2007 - 2021

Little Engerland, Pride and the Football Culture Wars

For those of us who are British (often through birth not choice) but not English, the media coverage of England’s progress through the Euros is often hard to stomach. Their match against Germany, the coverage on TV and their fans running with WW2 analogies, spitfires and Churchill etc, was particularly disturbing. But, as they make it through each round with increasingly impressive performances, we do have to face up to the possibility that “it” might be “coming home”.

But throughout this tournament I have been conflicted by the position taken by the media and much of the England support, and the nature of the young team representing that country. In Scotland the near unanimous view is that we don’t want them to win but, if you ask anyone why, it’s mainly because we don’t want to be bombarded with the inevitable insufferable triumphalism. This would be especially worse in the context of a post-Brexit nationalist Tory Govt wrapped in union flags and “taking back control”.

The actual team however, led by the dignified Gareth Southgate, have little to do with that history. Many of them were not born when Skinner & Baddiel penned that anthem, 1966 is ancient history, WW2 is from another world altogether. Over the last year Britain and England has been forced to re-evaluate their history, their role in the world. Statues have been torn down, television companies have commissioned drama and art that challenges the consensus. This multi-cultural team of young men represent a different England to the one I grew up resenting and, sometimes, despising.

In 1996, Skinner and Baddiel represented a laddish culture. They famously mocked the hair of the young black player Jason Lee, they had a chant about him having “a pineapple on his head” and even used blackface to publicly mock him. We couldn’t imagine them doing anything similar to Kalvin Phillips now. Meanwhile, the team have continued to ‘take the knee’ before matches despite widespread criticism from the reactionary English press, Tory Govt ministers and booing from their own fans. Harry Kane wore the rainbow pride colours on his captain’s armband throughout the month of June, celebrating Pride month.

Of course public displays of solidarity and political expression are not new to football.

Taking the knee might be controversial right now but here in Scotland we see politics in football often (not always progressive). Famously, Celtic and Dundee United fans came together to show Margaret Thatcher the red card when she was a guest at the 1988 Scottish Cup Final. Around this time last year I was a steward at the UN Day of Action on racism in support of Black Lives Matter and I spent an unplanned hour after the demo kettled by Police Scotland with The Green Brigade, after they joined the peaceful protest in an act of solidarity.

For someone of my generation, the war jingoism of the English media and football fans is relatively recent, it’s not something that we saw prior to the ban on English fans in Europe in the 1980s. The rise of attempts to form an English national identity since then perhaps adds to it. In the old days, the English fans had a confused identity where they struggled to differentiate between Britishness and Englishness. Pictures from the 1966 World Cup final show England’s fans carrying mainly union flags, by the time of the 1996 Euros in England they were all carrying England flags, the St George cross.

The young England team that we see now come from a different England, they are multi-ethnic, multicultural. They ply their trade in an English league that is truly international, with players from all over the world, some of them play abroad, in Germany and Spain.

The young English people that I know come from a different England too, in a different world. Young black, mixed race and Asian people, LGBT+ people, are far less alienated from football and their national team than they were in the past. Hilariously some of the right-wing media have labelled the team, Southgate and commentators like Gary Lineker as “Marxist”. During the pandemic year Marcus Rashord proved to be a far more effective opposition to the Tories than Keir Starmer.  Interestingly, since the England team adopted a Marxist perspective they haven’t conceded a goal in a major tournament.

So, although, like most Scots, I do worry that an England triumph at the Euros could prove unbearable, that feeling is contradicted by my own admiration for their squad of players and management. In a way, I would be happy to see this team be the ones that that actually did bring football home. There is something about them, a different sort of pride that we could, perhaps, all get behind.

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  1. Papko says:

    Excellent article.
    I agree with much of it.
    Particularly how dignified Gareth Southgate is and that the English team are setting a fine example of opposition to racism.

    1. Iain MacLean says:

      Dignified?

      Here’s the headline from Sky this morning – 10th July.

      “ Euro 2020: Gareth Southgate evokes wartime spirit ahead of final urging England fans to be proud of ‘an island our size’ “

      War time spirit?

      When did England become an island?

      Win or lose, our lives in Scotland should not be subjected to this constant train of mature visited upon us by being in this antiquated and increasingly irrational union!

  2. jim ferguson says:

    I agree with much of what you say Jim. It’s warm hearted and generous and football is only a game. But I fear the Tories would benefit from an England win in this competition and that would only be a bad thing from my perspective!

  3. Dougie Harrison says:

    I’m not usually at all interested in football, or any competitive team sport. The nearest I came to any enthusiasm was in season 2002/3 my then 11/12 yo son became a ball-boy for Partick Thistle.

    But Jim, you have made me realise that what happens on the field can sometimes be important. Thank you for that.

