It’s time to leave behind this petty nonsense of Anyone But England
A couple of weeks earlier another friend from Lewis posted a photo in a golf WhatsApp group of six mainly bald, middle-aged Scottish men, who are working in Qatar, dressed in kilts and USA tops preparing to support one of England’s opponents. No one in the group disagreed with his pithy analysis: “Pathetic.”
I recognise this is a tiny, unscientific sample group but is there a change of attitude amongst Scots towards the England football team?
By the time I had reached 30 I had seen Scotland qualify for five successive World Cups, from 1974 to 1990, lining up with the best in the world.
Like most Scottish fans I can remember every agonising game and the occasional heroic victory, usually when it was too late. We had some world class players but, somehow, moving beyond group stages evaded them every time. However, taking part in the World Cup finals was something we almost took for granted.
That has changed horribly and since the turn of this century Scotland has failed to qualify which has left us searching for a surrogate team to support.
I used to be in the ABE – Anyone But England – camp. There were many reasons for this both logical and illogical.
Rivalry is a wonderful thing in sport, and we had been there when England had not. It was great for winding up English pals. The condescending sneer of Jimmy Hill, whether real or imagined, is at the illogical end of my personal spectrum.
Most of all it was an instinctive dislike of the strutting arrogance of some very ordinary England players puffed up by insanely over-the-top tabloid headlines that fuelled my ABE. Their regular comeuppance was intensely enjoyable.
In the last few years something has changed, which has mainly been driven by the sensible, down-to-earth attitude of the England manager, Gareth Southgate. He always comes across as thoughtful, intelligent, and articulate.
Undoubtedly the aura created by the success of the Lionesses has also had a huge impact on attitudes towards English football teams. They were stylish and sophisticated, they spoke well and played well, and they won without the usual accompaniment of grotesque images of beer bellied thugs rampaging through the streets.
It was impossible not to like them and this men’s team has similar qualities.
We all know about Marcus Rashford OBE who embarrassed a government into feeding poor, hungry children during school holidays and now campaigns on literacy and racism. He knew hunger and poverty as a kid and wants to use his fame and fortune to help others.
The 21-year-old Arsenal forward Bukayo Saka is another role model. A straight A student in school, despite playing professional football at the same time, he is publishing spelling competitions from the England camp on Tik Tok. Amazing.
But the pick of a very good bunch has to be 19-year-old Jude Bellingham. He has excelled on the pitch, turning in some of the outstanding midfield performances in his man of the match displays. His post-match interviews have been articulate, modest and mature way beyond his years.
This weekend Bellingham, Rashford and Saka face their toughest test. If England pull off a win against France, the reigning World Cup holders, and their own free scoring star, 23-year-old Kylian Mbappé, they can go all the way.
I know we will be bombarded by victorious England images for a very, very long time but if they win the World Cup, they will deserve it.
After their crushing disappointment in the European Championships, and the abuse they received, it would be a hard heart that would deny these likeable young men a winner’s medal.