What's the connection between England and Scotland Euro 2024 qualification with internationalism? Mark Perryman argues the need to mend the popular-political disconnect
England and Scotland have each qualified direct for Euro 2024, with Wales having more than a shot of joining them after the November round of qualifiers. Not Team GB, the UK or Britain, but three nations sharing one small island. It has ever been thus, since 1872, the very first football international, England vs Scotland, a dull 0-0 draw by all accounts. On the football pitch not only have Scotland and Wales secured what their respective nationalist parties strive for – independence – but England receives the independent recognition our political class endlessly deny us.
The latest example? Labour Party membership cards in Scotland emblazoned with the saltire, in Wales the Welsh flag, in England no sign of St George but the Union Jack all over. Not only Englishness denied but subsumed into a Greater-Englishness – and sod the Scots and Welsh. Yet any politician who campaigns for the merger of our football teams into one, well an electoral deathwish beckons that not even Rishi Sunak could match.
But surely all this only has one conclusion, an ugliness bordering on xenophobia? OK former Welsh legend Mark Hughes would be regaled from the stands all over England with the near-universal allegations of the carnal acts he was alleged to commit with sheep, well he's Welsh, isn't he? And England's national anthem (sic) booed so loudly by Scotland fans it is barely audible. Not nice but worthy of some unpacking.
Was Hughes, and for that matter Law, Best too, most of all perhaps Alex Ferguson, any less loved by Man Utd fans because they weren't English? No, of course not. And while his managerial career has now hit the rocks, for a good while, certainly fans of Blackburn Rovers, Man City and Fulham welcomed Mark Hughes as their manager and the success he brought them. Many no doubt having previously shouted their allegations about what he got up to with sheep!
Kenny Dalglish, a Scot, ex-Celtic to boot, an all-time Liverpool legend another case in point. A Greater-Englishness co-existing, competing, with a more receptive and welcoming localism.
And Scotland fans booing God Save the King, widely reported as showing disrespect to England's National Anthem? Which of course it isn't, because England doesn't have any such anthem to call its own. Rather it is the National Anthem of the United Kingdom, but Scotland, and Wales have independently – that word again – opted out to sing their own compositions.
OK it is a bit of stretch to read too much into all this booing, but the English should perhaps have more cause to look at the root cause, Britishness as a Greater-Englishness, the latter paying lyrical tribute to a system in two lines of the anthem's first verse, thankfully the only one ever sung, 'happy and glorious long to reign over us'. There we have it, Englishness as subjecthood which we then seek to inflict on others, the singing of, and worse. In all our interests, to deconstruct, loyalties getting in the way of.
Not much to write home about? There is another dimension to all this, where England and Scotland are heading, the Welsh possibly, Germany, Europe, the Euro's.
The year Britain voted to leave the EU England and Wales were battling to stay on the continent, in the shape of Euro 2016. The Welsh having their best ever campaign to do so, reaching the semis. Yet none of this earned a single mention in the ill-fated 'Remain' campaign.
Europe thus reduced to a single institution, the European Union, which apart from those strange individuals who go on Remain marches in their EU flag berets, most of us endure but haven't got a massive beef to remove ourselves from either. Jeremy Corbyn was lambasted during the course of the campaign when asked what he'd give the EU out of ten, his answer 'seven'. Apart from those beret-wearers, I'd suggest where most of us are.
But think of the line-up-of our clubs' first team squads, for a fair few clubs, managers and coaches, the beers we drink on the way to the match or while we watch on TV, the fast food we wolf down, the supermarket shelves for our suppertime afters, and more drink, where we holiday, but most of all the one place we dream of all our clubs getting into, E-U-R-O-P-E. Then search in vain throughout the referendum campaign for any sort of expression of any kind of version of such a popular Europeanism.
Or irony of ironies – the one time the EU flag makes an appearance in sport, the Ryder Cup. Golf, standard-bearer of a popular Europeanism, who'd have thought it?
The absence of all this, from the 'Remain' and now 'Rejoin' campaign, there's no worse example of the political class – popular culture disconnect.
Will Euro 2024 be another missed opportunity to make this this connection between the popular and the political? As an England fan I can't wait for the supremely gifted Jude Bellingham, from Stourbridge in the West Midlands - via Birmingham City to Borussia Dortmund in Germany and now to Real Madrid, young, gifted, black, English and European, to light up next summer's tournament as a big up yours to all the small-nationhood, stop the continent we want to get off, Faragism would to my country.
And along the way, I admit it, wishing those neighbours of ours on this one island, all the best as they celebrate a nationhood. A nationhood the English outside of a tournament summer are denied, before its back to the old regime of a Union and the political baggage this Greater-Englishness brings with it, the martial, imperial nonesense. Not much good for us, not any good for our neighbours, and absolutely no use to Europe either.
But before we get too lovey-dovey, just keep Scotland, and if they're there Wales, away from us in the draw. OK?
The Philosophy Football England and Scotland Euro 2024 shirts are now available from here