  4. Wul says:

    Thank you for this refreshing take Jim.

    I too was dreading the wave of triumphalist, imperial jingoism that will follow an England victory. However, the thought that young, black English footballers may feel inspired and witness successful role models on the pitch, at the top level, more than outweighs my grudge.

    Let’s leave the baggage with us auld yins and let the young yins enjoy their success.

  5. Iain MacLean says:

    For English friends of mine, I’d like nothing better than to see a smile on their face and after their team has won!

    However, as Jim says, the “inevitable insufferable triumphalism” coupled with the post brexit sourness created with our EU partners on purpose by tory politicans and the british / English media, I hope they do not progress beyond Wednesday, it’s the only way to bring this insufferable triumphalism and over the top reporting to a shuddering halt and return to reality!

    Why do I as a Scottish person lving in Scotland have to see and read more about English football than I do about Scottish football? Why do I have to wait for English fooball to be shown on bbc on a Saturday or Sunday before I can see Scottish fooball?

    We are being treated as second class citizens, fed a diet of news and sport that is not based on our needs or the news and sporting events of our country!

    Also the sinister “Tebbit cricket test” has raised its ugly head again, a misplaced loyalty test that Scots are being put through by the bbc and others? You are supporting England aren’t you? Why aren’t you supporting England? What is the matter with you, etc?

    When the state broadcaster is using the tactics of Tebbit, you know its time to leave this union!

  6. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    Yes, a good article which chimes pretty closely with my own thoughts on the current competition.

    I have always been keen on football, as a player, a coach and a spectator. I enjoy seeing good football. I also enjoy the identification of being a fan (of Partick Thistle and Scotland), even though it means savouring few triumphs over 70+ years. However, it is only a game, albeit a ‘beautiful one’ (Pele).

    Sadly, for some people the identification goes far deeper and taps into attitudes and, perhaps, psychoses, which often express themselves in triumphalism and physical hostility to supporters of other teams and none. It is no accident that a fair number of football teams have groups of fascists amongst their fans and that fascists do attempt to manipulate the feelings of crowds as we see with the booing of black players, the anti-LGBTI+ groups and other nations (especially for English fans, Germany).

    So, while, probably, I would not be unhappy if the England team won the competition, because of the manager and the multi-ethnic nature of the squad and for the many genuine England fans, who do accept that it is only a game.

    However, as in 1966, I fear that the media and politicians will use such a victory for their own nasty ends. Circumstances are different from 1966, not least in the near failure of democracy at Westminster and the cultural bile against people not perceived to be ‘one of us’, to resurrect Mrs Thatcher’s phrase. The Labour Government of 1966, while it milked the England win, was a democratic government and largely operated Parliament as it was supposed to work.

    It is time for the decent and humane people who live in England to take stock and begin to identify a decent Englishness, which can work constructively with people of other nations. However, the present Labour Party has nothing to say to them.

  7. Eugene says:

    Enjoyed that article Jim, but I fear that despite the obvious multicultural make up of the team and the dignity of Southgate, a win will only fuel the Brexit English nationalists jingoism. Everything that is good about the team and the set up will be completely ignored and them winning will ironically be a platform for everything that’s detestable about English culture. We only need to look at Ibrox, Gerrard has done something similar and his team is multicultural with a good few catholics, made very little difference when we witnessed the aftermath of their league title win. Can I also make a point of accuracy, if England do win the tournament, it certainly won’t be coming home, Scotland are the only team who can’t fulfil that statement in that context.

  8. Colin Robinson says:

    Just back in the door from a wee jaunt to West Yorkshire (there’s a rather good Barbara Hepworth exhibition on in Wakefield and another, even better Joana Vasconcelos one at the nearby sculpture park), where I watched both the Germany and the Ukraine matches in two different pubs. The punters didn’t seem any different from the Scotland fans watching their games; they just sported different crosses. And I didn’t see anyone struggling with or confused about their identity. Everyone seemed comfortable with and in their Englishness.

    1. Tom Ultuous says:

      Maybe your perception would’ve been different had England lost Colin. “What’s that jock **** looking so smug about?”

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        Right enough! What would I have had to look smug about?

        Anyway, I’d just have pointed out that contentment should not be confused with smugness, that contentment is being happy despite one’s successes and failures.

        1. Noel Campbell says:

          Well the English fans in London have already proven the point why some don’t want England to win .

          1. Colin Robinson says:

            Yes, they certainly had the smugness knocked out of them last night. I imagine there will be a lot of Lumpenproletarian discontent on the streets that the supremacists can feed off. I imagine Rashford, Saka, and Sancho’s Twitter feeds will have been white-hot.

    2. Niemand says:

      The Hepworth and Yorkshire Sculpture Park are both great.

