For many, the end of the football tournament that was the Euros 2020 is a blessing. Yes, it was exciting to watch Scotland take part in its first international finals in decades but bittersweet to not make it through the group stages.
Why anyone should expect a team with no or little experience of international competition to suddenly become winners is beyond someone like me with little to no experience of football punditry.
The face-saving element from the last month or so was to the goal-less draw with England. Never before has a scoreless draw been heralded as an emphatic win. Having said that, the team rose to the occasion and actually deserved to win. As it happens, they will tell anyone who cares to listen that they are one of only two teams who remain unbeaten by England at the Euros!
For those of a political bent, the nation’s hopes and esteem can sometimes rest on the performance of eleven or so men running around a green pitch with a leather ball. Occasionally it is one man with a smaller ball and a racquet. Sadly, it is very rarely women in sport who become the beacon for our nation’s rise again. Maybe this has to change. In fact, it has to change. Not just that sport is an ersatz flame of national pride, but because self-esteem issues on a national scale are never going to be addressed with such tokenism so long as half the country doesn’t really believe that we are capable of standing on our own two feet in the world, come what may.
England and English identity rose to Pyrrhic heights, particularly over the last two weeks. Lulled into a false sense of ability, nationalism swept a country then tsunami-ed the other home nations. Once Scotland and Wales were ejected from the Euros, the English-is-British mindset prevailed from every orifice of London-centric media. Even presenters who are clearly uncomfortable with any form of nationalism – I’m thinking of Naga Munchetty – felt obliged to rattle out the ubiquitous ‘it’s coming home’ at the end of interviews whilst their faces looked contorted with a large dose of discomfort.
Others didn’t seem to mind or care that British broadcasting of any kind had suddenly become the England team’s promotional arm. This gets to the heart of why English people do not understand why the Scots (Unionists and nationalists alike), will not declare their undying support for a fellow home nation team. Or to be more precise, England. At very little push, we would back Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic if they were the only team left. Why? Because English football commentators would be cool, calm and collected, some might say cold and quiet but that would be churlish. The reality is in the interchangeable identity between Englishness and Britishness which does not extend to the same extent in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Now there is a danger that English-born independence supporters, who would like us to get over this apparent childish behaviour, are concerned that it might stoke real anti-English fervour north of the border just as three black footballers unmasked the depth of racism within English society after Sunday night on social media and in the streets.
Now, readers of this blog will proclaim it would never happen here, alas, we are likely to be kidding ourselves. At a time of economic hardship, cancel culture and a rejection of political correctness, there is a seam of the Scottish population that can beat any little Englanders when it comes to racist attitudes. Uncomfortable though it may be to write and I dare say to read this, we are a long way off being truly a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns. The indecisiveness of the Scottish football team said it all. We won’t be taking the knee at the Euros, we will stand in support; only to then take the knee for the England match. What happened to standing up for support? What was so wrong about showing unity with an international cause such as Black Lives Matter that you couldn’t take the knee? I still await an answer which isn’t a soft peddle from the PR frontmen of the SFA and their ilk.