When King Alexander III broke his neck on the sands of Kinghorn just a few miles east of St Andrews in 1286, nearly two hundred years of peaceful relations between Scotland and England were stymied. What followed was a bloody and decades long succession crisis as a wide cast of claimants from across Britain sought to seize control of the rugged northern lands. Among those fighting for an independent Scotland were none other than the great heroes Robert the Bruce and William Wallace whose efforts — which are perhaps best canonised in Mel Gibson’s Braveheart — were finally realised in 1328 with the treaty of Northampton. This golden age lasted for almost three centuries and allowed for the formation of the auspicious University of St Andrews, which we are so lucky to call our own. Yet, in 1707, this beautiful foray into in Scottish self-determination came to an end with the so called ‘Act of Union’.
Thursday 18th September 2014 is a key date in the annals of Scottish history. The 55-45 vote in favour of remaining within the UK suggested Scotland might actually (heaven forfend) like their southern counterparts, but on the horizon was a big fat mess- not Boris, but Brexit. The timing of the 2014 referendum could not have been more apt, either; it was held in the year of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, and legend has it that Nicola Sturgeon was preparing her cavalry to charge to Westmister to demand a recount. Like in its parliament, Scottish football represents a duopoly- utterly dominated by two teams, Celtic and Rangers. For the first decade of the twenty-first century, both teams were neck-and-neck and stole titles and various cups from under each other’s noses. However, the tax man came knocking at Rangers’ door, casting them to the depths of the Scottish footballing pyramid, and so paving the way to the period of Celtic domination between 2012 and 2020, a period exemplified by 1,2,3,4 (Not Mambo No.5), 6,7,8,9 league titles. Who could stop them? Well, in the end, it was Celtic’s own manager, Neil Lennon, who was finally shown the door in February 2021, allowing Rangers to secure their 55th title under the tutelage of Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. The title celebrations were extravagant and hard-won, a march on George Square by an army of Union Jack-waving fans that ended, as is Scottish tradition, with a mass brawl. Classy.
This year marks 23 years since the last time that the Scottish Men’s team was in a major football tournament. To put that into context, in that period the SNP has asked for 25 referendums, and the Scottish Tories have had 57 new leaders. Traditionally, Scotland has no luck at major tournaments. The go-to tactic is to lose the first game, draw the second and then have to win the last game while hoping that the other teams’ results go their way. Perhaps this is Sturgeon’s method of fostering international goodwill and making allies. The first game, played on the 14th of June against the Czech Republic, was the subject of immense hype and expectation. ‘It’s Coming
Home Hame’ murals and posters appeared all over Scotland, and there was a genuine belief that this team could be the first ever to make it out of the group stage and truly make a mark on the international stage. However, these dreams were thwarted and the bubble slightly burst by the tall Czech figure of Patrik Schick, who, undeterred by the new Scottish war-cry of ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’, scored twice (including one from just beyond the halfway line) to remind SCotland of their place, condemning them to a 2-0 defeat. As Ewan McGregor said in ‘Trainspotting’, ‘It’s shite being Scottish’.
So what’s on the horizon for Scotland at the 2020 Euros? In a word, England. England, the team who allegedly watch Paul Gascoigne’s goal against the Scots in ‘96 before going to sleep each night, and who have even employed the tactic of making their players change their hairstyles to resemble the former Spurs man (see Phil Foden’s new haircut). It’s now or never for the Scots, send them homewards tae think again, make Southgate greet because Ché Adams scores a brace. Prove that it is not actually shite to be Scottish. As the English have two sets of triumvirate slogans- ‘Brexit Means Brexit’ and ‘It’s Coming Home’- Scotland fire back. ‘It’s Coming Hame’.
