A couple of years ago I was asked by the Sunday Herald in Glasgow to write a piece to run ahead of the World Cup explaining why I wouldn't be supporting England in South Africa. A little context. At the time England travelled with some expectation and I imagine while I was writing it the hot air of the media at the time would have been overheating me in the run-up to the tournament. I was also writing for a Scottish audience who were being encouraged to overturn their habit of saying "A-B-E" - "anyone but England". Which seemed to be ridiculous to me at the time. I tried to explain why in the following piece:
My name is Teddy Jamieson and I’m not supporting England during this World Cup. Does that make me a bad person? Actually, some people seem to think it does. Of late a lot of people seem to have been telling me I should get over myself and start supporting Fabio’s boys; newspaper columnists, Scottish footballing types (including the manager of the national side), even the Prime Minister have all implied as much.
Well I have listened to what’s been said, weighed up the advice and come to the conclusion that the argument being advanced is, in technical terms, mince. I’m not raising a Red Cross above the house. I’m not praying that Gareth Barry’s fit. I’m more likely to be hoping that Wayne Rooney loses his temper and tells some luckless referee to stick his whistle up his vuvuzela.
There’s a very simple reason for this of course. I’m not English. This seem to confuse people, yet last I looked the United Kingdom consists of four countries, not one. And just because the other three countries weren’t - let’s not beat about the bush - good enough to participate in the South African extravaganza doesn’t necessarily mean I should then automatically cheer on the next-door neighbour. It’s a bit like living in the same street as someone who’s having a month-long party and you’re not invited (probably because you’re rubbish at dancing and they know you’ll drink all the booze). It’s understandable that, as much as you get along with them most of the time, you might get a bit irked as the noise rises.
What bugs me about the arguments being advanced at the moment is how they manage to both take football too seriously and not seriously enough at the same time. Too seriously in the sense that they conflate not supporting England with anti-Englishness. Which is spurious rot. It does not automatically make me some raving nationalist bigot who can tell you the names of every Scottish braveheart who died at Bannockburn. (That’s maybe because I’m not Scottish either. My national team of choice is Northern Ireland and I quite enjoy it when Scotland get humped too.)
Of course there are bigots out there. But they’re not the norm. The truth is, it’s not racism that fuels an antipathy to the England football team. It’s the thing that fuels football supporters everywhere - sporting tribalism. This is what's not taken seriously enough. Would David Cameron stand up in parliament and suggest Celtic fans should back Rangers in any future Europa League final? Would he expect Liverpool fans to cheer on Man United in the Champions League? No. So why is it that at international level such rivalries are suddenly meant to be put aside? As a Spurs and Stirling Albion fan I take almost as much delight in the failures of the Gooners and Alloa Athletic as the successes of the former. Sometimes, schadenfreude is the only pleasure we have.
And anyway, even from an aesthetic viewpoint there’s no reason to support England. Are they likely to play the best football in the competition? I doubt it. That’s more likely to be Spain or Holland. Will they offer the best story? No, that will come from Argentina, where Diego Maradona will either undermine the most gifted players in the tournament, or, less likely, admittedly, guide them to a stunning triumph.
And how many times in living memory could you say England have ever actually played glorious football in the final stages of international competitions? Maybe in 1996. Mostly, though, they’re dour and relatively efficient. Until they meet someone better than they are. And there's always someone better than they are. The truth of it is, the England team are just Germans who are rubbish at penalties."
Revisiting the piece two years on, I'm rather pleased that I predicted the finalists (kind of). Oh and England lived down to my expectations. They had a poor tournament, played badly throughout and in the end were well beaten by Germany.
It's interesting in 2012 that I don't feel quite as animated as I appear to be in that piece (which, incidentally was spiked for lack of space), which is probably a reflection of the much reduced level of expectation surrounding England this time. Too many injuries, Wayne Rooney out for two games and a sense that this is a team that's in transition.Even Time Magazine has noticed.
But I still don't want England to do well. Just because I don't really want to have to listen to the (understandable) triumphalism that would ensue.
What I didn't have room to address in that piece was the fact that, of course, I love English football. My whole frame of footballing reference arises out of 40 years of watching Match Of The Day. I love Spurs. Growing up, my favourite players were all Spurs players, often English players. I loved no one more than Glenn Hoddle and if you ask me now my favourite British player I'd say Hoddle before I'd say George Best. Or even Pat Jennings.
More than that I love England. London is my favourite city in the world. I love spending time in Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. But in the end my national team is Northern Ireland, not England and when the BBC becomes the EBC as it invariably does during such football tournaments I feel inevitably other, not part of the collective that's been reflected back at me.
But even so there are complications now and again. Back in 1990 I cursed and swore at England all the way through the tournament. To me they should have been knocked out by Belgium in the last 16, knocked out by Cameroon in the Quarter Finals and then they played West Germany in the semi-final. Since I was born in West Germany I've always had a soft spot for the German team (even wanting them rather than Holland to win in the 1974 World Cup final).
But as that game went on in the sheer theatre of the game I found myself willing England to win it. They were the better team. They deserved to get to the final. I wanted Chrissy Waddle to play in a World Cup final. They didn't get there of course. As already mentioned, rubbish at penalties. And of course I would have reverted to anyone but England if they had got to the final.
But it didn't happen and it feels less likely this time. Perhaps I'll be surprised. Maybe England this time around will thrill me. Then again, it is England. The tragedy of English football? Its predictability.
Next: Why I'm not supporting the Republic of Ireland