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        They are indeed. And many of the wee municipal galleries have some real hidden gems in their collections.

        1. Niemand says:

          Yes indeed, and it is always great to go to one that on the surface is highly provincial and be very pleasantly surprised.

          I would recommend Huddersfield and of course, Middlesbrough.

          1. Wul says:

            Who’d have guessed that culture exists outwith London or Edinburgh?

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            I like a bit of provincialism; devotion to one’s own province before the nation as a whole; sullen art exercised in the still night, not for ambition or bread or the strut and trade of charms on ivory stages, but for the common wages of one’s most secret heart.

  9. Andy says:

    Nice article Jim.

    Typical right wing media conflating state sponsored capitalism with Marxism!

    I’m not sure if the Scottish mainstream media is any better, to be fair. I guess if England win the euros we’ll be the only team they didn’t beat or score a goal against. That means Scotland are equal euro champs…right!?

  10. Laurence Morgan says:

    Superb article and it strikes home with me fully. I’m also conflicted and don’t hold any grudge against the players and management. The games they’ve won , they’ve deserved to and won them cleanly without resort to cheating. God help us tho if they win this- the jingoism will be stratospheric. I’ve still not been able to watch the bbc since Friday as it’s all over their news offerings.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Laurence Morgan, well England certainly resorted to cheating against Denmark. Dear oh dear: the Great Dane Robbery. I feared something like this would happen. Brings into question the integrity of the refereeing, VAR and the tournament itself. And they might have won cleanly against a tiring Denmark if they’d chosen the path of light. Sterling and Kane, what a pair of divas.

  11. R Crowe says:

    Such a small minded, chippy attitude. Scotland fans would, no doubt, be just as excited had Scotland made it to the same stage of the tournament. As for the “WW2 analogies” how often do you hear Scottish people drone on about “freedom” – as though “Westminster” are some dictatorial, invading army. The Scottish Government has tonnes of powers with which to make Scotland better. Why aren’t people here more angry about how the SNP have completely failed to govern competently?

    I am born and bread Glaswegian but am grateful for the support of the UK during this awful pandemic, and I don’t for a second identify with the views of the author as expressed above.

    1. Iain MacLean says:

      The money given out during the pandemic is your money, my money, others on here’s money given to the uk government through our taxes, either that or it is money borrowed we will have to pay back that we have little say on the repayment terms and conditions!

      Why have a middleman that takes a less than transparent cut, when we are more than capable ourselves of borrowing money and repaying it?

      1. Colin Robinson says:

        Iain’s right; the wealth that our various governments have redistributed during the pandemic is our own collective wealth. Governments have no wealth of their own to distribute.

  12. Ally JG says:

    I’m fine with this England team winning. But it was a shame to see Ukraine go out so hard. They were using their success really well to put one in Putin/Russia’s eye and it would’ve been interesting to see that issue gaining prominence via sport, especially if they’d got to the later stages.

  13. Gercon says:

    Many things to admire about this young English team and manager.
    However. In a huge squad of players and coaches you would expect to find a percentage that dont love the Queen or believe in God.
    But there they all are singing at the top of their voices. I wonder do they have a choice?

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Unfortunately, national anthems seem to be de rigueur on such occasions.

      I too often think that, in a huge squad of players and coaches, you’d expect to find a percentage that don’t hate the English and blame them for all our woes. Yet there they all are, singing Flower of Scotland at the top of their voices.

      1. Iain MacLean says:

        Who hates the English?

        That insult died in the eighties, you need a new tune!

        Wanting your country to be independent does not equate to hatred of others!

        By your own rationale, wishing Scotland to be ruled by England, you therefore hate Scotland! But people are not accusing you of that, ever considered why?

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          That’s sort of my point. No one hates the English; yet, we quite happily belt out an anthem that’s expressive of anti-English sentiment.

    2. Niemand says:

      It’s an interesting point. I very much suspect some simply go along with it to avoid hassle. Maybe Southgate says look guys, just do this one and they do because they respect him. Just as they respect him for sticking to his guns re taking the knee.

      On a wider point, things are changing and football is getting more inclusive, both on and off the pitch in England. The racist thug and reactionary football fan is still very much there and egged on by certain journalists (who after all buy their copy), but they are now much more beleaguered as a species and like a wounded animal is thrashing around somewhat desperately. But, sadly, they will remain because the tribal nature of football will always attract and sustain the attitudes they hold, especially when you have a government who, tacitly or otherwise, also encourages them.

    3. Tom Ultuous says:

      Similar thoughts crossed my mind Gercon.

