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

The tune sounded contrapuntally to the prevailing “Three Lions”–inspired boast that the tournament represented a triumphant “coming home” for association football. Ayrshire writer and radio presenter Billy Kay writes, using Scots idiom (see online dictionary), that Scots were “scunnered by their cheek,” knowing “in our hearts that it just wesnae true.” In a chapter on Scotland’s contributions to association football in The Scottish World: A Journey into the Scottish Diaspora (Mainstream, 2006), Kay elaborates on the Scottish invention and evangelizing, in the association game’s early days, of a short-passing style to replace the kick-and-rush favored by the English. The teaching of the early evangelizers, the so-called Scotch Professors, left its mark in South America, central Europe and, through Presbyterian missionary work, in southern Africa and China.

Kay, in The Scottish World, writes that, as in England, the obsession with folk forms of football, or “fitba,” developed early, such that Parliament banned the game, along with golf, in 1457.

Inevitably, though, the sobering reality dawns that despite the clever terrace wit, the bonhomie of the traveling Tartan Army (see the feel-good ESPN promotion during the 2006 World Cup finals) and its historical custodianship, Scotland in the international game has woefully underachieved. Many commentators as a reflex reaction blame the Scottish Football Association, and Kay adds the obsession with England as a contributing factor to Scottish insularity.

[T]he England v Scotland rivalry was actually a hindrance to our development as a footballing nation on the world stage. The guid conceit we had for our passing game was also part of our problem—in the early decades, we were so thirled to our mainly victorious fixtures with England, that we did not see the wider picture and the need to participate in the developing world game—a world game that we had more or less created. The philosophy that prevailed was if we could continually beat the mighty English, with a tenth of the population, then we could beat anybody.

No one, in our reading, has yet to definitively link passions for Scotland football with the political situation. Harry Ritchie, in his 1998 essay “We’re the Famous Tartan Army,” suggests that poor performances in major tournaments—Scotland has never advanced to a second round or knockout stage—contribute to poor national self-esteem and political timidity. Yet Scotland has not qualified at all for a major event since 1998, and voters in this period have approved “devolution” from the United Kingdom—that is, the creation of a Scottish Parliament (in existence since 1999)—and now potentially even bolder steps toward independence.

Researcher Joseph Bradley of the University of Stirling in 1996 supervised more than 400 interviews with Scottish supporters at European qualifiers and tournament matches in Birmingham and London. In contrast to Scotland matches of the 1960s and ’70s, when attendance was compared to “going to see [Glasgow] Rangers,” Bradley’s research team discovered that Tartan Army regulars favored nationalist affiliations over the primarily unionist sentiments epitomized by Rangers’ support. Fans at Scotland matches wave the Scotland flag and sing, in “Flower of Scotland,” of Robert the Bruce‘s defiance in meeting 14th-century incursions of King Edward II (see above):

O Flower of Scotland,

When will we see

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