The football World Cup is once more upon us, and my local pub, the Barrels, known for real ale and live music, has replaced the live music with televised football for the duration. Here on the border, supporting England is a delicate business. There are certainly some England flags to be seen flying proudly on houses and cars round here, but not nearly as many as I used to see when I was working down south. Shops in Berwick are wary of putting large red-and-white ‘come on England’ type displays in their windows. According to the figures produced by the local regeneration activists, 65% of shoppers in Berwick are resident north of the border, and no trader wants to alienate 65% of their customers. Some of the Barrels’ regular clientele will only have gone along last night to cheer if England lost, and the English team obligingly gave them an enjoyable evening.
Several World Cups ago, back in 2002, I attended a conference in Belfast while it was on. As I drank my coffee in the local McDonalds, a radio commentary on an England match was playing in the background for the benefit of the customers. So far, so typical of anywhere back home. Then an outburst of cheering by the young staff behind the counter indicated that a goal had been scored, and it took me a few moments to realise that it was England’s opponents who had got the ball in the net. Having grown up close to Scots who behave the same way, I took this in my stride. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that the Scots will confine themselves to gloating over the football and not follow the Irish example into any more direct physical manifestations of their dislike of the English.
Of course this sort of antagonism between near neighbours is not confined to the UK. When I was travelling in New Zealand I saw a tee-shirt that said ‘I support two teams – New Zealand and whoever is playing Australia’. I can confirm from personal observation that when Australia is playing England in a cricket test match the Kiwis will cheer for England. The attitude of Kiwis to Australia is not dissimilar to that of the Scots to England. They know it’s bigger and richer and a lot of them are obliged to go and work there and it doesn’t really feel like a foreign country, but OMG they want the world to know that their loyalty will always be with the smaller place they call home.
The real problems come when the England and Scotland football teams play each other. People in Berwick stay indoors and close the shutters then. Joke! I think.
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