  14. SleepingDog says:

    I watch all the big men’s and women’s international football tournaments (World Cups and Euros) catching almost every game (only missing one of each simultaneous group deciders). My view is that I want the best team to win, and that takes in various factors from quality of play to refraining from cheating. England have deserved to progress, although they have met some weak opposition and ground out their earlier results. Nevertheless, England have a major problem in creating goalscoring chances, with less from 5 games (even after scoring 4 against Ukraine) than Scotland created in 3: https://www.uefa.com/uefaeuro-2020/statistics/teams/attempts/?sortBy=attempts
    This has meant rather thin fare for fans watching matches to get really excited about.

    But perhaps the big story, ironically ‘discovered’ by some in the media, is that teamplay is winning over stars. The big media star players have generally gone home with their teams. Commentators often go to ridiculous lengths with the halo effect on their chosen ones. And England generally seem to have a team-based ethic these days, although I was wondering if Southgate was keeping Kane on the pitch to try and get his hattrick. If anything, it is the poisonous elitism behind much of Anglo-British sport (over-represented in many sports by the privately-educated, though not football) that we should be concerned with. Some of us remember the original Thatcherite policies of selling-off of school playing fields which is still apparently a thing today.

    If England play better than Denmark and go through to play better against Italy or Spain, then I want them to win the tournament. If not, I don’t.

  15. Jim Sansbury says:

    Good article!
    One thing strikes me about the English fans and their WW2 Spitfire and Churchill references and also booing the German national anthem, and that is that 90% of them must be in the 20-40 years old bracket, too young to have been affected in the slightest by the last war.
    This can only mean one thing, that they have been taught this English jingoistic bullshit by their elders, (but not neccessarily their betters), just like the bigotry that is handed down from generation to generation in NI.
    Im 76, born at the fag end of the war and Im of the opinion (most likely unpopular) that its high time UK and England especially moved on, remember the dead once a year with respect, but thats enough.
    Strange that counties like Holland and Denmark and France who were actually invaded and occupied during the war now seem to rub along quite well with Germany in a great partnership called the EU and without rancour.
    Whereas England, uninvaded and unoccupied still obsesses itself with Spitfires and Churchill, and waving its Union Flag angrily across the Channel.

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Jim Sansbury, indeed, booing the opposing team’s national anthem is foul play not fairplay, and this Daily Express sport reporter has also condemned it:
      https://www.express.co.uk/sport/football/1456978/England-fans-booing-national-anthem-Neil-Squires-column
      It is especially poor form as the host. Why would any international sports organisation want to grant competition to English bids in future? (apart from perks and bribes, anyway)

      Curiously, I also got the impression that Italian teams were booing their own team for attacking too much, but that may have been a cultural misunderstanding.

      1. Bill Geddes says:

        As a Jock long domiciled in England I am sick of the glorification of any English person or team which happens to put one over John foreigner.What the hell is wrong with English people? Is it overcompensation for an inferior complex or just plain old jingoism.I cannot support England as so many of their “fans” (not really football fans I suspect..but fans of racism and Nationality). I think Southgate is a decent bloke and some of the players also but I hope the team get a real pasting when they are at last confronted by a true big beast…probably in the Final.

    2. Tom Ultuous says:

      Good post Jim.

  16. Michael Romer says:

    Sport must be very puzzling for Boris Johnson since he always makes sure that anyone he appoints to his team is even less competent than he is.

  17. Adrian Roper says:

    Colin Robinson,
    Thanks for quoting of Dylan Thomas.
    “In my craft or sullen art” is one of his finest poems.
    He was definitely a provincialist in his attitude towards Wales, making him even more appropriate as a reference in your comments.
    In contrast, James Joyce was far more of a nationalist, though in the most cunning of ways.
    Arguably he was the greater writer because of it.

    Anyway, great article, Jim.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Given that their art consists in working language into aesthetically pleasing forms, I don’t see how his [alt.]nationalism makes Joyce the greater writer of the two.

      In the dim-and-distant, I spent quite a lot of time writing about Dylan’s ‘Welshness’. It was around the time of the centenary of his birth and associated attempts to tie him to a national identity. I’m still of the view that Dylan eludes such nationalisation.

      Dylan’s work is emblematic of the way in which Welsh identity is multifarious and difficult to define and authenticate. This is true of all national identities; hence, the fact that English identity is ‘problematic’ in the way that articles like Jim’s claim, isn’t actually problematic. The problematic nature of English identity – its protean elusiveness – is something that all national identities share; it’s the nature of the beast.

      1. Adrian Roper says:

        Hi Colin
        I may be out my depth here, but my sense is that Thomas generally portrayed Wales in fanciful terms, as a dreamy place, best enjoyed during childhood, and by no means central to his sometimes brilliant, often impenetrable, shamanistic urgings.
        Joyce portrayed Ireland in complex human and cultural detail, making it both a part of the world’s consciousness (a nationalist endeavour) and a mirror for humanity everywhere (an internationalist endeavour).
        Yes?

