Why the Scottish beat the English in their World Cup coverage

While the English can’t resist Football’s-Coming-Home triumphalism, the Scots have a more realistic view.

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By the time you’re reading this England might be in the World Cup Final. Or not. In which case I’ll be more supportive of the morbid Scottish POV, made achingly manifest on Saturday during the England-Sweden game. On BBC Radio 5 Live the commentary ranged from confident (“This is a strangely comfortable quarter final!”) to the pitying (“It’s been tough for Sweden without the ball”) via all pocket-checking stops between (“Bizarrely this feels very controlled and expected”).

Meanwhile, on BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound, Liam McLeod and guests – supposedly talking about England vs Sweden – managed doggedly to dissect absolutely everything but. Flatly ignoring even the pleasurable nervousness of waiting for that first goal to be scored, with both teams running through treacle, they speculated dully about the future of Spartans and Queen’s Park; Dumbarton; news of Scottish football coaches Brian Rice, Alan Stubbs, Anthony Stokes.

While Chris Waddle wept on 5 Live’s 606 following the match – unable to answer any questions whatsoever, especially the stupid one about why he was crying (“Chris, we’ll come back to you”) – in Scotland they spoke of Motherwell, Kilmarnock under Stevie Clark, and all the league cup group stages. (But even their astonishingly dogged Eeyoreishness was preferable to the sight of Alan Shearer on BBC One, wearing his bailiff’s shirt and licking his lips in that way of his, like a bog-dry, semi-friendly lizard sensing the threat of fun or of dissent.)

Then over on 5 Live, mere seconds into 606 and just following the first caller (“Can I say hello to Chris? I’ve seen all his DVDs”), the shift in tone began – to royal wedding-level “wives and grannies can get involved too” Football’s-Coming-Home triumphalism (“Let’s not tempt fate… but is it coming home?”). The very qualities that Gareth Southgate was being praised for – “modesty”, “calmness”, “organisation” – entirely eluded everybody talking about him. If this current, not terribly good team seems gloriously free of the egos of the Gerrard-Terry-Beckham generation, we simply cannot find the language to sustain or properly praise them. Get me to Glasgow! 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She presents The Film Programme on BBC Radio 4. She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article appears in the 13 July 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit farce