Sunday, July 02, 2006

Becoming England

Ok calm... calm... yep, just about calm enough.

I've been living in Scotland for almost four years now and really I should know what to expect when watching England football matches in public. Despite this I still put myself through the torture of watching the games in pubs. This is all the worst if it happens to be a game which could send England out of a major tournament, the World Cup for example.

So yesterday for the England versus Portugal game, in the quarter finals of the World Cup, I found myself watching in the fairly anti-England environment of a Scottish pub. I had my parents and grandparents in tow, as I'd just had my PhD graduation that morning (yes I can properly be called a Doctor now, with the piece of paper to prove it). My friends had saved me and my family some seats in the corner of the pub, which was fairly rammed full of people. There were the odd couple of other England supporters in the pub braving it out in actual England tops, but we were by far the minority. I wont dwell on the details of the game, what with Rooney's sending off, the blatant underuse of Lennon down the right, the use of Beckham in the first place, the crimal misses of goal scoring opportunities, and Carrager's retaken penalty, but will go through my emotional journey. With almost all competitive England games I get a slight feeling of nerves and anticipation before hand which will either settle down or increase to hair pulling heights during the match. For this match my nerves where actually fairly settled at the start, the sense of dread had yet to kick in. Also duing such matches a foul mouthed beast takes over the use of my mouth and the most common thing I can be heard saying is "OH, FOR FUCKS SAKE!" with increasing levels of volume and vehemence. I had warned my parents of this before inviting them along to the pub to watch the game, but I don't know if they knew that I'd be swearing at top volume almost continuously. By half time in the match I'd gone through a fair old battery of expletives, but was still suprisingly calm despite some outside appearences - well I say calm, and I mean it in a worked up and tense kind of way, but calm compared to how things would get. To gauge my levels of tension some of my friends had worked out a system based on the angle of my body, with sitting bolt upright being the least worked up, to curled up in a foetal ball weeping on the floor being the highest level.

So on came the second half and Rooney's sending off for accidentally crushing a Portugese players nads beneath his studs and then pushing Cristiano Ronaldo (well we've all wanted to punch him in the face at some point haven't we). This was head in hands time, we were down to 10 men with half an hour of normal time to go, and we still hadn't scored a goal, and we have no strikers! Most of the pub obviously go ecstatically wild (but we'll get to that later). I resign myself to defeat - or do I, no I still have some hope. Occasionally losing a man forges a team together, more than making up for the numerical disadvantge. And with 10 men we still did well, we sat fairly deep, but Portugal didn't look like scoring - unfortunately neither did we, which could only mean one thing: extra time. By this time I've managed to use of another bucket load of expletives, with my dad looking quite bemused by it. I'd also decided, I expect like pretty much every other England supporter, that I should be instantly transported out to Gelsenkirchen to take Sven's place as manager, because he didn't know what the fuck he was doing. This didn't happen, so I just had to shout as loudly as I could at the TV screen. So it's extra time and we've already played 90 minutes in the sweltering heat - I'm talking about us in the pub as well as the players cos it was roasting in there - and we've got to go on for another half hour, and my nerves are fairly shot through. Again during extra time there were few chances on goal from either side, and despite my dearest wish of an England goal on the 29th minute we don't get it. Horror! Pain! Death! Torture! Big scary monstery things! It's a penalty shoot out! A penalty shoot out for England in a major championship! A penalty shoot out! For England! In and major championship! There's only one way it can go... ...but still some tiny, tiny shread of hope remains. I cling to it and go foetal.

It really is the cruelest thing to do to an England supporter - you could peel his (or her) skin off with a rusty potato peeler, whilst sprinkling salt and vinegar on his exposed raw flesh and forcing him to watch you molest his beloved puppy (or kitten), and he'd still take it over a penalty shoot out in a major championship. We don't like them, get it! I watched! I couldn't actually look at the Scots around me supporting "not England" (not a Portugal supporter amoung them from what I could see), as with each Portugal goal and England miss my despair was converting to anger. Emotions are funny things and can easily transform from one thing to another, and strong emotions of one form will quickly jump to another strong emotion. I'd invested a lot of emotion in this match and this team. They represented the country of England, but they also in some way represented me. Stating the obvious here but I'll never play football for my country in a World Cup, so these players we're my proxy, and their pain at losing was my pain, and frustration, and despair, and anger. For someone who doesn't really follow a team in such a way it seems so completely irrational to feel so strongly about a game, but there are few things in life that you can get so attached to and passionate about and will give you such an emotional roller coaster of lows, but could sometime, maybe, in your wildest dreams, give you such heights of joy. So I wasn't particularly happy when we lost.

If I'd been in England (or even Portugal say) my despair would have kept in that emotional state and I would have sat quietly with my head in my hands reliving moments of the game in my head, until eventually it after 20 minutues to half an hour I'd have rejoined the rest of the world. But I wasn't in England, I was in the worse place for an emotional England fan to be - Scotland. And this made all the difference in converting my hurt into anger, because (and as I've said at the start of this post I've known it to be the case all along) a large proportion of Scot's revel in England's demise - and when they cheer and whoop at Portugal winning the game, I know that they don't actually give a shit about it being the Portugal team - they just care that England have lost. They haven't spent the rest of the World Cup anxious and tense at every other Portuguese game, and most of them won't care if Portugal lose to France on Wednesday, whereas I'd given my soul over to the England team and didn't appreciate having my nose rubbed in it. So I got angry and wanted to hit things - people, inanimate objects, anything. As I'm not actually a violent person I didn't do that, but I did have to leave the pub pretty sharpish just in case. I know there are many reasons given about why the Scots hate the English football team in particular and I'm not going to write about it now, but it doesn't mean I'm going to like it. I love living in Glasgow, I think the city's great and have a really good group of friends, but for future crucial England games I might have to make the trip south of the border, because for those 90 plus minutes a large proportion of Scots (in my eyes at least) become complete fuckwits. And I know you think the same of us too.