I’ve lived in Scotland for more than half my life – born here and been back since student days. I’m comfortable my Scots identity. I am proud of Scotland, and what it represents. I grew up in the commuter belt of London. Most of my cultural references through school and childhood are English. Though our family is Irish and Welsh by background, one half settled mainly in the South East of England, the other in Scotland. So you could say if anyone represents British identity it would be me.
And yet I’ve had an uneasy relationship with England and Englishness. I didn’t get on well with the town I grew up in. It’s very Conservative, pro-brexit, uneasy about immigration… From Scotland, it’s easy to smirk at the Brexit mess. It’s easy to want to pull up the drawbridge and I did vote for independence, though i’m not sure I now would. More and more i’m feeling drawn to supporting other parts of the UK facing down the challenges we all face – and less like going it alone.
I love sport. I support Scotland when they are playing, but I follow the English Premiership and the cricket team without hesitation. In rugby of the four nations, England has the least pull – but I still cheered when they won the world cup. Football has often been different. I remember 1990, and previous disappointment.
The England football team have been hard to love. Hype, individualism, arrogance and failure to be more than the sum of their parts hasn’t endeared them to me. You might say an obsession with recapturing the past led them into all sorts of messes.
Nevertheless i’ve followed their travails – quietly. In Scotland it’s often ABE – anyone but England. It’s hard enough having an English accent and being assumed to be English everywhere.
This world cup has been different. Maybe it’s cause i’m grown up. Maybe it’s because I work one week in two in London, with colleagues who are passionate England fans. This time it felt different, and it was. A diverse team of players from across England, enriched by migration, and representing a huge number of clubs played for, led by a manager who missed a penalty in the last tournament the side did well in and who used his experiences to do good for football. A great story.
The idea of ‘it’s coming home’ took hold – a nation desperate for some good news holding back its previously misplaced bravura ‘we’ll win it, innit’ until it was almost irresistible. But did ‘it’s coming home’ mean the trophy? Most would say it did.
But the lyric of the song doesn’t say that – it says football. In that regard i’d say it did – people reconnected to the team and its manager as a symbol of hope and of values that are good values to have. Values of Englishness not involving racism, jeering, hooliganism or narrow mindedness. In fact, the only ones of those I saw were from other Scots.
For the semi-final I happened to be in London – so I went home and watched with my brother, his family, and my parents. He and I reminisced about our Italia 90 shorts (I was 11, he 8) and we watched the game with K – his first memorable world cup and as spurs fans – they had a great world cup.
Here it is – football coming home in 12 pictures – one for every 10 minutes of the match, starting just after the goal when the emotions were running high. Here’s dedication, focus, love, worry…and togetherness. But no tears, and no anger.
Better side won, we have a lot to take forward, we had a great night together.
The First Half – Optimism and Frustration
Second Half – Gathering Clouds
Extra Time – Slipping Away