Danke Deutschland

This is a blog that I originally wrote in July 2006, as a re-cap of the World Cup. At the time I was a 22 year old teaching student.

If you are a purist of the beautiful game, then Germany 2006 was not the World Cup for you. If you are an England fan, likewise, although when was the last time England played well in the World Cup?! Friends are quick to point out that at least they qualified and Scotland did not. That is akin to a Brazilian saying that at least they got further in the beach football championships than Greenland.

This World Cup was to be the World Cup of difference for me. Shamefully, during Euro 2004 I did not venture out to the pub once for a game. I watched every game at home, or at my then-girlfriend’s. Shackles off and freedom returned, my egotism centred this World Cup on myself. In the back of my mind I wanted to actually be there, but having tried and failed to get tickets, experiencing games in different locations with my friends would be good enough.

At the risk of sounding like your typical Brit football fan, the first match that I did not drink alcohol during was game 7 – Mexico v Iran. Maybe I was breaking out in sympathy with the non-drinking Iranians? Or perhaps there was too much blood in my alcohol stream to fully continue. A rewind is needed. The Germany – Costa Rica game was watched in a beautiful pub in Leicester, outside on a fairly large screen.

My friend Alex joined me and my love for all things German began. Perhaps it was the fervent Costa Rica support from the rest of the pub, but I wanted Germany to win, and my love for this nation grew throughout the tournament. My friend Steve had a shocking start to the tournament. Having finished work at 5pm he made the fifteen minute walk across town to discover Germany 2-1 up. To console himself at missing three goals, he went to the bar. 3-1. In the second half he went to the toilet. 3-2. He did see the sixth goal of the game though.

Later that night a uni friend’s birthday resulted in drunken talk with his German housemates, and me arrogantly telling a French girl that if she fancies Zinedine Zidane then I must have a chance. I didn’t. Just a German and an English woman. Poland lost 2-0 to Ecuador and I passed out for an hour in my mate’s garden.

England’s first game was a taste of things to come. Dull and uninspiring, with my friend Graeme bemoaning Owen Hargreaves and Alex and myself arguing his case. We watched the Trinidad v Sweden in a pub full of English fans too busy falling over to care about their next two opponents. From there it was on to Coventry to watch Argentina v Ivory Coast before a night of partying. An explosive start to the World Cup and one which resulted in me suffering on Monday.

I am now a fully qualified teacher but the first Monday of the World Cup resulted in me starting my last week of teaching practice. Professionalism should over-ride football but in my quest for all things beautiful game I managed to teach a lesson in the computer suite during Australia v Japan so that we could listen to the radio commentary. One of my kids is Australian, so it was my duty. The same thing with Korea v Togo – I taught a lesson on globalisation centred on the World Cup so that we could listen to the game. Shockingly, some kids did not care about this game. Bring back the cane, I say. Sacrilege!

With World Cup fever in full swing I made a hasty decision after seeing Brazil beat Croatia. I would go to Germany for one day, experience the Berlin fan mile, and return home. In an instant a flight was booked. The small problem was that I had booked it during the last week of the PGCE course, when unit called. Still, what could they do? Actually, refuse and threaten me. So I had to re-schedule for the week after, and a possible quarter final between Germany and Argentina.

Meanwhile, my love of all things German resulted in the German national anthem being learnt (I had an hour, I was bored and I was out of beer). My first attempt of singing this was thwarted as my mate Scouse decided that we would watch the game in a pub in Bedworth. Hardly the most cosmopolitan town, the pub we frequented was seedier than a Big Mac in a strip club. We were the only ones there until after the game. At this time two drunk, middle aged women came in. One of whom cornered Scouse by the most seductive chat-up lines:

‘I hate the fookin’ Germans’

‘I wanna go out, get drunk, and get some action’.

We ran, and we will never go back. Still, it was an experience. As was for the first time ever, watching an England game in a pub. Usually, I drift away, choosing to watch it with the nationalistic Scots that are my parents. However, this was the day in which I was supposed to be in Germany. Having been made to come into uni I used this to my advantaged and got the sympathy vote from my friends. If that is what sympathy feels like then cancel every trip that I book. At 2.30 we were supposed to have an important meeting about a year 8 conference that was running the next day.

