How was it for you?
Maybe it’s because I didn’t get in till nearly half time when the game was already at one all. Maybe it was because I was really tired. But there was something different about watching the England game on Saturday. When Balotelli got the winner I didn’t mourn, I didn’t celebrate. I didn’t really react much at all. What was weird was that neither did anybody else.
The BBC’s pundit and play by play team can usually be relied upon for some sense of outrage at an England defeat. This can take the form of vitriolic and quite alarming loathing being heaped upon the manager. This can take the form of lament for a lost national “spirit”, the perfidy of referees or there being something awry with the universe.
We invented the game. We won the war. We won in 1966. What’s gone wrong? That was the anguished cry.
And rather amusing it was too, I have to unworthily report, the ritual lamenting having been preceded by ritual hubris of the silliest and most irritating variety, usually culminating in yet another grainy replay of “They Think it’s All Over”.
Geoff Hurst’s last goal in the 66 final, accompanied as it was by the finest moment of televisual commentary imaginable from Kenneth Wolstenhome (how many names from TV commentary even, have that ring to them any more?!) haunts…maybe haunted…the imagination of football culture in England, at least as it was expressed on television. England fans outwith the media bubble of longing for THAT moment to be repeated have usually been less hysterical, and slightly embarrassed by first the hyperbole of expectation, nay, almost of entitlement…as by the succeeding exaggerated tragedy of not doing all that well in World Cup after World Cup.
Saturday night? Nothing like it. The build up this time…nothing like it. I’m even missing Geoff Hurst. What’s going on? has the ghost of expectation first raised fifty years ago finally been laid to rest?
Well, as Scots, with our own iconic goal being Archie Gemmel’s brilliant but too late winner against Holland in 1978, perhaps we can help. First of all, an England team unaccompanied by imperial ballyhoo are a damn sight easier for us to feel positive about, but more importantly, after 1978, Scottish football fans (and commentators) decided on a strategy of no longer being chippy and resentful imitations of our larger and more successful football neighbour…but of being different from them. Our fans started to dress in clown costumes, as if to deflect disappointment in advance by not taking themselves too seriously – at least in terms of public display. And the commentators did the same. We were pleasantly surprised when we weren’t really shit. And honestly, it feels much better. We got far less wound up and could enjoy the games.
While for England fans, everything seemed to become agony. All the time. Every friendly against everybody became a test of national manhood. And World Cups a bitter repeated horror of tension and moments of frankly sometimes ugly joy. And the fans too became notorious, sullen, violent – feared across Europe -.while the Scots were a wacky sideshow of tartan no hopers, secretly enormously pleased by the comparison.
Someone better informed than me should probably go into the semiotics of that. Meanwhile, on Saturday, England lost and England shrugged. “What do you expect?” And not bitterly. Soberly.
Maybe the change that has always been identified as emanating from everywhere but the centre is finally being, on this superficial level, felt if not acknowledged. Maybe Scotland isn’t the only country on these islands that, at the level of football anyway, is growing up. Maybe the other changes to the economic and cultural life of all the countries and all of the islands, are coming home.
Then again. It’s only a game.
Image from William Brawley