Should I fly my kilt for England?

Observations on the World Cup

I'm trying to be philosophical about the World Cup. In 1998, I followed Scotland round France in a kilt. Four years later, I'm too fat to get into my kilt and Scotland won't be playing in Japan.

But do I agree with the SNP politician who called for Scots to back England? Or with the Tennent's lager advertising campaign urging us to support England's opponents with slogans such as "Och Aye Kanu" and "C'mon the Tartan Argie"?

England-baiting is certainly the more established tradition. On my first visit to Hampden Park in 1978, the terrace chants included "if you hate the fucking English, clap your hands", as well as an infectious, but not very grown-up, ditty questioning Jimmy Hill's sexuality. It was some years before the English truly returned the hostility. By the time the teams met in the play-offs for Euro 2000, one radio presenter was referring to Scots as "sweaties" - abuse that in any other context might have fallen foul of the Race Relations Act.

The reasons are obvious enough. Now that there is a parliament in Edinburgh, the English don't see why they should tolerate abuse from chippy Scots or, indeed, why Scots should be chippy at all.

But the renewed interest in what it means to be English, as distinct from British, is a good thing. Nothing has done more to undermine the union than the English tendency to use these terms interchangeably, as if Scotland, as the comedian Al Murray put it, was "England's loft extension". The flag of St George replaced the Union flag at Euro '96. All the English need now is a replacement for "God Save the Queen" - though not, please, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot".

Diego Maradona's "hand of God", the missed penalties in Turin and the defeat to Germany at Euro '96, were all, for me, pure moments of footballing joy. But I no longer feel comfortable revelling in English failure, partly because I've lived in England for 14 years, but partly also for more profound reasons.

The imperial chauvinism that once defined English attitudes to the people's game is giving way to a civic patriotism more interested in celebrating Englishness than in denigrating foreigners. You can see it in the multicultural character of both the football team and its support, and in the increasingly irreverent, self-mocking approach of most fans. You can see it, too, in the way that the English have taken to their urbane Swedish manager.

We Scots should recognise that our complex about the English is holding us back. Freed from this fixation, we might be out in the Far East now, instead of watching at home. Craig Brown kept his job as Scotland manager only because, after a terrible qualifying campaign for Euro 2000, his team beat England 1-0 in the return leg of the play-offs while losing 2-1 on aggregate. He sailed on, holding aloft his hollow victory in true Braveheart style, into two more years of uninspired leadership and football oblivion.

So this time, we Scots should want England to go as far as their performance merits. And if England win the World Cup? Then I'll have to emigrate because the English will be unbearable.

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