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          I’m not sure that Thomas portrayed Wales much at all, any more than George Mackay Brown portrayed Orkney (though they have become emblematic of Wales and Orkney respectively). Certainly, Wales provides a context for his poetry (as Orkney does for Brown’s), but it’s more expressive of a nostalgia for lost childhood and for childhood’s magicality than of any ‘Welshness’.

          Also, did Joyce’s ‘Ireland’ extend much beyond Dublin?

          1. Adrian Roper says:

            From my reading, Joyce’s Ireland was definitely the whole island, although seen through a Dubliner’s eyes.
            You might want to read his story The Dead for a clear sense of this…and a great story too.
            Cheers

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            Will do.

          3. Colin Robinson says:

            Done!

            Joyce does seem to have thought that Ireland as a whole was being smothered by the Roman Catholic Church and by a kind of cultural circularity that was preventing it from progressing to modernity. Perhaps that’s why Joyce looked more towards Europe’s avant-garde rather than the Celtic Twilight for Ireland’s salvation.

          4. Mouse says:

            Scotland gets a culture, a sandstone spaceship, and a railway station based on one of the the world’s most boring books. A work that you would need to be cattle-prodded to endure.

          5. Colin Robinson says:

            Aye, tastes change. For nearly a century, the Waverley novels were among the most popular and widely read novels in Europe and the American South. They’ve done more than anything else to define ‘Scotland’ both at home and abroad, as well as the set of cultural assumptions, mindsets, and traditions that became known as ‘Dixie’ in the antebellum South. The writing’s still exquisite, though.

  18. Ged O'Brien says:

    We live at an interesting tipping point. The attitudes displayed are founded upon English Exceptionalism produced by centuries of empire. Justification of rape and plunder was explained away as the innate superiority of the Anglo-Saxon at just about everything. The fact that the history of the creation of modern world football is down to the genius of the Scots has been utterly smothered, in support of the propaganda of upper-class rulers from the south-east of England.

    That Scottish genius gave rise to the Scottish Enlightenment, of which football was its sporting wing. We can separate pleasure at the winning of a trophy by what might be the best team in the tournament and the mendacity of the history on which English football has been built. A century and a half of dissembling, which leads to people dressed in Crusader outfits, imagining that their actions are part of the culture of English football.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      But the idea of a ‘Scots genius’ is just an expression of Scottish exceptionalism, Ged; it’s part of the same ethnic nonsense that gives rise to the English ‘wha’s like us?’ brigade.

      1. Niemand says:

        And people wonder why nationalism has a bad name. Where to begin? Pretty much anywhere in any of these comments threads. You gotta laugh.

      2. Ged O'Brien says:

        I use the term deliberately. It is not an ethnic term. It describes the series of criteria which came together to make Scotland the founders of modern world football. The term Scotch Professor applies to people who are not Scottish and have no Scottish relatives. People like Jimmy Hogan or José Piendibene.

        I think you have projected the definition of English Exceptionalism onto my comments. The concept of the Scotch Professor is more a meme and in no way suggests that Scotland invented football because they are somehow racially superior. Football draws from the way of looking at the world: theorise then put your ideas into practice. This was the oppositie of the English ultra-individualistic dribbling game, which was preparation for young boys to run the Empire as men.

        Nationalism has a bad name because people take it as a sign of superiority. Scots took their football culture and passed it around the world, to anyone who wanted it. Example 1: Thomas Donohoe from Busby went to Rio de Janeiro and showed people how to play the Scottish passing and running game. He co-founded the Bangu Football Club which had the the first black professional in Brazil. Example 2: English merchants founded the Genoa Football and Cricket Club. First rule: no Italians.

        There are many reasons why Scottish Genius founded modern world football. Racist nationalism is not one of them.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          No, the ‘Scots Genius’ denotes a characteristic disposition or natural intelligence or talent that supposedly distinguishes ‘the Scots’ from other nations. At least, that’s been the common usage since the concept first appeared in the 1640s. Hence all the chauvinistic bragging about all the things Scotland gave the world.

          And I thought ‘Scotch Professors’ referred to the football players of the late 19th century who moved south to play for clubs participating in the English Football League during the period when football had become professional in England but remained (theoretically) amateur in Scotland; those to whom the Scottish press at the time referred as ‘traitorous wretches’ and ‘base mercenaries’, and whom the Scottish Football Association subsequently blacklisted for their perfidy.

          1. Ged O'Brien says:

            ‘Scotch Professor’ is a term used to define the Scottish Players who were lured south to teach mostly Lancashire and Yorkshire clubs how to play the Combination game: a code of football which utilised fast, short passing; with dribbling and running. It was based upon the idea of a team as a group of players who could achieve more, if they acted in concert. In essence, this was the opposite of what the southern English amateurs wanted from their game. There is an intra-English split here, in that a very small group of public school boys imposed their will on the Midlands and the North. They had their own styles – most obviously represented by the Sheffield Association which, at its height, reached into the Midlands of England and was on friendly terms with Scotland despite being a different code.

