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Anyone but England? The bitter truth about football rivalry in the UK

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Edinburg: For football fans in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it's often a case of ABE (Anyone But England). It's tough for them to change the habit of a lifetime and get behind Gareth Southgate's team in the World Cup.

In a sporting quirk, Britain sends a united team to the Olympics, but it's a different story in football and rugby, where ancient and bitter rivalries run deep.

England is the dominant nation in the United Kingdom, with more resources, more players, and more success at sporting level than its smaller neighbours.

Andy Murray, the Scottish former Wimbledon champion, touched a nerve when he said he would be supporting "anyone but England" at the 2006 World Cup, prompting an angry backlash from English sports fans.

Scotland's political leaders have maintained a jocular tone during England's progression to the semi-finals in Russia.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party tweeted a photo of herself holding a model of the World Cup trophy, stating, "It's home already (well, we can dream!!)", before congratulating England on their 2-0 quarter-final win against Sweden.

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader in the British parliament, revealed he was backing eliminated Peru due to their hospitality during a recently friendly match, but pledged to offer his "hearty congratulations" to England if they win the World Cup.

The SNP were accused of deliberately time-wasting in the Westminster parliament on July 3 to prevent English MPs from being able to enjoy the second-round win over Colombia.

Political rivalry -- and bitterness -- is always bubbling underneath the sporting surface.

Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling last week got into a Twitter spat after accusing a journalist of "bigotry" over anti-English statements.

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