Sometimes the best of things give you cause to examine your attitudes to certain aspects of life. I love being Scottish, but I’ve never been the sort who gets misty-eyed when I hear bagpipes or see a bloke in a kilt or receive postcards from the Highlands. I like a dram, sure, and love to hear the rough-and-ready rumble of the Scots tongue, but beyond that (and a decent roll and lorne sausage) I’m no different to most 21st century citizens of a decent sized western city. I buy muffins in Starbucks, books from Borders, and laugh at Extras and the Simpsons along with everyone else. My passport also says I’m a British citizen, and I think that’s fine. It could say worse things. But I don’t feel particularly British. I’m not sure what feeling British is like? I do know what feeling Scottish is like though. And I like it. Understand, though, that I’m no Nationalist (note the capital ‘N’). I think the political semi-autonomy that Scotland has now is healthy, but I don’t see any particular advantage to divorcing ourselves entirely from the rest of the UK.
So why does my blood run cold at the prospect of a british national football team for the 2012 Olympics? And even colder that our national manager has endorsed it? I don’t like the way it feels petty and parochial and sour inside me, but I can’t help it. Does it really matter, you ask. Well, no. Let’s face it, any British football team is going to consist in the most part of English players. There’d be two or three Scottish bums warming the bench at most. So, would I support such a team in the competition? Well, I wouldn’t wish them any harm, but the concept of a British football team is meaningless to me. (Yes, I know that we used to have them years ago, but that’s beside the point.)
Thing is, I’ve been a follower of Scottish football all my life. World Cups, Euro Chamionships and Home Internationals are stitched through my psyche like gold thread. I remember beating Holland in 78 and losing to Costa Rica in 90. As a kid I spent any number of dreich November nights on the old Hampden terraces, warmed by the collective humour and desperate hope, the cheeky bravado and barely contained rage of the home fans as much as by the black, black bovril. I’ve marched through the streets of St Etienne with the Tartan Army on the way to a dreadful three nil defeat to Morocco – and loved every minute of it. On Saturday I squeezed into a corner of the pub across the road. It was stowed to the gunnels and as the game wore on, the pre-match sense of laissez-faire (it was France for god’s sake, all we really wanted was a decent, spirited showing) was transmuted into something we’ve not had for a good few years now – real hope, and belief in the players, the system and manager too. And it wasn’t just among the small number of us in that pub. It was in every pub in the city too, and everywhere else in the country where people had congregated to watch the game. At the stadium itself, you could see it boiling over out of the stands and onto the pitch.
When we scored the place just took off. Strangers were brothers, hugs and half nelsons were distributed randomly and gratefully received. And for the half hour that followed once the dust settled and the spilled pints were refilled and the dislodged light fitting was replaced we were a family united in a growing sense of hope and belief and, finally, relief. For me it’s unarguable that the fortunes of the Scottish football team are an unbelievable glue, doing more to unite the people of this land than any other single factor.
There’s a sort of gentleman’s agreement at FIFA that allows the UK special dispensation to have four football associations instead of just the one that every other member country is allowed. It might be to do with us inventing the game or something, I don’t know, but it’s no more than a nicety and it comes under scrutiny every now and again. So, do I worry about the introduction of a (one-time only, honest) British football team lending weight to those members of FIFA that have believed for years that the UK should only have one soccer team? Bloody right I do.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – if Britain is forced to adopt a permanent, single international football team, that’s the day I’ll vote for independence. And I won’t be alone.