But this was the World Cup dammit! So, out of sympathy myself and Dave (the birthday party dude) were allowed to go to the pub and watch Germany v Ecuador. First Magners at 3pm, last at 2am. The night resulted in the usual ritual that happened in nightclubs throughout the World Cup – a great selection of music interrupted by Three Lions or World in Motion. Still, even a Jock can join in.

Thus, the World Cup reached its nadir during the quarter finals. My trip was rescheduled, extended, and gained a fellow drunk in the shape of Alex. Three days camping in Germany, with added beer, women and culture. We also didn’t make it, having been subjected to vigorous passport checks at Luton Airport. I overheard one English fan saying ‘yeah, I got done for GBH but that wasn’t at football mate’. When we arrived we still almost didn’t make it, having got on an East German bus that broke down twice, leaving us stranded at a bus stop where a guy with an eye patch was drinking beer. It was 9am.

The undoubted highlight of the trip was being on the fan mile in Berlin with 1 million Germans, and celebrating after the win on penalties against Argentina. At the moment of the Germans’ equaliser, my beer flew into the air and into my eyes. At first, my cries of ‘I can’t see’ descended into the more upbeat ‘Yes! This will get into my bloodstream quicker’. The Germans we met were knowledgeable, funny and as crazy as we. Berliner Beer – I also salute you. I was also interviewed on German TV before the game. I must have looked great sitting outside my tent, hungover and wearing a Scotland shirt.

One golden rule of foreign travel is as follows. No matter where you go, you will always, and I mean always, meet some paddies. Being of Irish heritage, we staggered over and started conversation. In true stereotypical fashion, it took about five minutes before we all had to sing an Irish song. Me and Alex, in our drunken state, had put on convincing Irish accents but now this was our true test. Luckily, Alex is a Thin Lizzy fan and knows Whiskey in the Jar. I went for Rare Old Times. We were officially Irish. In the background Italy were playing Ukraine. Who truly cared, as Italy were never going to win the World Cup.

England v Portugal. Never for one second did I believe that the English would win the World Cup, but Alex was convinced of an England – Germany final. It was not to be. Again, the behaviour of English fans (in Berlin at least) was fantastic. I did see two reprobates attempt to cause trouble in the aftermath of penalty defeat but they were quite rightly laughed off. The fan mile helped console Alex by offering the great mix of beer and music. The Germans, as fantastic as they are, do not fully understand musical irony. YMCA was met not with laughter but serious arm swinging. Still, it was always good to dance with random European girls.

This was everything that I wanted the World Cup to be – people from all over the world mingling, embracing and partying. Whenever a game was on we set a challenge to take pics of ourselves with fans of the teams. We achieved that and more, having also secured Mexicans and Australians. The three days we spent in Berlin will stay with me forever.

Alas, 43 pints of strong German beer in three days can only result in a comedown. Or a kidney infection. I felt genuine sorrow as Germany crashed out, and genuine happiness as I watched the 3rd place game in Coventry in a pub full of Germans and German supporters. Yes, it may be purely down to the new found anti-Portuguese hysteria, but part of me would love to envisage a future where Germany is viewed only in a positive light. The Germans certainly feel a warmth towards the English.

The final was watched on my own, as I was praying for extra time and penalties. I did not want this World Cup to end, as the memories I hold from it will remain forever. In South Africa 2010 I will hopefully be in my fourth year of teaching, and it has already been revealed that fan mile’s like in Berlin will not occur. The World Cup of 2014 will feature a 30 year old version of me. By then I may even be sensible. Germany 2006 truly was once in a lifetime, and I hope that everybody made the most of it.


The Great Disappointment

There’s a line in the haunting song Rattlesnakes by Lloyd Cole and the Commotions that poignantly states ‘it’s so hard to love when love is your great disappointment’. It is unlikely that football was in mind when the song was written, but there is a valid connection to be made, especially in relation to the intensity of an international tournament.

