Kick politics of envy into touch

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by Henry McLeish
Scotland on Sunday
25 June 2006
Original here

WHEN England play Ecuador today, I will have no difficulty -- watching from the other side of the Atlantic -- in wanting England to win.

I only wish more of my fellow-Scots, in and out of politics, could take the same broader British point of view. I do not share Jack McConnell's refusal to support England throughout the tournament and his declaration that he will be rooting for Ecuador.

As one who has pulled on a Scottish football jersey with heart-bursting pride, albeit as a youth cap, I need no lessons in patriotism nor passion for our game. That is why it matters so much to me that this has been a bad World Cup for Scotland -- and we are not even playing in Germany!

There is a danger that we are fulfilling, in the worst possible way, the Bill Shankly dictum that the beautiful game is actually more important than life or death. Why has this festival of football turned into an 'anyone but England' mentality?

In response, even Chancellor Gordon Brown seems to have been affected, praising Gascoigne's goal as probably the best ever -- it is clear to me that Archie Gemmell's solo in 1978 against the Dutch was the best.

Somehow, we have ended up with a squabble involving Labour politicians north and south of the Border. Worse, we have also unleashed anti-English sentiments which tarnish our image.

In the age of the internet, we should be in no doubt about the effect this is having abroad. In Canada and the US, people have been asking me about this unattractive development. Modern communications mean the world is looking at us -- and the image at the moment is not good.

How has the beautiful game turned ugly? Why should we not be big enough to wish England well? They are fellow Brits and the better they do, the more credit accrues to British football and the English Premier League, where many of our Scots stars play.

I share the irritation of Scots with the constant babble of English commentators waxing eloquent about a team that under-performs. I am fed up with the tactics of the English manager. I am sick and tired of Rooney's metatarsal. I was furious when Celtic won the European Cup and were described as a 'British' team, but when Manchester United won it was an English team.

The genuine tragedy is that we are all trying to promote Scotland's image abroad and we are being perceived as sour and grudging. Being Scottish is not about being anti-English.

Why does Jack McConnell claim to support Trinidad and Tobago and Ecuador? Obviously, because they oppose England. Does he?

The danger is that such a perceived anti-English posture could encourage the irresponsible. While there is not a direct link, it was tragic that two incidents of violence should occur. Whether they were mindless thuggery or racism, or both, the law should hit the perpetrators hard. But it was inappropriate to raise these incidents in either Parliament.

If you love football, we need not support teams on the basis of who they are playing against. We can all support Brazil, who play magical and entertaining football.

Let us get back to that pure game and remember that England qualified; we did not. We are struggling to recover parity with soccer "giants" such as Ghana, Ivory Coast, Costa Rica and Iran.

Let us hope that in 2010, we will be able to concentrate on who and how Scotland are playing in the World Cup -- and not England. And that the politicians keep out of it.

Jack McConnell should set an example

and support England: His own goal spoiled a good week for the First Minister

by Peter MacMahon
The Scotsman
26 May 2006

Sometimes you just want to scream. Earlier this week, the First Minister gave a thoughtful speech looking at where Scotland might be in two decades time.

His critics -- including a considerable number inside the Labour Party -- argued privately that this was a foolish exercise, because it exposed him to unnecessary criticism as it involved taking a hard, objective look at the strengths and weaknesses of modern Scotland.

But if we really care about this country's future, we do need to lift our eyes to the far horizon, even if Jack McConnell's big idea of life-long learning as the solution to problems of poverty, inequality and demography was a little underwhelming.

So, a good start to the week. Perhaps even a good start to the year-long election campaign to come. Some serious thinking, some interesting policy suggestions and a welcome challenge from Mr McConnell to Scotland's think-tanks to come up with more ideas for the future.

And then he goes and spoils it all by saying something stupid.

Not as the old song goes, "I love you", but, paraphrasing slightly, "I don't love you" to England's World Cup-bound football team, moving the debate from the lofty heights of the big idea to the lowly depths of the little Scotlander mentality.

How can it possibly be that the political leader of Scotland -- for that is what the First Minister is -- who has campaigned bravely against sectarianism and hatred in domestic football, cannot bring himself to support the country's nearest neighbour?

Devolution was supposed to be about the nation maturing. No longer would all the ills of Caledonia be blamed on "the English". Scotland would be more self-confident, take more responsibility, grow up a bit.

It does not seem to have occurred to the First Minister that his stance on football flatly contradicts that noble home-rule aspiration.

In justifying his position, Mr McConnell -- who is, remember, in favour of the Union -- said people thought that as First Minister he should support England for political reasons. But, he declared, football was "not about politics", so he would be supporting "other teams" with long-standing connections such as, er, Trinidad and Tobago and Angola.

If, as Mr McConnell maintained, this was not about politics, it was awfully convenient that his statement puts him at odds with Gordon Brown's recent support for England and the Chancellor's claim that two-thirds of Scots will be supporting David Beckham and the boys.

Mr Brown is, of course, looking to the future, his future in No 10 Downing Street as prime minister (and went over the top in his praise for that Gazza goal against Scotland). Nevertheless, one has to ask: which politician is more in touch with modern Scotland?

