The Scottish are warming to a loveable England team

Gareth Southgate has created a squad that is both modest and talented - even the Scots can't deny that. 

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“The Man Who…”  It’s a famous, repetitive cartoon about those who dare to think the outlandish or the unthinkable or the silly. I suppose I’m The Scot Who… supports England.

I can’t help it. At the age of nine I took a book from the local library in Denny (near Stirling) about the Busby Babes and fell profoundly in love. My lifelong crush has been Manchester United. I loved them when they were rubbish. I loved them when they were great. I love them now they’re rubbish again. In the end, English football is as natural to me as Scotch whisky.

I grew up in a Scottish Irish Catholic family. The expectation was that one would support Celtic. And I did. But I struggled with being an Eighties boy in Central Scotland who had to know the IRA slogans, who had to hate the Proddies, who had to access that pit of bile. Couldn’t do it. Total cultural failure. Och.

To be clear: I’m a Celtic fan. It’s an easy thing. Perhaps an easy prejudice. They’re a wonderful team with a glorious history. Those European nights. Henrik Larsson, 1967, Martin O’Neill and Seville etc. There are moments where the dander rises.

But I can’t do the hate. Just can’t, where my friends somehow can. The decline of Rangers has been terrible for Scottish football. Even as a Man Utd fan I love the proper enemy – Liverpool – because they had King Kenny and they played like *that * and they now have Mo. I may even love Kenny above Ferguson because of those great goals, that smile, that extraordinary arse. Beauty matters.

And so I couldn’t do the Old Firm. Found it – find it - sickening. Where does it all leave you? It’s healthy, how?

I support Scotland, anywhere and everywhere. The image of Gazza lying on his back after *that* goal in Euro 96 makes me want to deliver a heavy Scottish boot to his arse. Kenny nutmegging Clemence: yes. Jim Baxter doing keepy-uppies against the world champions: aye. But when Scotland aren’t there - and, let’s be honest, that’s more often than not at the dangerous end of all the major competitions – I find myself emotionally and vocally backing England.

It’s a cautious and lonely Scot who has pursued this path over the years. The boys in the pub don’t like it. I’ve had to escort more than one English pal from a bar in the West End of Glasgow to avoid a clumsy confrontation. My boys Beckham, and Scholes, and the Nevilles, and Rooney, and Carrick, and Rio, and now Rashford and Lingard… well, not every weegie feels the same

Suddenly though, this World Cup, this England team, confront the pre-weaponised Scot with a different and harder challenge. There are still plenty of reasons to go at the English – shove Brexit right up your arse, the commentators are universally appalling, Corbyn, May, REES-MOGG (imagine how that looks up here) – but this team is… loveable.

Southgate is the manager who redefines English football and its pathetic culture. He’s not talking about 1966, he’s reinventing the penalty shoot-out, he’s creating a team that is both modest and talented and decent and successful. Harry Kane is the anti-John Terry: he’s worked hard to reach this level, he’s (seemingly) morally incorrupt, he hasn’t yet shagged a team-mate’s wife; the unflappable, humble Jordan Henderson; the heroic 6’1” titch Jordan Pickford; the insouciant Jesse Lingard. It’s really great, guys.

I find around me a change of tone. A fair amount of my fellow Scots, the ones who can bring themselves to wish England well, would quite like this generation of boys to make their own history. This is a tremendous team which could achieve anything. You might be English bastards, but plenty of us are up for Sir Harry.

Chris Deerin is the New Statesman's contributing editor (Scotland).