800 years of hurt

An Englishman goes north to see if the World Cup has fuelled Scottish wrath.

Patrick West
Columnist

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  • Bully-boy Scots?

‘We have always had the usual English-Scottish banter, but this is altogether something more sinister – there’s an edge to this which goes beyond any kind of ordinary banter. People up there are quite seriously anti-English.’

So complains Mike Parry, an English radio presenter on talkSPORT’s Sports Breakfast show. ‘We have begun receiving a number of calls here from people who are becoming pretty angry with the Scots.’

It is traditional for the Scots to cheer on England’s opponent at football. But it seems the level of anti-Englishness in the current World Cup has reached unprecedented levels. The entire Scottish nation has embraced England’s footballing enemies, adorning themselves in the colours of Denmark, Brazil and Argentina, while ChildLine Scotland talks of a ‘worrying increase’ in English children being bullied in Scottish schools.

Scotland on Sunday warns that this kind of unsporting attitude may have calamitous effects on the Scottish tourist industry: ‘English tourists, outraged by the gloating [after the Brazil game]…are threatening to pick up their ball and walk away, taking their cash with them’. This may cost the tourist industry £1billion and 90,000 jobs, it concludes.

As I – an Englishman – arrived into Edinburgh’s Waverley station on Saturday, these thoughts weighed heavily on my mind. Certainly, the colours of England’s opponents during the World Cup remain enormously popular among Edinburghers, and in the first conversation in the first pub I went to I was subjected to unhilarious ribbing from a drunk old duffer, telling me how much he’d been cheering on England’s opponents.

But this man was actually American. He was boasting about the exploits of the US team, how all of ‘us’ up here had found it great fun to wish calamity on the Sassenachs, and how the Brazilians had ‘whupped your ass’. Well, that last bit is not verbatim, but it sums up his sentiments concisely. As you can imagine, this was very annoying. I wouldn’t have minded it from a Scotsman.

Yet the opinion of most Scottish people in Edinburgh – and you can find some amid all the tourists – does not seem to warrant all the scare stories and talk of ‘anti-Englishness’.

They don’t hate the English or their football team so much as they simply cannot stand the behaviour of the English media: the biased commentary of John Motson, the hype and the arrogant expectation, commentators saying that ‘we’ and ‘the nation’ are all behind the team, and most of all, endless references to ‘1966’. The general feeling is that the Scots would find it intolerable if England winning the World Cup meant a whole new generation being reminded of it on a daily basis.

And behind the ‘worrying increase’ in bullying reported by ChildLine Scotland was the fact that it had received a grand total of 10 phonecalls about the matter. No doubt, some of this ‘bullying’ involved life-devastating conduct, such as saying ‘you’re not my best friend anymore’.

What English people have to realise is that for the Scots, England is ‘the other’. It is the nation for which it defines itself against. Expecting the Scots to support England is like the English being asked to cheer on France or the Germans. (The exception here is Glasgow Rangers fans, the majority of whom have been heartily cheering on England throughout. This has something to do with the fact that their ‘other’, Celtic fans, support Ireland.)


An alternative voice

‘Pure and utter hatred. Nothing to do with the media. The English have been trying to wipe the Scots from the face of the Earth for 800 years and we hate them for it.’ So came some dissenting words from a man by the name of Derwent, in a pub in Inverness.

If you are English and want to ingratiate yourself with the man in the pub in Scotland, I recommend two tactics. One is to adopt a working-class accent appropriate to your region. Become Geordie, Scouse, or in my case, Cockney. By exaggerating your London accent all of a sudden you stop becoming a figure of the oppressive English establishment, but metamorphose into a cheeky geezer who likes a pint and hates ‘all them tossers in parliament’ too.

The second strategy is to talk about your Irish roots (again, in Glasgow, different rules apply). Not only does this make you the victim again, it puts your Scottish counterpart in an awkward position. ‘Surely the English and the Scots spent 800 years oppressing the Irish’, I responded to Derwent. He had no reply. He did, however, confess that he had been awake for 72 hours, was very drunk, and that I shouldn’t perhaps take everything he said at face value.

  • Spooky

Scotland is ‘the Costa Del Sol for aliens’, reports The Press and Journal of Inverness. It transpires it has the highest concentration of UFO sightings of any country in the world: there are 300 reported UFO sightings in Scotland per year, four times as many as per square kilometre than runners up France and Italy.

The country’s UFO hotspot is Bonnybridge in Stirlingshire, an area now dubbed the ‘Falkirk triangle’. Scottish UFO expert Ron Halliday explains: ‘One theory is that the area around Bonnybridge is some kind of window into another dimension.’

Another theory might point to the levels of alcohol and drug abuse in Scotland. Or maybe the Scots and are a spiritual and superstitious folk, true Celts who let their imagination run away with them too much?
A further theory came to mind on the way from Inverness to Aberdeen, just outside Elgin, where an RAF Tornado aircraft roared over the train I was in. Scotland seems to have quite a lot of planes.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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