Club football is infinitely superior, and the narrative played out over a greater period of time. In many ways, the close season is neither an end nor a beginning, but a small gap in the continuation process. Last season’s relegation for my club side has had a significant impact upon our forthcoming campaign. Supporting a club side is not a light that can be switched on and off, but a lifetime of suffering, uncertainty and despair, sprinkled with miniscule moments of unparalleled perfection. Well, it is if that team is Coventry City.

International football is the whirlwind romance that catches you in the headlights of summer. The storyline isn’t played out over months, but reduced to a microcosm of footballing love. The emotions may be there, but they are more of an infatuation rather than a concrete love affair. When the tournament ends, I find myself at peace with international football until the passion is re-lit in two years’ time. The great disappointment that I have been often saddled with in club football, however, last night reached the international stage.

It’s a fallacy to suggest that Germany losing to Italy evoked any raw emotions like I feel with Coventry City. My love for my club long since moved to a higher plateau, surpassing any success or failure I feel whilst playing or coaching. This year has been especially horrific. The Sky Blues were relegated to the third tier for the first time since 1964, the school team that I coach were denied a second successive title by inexplicably losing a final that we had dominated possession in, and, despite being top scorer, missed the decisive penalty in a tournament final. Euro 2012 was a chance to feel a modicum of victory.

When two friends and I watched the 2010 World Cup final in a Dutch bar, it firmly felt that we were gate crashing someone else’s party. It never felt like that supporting Germany. In the Bavarian Beerhouse we were surrounded by those with straightforward (‘I was born in Germany’) or bizarre (‘I won the Bundesliga with Fortuna Dusseldorf on Football Manager and decided to support both them and the German national team. I am Congolese’) stories. Football, as so often, was the unifier. I desperately wanted to return for the final, but I did not factor in Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli.

Italy deserves to be challenging Spain for the title. Jogi Low, a tactical chess player, called it badly wrong. In 2010, he was so scarred by Spain that he began to replicate their play. The wonderful counter attacking was replaced by a ruthlessness that, whilst still productive, had lost its charm. The Germany of two years ago would have ignored Pirlo, not through naivety but due to a complete faith in their own style. Toni Kroos is a defensive midfielder, and his inclusion, along with Khedira and Schweinsteiger, showed too much repect to Italy. The ineffective, bordering on embarrassing performances from Lukas Podolski and Mario Gomez allowed Italy to dictate matters. Germany only started playing in the second half, but the psychological blow had been executed.

I am used to being disappointed by a football team, but largely because I expect this. In 24 years of supporting Coventry, we have never finished in the top six of any league; have had two relegations, and not an ounce of measurable success. The ecstatic moments, such as the last game at Highfield Road beating Derby 6-2, or the 4-1 victory away to Aston Villa in 1999, cannot be replaced. In the wider discourse of success though, they were meaningless. Is success a series of beautiful moments, or something more sustainable? If Germany had won Euro 2012, would I have claimed it as a fraction of my own because I’d have been in a German bar? Oddly, in the same way that I did in Berlin in 2006, I would have. Not on the same level as anything club related, but a tiny explosion of euphoria. After being international football’s nearly nation for six years, I had convinced myself that they would win this tournament. When success is expected, the acceptance of failure is more difficult to comprehend.

Society’s Slaves

‘Work is the curse of the drinking classes’ (Oscar Wilde)

I have two passions in life, football and travel. Being a teacher enables me to indulge in both to a high extent, thanks to every weekend being free, and the thirteen weeks holiday a year. However, for one night in June, the perfect football ambience is shattered by the sound of over-enthusiastic clapping. Prize giving night was thrust upon us, on the same evening as the Germany v Italy semi-final.

There is a blessed feeling knowing that your passions do not fall agonisingly out of reach. Throughout the season, I go to watch my team home and away. Away games after work are all achievable, even if the next day sees more vacant than usual expression, thanks to the three hour drive back from an away defeat to Blackpool. A world without watching football creates a darkened sensation in the pit of my soul. If something magical exists that you are not a part of, then it is as stained as a politician’s conscience.

