Supporting the home nations

The First Minister of Scotland, Jack McConnell, said that, as Scotland failed to qualify, he would be supporting Trinidad and Tobago in the World Cup football competition rather than England. This has generated a lot of comment, with an English company reportedly cancelling a pre-booked conference in Scotland in response to the First Minister’s “anti-English” attitude.

Mr McConnell has said this is about football not politics. Others have pointed out that six players in the Trinidad and Tobago team actually play in Scotland. However, believing that the First Minister of Scotland saying he won’t support England has no political motivation at all is being rather fanciful. He’s a politician in the public eye, and everything he says will be crafted to garner the support of the electorate. For the same reason, two Scotsmen who would each like to be the Prime Minister of the whole of the UK, Gordon Brown and Menzies Campbell, have said that they will be supporting England.

McConnell’s spokesman said, “The First Minister has never encouraged anyone to be anti-English, or made any anti-English comments.” Unfortunately, for certain elements of society, hearing the First Minister say he would not support England will encourage exactly those sentiments.

Friendly rivalry is one thing. If England are playing Scotland, then of course people will support their most local team. But people refusing to support their neighbours when their own team isn’t playing, and even backing opposing teams, is simply small-minded. And unfortunately, for some people on both sides of the border, the “anti” feeling has much more unpleasant consequences than just influencing which football teams people support (as these attacks on a little boy and a disabled man wearing England shirts show).

I’m not the least bit interested in football. I don’t know if I’ll even watch the final should England make it through. But I know that I’d be just as likely to cheer Scotland on if they were the ones playing in the final.

All of this needn’t just apply to the four “home nations” of the United Kingdom, but to our European neighbours too. There is a distinctly unfriendly rivalry of English supporters towards the Germans (although I suspect it’s not reciprocated to anywhere near the same level). This raises interesting questions. Who would die-hard England supporters support if the team who knocks out England in an earlier round plays Germany in the final? And what will happen if ever the final is between Germany and Scotland? Perhaps it might mean fewer people watching the final, and a little less hype about the competition, although I think that’s probably wishful thinking.

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