            The English League (created by a Scot) comes after the Scotch Professor code defeated the individualistic code. Unintended results of the Scotch Professor teaching England how to play modern football was professionalism in England in 1885 and a League system that guaranteed professional clubs regular games and therfore regular income.

            In the south, I expect that the term ‘Scotch Professor’ would have been pejorative. It would have referred to men in those northern clubs who were working class and were entirely unaware of the southern English public school way of doing things. In fact, when the English FA were obliged to give in on paying players, or face the loss of all their northern clubs to the new British FA, they framed the rules in such a way that penalised Scottish Players – through residence requirements.

          2. Niemand says:

            This use of the term exceptionalism has got really lazy and stupid. It has become a cipher for any actual argument. It can just be said that [insert hate figure / nation / race] is an example and that’s it, ‘argument’ done, target demonised forever and for every thing they ever did. Then sit back smugly, the empty rhetoric ringing around the echo chamber, then ‘falling into empty time like an impotent bullet’.

          3. Colin Robinson says:

            I blame the proto-Romanticism of Herder and Fichte, who, in reaction to the Enlightenment civic ideal, de-emphasised the republic and instead emphasised the Volk. In the Romantic view, nations came to be considered (including retrospectively) as cultural rather than civic entities, with each nation supposed to have its own distinct history, language, and traditions, which comprised its spiritual identity – its ‘Volksgeist’ or national ‘genius’ – and which rendered it exceptional in relation to every other. It’s a short step from feelings of exceptionality to feelings of superiority. ‘Wha’s like us…’ etc.

            This Romantic conception of the nation had a strong influence on the growth of nationalism in 19th-century Europe, especially in areas ruled by élites from somewhere else. It particularly influenced Edinburgh Tories like Sir Walter Scott, who virtually invented the romance that is ‘Scotland’ as we know it today.

          4. Niemand says:

            Really interesting comment and yes, I agree. Culture of course plays into it but it is always changing and not fixed around border lines. And virtually anyone who says this is a unique to our culture and thus our nation is playing the exceptionalism card, by default.

      3. Tom Ultuous says:

        There are some things I’ve done that I look back on with pride and others I look back on with self-loathing. The former doesn’t imply I see myself as exceptional but the absence of the latter would.

        1. Ged O'Brien says:

          Tom: my use of the term ‘Scots Genius’ is deliberately focussed on my knowledge of English and Scots football history. As for ‘wha’s like us?’ since I came to Scotland, I have always heard that uttered in a satirical, self-deprecatory way. Best encapsulated in the Tartan Army chant I heard at Les Halles Metro Station in 1998 ‘We’re shite, but we’ll beat Brazil’. I doubt if anyone on that platform saw it as anything but deeply ironic and satirical.

          The Scots thought of a concept of football that was world-beating between 1872 and the 1900s. They emigrated with it to many continents, where it was turned into something else, by the people to whom they showed it. This is the way. It was never imposed. Often, English players had got there and started playing their dodoball kick, rush, dribble, tackle philosophical cul-de-sac which represented their world view.

          Example: Charles Miller: born Brazil of a Scottish father is sent to a posh school in Southampton and learns the ways of the young Englishman. Returns to Sao Paulo where the locals see what they call his ‘Bombazo’ style of football. Archie McLean from Paisley goes to Sao Paulo to help set up a Coats works. Founds the Scottish Wanderers team. The locals are amazed at this utterly different game and dub it ‘tabelinha’ [the chart] style and immediately take it up and take it on to greater heights. Miller: ethnically of Scottish origin. Culturally an English footballer. Archie McLean: one of the great Scotch Professors: not because of his birthplace but because of his Scottish concept of football

          BTW, no-one should loathe themselves. It is not healthy. Reflect ruefully on mistakes made, put them right for next time, and move on.

        2. Colin Robinson says:

          Aye, but we’re not talking about you, Tom; we’re talking about the ‘Scots Genius’ as a concept.

        3. Mouse says:

          The best trick that Satan pulled off was convincing people that the #1 cardinal sin is good. Pride is a free pass to Hell.

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            “The cheapest sort of pride is national pride; for if a man is proud of his own nation, it argues that he has no qualities of his own of which he can be proud; otherwise he would not have recourse to those which he shares with so many millions of his fellowmen. The man who is endowed with important personal qualities will be only too ready to see clearly in what respects his own nation falls short, since their failings will be constantly before his eyes. But every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud adopts, as a last resource, pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and glad to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”

            ― Arthur Schopenhauer

            Arthur got that slightly wrong. Surely those clowns who take pride in a nation that considers them countrymen only when they have a use for them take pride of place in his narrative.