Last night, as I sat through subject prizes being awarded, as well as those individual prizes that only serve to build someone up to an unattainable standard, I began to contemplate. Should work be an enjoyable act, or should it always be viewed as a necessary means to a wider end? In any walk of life, opinions are divided. At my work, you can clearly distinguish between those who live for the job, and those who live and have a job. Often I hear of people working so hard that they spend their free time resting. The often churned out phrase about working to live rather than living to work instantly springs to mind.

Football, a product of the industrial revolution, has always identified itself as a truly working class sport. However, the terminology in itself needs examining. Football in England, for example, began as a sport that was occupied by factory owners and supported by factory workers. It was simply an extension to the production line, whilst creating the impression that it was the game for the masses. To draw the work parallel closer, can footballers merely treat the sport as a job?

In a game that impacts upon the emotions of so many via the actions of so few, should football players care more? Watching the recording of the game late last night, I found myself increasingly infuriated by Lukas Podolski. A man a year younger than me, and a man who has riches I will never hold, looked disinterested in a European Championship semi-final. Yet, there is a fine line between being disinterested and being unable to perform. On some days, we all want to succeed, but a barrier may be up. The salary doesn’t equate to an expectation that more is expected. If anything, how can millionaire footballers ever be truly motivated unless there is an intrinsic desire to succeed at all costs? At what stage, in any employment, does the realisation that it is merely a means to an end kick in, and life is happier?

Of course, we expect our professional athletes to have a moral duty to rise above lethargy and apathy. So we should, too. It’s the cycle of being a slave to a modern wage. Most of my disposable income goes on supporting my team, so in turn I expect those players to play each match like their life was on the line. But, with the weight of expectation placed upon a person’s psyche, does this have a detrimental effect upon performance? It certainly seemed that way with Germany’s lacklustre display in Warsaw.

As I looked up to see the Global Lifetime Achievement Award being presented to a 14 year old boy, the notion of pressure and expectation struck once more. We are all burdened by a perceived idea of success, with some desperately deluding themselves that sucking up to someone in a higher echelon of power is gratifying rather than poisoning. In Euro 2012, the Italians, a team devoid of expectancy before the tournament, look like they are the most liberated. Life, as well as sport, should be fun. If it isn’t, how can the participants be anything other than society’s slaves?

Kill Your TV

There is nothing, in the context of watching football, that can compare to being at the match. People may argue that, sat in the comfort of your own home with beer and food, being able to see all the replays of disputed incidents, is far more palatable than dragging yourself out in the rain to watch your team lose at home. I cannot state how ill-informed this view is. Being part of a crowd is tribal and it is unifying. It offers a sense of belonging, and puts you in complete control of your own vision. At a live match, you are the director, not a TV executive trying to second guess your mind. The roar of the crowd will always leave a shiver down the spine, whereas the groans of Mark Lawrenson will always leave you wanting to attack the television you find yourself getting increasingly exasperated at.

I’m lucky. I have a season ticket, and the beauty of the crowd is something I am constantly absorbed by. How can you truly feel unless you are there? A defeat on TV may be heart wrenching, but the channel can be changed in a moment, leaving life to consume you with other distractions. A defeat at the stadium is not the end, as the feeling of hurt and uselessness attaches itself to your skin like an unwanted bruise. The walk back to the car, amongst your fellow fans, trying desperately not to catch the attention of the winning team’s supporters, is in itself a chapter on football fandom.

Obviously, finance and health can render these emotions painfully out of reach, and in major international tournaments this is more prevalent. Therefore, we are subjected to the ignorance, jingoism, arrogance and stupidity of the British TV commentators and pundits.

Last night’s Spain v Portugal was an obvious example. The game was tactically absorbing, if short on goal scoring chances, and yet the main commentators, Steve Wilson and Martin Keown, were quick to deride the game as boring. It seems as if a football match is not the blood and thunder 4-4 of Everton and Stoke, with three red cards, two penalties and a collapsed lung, then it is dismissed as being dull.

Far more embarrassing punditry was evident during the England v Italy game. Whilst there was the admittance that England were vastly inferior to their opponents, Mark Lawrenson and Guy Mowbray actually wished injury on the Italian right-back, Ignazio Abate. Whilst it may be argued that the BBC merely reflects the passions of its viewers, a service funded by the tax payer cannot surely be so narrow-minded and crass?

