dependent wreck” gorging on “deep-fried deathfood”.

The stooshie became a full-blown crisis. According to a Daily Telegraph poll, two-thirds of England wanted Scotland to lose the “annual handout” - £10 billion - from the Treasury. “It seems ever more possible that the end result of the current controversy could be a re-drawing of the constitution,” opined Scotland on Sunday. “There is no point hoping that the genie will go back in the bottle at the end of the World Cup. Not only have the English awoken to the McConnell row and the wider issues, Britain’s internal squabbling is now being debated in bars, journals and boardrooms across Europe and America.”

All because of a silly football match, begun by a silly politician playing to the gallery and looking back the story does seem very “silly season”. So why nothing like the same reaction this time? A few reasons: Scotland hadn’t qualified for that World Cup so we were default crabbit about anyone else who had, the Auld Enemy especially. Plus, Flynn is the Nats leader at Westminster while McConnell was our political figurehead, and representing a unionist party as well.

Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell takes questions at a media briefing at St Andrews House in Edinburgh, Thursday March 23, 2006.Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell takes questions at a media briefing at St Andrews House in Edinburgh, Thursday March 23, 2006.
Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell takes questions at a media briefing at St Andrews House in Edinburgh, Thursday March 23, 2006.

But the biggest difference is that everyone - Scots and English - now know where they stand. In 2006 some of our opinion-formers were suggesting we should “grow up” and, when England weren’t in direct opposition, back them. There are less of these articles now, in acknowledgement of the fact it’s not juvenile and certainly not racist if a Scotland fan chooses to pass on all of that.

Our friends in the south, meanwhile, have got over their petted lip. During Scotland’s long absence from finals England have gone from stinking out tournaments - the Euros of 2000 - to ever more threateningly look like they’re going to win one. They no longer need our support, if they ever did.

It’s also the case that fans on both sides of the border know when they’re being played, and that politicians are the worst for that because football, they always reckon, makes them relatable. I don’t think Flynn was being deliberately provocative with that “No” - he described himself as a member of the Tartan Army while part of McConnell’s legacy was wearing the kilt well above the knee - but in any event the SNP man has not stirred it up.

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Scotland fans previously were justifiably irked by suggestions that a proxy vote for an England on the football field was somehow compulsory. And England fans now, I think, accept that reaction. There’s also common agreement that rivalry is sacrosanct. In other areas of life wokery abounds. There’s a desperate desire among some to take the slightest offence so they can rise up and cancel. Football does not need the cuddly inclusivity that’s being imposed elsewhere. It is not happy-clappy: you win, we win, everybody wins. It’s okay to want your rivals to lose. In fact, it’s imperative. Otherwise, the ba’s up on the slates, the game’s a bogey.

So good luck to England, I say. Our excuses for not saying that in the past ranged from Emelyn Hughes calling us “jocks” to the hyper-jingoistic commentators to the fact that if they did go and win something, we would never bloody well hear the end of it. Now I think we can find it in our wee Caledonian hearts to say, yes, while their goalie is irritating, the big right-back off the pitch makes - his words - “idiot choices and idiot decisions” and Harry Kane likes a dive, there is nevertheless so much brilliant young attacking talent in the team that if the cautious coach sets them free, they should win it.

But if they don’t then please allow us some - great German word - schadenfreude. It’s the perfect accompaniment to deathfood.

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