Firstly, because I am Scottish. However, this reason never appears to satisfy the inquisitive nature of those who appear bewildered that I have no love for the England football team. The default response seems to be that, because I grew up here, I should automatically support the English. I don’t, thus reinforcing Norman Tebbit’s cricket test mindset.
I support an English football team, and have for twenty-four arduous, soul-destroying seasons. Success is something that happens to others, not to my team. The last time we finished in the top six of any division was in 1970, and the highest league position in my lifetime was when we finished seventh in 1989, my first season as a fan. Despite my family all supporting a successful Scottish team, I chose, as a naïve five year old, to support my local team so I could actively go and watch them every week. To this day, I chastise my family for choosing to settle in Coventry. But it was my choice; I chose the English club side over the Scottish club side.
However, not supporting the English national side runs deeper than myself and my family being Scottish. A Scottish friend of mine, in the similar sense that he grew up in England, does want the three lions to succeed. The polar opposite used to be my thought process; I wanted them destroyed in every game.
My family did play a part. An early football memory is being woken up by my extended family during the 1990 World Cup, their screams of delirium stemming from Cameroon taking the lead during the quarter-final. The six year old, annoyed that he had to go to bed at full time, knew that we just didn’t support England. Paradoxically, my Dad was more laid back. He was the strongest supporter of the Scottish national side, but as a child bought me both England and Scotland shirts. The former were always sent back.
In 1992, I had supported Coventry City for three and a half seasons, and my trips to Highfield Road were becoming more frequent. English football had reached a turning point, and although the evil Murdoch empire did not invent football in this year, its machine put the wheels in motion to manufacture a perception of the game that has been heavily injected by future generations. Before the Premier League started, there was Euro 92. I had not seen any football hooliganism up until this point, although I am certain that it was there. I hadn’t been looking for it, and it certainly never crossed my path. However, as an emotionally fragile eight year old I watched scenes from Sweden of English hooligans attacking Swedish fans, kicking one man to an inch of his life. This was broadcast to the nation on News at Ten. The decision was well and truly made, England fans were animals. The events in Dublin in February 1995 only served to reiterate this idea.
As I morphed into adulthood, a fear of England winning a tournament hung over me like a black cloud. The 2002 World Cup saw early morning kick-offs, and with it alcohol as a ready-made scapegoat to act like a sub-human. At 18, I noticed that an average England fan in a pub was not like the City fans that I had encountered. They seemed insular and lacking in football knowledge. International tournaments brought out the worst in England fans, with their superiority complex and woeful ignorance of other teams and cultures. Naturally, I did learn that not all England fans are like this, but at the time the vast majority did seem to be microcosms of the tabloid press, unenlightened and mildly xenophobic.
Of course, a pre-conceived sense of bigotry cannot be fought with more bigotry. In my line of work I have taken two trips to Wembley over the past three years, and found a contrasting fan base, multicultural, respectful and inclusive. Nevertheless, the summer supporters, the ones who feel the need to belong by attaching themselves to a nauseating nationalism during major tournaments, still exist. Whereas ten years ago I wanted England to lose badly, a more ambivalent attitude prevails. I would never support them, but if they do win, it wouldn’t alter my life in any way. A Leicester City Champions League victory would crucify me in a far pertinent sense than an England Euro 2012 win. Thankfully, both are highly improbable.
Should you support the country you are born in? Arguably, but this raises wider, far more intricate issues. Does being born in England make you English? If your family all hail from another nation, do you sacrifice family identity for a land that you did not choose to enter the world in? There is the counter argument to suggest that, in a multicultural society, adopting the land of emigration is a progressive attitude to encounter isolation. Some people can never win, as there exists both the neanderthals who maintain that an immigrant can never be a true citizen of a nation, and those who are disappointed at immigrants for not having a sense of gratification in their adopted land.
For me, the notion stems back to the beginning. I am Scottish, and therefore I do not support England. Yet, I do not support Scotland either.