You would have had to have been in a coma for the last few days not to know that the European football final takes place tonight.
Football, unbidden or not, has come home – to every household, in shrieking headlines and psychotic commentators, tides of gushing prose, skeletons have been dug up, myths revisited, old enmities revived, flickering footage of games from another century have been on continuous loop, and tattoo parlours and off-licences have been overwhelmed.
For Scots, it is time to finally put the wrongs of the past behind us with this match. OK, they may have tried to subjugate us for centuries, murdered our warriors, carried off our women and laid waste to our countryside, but that was more than 1,000 years ago and it is now time to forgive and to support the Romans, as well as the Venetians, the Pisane and the others who make up the Italian football team.
Anyone but England (honorary president Andy Murray) has reached its denouement.
About 10pm tonight, give or take extra time, there will be dancing in the streets, anthems will ring out, the skies will be bright with rockets, babies will be created – let’s just hope it’s in Napoli and not Nottingham or generations yet unborn will have to thole the hysterical triumphalism of our southern partners.
Much to admire
THERE is, for sure, much to admire about this England team and their sober and intelligent manager, Gareth Southgate.
If Priti Patel had been around when their parents and grandparents were trying to find refuge here or better themselves, many would have been refused entry and wouldn’t be playing tonight.
No Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka or Raheem Sterling, all the children of immigrants.
England thoroughly deserved to beat Denmark – it was the manner of it which jarred. Sterling is a fine player, seems an engaging young man, but he surely wears Speedos under his shorts, because he clearly dived to gain the decisive penalty, as he has done repeatedly in other games.
Now we know what all of the footage of England players in the swimming pool at their St George’s Park base was all about. They were practising.
WANTING England to lose at football is not to be anti-English, an anglophobe or a rabid nationalist. It’s not emotionally joining those cretins at the border waving saltires with signs in four-letter terms telling visitors they are not welcome.
They’re probably being paid by Boris Johnson’s Number 10 union unit anyway, or they may as well be, for the damage they do to independence support.
I’m sure there are English members of the SNP and Tory Tartan Army, Saltire-carrying members in Jimmy wigs. Sporting rivalry is not political or ethnic partisanship.
I’ve worked in England much of my life and, here it comes, the “some of my best friends line”, but it’s true, they are. My son was born in London and my late wife was English, although coming from Devon made it marginal, I guess.
I don’t want ill to befall any of my friends and relatives, or any English person, I want them all to prosper – I just want them to be crestfallen going to bed tonight.
Football support is tribal, by neighbourhood, by inheritance or, sadly, by religion.
Rarely is it a choice and neither should it be.
You grow up with a loyalty to your team, whatever its vicissitudes, and for most that is the normal state, not hauling in trophies or with players also wearing the navy blue jersey.
For most defeating their closest rival, enjoying their humiliation is as good as it gets. A German may have defined schadenfreude, a Scot surely pioneered it.
Celtic and Rangers play in Europe in the next few weeks. You can be sure that there isn’t a supporter on either side who wishes the rival success. Defeat by the heaviest margin, yes, preferably by some team with an unpronounceable name from some burgh in middle Europe they’ve never heard of.
Does a Raith fan shuffle his or her feet in the street at a fine Dunfermline result? The only twitch is of disgust.
A Killie supporter cheering Ayr United’s exploits? Or an Auchinleck supporter wishing Cumnock success in the Junior Cup rounds? More likely seeking ammunition for the next encounter.
THE oldest international fixture in the world is between Scotland and England, although our neighbour on the island rather disdains it these days.
Those of us who have lived through the lofty and smug English superiority and are old enough to remember 1966 – reference to which has popped up more often than Covid recently – and recall the England player, it may have been Martin Peters who, seeing Scottish team lines before a game, commented: “Great on paper, crap on grass.”
Anyone who had the misfortune to watch the ITV coverage of the Denmark game (or indeed anything by Rio Ferdinand anywhere) will have experienced the decibel-busting, chauvinistic nonsense from the so-called commentators and analysts. “You deserve this. England deserve this. Feel it, ride it,” screeched an orgasmic Sam Matterface (no, really!). No, we didn’t, no we won’t.
The Sterling swan dive barely rated a mention: “There is very little contact, but I don’t care,” said Lee Dixon.
And then it went full-on mad with Ian Wright trying to sing Sweet Caroline, one from England’s more reputable repertoire, while earlier the writer of the song, Neil Diamond, whom you fervently wished had stayed retired, popped up from some shack in Colorado wishing the team luck for the final, or perhaps it was for the boost to his royalties.
England fans had, of course, booed the Danish national anthem. To be expected. The travelling support is one of the nastiest and worst-behaved in the world, causing trouble everywhere they go. Not just the international followers, English teams’ supporters export football hooliganism wherever they travel. I fear for Italian fans after they win tonight, not that they’re perfect.
The way the media is structured in Britain means that English commentators and viewpoints are disproportionately forced onto Scotland, and the other junior partners in the relationship. For instance, Jonathan Pearce, commenting on Hungary v France, mentioned England more than a dozen times and also referred several times to the previous performance against Scotland. They just don’t realise we exist, or care probably.
ITALY have a rather better record than England, with four World Cups (they don’t go on about it either), two final defeats, a third and fourth place, and one European Championship win.
It will also be a battle of population equals, around 60 million each, rather than the catch-weight contest with tiny Denmark, at six million.
Kasper Schmeichel, the Danish captain and goalkeeper, had the best response to this “coming home” nonsense. “Has it ever been home?”
Claiming football is English exceptionalism again. Scotland has as much right to be the birthplace, as does Italy, not to mention China, Greece and several other countries, because no-one knows for sure where it began. Least of all Frank Skinner and David Baddiel who wrote the words and sang the Three Lions anthem aggrandising it.
There are many reasons to love Italy – the cuisine, the stunning countryside, the cultural heritage and its artful football, of course.
The Italian captain, Giorgio Chiellini, is a highly-educated man with a masters in economics, although he looks like a cut-throat villain from a Spaghetti Western, and acts the part on the field.
In their manager Roberto Mancini they also have the coolest and most elegant man in the competition. No competition.