My name is Stephen and I am a Bad Scot. At least that’s how I feel. For the past week Italian flags have been popping up all over Scotland ahead of tonight’s Euro 2020 final. Music station Pure Radio Scotland rebranded itself ‘Pure Radio Italy’ for the weekend. A shopper in Glasgow complained that Tesco was failing to ‘help boost national pride’ after their local branch played the England fan anthem ‘Vindaloo’.
A pub in the city centre had the moment Gareth Southgate missed the decisive penalty against Germany in Euro 1996 blown up into a giant poster and is displaying it next to the bar’s entrance. The National newspaper ran a front page depicting Roberto Mancini as William Wallace and describing Italy as Scotland’s ‘final hope’. The Daily Record, warning of the ‘nauseating possibility’ that England could win, published a list of things Scots might want to do instead of watching.
All this resentment leaves me cold because, as a Scot, I would love to see England triumph tonight. I don’t know the first thing about football. I don’t know why it’s coming home or where it’s been. I only hope it follows the Sage guidance on self-quarantining upon its return. But how could you not want this England side to win? Harry Kane and his squad have played their hearts out, given us all a much-needed dose of optimism during our second Covid summer, and seem like a solid bunch of lads to boot. Gareth Southgate’s story, from that penalty miss to carrying the hopes of a nation on his shoulders, has got more redemption and resurrection than half the New Testament. The pitiful efforts by Very Online People to marshal Southgate’s squad into their own political pathologies — it’s progressive patriotism, unlike Brexit! It’s true leadership, unlike Boris! — only goes to show what a profound impression the team has made. At last, #FBPE Twitter can look at the England flag without vomiting.
For Scots, the soft xenophobia of Anyone But England is how we work through our own inadequacies on the pitch and off. It’s a comedically one-sided rivalry in which we brand England ‘the Auld Enemy’ and England ever so occasionally notices that we’re there. The grievance goalposts shift occasionally, and sometimes the players, now and then the fans, but most often the commentators, are cited as the inciting factor. Yes, it’s banter — though I’d been led to believe ‘banter’ was now a problematic concept to excuse toxic behaviour — but it is, to rework Mose Allison, bantering on the square. It’s about football but the vehemence of the hatred (and for some it really is hatred) tells you it’s about something more than that. Anyone But England is where football fandom, friendly competition, cultural chippiness, national envy and Anglophobia skite around and skelp off one other, like Tennent’s-fuelled, saltire-branded dodgems.
As I’ve argued before, it’s a mistake to assume this is a product of capital-N nationalism. Anyone But England crosses political divides. I know card-carrying SNP members who aren’t bothered and Tory-voting uber-unionists who have cleared entire Amazon warehouses of Italian flags. An English bogeyman, imagined umbrage and nourishing victimhood are crucial components of the political project of Scottish nationalism but their appeal is not exclusive to supporters of that project. Scottish unionists like to say the country’s turn to nationalism at the ballot box has made Scotland a smaller-minded, meaner, more bitter place, but these vices are long-embedded in our culture — just as they are in other cultures, albeit the expression is different — and predate Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP and the Union itself.
Anyone But England’s relentlessly negative focus is particularly woeful because this tournament saw a plucky, energetic Scotland squad that probably deserved to go further than it did. The advances made in skill, strategy and management — advances so evident even a soccerball noob like me can discern them — are at risk of being overshadowed by that gloomy cloud we like to mope under wishing it would rain on England.
So, no, I won’t be cheering on Italy tonight, a fine team and a fine country though it is. I’ll be bawling myself hoarse in support of Kane and the rest of Southgate’s men and for the millions of England fans who have dared to hope that it’s coming home at last. I don’t see the English as an enemy, auld or otherwise, but as my compatriots, mates, family — and the only nation in this country that is required to cloak even the slightest hint of national pride in universalist wokery to be deemed permissible. My fellow Scots can seethe and wail and teach themselves the lyrics to ‘Inno di Mameli’ all they want, but tonight I’ll be crying God for Harry, England and Saint Gareth.