Anyone but England

Anyone but England

By Stefan Bienkowski

It’s always quite interesting to note how narratives build up steam throughout the World Cup. When it starts, we’re overrun with games of football and with back-to-back matches on our television there’s very little to talk about aside from, well, the football. But by the time we’ve got to the knock-out rounds gaps begin to emerge and daily discourse returns.

 

Like water through the cracks in a rock, each day off from the World Cup has allowed the media and wider public to take stock of the current layout of our surroundings. And what they have found is England in the semi-finals of the tournament and a largely hostile reaction to that north of the border.

 

Indeed, the “anyone but England” debate has kicked off in full swing over the past week or so as pundits and social media go hunting for reactions to their jubilee. Nothing fuels vindication like a scornful reaction and in Scotland, as ever, there has been a notable swell in support for Colombia, Sweden and now Croatia. Which has seemingly left some in complete disgust.

 

 

In the Spectator, Stephen Daisley took the well-trodden path of pointing out that if the situation was reversed and Scotland found themselves just one game away from a World Cup final the rest of the United Kingdom would be wholeheartedly in support of our success. “In Scotland,” writes Daisley “the dismal grunt of ‘Anyone but England’ (ABE) is the balm that soothes our aggrieved wee souls.”

 

And to an extent, he’s right. There’s no denying that plenty of Scots simply adore watching England fail. But what Daisley doesn’t pick up on is the fact that what he’s confusing for a bitter resentment is in fact – at least through the prism of sport – a simple execution of rivalry. Scots wish for English demise on the football pitch the same way Celtic fans support Aberdeen three or four times a year or when they play Rangers, or why most Hearts fans found themselves cheering on Rangers in the 2016 Scottish Cup final against Hibs. Football is a dance with one’s emotions and that often means an unbridled hatred for the other side within the confines of a football stadium.

 

An argument that suggests Scottish attitudes towards England are simply bitter because the much larger, southern nation doesn’t respond in kind is a failure to understand how rivalry works within football. England may not take much notice of Scotland’s evergreen rivalry towards it, just as Germany takes no notice of England’s entire footballing history being built around a supposed rivalry between the two nations. England fans sing about German bombers and always coming unstuck to their European counterparts, yet any German fan will tell you that they’re completely ambivalent towards the English. Germany’s beef lies with Holland and Italy, which was perfectly showcased when the German football magazine 11Freunde made a video in support of England going on to win the World Cup once their own nation had been knocked out.

 

Until Scotland can drag itself back towards something resembling moderate success within the world of international football, English football fans won’t care at all about their northern neighbours and may even support us on occasion. But that doesn’t mean Scottish attitudes should also change.

 

 

We now live in a world that gets streamlined through social media and that means every facet of our culture is exposed to the loud, echo chambers of the internet. Where once upon a time “anyone but England” was something scoffed at in Glasgow pubs, it’s now showcased around the world through videos, tweets and articles like this one. It turns a relatively harmless thing into a national debate. And once something is debated movements then begin to install any given argument as the cemented view that you must either agree or disagree with.

 

Anyone but England now feels like a political stance. In Scotland, you’re asked if you support Independence, Brexit, abortion, higher taxes and then whether or not you will support England if they reach the World Cup final. This not only has a dangerous side-effect when support for England is confused with unionism or indeed anti-SNP rhetoric but also defeats the entire point of football being a welcome escape from this crude, argumentative world. 

 

Support England. Or don’t. The point is that it shouldn’t really matter one way or another.

 

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