Scotland and Wales may be out of Euro 2020 but the tournament is far from over for many of their fans. There’s plenty still to root for – every remaining team that plays against England!
According to a YouGov poll carried out in 2018 “15 per cent of (Scottish) football fans say they will support the England team…while 28 per cent will back any country playing against them”.
Both founders of The Free Press are from Scotland and we can tell you that those numbers are probably a significant underestimate of Anyone But England (ABE) sentiment above the border.
We have attended parties themed in celebration of England’s opponents – US flags, cowboy hats and Budweiser obligatory when England opened their 2010 World Cup campaign against the USA. Serious schadenfreude on display when Germany battered “The Three Lions” 4-1 later in the same tournament.
Anyone But England is deeply rooted in Scottish culture – and, as these sample comments from a Times article on ABE show, draw an (understandably) vitriolic response from England football fans:
“Grow up Scotland. This animosity is needless and ignorant.”
“Many Scots have a real, unjustified hatred of England and the English”
“Stop the funding from Westminster and let that nasty little province sink or swim by it’s own inability to manage itself”
Is ABE about politics, hatred, ancient feuds? Is it, as the BBC postulate (almost as offensively), “three small nations feeling that they have to go that extra mile to distinguish themselves from a big nation”?
Or is ABE about something altogether simpler?
PLANNING WHERE THE PARADES ARE
The driver for ABE, in our own experience, is the media.
English commentators are well known, in Scotland, for referring to the 1966 World Cup triumph at every available opportunity – “One of the reasons to hope that England don’t win is that the last time they did, they didn’t shut up about it for fifty years”! (Times article comment)
They are also known for getting hopelessly carried away with England’s chances.
“I have to say, it does wind you up when you switch on the TV and hear about ‘England expects’ and 1966,” says Dr Martin Johnes, a history lecturer at Swansea University who’s studied anti-Englishness among football fans in Wales. “Over the course of the tournament, I suspect more people will end up ABE than at the start”.
Richard Gordon, a long-time football host on BBC Radio Scotland, echoes his sentiments: “My view is that it’s not so much the individual players but the whole hoo-ha that surrounds England. The media hype puts me off”.
What media hype do Gordon and co. refer to?
This classic clip from Roy Keane at the last World Cup nicely skewers the “planning the parades” approach of many English pundits.
Keane’s point is that English pundits, despite decades of disappointment and failure, got so carried away with a few group stage wins in 2018 that they arrogantly assumed “football was coming home”.
What’s worse, the pundits don’t limit their over-exuberance/arrogance to when England are actually playing.
The below tweets refer to commentary on the Hungary vs France match by Jonathan Pearce and Jermaine Jenas, but, in fairness, could be applied to practically any ITV or BBC commentary pairing on ANY match at the tournament.
It is only natural that Pearce, Jenas (and Lineker, Shearer, Wright, Dixon, Keown, Neville, Ferdinand, Lampard…) want to talk about England at every available opportunity, but is it what fans of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland want to hear when they tune in to watch two European teams play?
This, we believe, is the crux of the Anyone But England phenomenon. It’s not that English commentators are more biased, arrogant or deluded than Scottish, Welsh or NI commentators, it’s that the structure of the UK media means English viewpoints and priorities are disproportionately inflicted on the other nations.
Someone in Luton would have to go out of their way to hear a panel of Scottish, Welsh or NI pundits getting carried away by the prospects of their national team. Someone in Livingston, Llangollen or Lisburn only has to turn on their TV in the month of June.
Witness Rio Ferdinand, buoyed by a mighty 1-0 win over Croatia, suggesting Gareth Southgate field reserves against Scotland!
Ferdinand belatedly realises Scotland fans could be watching as well and ditches the point. He clearly doesn’t mean to be disrespectful to Scots, he just sees things through glasses tinted with an English rose.
Editorial decisions also predominantly reflect an English perspective – with an equally detrimental effect on Anglo-Scots relations.
Consider pre-match coverage of France vs Germany on 15/6/21.
In the build up to the match ITV devoted 5 minutes to analysing Gazza’s famous goal against Scotland in Euro 96 – just what Scottish viewers tuning in wanted to see!
ITV presenter Mark Pougatch’s link to the next section was “and we HAVE to look at yesterday’s goal by Patrick Schick against Scotland at Hampden…” – oh great, another goal Scotland fans had no desire to see 20 replays of!
The pundits spent a further four minutes analysing the goal and discrediting Scotland’s chances against England in the upcoming game: “I do still fancy England”, “If you’re England you’d be rubbing your hands with Scotland coming to town. You’d be thinking…let’s get ready to smash them!”
All of this was shown in Scotland, none of it was done to rile Scots (tuning in, we remind you, for a game that had NOTHING TO DO with Scotland or England!), it’s simply that decisions, on a GB-wide TV show, are made from an English-centric viewpoint and lack sensitivity to viewers from the remaining home nations.
It is, in short, colonial media.
The ABE phenomenon is mostly a source of amusement rather than a serious strain on English-Scots relations – but it does raise interesting questions.
If English sport pundits and production teams are so blinkered by their own priorities they can’t avoid neglecting, slighting or patronising the other home nations…why should we believe their news coverage will be any different?
One of the great lies of journalism is “objectivity”. Everyone sees the world through their own lens and through the filter of their priorities and interests. For instance…we’ve mentioned Scotland about 100 times and Wales and NI once or twice!
We do not, however, present ourselves as neutral, objective British broadcasters as ITV and the BBC do.
Sport, so often, shows us a world in miniature. in the case of major football tournaments like Euro 2020, it shows us that Britain, in miniature, looks a lot like England.
No wonder an increasing number of Scots, Welsh and even Irish nationalists are looking to go their own way.
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