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            “People who enjoy waving flags don’t deserve to have one.”

            — Banksy

      4. Adrian Roper says:

        Hi Colin
        I’m struggling with the absence of a reply button on some comments. This reply goes back to our exchange on Dylan Thomas and James Joyce.
        I think your comment about Joyce seeking Ireland’s salvation through the European avant-garde is correct, and supports my view that he was a cunning sort of nationalist, and also a better writer than Thomas. He didn’t caricature his country like Thomas did, and he was deliberately acting as his country’s imaginative conscience, like Israel’s Prophets of old but from a godless modern perspective.
        Is my use of nationalist appropriate? I guess it depends on how broadly you define the term. Joyce certainly wasn’t a flag waver and was far more focused on his nation’s (and humanity’s) shortcomings than its “genius”. Irving Welsh springs to mind in our times.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          I admire them both. I think the interest of modernist writers lies more in the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’ of their writing. In that respect, they were both experimental and virtuosic in ways that are equally enjoyable and perhaps incommensurable. They were both also, in their own ways, equal in their deep criticism of the ‘Welshness’ and ‘Irishness’ in which they found themselves respectively encultured and from whose ‘nightmares’ (as Joyce put it) they respectively struggled to escape.

          As for nationalism, my impression of Joyce is that he was a globalist or cosmopolitan. He disliked the British Empire as well as the Church of Rome, it being his belief that they were both responsible for Ireland’s arrested development. But he believed that the Empire had arrested England’s development too. He also didn’t like the Irish nationalists for what he perceived to be their anachronism. Joyce was completely uninterested in the ‘Celtic Twilight’ fantasy, and (like Thomas) he held the language of the future to be English rather than Irish/(Welsh). My take is that he wanted Ireland to look past its own insularity as a premodern Imperial backwater towards modern avant-garde Europe and to surpass itself in a kind of pan-European cosmopolitan identity.

          Hard-core Joyceans might disagree with my reading of him. But judging from what I have read, that’s how he seems to me to roll. Dubliners reeks of the oppression and poverty of imperial and clerical rule. But Joyce also has his Little Chandler, who has ridiculously pretentious dreams of being a ‘Celtic’ poet, and his frosty fusty Miss Ivors, who henpecks Gabriel for not taking all his holidays in Ireland and for not speaking its ‘indigenous’ language. To me, Gabriel, who both praises Irish hospitality and prefers to go bicycling in France or Belgium because he’s bored with Irish insularity, epitomises Joyce’s ambivalent attitude towards Ireland.

  19. GlobalScot says:

    “In Scotland the near unanimous view is that we don’t want them to win but, if you ask anyone why, it’s mainly because we don’t want to be bombarded with the inevitable insufferable triumphalism.”

    Include me out of that near unanimity generalisation. You only need to listen to a belligerent national anthem with “and send him homeward blah blah” and then hear a capacity (football) crowd chant “If you hate the f****** English clap your hands ” to know that our nation is still more troubled by the last home defeat of a Jacobite Army than Gary Lineker and Cos enthusiasm for Harry Kane and Bukayo Saka.

  20. Mouse says:

    ‘ Interestingly, since the England team adopted a Marxist perspective they haven’t conceded a goal in a major tournament.’

    LOL!

    Weird, and wrong at the same time.

    Come on England!

    Forza Italia!

  21. Tim Radnor says:

    Well, yes there is nothing to particularly dislike about the individuals, but sport has never been about that. I’m Welsh but grew up mostly in England and part of my identity (rightly or wrongly) is based around that sense of having a rival. Of course, as a Welshman, I can point to other things (suppressing our language, underfunding the country, flooding villages etc), but, truthfully sport rests on these intense rivalries and, to me and many others, becomes meaningless if you start supporting them because the players and manager are millionaires who are just being decent people.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Yes, identity is often defined more by what you’re not than by what you are. And competitive sport in capitalist societies has always been about rivals vying for superiority over one another rather than the cultivation of excellence for its own sake as per the classical ideal.

      As such, competitive sport can be viewed as an ideology of capitalism; a part of the cultural hegemony that shapes, reinforces, and keeps amenable our behavioural dispositions or ‘minds’.

  22. Diane Doig says:

    That didn’t age well given Southgates comments today ‍♀️‍♀️‍♀️

  23. Noel says:

    What a thought provoking article. I WANT England to win but like those of us not being English I dread the nationalistic jingoism that will inevitably follow.