Alan Hansen is the biggest culprit. The former Scottish international has recently taken a 33% pay cut, resulting in his yearly salary standing at a paltry £1million. No wonder he is always slumped side wards in his chair, he can barely afford to feed himself on such as risible wage. His wage decrease isn’t the reason for him saying the same recycled soundbites – passion, intensity, determination – when describing a nation’s approach, because in 2010 he was beyond ignorant.

Before the second round match in the World Cup, Hansen stated that no German player would get into the England side. Did he not watch the group games? Did he not conduct the most basic research into a team he was scheduled to watch? Heaven forbid that he actually performed his job to an adequate level. Just before a Ukraine match at this tournament he was asked about the team, and could only mention Shevchenko’s time at Chelsea, as if a world outside his cosy bubble of the English Premier League could not be penetrated. It seems as though a computer and some reading are far beyond the capabilities of Hansen’s brain.

At what point was it limply accepted that football shows should be polluted by ex-professionals with the tactical nous of a grapefruit and the courage of a grape? ITV have attempted to buck the trend by formulating debate between Roy Keane, Gareth Southgate and Jamie Carragher, but these promising discussions are often cut short by adverts or by Adrian Chiles, the only man who makes you long to be stuck in a lift with the Go Compare tenor.

Just because you have played football does not mean you have the intelligence to talk about it. As a student, I worked in a DIY store, but to expose me to talk at a spirit level conference would be like watching Alan Shearer. Fans should have more of a say, but unfortunately, TV wants supporters to fulfil a certain stereotype. Therefore, we are reduced to the Soccer AM caricature of beer bellies and out of tune ranting, as opposed to calm and thoughtful analysis on a match.

TV wants to pander to the lowest common denominator, with the same ex-players being regurgitated for insight and wit. Being at a match means you control the vision of the spectatcle unfolding. If you want to glance around the ground for five seconds, taking in the atmosphere, you can. Watching on TV means you submit yourself to the whims of the powerful, with someone, somewhere inexplicably feeding you the absurd concept that an ex-footballer is the height of knowledge.

More Is Less

In 2016, it will all be different. Of course, there will still exist the footballing inevitability of England losing on penalties, England being tactically inferior to lesser nations, and Scotland not qualifying, but the format as we know it will be consigned to football’s archives, along with both the golden and silver goal, the back pass rule and Trifon Ivanov’s mullet. For better or for worse, Euro 2016 will see twenty-four teams, rather than the current sixteen.

The overwhelming positive of a twenty-four team tournament is that there will be more football. Rather than the meagre thirty-one matches that we have been treated to since Euro ’96, we will be able to witness twenty more. One of the many appraisals of the European Championship is that it is a short, sharp tournament, with teams playing every five days. A notion of momentum can build in a miniscule amount of time. Would the additional eight teams dissipate this?

Furthermore, would eight further teams raise the spectacle or, more pertinently, the level of quality on show? If we take Euro 2012, a twenty-four team tournament would have seen the four play-off losers – Montenegro, Estonia, Turkey and Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as the four best third place teams – Hungary, Armenia, Israel and Serbia – be added to the festival. Quite clearly, a gulf in ability would be exposed. In its simplest form, Estonia, for example, were beaten 5-0 on aggregate in the play-offs by the wretched Ireland side.

On the flip side, a football tournament should never be a barrier to progress. Excluded from the list are nations with a proud footballing past, such as Romania, Belgium, Scotland and Switzerland. An increased tournament would arguably add to the spectacle, with more fans having the opportunity to support their nation at a major event. After all, football is nothing without the fans, even if, sadly, many fans would be priced out by Uefa and instead sent to the increasingly corporate fan parks.

Sixteen teams has a sensible symmetry to it. Four teams of four, with the top two from each group progressing to the quarter finals. A twenty-four team tournament creates its own complexities. As was the case in the World Cup from 1986-94, there would be six groups of four teams. Rather than the top two qualifying, four out of the six groups would have three teams qualifying. It would be entirely feasible to progress to the second round having lost twice in the group stage, thus diluting the notion of success.

