Meet Alex Salmond’s secret weapon: the England football team

Nothing makes Scots feel more Scottish than the World Cup – especially when the other lot are playing

31 May 2014

Why did Alex Salmond choose this year to hold the Scottish independence referendum? People have said it is because 2014 is the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn, Scotland’s greatest victory over the English, inspiration for that ridiculous last scene in Braveheart. Others believe it is because in July Glasgow will host the Commonwealth Games, after which the Scottish nationalists reckon they will be surfing a wave of yes-we-can enthusiasm.

But maybe Salmond, canny fellow that he is, had another event in mind: next month’s Fifa World Cup in Brazil. Scotland won’t be going to Rio, of course: they are useless at football at the moment. But England will be there, and if ever there were an occasion more certain to elicit anti-English sentiment among the Scots, it is an international tournament featuring the Three Lions. Just think of all that lager hooliganism, synthetic passion and tabloid chauvinism. Many Englishmen hate themselves after a few days of Team Eng-er-land hysteria. The Scots, with their particular sensitivity to Anglo arrogance, are certain to be bursting with disgust. And if by some fluke we were to succeed in carrying off the trophy, the Union would surely be sunk.

The English would be intolerably smug throughout the summer, especially towards its northern neighbours. Sport revolves around bragging to those closest to you, and in no time the Scots would be in a resentful lather. By the time of the referendum on 18 September, after two months of ‘Football’s come home’ celebrations, the Scots would be desperate to separate.


Both nations care about football much more than politics or economics. The fury Scots feel at George Osborne threatening to deprive then of the pound would be as nothing compared to that inspired by the sight of Wayne Rooney holding aloft the World Cup amid a sea of St George’s crosses.

Scotsmen take pride in the fact that their football fans are better behaved than the despicable English. It is an indication of their superiority, they feel. The tartan army is often hailed as a model for travelling sports fans. They don’t take it too seriously. They drink cheerfully and wear silly costumes. Where England fans sing about not surrendering to the IRA, the jocks send themselves up, chanting about their love of Irn-Bru. Good for them. But such generosity does not extend to wishing the English well. On the contrary, there is a tradition in Scotland of vigorously supporting whichever team happens to be playing England. Scottish sports shops can guarantee a bumper summer if they stock up on the team shirts of whoever England is up against.

The Scots like to laugh this sort of sporting antipathy off as a bit of joke, and so it is — but some jokes are deadly earnest. We Englishmen are also fond of saying that for all the ‘auld enemy’ ribbing, there’s an underlying affection between the Scots and the English. But is there really? In international relations, apparently amicable rivalry can turn nasty in a snap.

English fans can be guaranteed to make things worse by being obnoxious both in victory and defeat. In sport our national insecurities are reflected and magnified: narrow losses are treated as historic disasters, minor wins as supreme triumphs. In the Olympics, when we compete as Team GB, our epic self-importance is disguised — though not moderated — by a sort of Sue Barker-filtered bourgeois decency. We can share the ups and downs with the Scots. When England play, however, we are singularly unbearable. (It’s not just football: our rugby fans are arguably even more conceited, though they are at least less violent.)

The good news for Unionists is that England are unlikely to do well. Whitehall mandarins recently calculated that the government probably won’t have to license pubs to stay open late throughout June, because the odds suggested we wouldn’t progress much past the group stage. Nevertheless, it would only take a couple of big wins and a few days of English gloating to imperil the future of Great Britain. Salmond must be rubbing his hands and, for the first time in his life, praying for the England team to pull off a miracle.

Freddy Gray is The Spectator’s managing editor, and writes our monthly betting column, ‘The Speculator’.

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  • rtj1211

    I”m not sure it is so much any more.

    You can’t on the one hand say you’re building a new Scotland free of the hatred and envy of England and then say that England winning the World Cup induces a frenzy of nationalist hatred and envy as a result.

    Start campaigning honestly as the ‘We hate the English and every ally we seek must want to do England down’.

    At least then the Scots would be showing the world their true nature, if their nature that shameful standpoint truly represents.

    • JohnMcDonaldish

      Away and lie down.

    • Kennybhoy

      “…the Scots would be showing the world their true nature…”

      This says mair about you than it does “the Scots”.

      Away and bile yer heid ya loon! lol

    • HJ777

      That is only true of a vocal minority of Scots who, frankly, are embarrassing to most of their compatriots, in my experience.

    • Makroon

      Ha-ha, if Gray knew anything about football, he would know that “for us Tommies, the war will soon be over” (less than two weeks ?), and that Rooney will be lucky to feature after the first game. Scots will get tremendous satisfaction from seeing England’s turgid stumble towards the exit door – they might even feel a certain sympathy.