    The English squad have behaved impeccably during Euros and team, captain and manager deserve credit for this.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      I didn’t, Noel. Never mind all that stomach-churning ‘Roy of the Rovers’ British sportsmanship piety that the England squad projected throughout the tournament, I had £10 on Italy to win 2-0. Luke Shaw should be bloody well hung.

  24. Jim says:

    I’ve just been reading about Danish fans being verbally abused and spat at by supporters of the England team. Media coverage has, as usual, been appallingly biased, in favour of the England squad, while the FA and the authorities appear do nothing to deal with this type of behaviour. I, for one, hope Italy do the needful and win the game. This truly is a team being let down by their supporters.

  25. Tom Ultuous says:

    With the EU team beating the master race on their home turf last night there were shades of Jesse Owens at Munich.

    1. Colin Robinson says:

      Only, there was a distinct lack of black faces in the Italy squad that overcame that of your ‘master race’. Go figure!

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        Colour wasn’t really the point Colin but since you bring it up maybe you’d like to explain the racist abuse handed out by the master race to their black players.

        1. Colin Robinson says:

          I think it’s fairly self-explanatory: your ‘master race’ merchants are racist. I wouldn’t expect anything other from them.

          I just found your parallel between the Italy team and Jesse Owens ridiculous, given the lack of racial diversity in its composition when compared to the England team.

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            So you’re claiming a country’s racism can be determined by the number of black people in their national team?

          2. Colin Robinson says:

            Yes; on a level playing field, you’d expect to find the demographic of a national football squad to be representative of the demographic of the nation generally. England’s squad was way more representative than Italy’s. England’s fanbase is pretty representative too.

          3. Tom Ultuous says:

            I don’t know what the demographics are but you’re saying Mancini is a racist?

          4. Niemand says:

            The structures of racism prevents qualifying black players progressing to a level good enough to be considered. It probably has nothing to do with Mancini. The lack of any such representation is a very good indicator of that structural racism, obviously noticeable in some other teams in the tournament as well.

            I have zero idea what this reference to the master race or EU team is in any meaningful sense. Either way, it is total bollocks.

          5. Colin Robinson says:

            No; I’m saying that the Italian national squad didn’t reflect the diversity of its society generally as closely as England’s reflected the diversity of its. When it comes to racism, personal attitudes are of much less relevance than structures and processes. There’s clearly something amiss with Italian football when the diversity of Italian society generally isn’t reflected in its national squad. The Federcalcio should look into how football’s done in Italy and why its elite players are drawn disproportionately from a particular racial group. Maybe they could learn something from the structures and processes that have produced greater diversity in England’s national side.

          6. Colin Robinson says:

            Precisely, Niemand.

          7. Tom Ultuous says:

            F*** me, there’s two of them again. Could you give me a link to these demographics?

            Regardless, you’re both saying England isn’t racist because a few boys that are particularly good at football can rise through the ranks? We’re back to the Tory report on racism which concluded there was no institutional racism in the “UK”, aren’t we? And Johnston, or his fascist supporters, wouldn’t have linked a euro victory to Brexit or English exceptionalism in any way?

          8. Colin Robinson says:

            No, Tom; I’m saying what I said: that the England national squad is more reflective of the diversity of contemporary English society than the Italy national squad is of contemporary Italian society, and that the parallel you drew between Jesse Owens at the Munich Olympics and Italy at the Euro finals in London is ridiculous.

          9. Tom Ultuous says:

            “No, Tom; I’m saying what I said: that the England national squad is more reflective of the diversity of contemporary English society than the Italy national squad is of contemporary Italian society, and that the parallel you drew between Jesse Owens at the Munich Olympics and Italy at the Euro finals in London is ridiculous.”

            So where are these demographics? It probably is ridiculous in that Johnson suffered far more embarrassment as a result of Sunday’s events than Hitler did in Munich. It’s shone a giant spotlight on his party and country’s racism.

            Read this article in the independent I mentioned earlier

            https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/other/dont-be-surprised-at-the-racist-abuse-of-bukayo-saka-%E2%80%93-this-is-england-after-all/ar-AAM3b1I

            It ends with the line “This is England – get used to it”.

            You and Niemand intimating England’s racist problem is exaggerated because they’re willing to make use of talented black football players doesn’t cut it. I’m sure Hitler would’ve made use of Einstein had the man not had the good sense to get out.

            Have a read at this also

            https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/uknews/bbc-considers-left-wing-anti-brexit-journalist-for-top-news-job/ar-AAM0hjP

            I don’t know of the woman but I’m guessing she’s about as left wing as Willie Rennie. Murdoch’s more or less telling Johnson he doesn’t approve of the appointment and that he should threaten the BBC further to block the appointment.

            This is Munich (sorry England) – get used to it.

          10. Tom Ultuous says:

            PS Read the comments attached to the “This is England – get used to it” article. As the author says …

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