Whilst Euro 2016 has been awarded to France, the increased capacity leads to uncertainties. Ukraine have struggled badly at simply co-hosting a smaller competition, due to the lack of hotels, particularly in Donestsk. An expanded format would deny smaller nations the right to host, whilst subconsciously suggesting that, unless you are Italy, France, Spain or Germany, hosting alone would be problematic. Critics of the last two co-hosts may argue that this would be a progressive, rather than regressive course of action.

The group stage of Euro 2012 was excellent, largely due to every match truly holding a high sense of importance. Spain v Ireland was a mismatch, but this would only increase if we saw Germany v Armenia, for instance. The counter argument would be that, in Euro 2004, Germany could only draw with Latvia, so smaller nations have every right to compete. The issue is that the gulf could be as obvious as the group stages of the World Cup. The European Championship is the lesser competition, but has stood its ground due to the consistent level of skill on show. An expanded version could sour one of the sweetest tournaments to witness. The only winners could be Uefa’s bank managers.

Spanish Boredom

At Euro 2004, Spain, under the guidance of Inaki Saez, were eliminated in the first round with a team containing Iker Casillas, Xabi Alonso, Carles Puyol and Fernando Torres.

At World Cup 2006, Spain, under the guidance of Luis Aragones, were eliminated in the second round with a team that, in addition to the aforementioned players, contained Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Andres Iniesta, and David Villa.

Yet, the 91st minute goal scored by Zinedine Zidane in the loss to France in Hanover was the last conceded by the Spaniards during a knockout game of a major tournament. Fast forward six years and the French, devoid of the poetic brilliance of Zidane, resorted to the predictable strategy whilst playing Spain. The ultra-defensive approach had a modicum of success in the sense that, until the last minute penalty by Xabi Alonso, the game lay tantalisingly open for an equaliser. The reality though, painted a different picture. With only one shot on target, France were deluding themselves whilst being dominated more ruthlessly than an awkward bondage act.

France’s approach in the Euro 2012 quarter-final emphasised a core concern that Spain face. A backlash of sorts has begun, one that manifests itself towards successful teams. The Euro 2008 team were heralded, especially after their semi-final demolition of the counter-attacking Russians. Since then, however, the Spanish results in the advanced stages of tournaments have been 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0, 1-0 and 2-0.

This is not Spain’s problem, yet recent comments have suggested that their controlling nature of possession is infinitely boring. After years of being international football’s archetypal underachievers, the Spanish have sculpted a formation that is wonderfully successful. There is an odd mentality that raises the assumption that football must be entertaining. Whilst, as a supporter, I want to see my team play free-flowing football, I would rather my team win. Spain execute the latter view with ruthless perfection, leaving the former wish open to heated debate.

The Russia match was a catalyst for change, and not within the Spanish team. Whilst the appointment of Vicente Del Bosque to replace Aragones did see a shift from Marcos Senna as the holding midfielder to the duo of Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets, the mentality remains the same. The British like to see a game of high-intensity, littered with scoring opportunities, defensive lapses and crunching tackles. Spain have rejected these notions. They negate the other team’s threat so effectively that the main impact is in the middle of the pitch. Passing is the most difficult act of simplicity on the football field, and when it is executed perfectly, it is footballing art at its purest.

However, Andrea Pirlo of Italy showed that a master class in simple passing can be combined with the creation of goal scoring chances. Spain’s problem is their opponents. As was highlighted on the Guardian’s excellent Euro 2012 daily podcast, other teams have steadfastly accepted that they must allow Spain the ball and to try to frustrate and defend. The previously mentioned scores suggest that this approach isn’t remotely successful, yet is there a notion that losing 1-0 is more preferable to being destroyed like Russia were? If this argument is prevalent, it is a disappointing one.

Another intriguing point made was that, due to being on the cusp of breaking the three international championships in a row record, Spain have become the band that were once worshipped, but are now being lambasted because of their success and popularity. Accusations of arrogance due to not playing a striker are misguided. Oddly, bringing on Torres is actually a defensive change, as his introduction allows the flexible midfield to drop deeper. The fear of isolating a player, resulting in little impact, drives this 4-6-0 formation in a thoughtful way that Craig Levein’s Scotland will never achieve.

