Monday, 18 August 2008

Football and Scottish nationalism

With the Northern Ireland trip to Hampden coming up on Wednesday, I did a little Googling at lunchtime in order to gauge the mood of Scotland fans before the match. Are they looking forward to a big ‘home nations’ clash? Do they expect a difficult test for their team? That type of thing. Now, football fans’ forums are hardly regarded as repositories of temperate good sense, but even so, I hope that the tenor of comments on one particular thread of the Tartan Army messageboard is not indicative of the political mood of the Tartan Army. Perhaps the nadir comes when one fan, irked by the attempt of another supporter to emphasise the broad base of his country’s support, asks in bemusement “so if yer not a nationalist why are you supporting Scotland?”.

What lies behind such a comment of course, is the nationalist inability to understand how someone can be proud of a perceived identity without seeking for it a separate political status. In this case, how can someone be simultaneously a proud Scot, cheering on his football team and yet disagree with the imperative of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom?

Another exchange demonstrates the mindset further. A Northern Ireland supporter hints that part of the vocal banter at the match might include a traditional GAWA stable, ‘you’re just a small part of [insert adjacent country]’, in this case England. It makes no sense respond some Scotland supporters, you should sing ‘you’re just a small part of Britain’, that would hurt more; we’ll sing ‘you’re just a small part of Ireland’ to you. Of course singing ‘you’re just a small part of Ireland’ to Northern Ireland supporters is merely stating the obvious and would outrage or amuse no-one. And given that Scotland is inescapably part of Britain; our supporters might discern little humour in chanting the former either.

The torrent of abuse which ensues on this thread toward the English or is inspired by the word ‘Britain’, and by extension the opprobrium heaped on Northern Ireland supporters because we are perceived as approving of ‘Britishness’, reminded me of a comment by Billy Connolly flagged up by Scottish Unionist recently.

“It's entirely their fault [the SNP], this new racism in Scotland, this anti-Englishness. It was a music-hall joke before - you know, like Yorkshire v Lancashire or Glasgow v Edinburgh. But there's a viciousness to it now that I really loathe and it is their fault entirely.”

I suspect that what Connolly is referring to is evident in the rhetoric being casually knocked around on this football forum. Scotland football supporters have always ‘hated’ the England team, to varying degrees. That’s what football supporters do. Whether they were unionists by conviction did not matter one jot. Northern Ireland supporters are something similar. ‘We hate England more than you’ rang out from the GAWA when we played Wales in 2005. But sporting pride and rivalry is being politicised by forces of nationalism, in the same fashion that nationalism attempts to monopolise all manifestations of its chosen cultural identity.

Hopefully unionists in Scotland will resist the intolerant attitude of their nationalist counterparts and continue to proudly roar on their team. Pride in our respective parts of the United Kingdom and rivalry between them should not diminish in any way our commitment to the whole.


Ignited said...

The exclusivity of nationalism (Irish, Scots, Welsh or English) is always something to behold. The success of the NI football team in recent years has led to some more identifiable Northern Irishesque identity.

As you say you can be a full blooded Irish person and British as well. Unless of course you believe that you can only be Irish if you are gaelic irish-Catholic. Same applies to the Scots.

Anonymous said...

The misrepresentation to the Scots of their own identity has been fostered for some time. In education, media and culture, it's all Jacobite in theme. The Scottish are responding logically to the stimuli they are fed. change the substance, change the mindset. we can go from a despondent "we lose", drugged up, fat, violent and miserable faux-Jacobean Scottishness to their actual heritage, a vibrant, work orientated, bible literate, self respecting, Union understanding: 'Covenanterism'. This is a big point phrased briefly.

Go on an official tour of Edinburgh, you will be taken to the grave of a very faithful dog and your state tour guide will not mention that the bars in the windows in the old building not 30 yards away in the ground once held those great men the Covenanters who changed history, for the better, with their blood. you will also notice the total absence of education on Knox, the actual Union or its glorious history or the finest of Scotch Achievement, instead you will get the 'Mel Gibson' treatment from people who have inferred an elementary and base proposition (nationalist belligerence) and accepted it. And the glorious legacy, if upheld before a comprehensive educated labour movement manipulated Scotland, will shine out and eclipse it all, making these Bonnie princes and make pretend William Wallaces be revealed as the shameful, discouraging blight on identity and and self motivation they really are.