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