IF you’re ever beset by uncharitable thoughts about England and the English permit me to suggest an antidote. On Thursday morning, wearying of the snorting and braying of English football pundits and journalists following their team’s progress to the final of the European Championship I turned to the BBC’s wonderful spy series, The Worricker Trilogy.

The three films in this drama, screened between 2011 and 2014, are constructed around the character of Jonny Worricker, a veteran British secret service intelligence analyst whose gentle cynicism and soft heart bring him into conflict with his employers. Bill Nighy performs the lead role with the tired elegance he deploys in most of his other roles, which is to say he more or less plays a version of himself.

You always suspected this of Mr Nighy, but it was confirmed by an interview he once granted The Guardian where you found yourself becoming oddly delighted that he seemed to be as kind and insouciant as the characters he portrays on film and television.

Mr Nighy is also blessed with the sort of English accent I’d like to have had if I hadn’t been claimed for Glasgow. It proceeds with an effortless Home Counties poise, conveying the sense of someone who has seen it all and found most of it to be faintly unedifying.

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As Jonny Worricker, reluctant spy, he knows he has been favoured with all the accoutrements of the English elites: charm; good taste; an expensive education and eternal career preferment, but spends much of his time endeavouring to confound it all. He seems to represent the best of Englishness, elements of which I’ve found in most of the English people I’ve encountered.

I needed to be reminded of this because during these four weeks of the 2020 Euros the nationalistic chauvinism of English television pundits has begun to chafe more than usual.

At previous tournaments I never really experienced the same levels of exasperation as other Scots when inarticulate little Englanders seemed to take pride in their ignorant entitlement. I dismissed it in the knowledge that we’re the same, even though we never beat anyone. It was always easy to forgive what simply amounted to bad journalism and an educational deficit by reminding yourself that the English don’t have an English-only television channel whereas the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish do.

From the moment the English pundits dismissed Italy’s vibrant displays in the early games – “it’ll be interesting to see how they fare against the big teams, Gary” – my toleration began to fade. Italy have won four World Cups and reached ten major tournament finals. They are footballing Gods.

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Maybe it’s been Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer wearing their England tops in the manner of people who’ve consulted a focus group before agreeing to do so. And already some English politicians and right-wing journalists have begun to observe in England’s displays a sanctification of Brexit. And you know that if they triumph tomorrow night at Wembley every Europe-baiting Tory politician will say that this alone justifies all the chaos of our disorderly withdrawal.

Worse than all of this though, will be the manner in which this football success will be deployed endlessly by the political classes and their right-wing, media glove-puppets to mask the post-Covid, social inequalities which will stalk England’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

The UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, began the softening-up process yesterday when he hinted at an economic bounce from England’s football success. Interviewed on Radio Four, Mr Sunak was asked if he felt there would be an economic bounty accruing to us all from England’s success with consumers minded to spend more. “I think there is,” he said. “The team have brought an enormous amount of joy to the country after a very difficult year.”

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This is well-worn territory for politicians around major sporting extravaganzas. Modest increases in GDP following the 2012 London Olympics and the 1966 World Cup are often cited. The multi-nationals don’t pay millions to be associated with events such as these just to redistribute the dividends down through their operations.

In 2018, then Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney baldly stated that England’s progress to the World Cup semi-final in Russia was an “unadulterated, absolute good” for the UK economy. It was certainly good for the predatory online betting sector which more than doubled its profits (almost £3bn) from the 2014 tournament. Beyond that there was little to suggest that many well-paid and sustainable jobs were created.

In a 2018 article for the Irish News, Dr Esmond Birnie, senior economist at the University of Ulster, wrote: “The last time England reached the semi-finals was 1990, and in that year the economy grew by only 0.7 per cent. England may have beaten Germany in 1966, but that did not stop German economic productivity subsequently surpassing UK levels. In 1966 the UK economy grew by 1.9 per cent … but it was a fairly low growth rate compared to most of the 1950s and 1960s.”

A ground-breaking study of the economics of the 1966 World Cup by the York University academics Dr Alex Gillett and Dr Kevin Tennent was inconclusive about a long-term economic bounce. It did indicate, though that there was dawning recognition of the global marketing opportunities of these events by governments and business.

This England team and its bright, young manager, Gareth Southgate are easy to like. Yesterday they announced they’d be handing their substantial, tournament bonuses to the NHS. Socially, they are more representative of the people who watch them than in Britain’s other major sports and entertainment sectors.

But like all other pursuits which attract working-class support or rely on their labour it is soon annexed and commandeered by big politics and big capital. Any economic benefits that England’s football success brings will not reach the communities that made the game what it is.

There are around 450,000 English people in Scotland and almost 100,000 of Italian descent. Both of these communities already make massive contributions to our economy and culture and no matter which of them is smiling after tomorrow night Scotland will be a happier place on Monday.

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