One of the many pleasures of Euro 2000, and there still are some, despite England limping pathetically out, is observing each country's players. I don't just mean the hairstyles - only the Italians have made much of an attempt this time, with their ducky hairbands which don't quite fit, so that they are always pushing their locks back over their ears. I mean the names and the faces that trotted out to represent each country.
France and Holland have the most black players on view, up to five at a time, followed by England, who can often manage three. I'm not sure what that means, what it indicates. Shouldn't England have most, as we had the most colonies? There are no Asian Brits in the Premier League, so you wouldn't expect any in the national team, but there are dozens of blacks from our old African and West Indian colonies. Why are there not more in the national team? One reason for the difference is that France still has its West Indian possessions. Anyone born in Martinique or Guadeloupe is automatically a French citizen. If you are born in Trinidad or Tobago, you are a Trinidadian or Tobagonian.
Dwight Yorke, despite having spent his whole professional life in Britain, plays for T&T, his country of birth, otherwise he would surely have been in the England squad. He has now, in fact, become a British citizen - which he hopes won't upset the folks back home - in order to help with work permits and passports and stuff, but he's done it too late to play for England.
You'd expect Germany to have more of a mixture of races these days, with the country's large immigrant population, but there are few signs of it on the field. Sweden has Henrik Larsson, with his phoney-looking dreadlocks but his ever so genuine Swedish name.
As for the names, I can study them for hours. It's so satisfying when you find that almost everyone else in the Swedish squad is called Andersson. In the Yugoslav squad, 18 out of the 24 have names that end in "ic". Hold on, now I look again, 17 out of that 18 end in "vic". I bet not even Motty, the ultimate anorak, has noted that.
The Spanish, Portuguese and Italian players all have surnames that sound satisfactorily genuine. The Italians seem to keep repeating the same or similar names from 20 years ago, apart from Totti. He's new. And a godsend to the England defenders. They've been sending postcards home to their girlfriends. "I am over here to chase Totti . . ."
In the French squad, there are a few suspiciously un-French names, such as Djorkaeff, but then France has made a habit of that. Platini, their best ever, must surely have had some Italian blood, or similar. Ditto Cantona.
Some names sound totally out of place when you hear them, such as Roy McKay of Holland. He must have Scottish blood, until you see that he spells it Mackaay. So that's all right then. John Carew of Norway sounds like another interloper. Mikkel Beck, that wandering tufty blond, is in the Danish squad. Beck is what we call a stream here in Cumbria, a name given to us by our Viking invaders. Was one of them Mikkel's old man?
In the England squad, Keown must have Irish blood, while Scholes, way back, could have been German - perhaps even related to Scholl, who does play for Germany. There were several people in my class at school in Carlisle who had German names, yet their families had been in Cumbria for centuries, since some German miners came over to work in the lead mines near Keswick to help us make Cumberland pencils.
So what's in a name? Not much. Sometimes nothing at all. You would think our own dear Tony Blair must be a pure Scot, if you didn't know that it's not his blood name. (It's the surname of the man who adopted his father.) Bill Clinton has tried to pass for Irish, but then that's not his real name, either. Beware generalisations based on surnames. Such as this column.
I have gone through life maintaining I am Scottish, especially when it comes to football. I was born there, and both my parents were Scottish, one from Motherwell and the other from Cambuslang. But my surname, spelt with an "e", please, in the pedigree manner, suggests I should be Welsh. The family legend is that our first Davies swapped sides at the Battle of Waterloo. No, not joining the French. He went out with a Welsh regiment and came back with a Scottish one.
My first name is Scottish, so that's good, but I always wished my surname was something else. So does my wife. She hates being called Mrs Davies. She much prefers her own surname, Forster, a pure Cumbrian Border name. Which is where she's from. In "Young Lochinvar", Walter Scott refers to "the Forsters, the Fenwicks, they rode and they ran". (Not a mention of Bragg, and I've read the whole poem.)
The problem with Davies, or Davis, is that there are so many. Did you know that half of the top ten surnames in England and Wales are Welsh? In order, they are Smith, Jones, Williams, Brown, Taylor, Davies, Evans, Thomas, Roberts, Johnson (the Welsh ones being Jones, Williams, Davies, Evans and Roberts). Amazing, when there are only three million Welsh and 45 million English. We Celts are so fertile.
But back to the English, whom I did cheer on now and again - well, for the odd minute, forgetting that I am Scottish, sorry Welsh, I mean Celtic . . . OK, European.
In the final on 2 July, I want the best team to win. In football, as in life, we are all brothers, under the skin, under the name.