“Asking fans in Wales or Scotland to support England is like wanting Everton to go with Liverpool or Tottenham to support Arsenal,” says writer Tom Williams
Old wounds, new political divisions and the arrogance of his supporters will see England’s neighbors England largely back Italy in Sunday’s Euro Cup final, although many admit they like Gareth Southgate’s side.
While venues across England exploded with excitement as the national team advanced to their first grand final since 1966 on Wednesday, football fans in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were less than enthusiastic. They tend to proclaim themselves supporters of “anyone but England”, a reflection of deep hostility.
“Asking Welsh fans to support England is like asking Everton fans to support Liverpool or Spurs to support Arsenal,” football writer Tom Williams said on Twitter. “In sporting terms, England are the arch-enemy of Wales. Yes, it’s a team you like, with a good coach. But you can’t actively ‘support’ your rivals.”
An internet poll conducted by the television show Good Morning Britain revealed that 63% of fans in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland would support Italy. The reasons for this anti-British sentiment are often similar in the other three countries that make up Britain.
“Wales has endured centuries of oppression at the hands of England and the government of Boris Johnson treats the country as second to none,” wrote columnist Laura Kemp in Wales Online. “And we must not forget the Neanderthals who destroyed bars and squares everywhere they went,” he added, referring to the England fans.
They maintain that they are judged for their worst behavior and that they are called arrogant for trying to build their team’s self-esteem. For example, England fans sing the song “Football’s Coming Home” at every tournament, football goes home, recorded for Euro 1996.
But after 55 years without winning a major tournament, it has drawn criticism. Does England own the sport? I don’t think so,’ wrote former Scotland international and Liverpool legend Graeme Souness in The Times. But British fans insisted the song was nothing more than a humorous and self-deprecating acknowledgment of their blind optimism in the face of a devastating reality.
While all four British nations are happy to support England when competing under one flag at the Olympics, their separate participation in tournament football highlights identity clashes and political divisions.
More recently, Brexit tensions have fueled an independence push in Scotland, which voted to remain in the European Union in 2016. For the smaller countries of Great Britain, the UK – where 56 of the 66.5 million people live in the country and was the center of political power – embodying conservatism, colonial rule, and centuries of historical oppression.
Stuart Cosgrove, a Scottish broadcaster, attributes a biased perspective to the concentration of media in London. ‘All the news is about England. It felt like a British version of history being shown on television every night, and it was very, very frustrating,” he said.
It’s also upsetting “to see Prime Minister Boris Johnson there, or Home Secretary Priti Patel photographed, both wearing British shirts, when they claim to be the British government,” he added. “I don’t think they’d really care if Scotland made it” to the final, he thought.
Regardless, some critics have been impressed by Gareth Southgate’s team, who openly support progressive goals such as racial equality – kneeling before the game – and gender equality. Striker Marcus Rashford even forced the Conservative government to take a 180-degree turn in providing free school meals to the poorest students.
“This version of imperialism that people love to hate has absolutely nothing to do with this England team,” wrote Kemp. “They are as opposed to the ‘establishment’ as people in Wales are who are fed up with the privileges of the elite,” he stressed.