In housing estates across this country, you will find boys and girls wearing football shirts bearing the names of Premiership footballers, many of them England team members.

While Beckham and his bizarre wife may not be most Scots' cup of tea, real football aficionados can only be impressed by the skill and athleticism of the likes of Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Ashley Cole, demonstrated weekly on the Saturday-night highlights programme which puts SPL coverage to shame.

Yet our appreciation of their talent in the Premiership does not stretch to even mild support for their national team.

Why? And what effect does this have?

Last week, the Economist magazine said Scotland had "regressed into an inward-looking, slightly chip-on-shoulder, slightly Anglo-phobic country". Mr McConnell may have truthfully given an opinion, but he has only reinforced the anti-Scottish prejudices of the Economist and its ilk.

Instead of defining Scotland against the world, as he did in his futures lecture, he has done what he criticises the nationalists for; defined Scotland in relation to England.

Scots do not have to fly the cross of St George and take up Morris dancing, but why can't this supposedly more mature nation -- with the First Minister taking the lead -- wish the England team well and hope they win the damned tournament?

Be ashamed if you hate England

by Alastair McKay
The Scotsman
5 September 2001, p. 26.

So, here is the quandary. It is a rough Saturday night in Glasgow. You are standing in a queue for a train to Edinburgh, after the Scotland-Croatia game. Drink has been taken, in bottles, in hip flasks, intravenously, in buckets. The mood is the kind of defiant cheeriness for which the Tartan Army is famed, but patience is beginning to be strained.

Also in the queue are a number of young girls, who have come from a Hear'Say concert. Their faces are sweetly innocent, with the first exploratory daubings of make-up on their cheeks. Some are wearing deely-boppers.

A football chant goes up. "Posh Spice takes it…" It wouldn't do to repeat the rest.

The train is late, the line is long. Tempers fray. There are some ordinary people here, too; regular citizens, staring at their shoes. Further back, someone has a radio. England have scored another goal. They are now leading Germany 3-1.

Another chant: "If you hate the f***in' English clap your hands." Ripples of applause break out. A man goes past in a wheelchair. The chant is repeated with the words modified. "If you hate the f***in' English sit down."

And so it goes on, the hate, spat-out in 57 varieties. Standing up, sitting down, riding horses, eating chips, clapping hands. These are just some of the ways we hate the English.

The quandary? Do you clap your hands in order to fit in with the logic of the mob -- or do you join the civilians and the deely-bopper girls and stand aloof? Patriotism is so confusing sometimes.

It's all in fun, though, isn't it, this hate? It is cuddly racism, not the kind that gangs up on asylum seekers or stokes riots in Bradford. Being Scottish, we like to think, is about being open-minded and tolerant. We are, in William McIlvanney's elegant phrase, a mongrel nation. We can't afford to get picky about purity.

But, people say, hating the English isn't like hating black people, or Jews. It isn't the same brand of intolerance that characterises the English view of the Germans, where every sporting contest between the two is treated as a resumption of warfare, with genealogical investigations to prove that Sven Goran Erikson is as English as Field Marshall Montgomery, thereby confusing El Alamein with 1966 and all that. The English, we like to think, are better at xenophobia.

On Sunday, referring to the behaviour of England fans in Germany, the (Scottish-accented, English-based) sportswriter Patrick Barclay observed that "chauvinistic football mania is now out of control".

But Scottish pride is supposed to be kinder and gentler than that. We do not have the skill to support a position of sustained arrogance, and many of us bear the mental scars from the last time we thought we did.

As has been too often rehearsed, Argentina, in 1978 was our sporting Darien. So confident were we of World Cup victory that we held our celebrations before the tournament, then set out across the sea in leaky bathtubs, only to sink on the shores of Peru.

Since then, the Tartan Army has learned to treat defeat as if it is victory.

But this does little to explain our continuing hatred of our southern neighbours.

The old excuse for the auld enmity held that it was a good-natured revenge for our political domination from London. Football and rugby were the main arenas in which Scottishness was accepted as a national identity. We played football, therefore we were.

This argument looks a little threadbare now that we have our own parliament. The powers are limited, but the principle is established: if we want more, we can probably get it.

So why, as I stood in a pub called the Toby Jug, watching the opening minutes of the England game, did the German goal provoke more elation than anything the Scots had managed to cobble together at Hampden? Why, when the English have a team full of thrilling players whose talents we are happy to pay to admire on satellite television, should it be acceptable to talk about "hate"?

A confident nation, the one we pretend to be on ceremonial occasions, would have no place for hate. It would squirm at Flower of Scotland, and laugh at Braveheart.

It would understand that being humble about our own abilities is meaningless until we can cheer when England do well.

Otherwise, Scottishness is a condition in which the arteries are marbled with spite.

A mature nation would realise that tonight, against Belgium, we hold our sporting destiny in our hands. We can go to the World Cup if we forget fear and play to our potential. That is what England have done, with panache, and they deserve better than our bile.

Also see Alistair McConnachie Stand Up, if you Love England

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