  • JohnMcDonaldish

    Surely the Speccie knows the real reason. It’s because September has an “e” in it; and that’s the first letter of the Auld Enemy’s name. No, no, seriously!! #GetAGrip

  • hoddles

    Scotland “useless at football at at the moment” More English ignorance of Scotland. 22 in the FIFA world rankings. Remarkably good. Come on Costa Rica.

    • HJ777

      Yes, he’s a bit out of date.

      Scotland were rather useless during the WC qualifying campaign but have improved since – there are some decent new players coming through.

      What’s more, I don’t think that most Scots do have such antipathy towards the England football team. Some do, some don’t. Many will actually be supporting England during this WC – and why not? It’s an enviably stress-free kind of support – pleased if England does well and a good-humoured shrug of the shoulders if they don’t because England is only their second team (after Scotland, understandably).

    • DaHitman

      But the reality is it’s true…………. you’re crap

      • hoddles

        So crap that England scraped a 3-2 home win when they last played.

        Oh hang on. England are crap too.


        • DaHitman

          England aren’t great by any-means but Scotland are a laughing stock so why pretend you aren’t?

          • Jambo25

            22 in the FIFA rankings. That’s out of 207 ranked teams. Not bad for a nation of 5.3 million people.

  • 2trueblue

    Forget the footie, if the Scots win independence we will have to sort out what to do with their MPs until the changeover. Will they be able to vote in our parliament about the terms etc., and if so for how long? Cameron is a bit behind the curve with this, there has been no mention of what will happen if the vote goes Salmonds way. We will have that plot interfering in our parliament for the interim period. They are an unprincipled lot and frankly this should be sorted out NOW.

  • hoddles

    A poll before the 2006 World Cup showed around 70% of Scots were supporting England. Bad news for Scots-haters and those in England who like to feel the unloved victims of those nasty Scots. The perennial whingers.

    • DaHitman

      That of course it rubbish which is why you can’t provide the poll. The reality was Scotland supported Trinidad rather than support England

  • paulus

    I don’t think thats true. I go to Edinburgh quite a lot and have never encountered any animosity, in fact after a mild ribbing they generally buy you a pint.

    In Fact, I was staying in a little pub when England were playing and everyone supported England. Its just the Scots sense of humour of sarcasm that gets misunderstood.

  • victor67

    The yes campaign alas is so much more than anti-English rants and parochial nationalism.
    What is far more appealing to many Scots is the idea of no more Tory Governments, an end to the neo-liberal monopoly and there is no alternative to austerity bollocks parroted by the main stream parties. The wealth of a country shared among the people and not a privileged few. That is what is at the heart of the yes campaign and not some hyped football tournament bankrolled by Nike and Coca-Cola.

    • John Marchant

      Agreed and less chance of a Labour government in England ever again, funny a yes vote in Scotland seems all the more attractive.

      • Stephen52

        Indeed this becomes a more attractive proposition by the day.

  • Jambo25

    Its worse than Mr Gray thinks. In actuality, we are most of us utterly indifferent as to how England do in the world cup. I won’t say I’ve heard no one talking about it but it hardly fills our waking hours.

  • John 8:37 – John 8:44

    The liberty school realizes that those quacks who exploit democratic processes for their own purposes may destroy liberty and prosperity.

  • The_greyhound

    What is the point of writing about, even mentioning, Salmond?

    Yesterday’s man, yesterday’s news.

  • sisyphus99

    The most insightful reflection on Scottish independence I have heard recently on whether Scotland should vote yes or no, was from the actor the James Mcavoy to paraphrase him: Politicians always promise jam tomorrow and they may not be around tomorrow. Your vote should be based on a yes or no for Scottish independence, which would be forever, not that I will be a thousand or two thousand pound better off. Prosperity is subjective and sometimes fleeting.

  • Pier66

    Well, well, well….so at the end of the day, England can NOT win the World Cup,
    to NOT offend those 4 assholes Communists Scottish….oh my dear!!!

  • mandelson

    Is the new Scotland going to be a bastion of multi ethnic and multiculturalism or are we talking about some Braveheart Disneyland. If so why isnt that being slaughtered in the MSM as ‘waycist’. All this blah blah about “the English” doesnt sound very “inclusive” to me. Who the heck are “the Scots” anyway?

  • Barry Scarfe

    I’m English but also proudly British and want the Scots to stay a part of Great Britain. I don’t think the Unionist side in this debate has anything to worry about with regard to this factor. The England ‘team’ will be on the plane back home after the group matches probably or as soon as they come-up against a half-decent team. Still, miracles do sometimes happen but I think the chances of us winning the thing are pretty low.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Another dim-witted juvenile Tory! What tedious drivel.

    Just go check the polls and which gender are predominantly voting No.? its women and they are voting for no by 2 to 1. Are the vast majority of them even going to care about the World Cup. No……

  • Shakes Sphere

    Since liberty’s equality before the law naturally results in the claim that responsible people have a share in making the law, democratic methods tend to accompany liberty’s principles.

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