OH God, when will it ever end? Judging by the UK media’s 55-year-long bragathon about a certain footballing victory in 1966, the answer is never. Judging by Sunday’s newspapers and the TV news in the hours before England faced off against Italy, absolutely nothing else is happening in the world right now.
If by any chance some lizard aliens from a distant star system happen to be reading this, this would provide the perfect opportunity to mount a stealthy invasion, because in the UK at least, the media wouldn’t notice. Although some might argue that an invasion would be superfluous because the British government was occupied by opportunistic lizard aliens several years ago.
England fans are perfectly entitled to support their team with passion, energy, and commitment. The problem for Scotland isn’t the English team and its fans. Although there is a racist and hooligan element among England fans, that’s not a problem unique to England, as the recent disgraceful displays from Rangers fans in the centre of Glasgow (below) make clear.
These days fans of Scotland’s national team pride themselves on their good humour and good behaviour, but that certainly wasn’t always the case.
The real problem here is not a sporting one. It lies in the asymmetrical way in which the media, and especially the broadcast media in the UK, are configured. The BBC must do its duty as the national public service broadcaster of Scotland and England as well as Wales and Northern Ireland. However, during international sporting tournaments where the other nations of the UK are represented the BBC succumbs to the demographic weight of England and becomes in effect an English national public service broadcaster.
Coverage of Scotland and Wales is pushed to the margins in a media where English voices and interests dominate. Because Westminster refused to allow powers over broadcasting to be devolved, there are no specifically Scottish or Welsh national public service broadcasters which can broadcast the equivalent saturation coverage for the Scottish or Welsh teams as England receives on the supposedly British BBC. The past few weeks have stripped away the pretence that British institutions and the supposedly UK-wide media are not just representing England.
It’s the fact we in Scotland cannot escape the saturation coverage and the English triumphalism which follows any English sporting victory which is the root cause of much of the Scottish resentment. Not only that, but we are forced to pay for it as part of the licence fee to an organisation which is adamantly opposed to allowing Scotland to develop a media of its own.
It is guaranteed to get up the nose of anyone to find themselves being accused of disloyalty to a team which was never theirs to begin with for daring to be neutral or uninterested in the fate of a football team. It’s even worse to be told that the only reason you could possibly have for not wanting that team to win is because you must be an anti-English racist, when in fact it’s because you deeply resent the presumption that you are obliged to support England’s team in a sport that you’ve never really cared for in the first place, and you have an abiding distaste for the triumphalism and displays of exceptionalism which accompany an England victory.
When it comes to sporting fixtures involving England, the British media are bad losers and even worse winners. The same BBC that keeps telling us about the Southgate spirit of celebrating diversity and acceptance is also instrumental in keeping Scotland under the control of a Conservative government which is opposed to taking the knee and which stands for xenophobia and exclusion.
It would be a lot easier to wish England’s team well if those values we are constantly being told its footballers represent were also reflected in its government, a government which thanks to England’s votes also governs Scotland as a part of the UK.
Instead we see a Conservative government which is so lacking in basic humanity that it is poised to make it illegal to assist desperate migrants who have been driven by dreadful circumstances to try to cross the English Channel in leaky dinghies.
England’s media crow incessantly about sporting victories because they have precious little else to feed the myth of English exceptionalism. My other half is from the USA, a country which is very prone to blowing its own trumpet and propagating the myth of its own exceptionalism, but even he is taken aback by the triumphalism and self-congratulation of English nationalism as expressed in the supposedly British media.
Although China is catching up fast, the USA remains the world’s only superpower with the world’s most powerful military and the largest global economy. All England has to boast about is the occasional sporting victory, so it is invested with a significance and import far beyond what the outcome of 22 men kicking a ball about really possesses.
In reality it’s a sign of the weakness and irrelevance of the UK, a UK which jealously refuses Scotland the right to develop a media of its own. We are constantly being told that football is coming home, but Scotland isn’t allowed to be out, which only makes it more likely that Scotland will eventually leave.
In the event, the England team was overhyped and Italy took the championship, much to the relief of many in Scotland who were dreading another 55 years of relentless boasting. It did not take long for the racists to re-assert themselves on social media and for Conservative MPs to return to making snarky comments about the social activism of some of the England players.
It would be nice to think Sunday night’s defeat would burst the bubble of the English British media and institutions and make them reflect on how they managed to alienate and antagonise the non-English parts of the UK to such an extent.
But we all know that’s not going to happen.