Not at the World Cup - my part in its downfall
Back in 2002, before the last World Cup, I was living up in Scotland, working for a large Government research institute. The collaborative international nature of science ensured that there was a healthy mix of nationalities represented - Scots (probably 70%), English (perhaps 10%), along with a mixture of other scientists from around the world, Irish, Spanish, Argentinian, French, German, you get the picture...
With such a smorgasboard of nationalities and footballing pride and prejudices there was obviously some friendly rivalry and canteen banter to be had. One sunny Scottish day I arrived at work and upon turning on my computer I noticed that a screensaver and desktop wallpaper, coutesy of a Tennents' website, had been installed on my computer.
Not wanting to be a bad sport and spoil the joke for my Scottish colleagues I left the foreign bunting up, but, in a covert evening operation with my English colleagues, we made the point of decorating the corridor in some foreign flags of our own - the Cross of St George. And that was that. Lines were drawn in the sand. We all knew where we stood, especially as a large proportion of my Scottish colleagues were resplendent in Argentina strips.
petty chippiness 'friendly rivalry' from individuals I could take. What bothered me was the Tennents' advertising campaign that was now live on the internet, and on roadside billbords, imploring Scots to support England's opponents. Would Tennents run a similar campaign imploring Scots to support anyone other than Turkey, or Germany, or Nigeria? I didn't think so, and that bothered me. The website in question was www.notattheworldcup.com and was intended to carry the full range of World Cup flags, each with a witty anecdotal Scottish slogan. But in their wisdom Tennents chose to launch it, and the billboard campaign, with just the flags of England's group-stage opponents (Nigeria, Sweden and Argentina) which gave the impression that it was a distinctly anti-English site. And as far as I was concerned it was.
At the time the Scottish press was in an introspective mood, full of articles about playground beatings that were being dished out to English children, and beating itself up about the anti-English vein that ran so visibly through Scottish life. This was post-devolution Scotland, a proud nation with a new sense of purpose and ambition, looking to the future not to the past. Except that it wasn't.
I decided to get pro-active and wrote to Tennents and the Leith Agency (the creative sparks) to complain about the adverts. The ironically named Robert Bruce of Tennents marketing wrote back and accused me of having 'no sense of humour' and further informed me that he hoped that England got beaten and knocked out at the earliest possible juncture. The director of the Leith Agency, Phil Adams, wrote back to inform me that he was an Englishman living in Scotland and he saw the adverts as nothing more than harmless fun. Neither man would concede that their corporate anti-English advertsing could be in anyway related to the beatings taking place on the streets and schoolfields of Scotland. I deliberately asked each man whether they would ever countenance running a simillar campaign against, say, Turkey; whether they thought such a campaign might make life difficult for the immigrant Turkish population in Scotland, and; why Bass Breweries/Interbrew (owners of Tennents) were only running the campaign north of the border, meaning that most of their English customers were oblivious to their methods. I pressed my case by arguing that their campaign maybe be reflective of Scottish opinion rather than causative but that it was, nevertheless, overly provocative given the prevailing wind of anti-Englishness at that time.
Neither man would concede that they might be held responsible for inflaming or reinforcing anti-English prejudice amongst the Tennents swilling yobbery of Scotland. Robert Bruce became increasingly rude and belligerent, picking out the odd spelling or syntax error in my emails, and refusing to be drawn on any of the points that I raised. Phil Adams addressed my points and informed me that altough the English were a minority group they were considered fair game given the sporting rivalry of the two countries, and that the campaign was only running in Scotland because Tennents was only ever marketed in Scotland
Annoyed, more than anything by the intemperance and rudeness of Robert Bruce, I decided to email Scotland on Sunday journalist Antonia Swinson with transcripts of our correspondence. This was the result.
What a result. To be fair Antonia had already been on the case but the Bruce emails enraged her and my case gave her the 'workplace bullying' ammunition that she needed. Of course, I didn't actually feel bullied or intimidated by the actions of my sniggering Scottish colleagues, and I didn't believe the adverts to be 'racist', but the ends justified the means and it was extremely gratifying to see the arrogant Bruce taken down a peg or two.
When the World Cup actually began I was amused, but unperturbed, to find my office furniture adorned, and my office walls plastered, with the flags of Nigeria, Sweden and Argentina.
The institute had a large lecture theatre with a giant screen and it was there that the multicultural workplace watched the matches. All matches were screened but it was only the England matches that drew a large crowd; mostly Scots, with whom I worked, socialised and played footy, all baying for the downfall of my team and the humiliation of England. It was a slightly hostile environment, even in a Government workplace full of extremely well-educated professional individuals, but after the match we got on with our jobs and resumed our friendships. Just as things should be.
Mercifully I was down in England attending a wedding on the day that England played Brazil, so my Scottish pals didn't get to fully enjoy the schadenfreude to which they felt entitled.
After re-reading this post I decided that there was something further that I wanted to add. As I said I don't think that the Tennent's campaign is 'racist' and, as I pointed out in a previous post, neither do I think that the anti-Englishness in Scotland is a form of racism.
Anti-Englishness may well have the same affects as racism - after all it's a form of hatred that often results in abuse, exclusion and violence - but I do not believe that it is a hatred defined by 'race'. It's a hatred defined by other factors (jealousy, sporting tribalism, nationalism and politics) but even the most vociferous Scottish supremacist would be hard pushed to pick out an ethnic Englishman from a line-up of ethnic Scots.
Racism to me is something different, something more sinister. To me racism is the belief that you are superior to another because of your race - your genetics. I don't think that Scots hold that view about the English and, likewise, I don't think the English hold that view about the Scots. The use of the word 'racism' to describe the nationalist squabbles between the English and Scottish devalues a powerful word that should be reserved for more appropriate occasions. I myself have been accused of being 'racist' towards the Scots because of what I write on this blog. It's a laughable suggestion, not least because I have Scottish heritage myself and count many Scots as close friends.
This man may be anti-English. He may be an insecure moron. He may simply be a retard. Or he may, in the words of Andy Murray, be just 'a typical Scot'.
However, I would hesitate in describing him a racist. Proudly displaying the flags of England's opponents is not racist, it's just following the mindset of prominent Scottish public figures such as Andy Murray and Jack McConnell.
Let's get this straight. Even if you are foolish enough to subscribe to the concept of 'race' as a taxonomic system for describing your fellow humans, or the delimiting factor that prescribes the boundaries of your nation, the Scots and English are not separate races. It is not racist to say that a man cannot be a Scot because he has an English accent, it is racist to say that a man cannot be Scottish because he is black. The former is discrimination, the latter is racism.