Technically, tonight I can’t lose. I have an English father and a Scottish mother; my brother and I were born in London, and my two younger sisters in Glasgow, though I grew up mostly in Glasgow, and my sisters mostly in Kent. We’re a mix (like many Brits) who should be able to cheer both sides.
Except football doesn’t really work like that, does it? I’ve always been a Three Lions supporter (sorry, Mum), already football mad enough when I moved from London to Glasgow aged five to have pledged allegiance to England. To be fair, you don’t get a lot of opportunities to cheer for Scotland in an international tournament (they were last in the World Cup in 1998, and this year’s Euros is their first since 1996).
I went to bed in tears when David Beckham got sent off in the ’98 round-of-16 game against Argentina — missing extra time and penalties. “Did we win, Dad?” I asked hopefully in the morning. “Of course not,” he replied flatly (and my initiation into being an England fan was complete).
I also grimaced and bore it when my classmates paraded in front of me wearing the strip of whichever team England were playing in a big game. The time Ronaldinho lobbed David Seaman in World Cup 2002, knocking England out in the quarter-finals? Well, we watched it in class, and when the ball flew over Seaman’s head, everyone pointed at me and laughed. I suppose flouncing that “at least England got into the tournament in the first place!” didn’t help my case.
In everything other than football, I’m more balanced. Being half-Scottish is an important part of my identity. I might not sound it — I’ve retired the accent — but I feel it: the gallows humour, the spirit, the irreverence. Not to mention that Englishness as an idea has felt especially charged in recent years. Mostly, I feel British, which should embrace multiculturalism in all its forms anyway.
Still, football does mean picking sides. Unless you’re my brother, our family’s diplomat, who won’t be watching. “I hate the division and my identity is divided, so I can’t choose.” My dad is going for England but would prefer to support a “GB team, as I can during the Olympics”. Mum will be belting out Flower of Scotland, while my youngest sister always supports Scotland against England as a rule, “but in all other football I support England, as they might actually win”. Zing. My other sister is so oblivious that she scheduled her birthday party over tonight’s game (if you’re reading, babe, I’m going to be late — sorry).
Hope for a draw to keep the peace? No way.