Watching Spain is fascinating, and whilst not anywhere near the excitement of seeing the Germany team play, the tactical nuances are exhilarating in themselves. I do, however, find myself willing Spain’s opponents to score, just to show that football cannot be controlled forever and that a natural cycle of progression has to occur. If Spain do win Euro 2012, are the psychologically set up for years to come, especially if the ideology and ethos is engrained within the junior teams? With teams simply unable to overcome them, this is a frightening prospect.

Rediscovering Scotland

International tournaments keep me locked within a falsifying bubble. There is a finality about its bursting, transporting me back to the reality of club football in an instant. Whilst the tournament proceeds, however, a strange notion falls over me like an uncertain bruise. I seem to be longing for the Scottish national team.

I never feel more Scottish than I do during an international tournament, living in England. I don’t even stand out as an outsider, with my English accent and season ticket at an English club. Nevertheless, something is gravitating me towards Scotland, an irresistible force trying to sculpt my footballing emotions towards a nation I thought I had left behind.

The problem is the internal bigotry disguised as passionate club support. As a fan of Coventry City, I rarely need to worry about our players representing a nation. I did take a dislike to the Ireland team because of Sean St Ledger, centre back for our local rivals, Leicester City. With Scotland, the issue of rivalry is far deeper, because of Celtic and Rangers.

Growing up, I was taught that Rangers embodied the establishment. They were the chosen club, and as a result would be favoured by referees and the Scottish FA. The events of the last five months have proved these assumptions to be true, and the now departed Rangers FC ceased to exist with a dark cloud of shame and disgrace. I was taught to respect all races and nationalities, but Rangers were the epitome of the devil.

Transferring these thoughts to football, it was then difficult to support a Scotland team that was often full of Rangers players. In 1996, I found myself living in Andy Goram’s world, holding two contrasting opinions. On one hand, I wanted my country to succeed, but on the other I found it problematic cheering for Ally McCoist. Club rivalries are the staple tribalism of sport, and in football this cannot merely be put on hold.

But Rangers Football Club are now dead. A new company has formed, but the history of this club is a week old. They have not played a single game of football, let alone had a player capped by Scotland. With the likelihood that they are rightfully demoted to division three, it may be years before they produce a player capable enough to wear a Scotland shirt. Despite the national team’s decline, third division players have yet to be considered.

Is this though, to paraphrase Malcolm X, the hate that hate produced, or a tribal attitude that sums up one of football’s ills? After all, I didn’t start supporting England in 1998 when the Coventry City striker Dion Dublin received his first cap, so should I deny myself the chance to support Scotland? Surely supporting a national team stands alone, free from club rivalry, creating a dynamic fusion of unity. What would happen if a Leicester City player was capped by Scotland? Would my fandom be taken out of my own thought process, leaving me at the mercy of club managers and their transfer policies?

The intrigue that has engulfed me since Euro 2012 began stems from my Dad. If my Mum taught me to be wary of Rangers, my Dad taught me to love Scotland, regardless of club allegiance. We are, despite all the rebellion that may internally manifest itself, products of our upbringing. A week after my Dad’s death in 2009, I went to Hampden to watch Scotland play Netherlands. Wrapped up in a sea of intense grief, I went to gain a sense of his spirit, at a place we had sat side by side. I have just looked up the Scotland team, and the four Rangers players in the starting line-up certainly didn’t matter as I roared for my homeland, wishing my Dad hadn’t departed this realm.

I haven’t seen Scotland play since. Perhaps it was the disappointment of defeat that compounded the mourning, wondering why the gods hadn’t ensured a victory for my Dad in the afterlife. Instead, I made an annual pilgrimage to the city of his birth, Dunfermline. The Scotland football team wasn’t enough, I had to embrace the kingdom that had shaped his identity. Am I now ready to embrace the national team once more, knowing that there is no shining light that helps the grieving? As I look at a picture of my Dad and I stood next to the Hampden Park pitch, I feel that it is time to rediscover Scotland.HJhHhhkjhhhhhgh