Flower of Scotland | Do nationalist feelings last longer than 90 minutes?

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Ronnie Brown, partner with Roy Williamson in the 1960s’ folk act The Corries, leads supporters in singing the duo’s “Flower of Scotland” at Hampden Park, Glasgow, on Mar 24 before a qualifier for the 2008 European Championships. Scotland defeated Georgia, 2–1, to help build its lead in qualifying Group B, shared at this writing with France and Ukraine.

We have claimed ancestral and psychological connection in the past with the Turnbull clan of 14th-century ascendance, the border dwellers known to royals and the kirk but also to prison keepers and insurgents for fits of prideful violence so shocking that clan members came to be spurned in polite company. Turnbulls joined a diasporic spread of Scots and keep looking back to the valley-bedded sanctity for hints to who they are and what they have become.

A few years ago we sent probing e-mail messages to Turnbull affiliates and Rule Valley organizations in vicinity of the ruined 12th-century Jedburgh abbey, once peopled by canons regular of St. Augustine, inquiring if there were a Turnbull-endorsed football club in Scotland that we might support. Embarrassed electronic silence was the reply, followed by a suggestion that rugby, in the Borders, is the game of choice. The implication was, “If you lived here, you would know that” (see 27 Jul 05).

Separation makes reading last week’s political news that much harder: on May 1, a 300th-anniversary recognition of union with England, followed, two days later, by nationwide parliamentary elections that lifted Scottish nationalists, for the first time, into a plurality of seats in the Scottish Assembly at Holyrood. By the end of the week, the Scottish National Party was attempting to foster a governing coalition with the minority Greens, with a targeted 2010 referendum on Scottish independence nevertheless seeming unlikely.

Football plays its role in the Scottish self-conception, having led to the coining of the phrase “90-minute patriot” for the supporter lustily baying “Flower of Scotland” at Hampden Park while other vestiges of anti-Englishness have worn away. Students of nationalism often cite the construction of Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm: “The identity of a nation of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people.” For Scotland, the statement may be especially true. Writes journalist Roddy Forsyth: “[S]port can claim not only to have been the most popular manifestation of Scottishness within Scotland, but actually to have been its distinct assertion of nationality.”

Nationalist ambitions, of necessity, are defined with an “other” in view. Scottish football exaggerates the nationalist drive, given that the “other,” England, exists just across the border. The two home countries have danced in seeming perpetuity since the first international friendly—a 0–0 draw between Scotland and England in Glasgow in 1872—and in 109 subsequent meetings, many of which occurred in Wembley Stadium in a biennial competition. The idea of a biennial meeting was abandoned in 1989; the two men’s teams have not played each other since a two-leg qualifier in 1999 for the 2000 European Championships.

During Euro 1996, hosted in England, Scotland backers favored the following song:

I’d love to go a wondering along the cliffs of Dover

And if I saw an Englishman I’d push the bastard over.

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