So Scotland is off on yet another World Cup qualifying campaign. Predictably, we’ve made a shaky start. But do we actually deserve to have an international football team in the first place?
Religion, said Marx, is the opium of the masses. But if we Scots have a mind-numbing drug of choice, it must be football.
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Whatever our political views, when a Scotland match kicks off, it’s ‘Braveheart’ time and we’re all united behind the football equivalents of Bruce and Wallace and their men. Just like at Bannockburn, we’re ready to give it all for the nation. (Though, with the sorry state of our football these days, a Flodden is a more likely outcome.)
Yes, we’re all ‘90 minute nationalists’ during a Scotland game. But is this privileged outlet for our patriotic feelings really warranted?
I remember the comments of some of the England team after they had played a friendly against the old USSR in Tbilisi in 1986. They were bemused that the Russian crowd appeared to be supporting them and not the Soviets. The explanation of course was that the crowd was not ‘Russian’, but Georgian.
How frustrating it must have been for a Georgian football fan that the only way they could demonstrate their passion for the game was to back the opponents of their despised Soviet oppressors.
It was just the same for football fans in the likes of Latvia, Slovenia, Ukraine and Croatia who had to wait till the 1990s before they could support a national football team of their own.
How irritating it must have been for those fans to realise that the UK had four international football teams when their countries had none. Oh, I know people will point out the special role the ‘Home Nations’ (now there’s one very patronising title!) had in the foundation of international football.
But a historical accident over 100 years ago is hardly a logical way to organise current arrangements. I mean, the Wright family haven’t been enjoying a century of royalties because their ancestors were the first to get a machine flying through the air, have they?
From a European perspective, why should the regions of the UK be uniquely represented in international football? How desperately would the Catalans and Basques love to have their own international football teams? If they can’t then, logically and morally, how can we?
The matter of the UK having four international teams won’t go away. Despite all the reassurances, the appearance of a GB team in the Olympics will eventually bring the matter to the attention of the world’s football family once again. I’m surprised the Argentinian FA hasn’t raised it as a sly blow in support of their politicians’ claim to the Malvinas/Falklands.
Then look at the internal state of the Scottish game. The main ambition of our two biggest, most famous teams? Well, that may be to leave Scottish football altogether and join the money bags of the English league. With friends like that……eh?
But love them or loathe them, the Old Firm are the powerhouses of Scottish football. With Rangers visiting the likes of Annan and Peterhead instead of Atletico Madrid and Porto, it seems inevitable that Scotland will continue to tumble pell-mell down the European rankings.
So what would be the impact if the day comes that FIFA members decide to correct the anomaly of one state having four international football teams?
Would it rouse a wave of patriotic outrage that would sweep Scotland to independence in less time than a football season? Would the impulse to restore football sovereignty sweep aside all the reservations about political sovereignty for Scotland?
I don’t think so. The Old Firm fans would probably be content to watch their teams work their way through the minor English leagues towards the promised land of Premier riches.
Others would resign themselves to cheering on the odd Scot in a UK XI (or more likely an occasional presence on the substitutes’ bench). The UK refuseniks would have to settle for an embittered life of grudgingly supporting GB’s opponents – just like those Georgians had to do for so many years.
So my patriotic heart and my football soul say we must fight tooth-and-nail to preserve the continued existence of a Scottish international football team.
But my European head judges that we probably don’t deserve it.