A FEW days ago we had a visitor from Clapham. He has an accent that reminds me of my grandfather, who was born within the sound of the Bow Bells, thereby qualifying him as a proper Cockney. Or so my mother – who quickly lost her southern accent on moving to Scotland – told me.

Where in Edinburgh, asked this friend, could he go to watch the England-Germany game without fearing for his well-being? We suggested several venues, but he looked unconvinced. More than likely he ended up watching and cheering alone in his hotel room.

I, too, was cheering, quietly, as the England squad held Germany at bay, and – helped by Thomas Muller missing a sitting duck of a goal – carried the day 2-0. To see the weight lifted from Harry Kane’s shoulders as he defied his critics and finally scored was to watch a prisoner being given a last-minute pardon even as carpenters were knocking up the scaffold.

Yet not everyone in these parts was happy with the result. Our Clapham friend was right to worry he might come in for abuse if he found himself roaring Raheem Sterling on in the midst of spectators whose only remaining hope and prospect of pleasure in Euro 2020 is to see England thrashed.

READ MORE: Countryside not as tranquil as it looks

In the early days of my life in newspapers, I remember the glee with which a young and bookish feature writer was despatched to a low dive in Edinburgh’s Canongate, to describe an England-Scotland fixture, as experienced amid a throng of rabid Scotland fans. To add “colour” to his piece, he was dressed in an England strip and scarf. It was like sending soldiers over the top as cannon fodder.

When Scotland was knocked out of the Euros, the first question was, who would we now be supporting? A few loyally chose Wales, but were soon forced to think again. Nobody in my vicinity selected England.

“You have to be joking,” was the mantra. And sure, if I was to pick a side based purely on performance, I’d go for Italy. They play like time-lapse footage, so fast the pitch becomes a blur. But, to be reasonable, why wouldn’t any of us want our neighbour to win? Half the folk in the village where I live are English, as are many of my friends and relatives. If we all took a DNA test, chances are most of us have more than a spoonful of Anglo-Saxon in our genetic soup.

But that, obviously, is not the point. The closeness of our ties is the very root of the problem. As with siblings, lifelong rivalry and grievances come into play, England looking like the favoured child, the one who gets the brand new bike at Christmas.

Football is one of the few remaining arenas where it is still acceptable to express age-old, bitter resentment and dislike of a country whose bullying and lofty behaviour towards us – mostly in the Middle Ages but sporadically thereafter – has been nursed, like a guttering flame, ever since. It is the defiance of a small but proud country against the elephant next door, a David faced with Goliath. Except that, when it comes to sport, our hit rate isn’t as good as his.


Let’s be honest. Supporting England doesn’t come easy. That’s nothing to do with the team or their manager. You couldn’t find a less belligerent or boastful man than Gareth Southgate. His low-key attitude and studied calm are truly sporting. And there are some good or even very good players in the squad, although I wouldn’t go so far as Jack Grealish, who calls their best attackers the “Scary Seven”. It makes them sound like characters in an Enid Blyton series.

What really sticks in the craw is the tone of media coverage. We’re told that if England wins the Euros, it will rank alongside their 1966 World Cup victory, even though half the world isn’t taking part.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s much vaunted impartiality vanishes. Instead, whenever an England player is fouled, the commentators splutter with outrage, decrying the culprit as a degenerate thug. When it’s the other way around, it was a slip-up anybody could have made, and they can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

READ MORE: In George Orwell's footsteps

Adding to the state of blinkered bias, newspaper headlines are reminiscent of the Battle of Britain, glorifying England with a nauseating level of hubris, and making no mention of those moments of sheer luck that grace every sporting triumph.

That’s why allegiance to our neighbours is, for some, unconscionable. The innate arrogance of pundits taps into a deeper seam of superiority that has always irked those of us north of the border. Smug barely begins to describe it. Entitlement comes closer. Invincibility closer still.

If I could watch tonight’s game against Denmark with the volume down, that would suit me fine. I can admire the players, and hope they prevail, but I don’t need the jingoistic posturing that follows every penalty or goal. Because the response to England’s chances, whether it’s football, rugby or cricket, is always the same. They deserve to win, and have been robbed if they do not. The default outlook, which is the expectation of success, could not be more different than the way many of us in Scotland tackle life. We are raised neither to get above ourselves, nor to expect to be best. “Daring to dream”, as England followers have it, would be tantamount to courting disaster.

When John McInroe, seeing Andy Murray’s 5-0 lead in the third set against Nikoloz Basilashvili, remarked that he was certain to win, several of my friends clutched their heads, and considered switching channels. After that, nobody was surprised that Murray suddenly faltered, and only belatedly and painfully clawed his way to victory.

It’s called not getting above yourself – we ken who their faithers were. Taking nothing for granted and never tempting fate. And it’s a lesson England’s fans have yet to learn, along with a sense of self-deprecating humour. Even the urbane Southgate has announced that winning tonight’s semi-final won’t be enough. His and all of England’s eyes are fixed on lifting the trophy. If self-belief was all it took, they wouldn’t even run the tournament.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of the Herald.