The bad blood between the two proud nations has not been diminished by time, as any English attendee of a stag-do in Glasgow will tell you, though the battles now play themselves out in novel, less dramatic ways – gone are the days of sprawling battles in rainy fields. These are the days of drunken squabbles by balding, middle-aged Hamishes and Keiths who, for some unknown yet genetically-inherited reason, have an innate distrust of one another. So why are we talking about this now? Well, as you may well have heard (and we use that word in its most literal sense, as small earthquakes have been recorded off the coast of the Philippines, with many suggesting that they’ve been caused by 55 million people simultaneously bellowing the words “It’s Coming Home”), England and Scotland will be facing off at the European Championships on Friday afternoon. It’s been a while since Scotland have been in a tournament of any merit, meaning that the only joy that many Scots can derive from watching these events stems from watching the demise of the ever-underwhelming English. However, under everyone’s noses, the two nations have steadily been rebuilding- the English have a new crop of exciting young talent, with the likes of Phil Foden and Masons Mount and Greenwood, among others, forming an exciting attacking spine. The Scots, on the other hand, have quietly become a well-drilled side with a very strong midfield, a solid defence and the dynamic Che Adams leading the line. So, with this mutual reinforcement, could we also see the rekindling of ancient passions, the kind involving body paint and freedom (with a capital F)? Could now finally be the time for Scottish football to rise from the shadow of its noisy neighbours? And could a Scottish victory at Wembley have wider political ramifications?
For years we have seen Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson battle it out in the press and in the political arena, but where would the two leaders line up for their respective nations on Friday? Scotland, having lost 2-0 to the Czech Republic, need an extra dose of passion as well as much more attacking flair going forwards, which is why Steve Clark would do well to drop Stephen O’Donnell in favor of Nicola Sturgeon on the right side. Gareth Southgate’s men, on the other hand, got off to a much better start winning 1-0 against Croatia, but could change things up in the middle of the park, playing Boris as a defensive midfielder in front of the defence. Long before he tackled Brexit, the Lord Mayor of London at the time rugby tackled former player Maurizio Gaudino, leaving him flat on the pitch in a display only really seen from Sean Dyche’s Brexit-means-Brexit Burnley team. This, and the now-infamous clip of him flattening a child in a rugby game, displays exactly the type of physical presence Southgate’s side could use against Scotland’s impressive midfield, though he does always run the risk of being sent off.
This would not be the first time that sporting success has fomented nationalist political action. In Russia, opposition figures like Boris Nemstov and Alexei Navalny have pointed to their country’s unprecedented 13 gold medals at the Sochi Olympics they hosted in 2014 as having lent Putin the political mandate to invade Crimea. Russia’s performance at the games was, of course, the result of a complex state operated blood and drug doping programme. This is not to say that ol’ Boris and his Westminster chums have orchestrated a similarly sinister system to give an unfair advantage to England’s already overpaid and overhyped squad–especially since hiring a decent manager would have a better effect. But just like how some have speculated that the world is controlled by globalist Lizard People or that the Queen actively protects pedophiles, it would be impossible to rule out the possibility that the English football team has been given an unfair advantage. Perhaps it would be more even if the match were to be played on neutral ground like in Wales or the Falklands.
What is clear, however, is that if (when) Scotland wins nationalism will rise to a new level as the streets are overcome with unapologetic Yessir-I-Can-Boogiers and the fountains run red with Buckfast. Surely, this type of swell coupled with the SNP’s tight grip in Scottish parliament would be enough to finally tip the delicate scales of independence towards the side of patriots and those who do not understand economics. In the same vein, if England were to somehow overcome their many disadvantages and win the tournament then their success would likely be viewed by Brexiteers and xenophobes as a stunning vindication of Britain’s European exit.
So it all hangs in the balance. Following an emergency, top-secret meeting held in England’s capital yesterday, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has finally reached an agreement with Westminster that is, supposedly, fair to both sides; while nobody quite knows the true contents of the agreed deal, many are speculating that it is something of a wager on the aforementioned football match, with a second referendum to be held immediately should Scotland emerge victorious, and Sturgeon agreeing to never again utter the words “IndyRef 2” should the Tartan Terriers be defeated. Speaking to the Bejant after a period of intense talks, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was quoted as saying: “The talks themselves were concluded relatively quickly and efficiently, the real sticking points came with finding a translator- I couldn’t understand a word she was saying. In fact, I’m still not quite sure what I agreed to.” Ms Sturgeon, on the other hand, eluded our journalistic grasp, with recent reports claiming that she was escorted from the premises after allegedly standing on the table and bellowing “O Flower of Scotland” for all to hear following the conclusion of the talks. She was last seen being shepherded into a taxi by her security detail, rocking and maniacally whispering to herself.
The Bejant Observer can’t help but hope for a draw.
LW, DS, MG, JR, and AR