x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Don't let them forget the past

The columnist worries that England's delusions of football adequacy are dangerously absent from the Euros.

Scottish fans had a rare moment to celebrate at Wembley in 1977 following a 2-1 victory in the Home International Championship.
Scottish fans had a rare moment to celebrate at Wembley in 1977 following a 2-1 victory in the Home International Championship.

Scotland are regularly represented at major competitions. In South Africa in 2010, a band of merry Scots attended the World Cup group match between Slovenia and the United States in Johannesburg.

Nobody quite knew why this small group of kilt-clad men were there, as their football team has failed to qualify for an international tournament in 14 years. They wore white T-shirts with a bold slogan emblazoned across the front: "Anyone But England".

Expect similar this summer in Ukraine and Poland. Scotland have failed to qualify once again for the European Championship, but members of the Tartan Army are sure to travel.

And they will probably be supporting - initially at least - France, Sweden and Ukraine. Or, fundamentally, anybody who has the opportunity to beat the English.

Call it hatred or loathing or serious dislike; call it genial banter, a bit o' fun or just a wee laugh. However you dress it up, the majority of we Scots will certainly not be showing support to our neighbours south of the border.

And not because we do not like the English people or the team's players - many Scottish football supporters also support English club sides - but rather because of what happened following a summer tournament that took place 46 years ago.

The traditionally hostile relationship between the two countries dates back many centuries to when Scotland was oppressively ruled by the English, but the Scots' enmity towards their rival's football team has not always been so strong.

Having grown up in Glasgow pestering older relatives for an insight into their sepia-tinged past, it is my understanding that during the regrettable summer that followed the winter of 1965 (the year itself must never be mentioned), many Scots watching the World Cup final on television were actually supporting their British brethren.

When Bobby Moore lifted the Jules Rimet trophy, there was genuine pleasure on the streets of Scotland.

However, what was unforeseen - and what changed the amiable landscape - was the unreserved and unrelenting triumphalism that followed.

Since that fateful summer, myopic English media have proclaimed their country - mistakenly referred to as inventors of the "Beautiful Game" - to be on the verge of emulating their previous achievement.

Television analysts commentating on, say, Spain versus Holland, will forever manage to mention the year directly preceding 1967.

Nobody enjoys a persistent braggart and even less so when the cause for celebration is a former glory achieved three years before man landed on the moon, five years before the UAE was founded and 30 years before the Spice Girls released their debut single, Wannabe.

Much like the song title, England - to the Scots - are merely a wannabe footballing giant living off a previous success.

The only benefit Scotland derives from this shameless English boasting is that now whenever the Auld Enemy arrive at an international tournament, they do so with delusions of grandeur, which unfailingly results in an even harsher reality check when, having succumbed to the unendurable level of self-imposed pressure, they crash out with a whimper.

Ideally, on penalties.

This month's Euros, however, bucks the trend and, for that reason, it is terrifying. For the first time in memory, the English will travel to a major competition without the lofty expectations that so often plague them.

With several key players out and an unheralded coach, they go to Eastern Europe with the genuine belief they could be travelling home before the knockout stages. To a Scot, this lack of expectation is commonplace, but to the English it is almost unheard of.

The most unpalatable thought going into any major tournament is the notion that England might win. Yet without the paralysing pressure, Roy Hodgson's team have a chance of performing to their potential.

Whatever that may be remains to be seen, but they have never had a better chance to play unhindered. It is for this precise reason why Scotland and its people must take the place of the usually optimistic English media. They must get behind their southern brothers and convince them they can win.

What other nation can boast a Champions League winning centre-half pairing of John Terry and Gary Cahill? Who else has the strength and solidity in midfield of Premier League winner James Milner and Carling Cup winner Steven Gerrard?

Who else has an unplayable target man such as Liverpool's Andy Carroll? The answer to all of the above is nobody.

England can win the European Championship. England can win the European Championship. England can win the European Championship.

If the Scots repeat it enough, Hodgson and his men might believe it. And if that happens, they will almost certainly fail. Like they have for the past 46 years.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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