11 October ~ "Oben am jungen Rhein" (Up above the young Rhine) is played to the same tune as "God Save The Queen", still the official national ditty of anyone living in Scotland. When Sky Sports News replayed the booing which permeated Liechtenstein's anthem during their visit to Hampden last month, many a little Englander no doubt bemoaned the anti-British impudence of "the sweaties". The Sweaty Socks. The Jocks. Yet that pejorative rhyming slang provides a clue to the whole problem.

The 2010 incarnation of my national team's socks, sweat-laden as they will have been when seven minutes of injury time were required to conjure up a winner against a team ranked 100 FIFA places beneath Old Caledonia, bear not just the three Teutonic stripes of Adidas. The close-up slow-mo replays of Alan Hutton's leg being trampled by mortally-offended Liechtensteiners showed "Alba" stitched across the garment. It's the Gaelic word for Scotland and Stanislavsky-like inspiration to the theatrics of the much-lauded, myth-clutching Tartan Army.

The First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, once announced plans for an independence referendum with a bit of Gaelic. One suspects the chief reason Gaelic is regarded as really Scottish is that it's not understood by English people. Yet it's not understood by most Scottish people either. Gaelic speakers represent little over 1 per cent of the Scottish population – yes, you could indeed "fit them all into Hampden". And, with the proliferation of potential FIFA members in the last 20 years, we can be sure full Scottish independence would soon see our Gaels playing Gibraltar, Gozo and the Channel Islands in the Viva World Cup.
Why would the SFA approve such a frill by Adidas? Because they think they know their market. It's a patronising and exploitative move to make Scotland seem as though it has a cultural heartland as different from all things English as wearing kilts instead of trousers and eating haggis instead of tripe. Alba on the socks connotes fundamentalist Scottishness – the Sir Walter Scott and Queen Victoria ideal of how subserviently quaint we should all be up here. The SFA and the Scottish mainstream media perpetuate this garbage for the purposes of raising enough nationalistic emotion to support a football team.

Everyone's afraid to say that hating England and loving Scotland are, theoretically, two completely unrelated matters. And the fact you're not a hooligan doesn't automatically bar you from being an attention-seeking pain in the arse. The one good thing about this wee episode of booing – described as "disgraceful" by an "embarrassed" acting SFA chief executive, George Peat – is that it lets the Tartan Army realise they are not the ultimate paragons of sportsmanship they think they are.
Tartan Army used to be a collective noun for the Scotland support but, by the 1990s, it had become regarded as some sort of edict by which anyone attending a game of the SFA's first XI had to dress like Bonnie Prince Charlie. Anyone, that is, except the team. But this worrying sartorial sign of creeping biscuit tinnery on the Adidas strip can at least be countered in the stands. The Scotland support and Tartan Army should no longer be regarded as one and the same thing. Booing that anthem was, like any real football support, neither wholly cuddly nor truly hateful. It was the result of a local media campaign to ensure that, when the anthems started up, no Scotland fan would be left wondering "just where have I heard that tune before?".

The aural barrage was made to order for the tabloids. The booing was a sign of institutionalised victimhood reflected in the Realpolitik of our team's subsequent performance. It might, however, just have been the thin end of the wedge which drives between what the Tartan Army think they are and what the Scotland support knows we are – a proud football nation, sick of wallowing in inverted hatefulness and the failure it brings. A nation which boos German lyrics but wears German socks. Alex Anderson

Comments (12)
Comment by English Republic 2010-10-11 13:59:26


I don't think the term "Little Englanders" is quite the right term to describe the Brit-nats on this side of the border who would endulge in "Jock bashing" because a handfull of people booed an anthem which sounds a bit like the UK's "national" anthem. Little Englander is a term first applied to anti-colonialists who were against the expansionism of the fledgling British state over first these islands and then around the World, the exact opposite in fact of those who would be upset by anti-British sentiment by Scots or anyone else. Perhaps the term you are looking for is "Big Brittishers"?

I think you are being a little harsh on the Gaelic language. It may not be THE language of Scotland but it is A language of Scotland. Perhaps those who promote it (including your government and Football Association) are attempting to improve upon the shockingly low numbers of Scottish people who have an understanding of one of your countrys indigenous languages?

Comment by domhinde 2010-10-11 14:20:16

There's nothing wrong with a bit of Gaelic. I don't speak Gaelic and nobody is asking me to, but in terms of cultural identity the language is quite meaningful. I object to signs saying 'Failte' when I enter pubs in Edinburgh and shortbread-box Scotland pushing the idea that everyone north of the border likes nothing more than to settle down with a glass of whisky and the greatest hits of Runrig, but the use of Alba is not in itself a bad thing, recognising as it does both Scotland's Gaelic speakers and the importance of the language to the history of the country as a whole. All the Gaelic speakers I have ever met have been remarkably constructive in their nationalism, the same of which cannot be said for the anglophonic bigots of the central belt. There was a David Mitchell rant in the Guardian (sinking him to the level of a Clarkson polemic) in which he entirely missed the point surrounding Gaelic education and cultural funding in Scotland, and I think that is indicative as a whole of the automatically negative attitude to anything which might be construed as vaguely nationalistic in Scotland. I'm a big fan of Gaelic education but I'm not an SNP voter and I find shortbread a bit sugary, so where that puts me I do not know. The long and the short of it is that the Gaelic language debate has many interest groups, some more rational than others. Slapping Alba on some socks does nobody any harm at all.

Comment by The Awesome Berbaslug!!! 2010-10-11 16:31:35

People who boo the liechtenstein national anthem are morons. as for god save the queen, it's just not a very good anthem, and it does have a verse about crushing the scots

But I'm intrigued, why would full independence lead to scotland competing at a lower level? Does the love of the queen keep your fifa ranking artificially inflated and insprire your players to a higher standard?

Alba isn't that bad a name and it's nice to have a name of your own. All scotland means is land of the irish and that's not very helpful.

Comment by RayDeChaussee 2010-10-11 16:51:07

I'm no fan of Braveheart fakery either, but as far as "embarrassing" goes Levein's tactics last Friday were off the scale.

Comment by Bill Bones 2010-10-11 17:38:19

"Everyone's afraid to say that hating England and loving Scotland are, theoretically, two completely unrelated matters."

I'm not sure that this is true at all. The last time I was at Hampden the few punters who tried a "Stand Up If You Hate England" chant got told by most around me to sit down or actually get behind Scotland. This was during the home win against France. I'll be there tomorrow against Spain which shows just what kind of Scotland fan I am.

The "Tartan Army" have been laughed at by many for a good few years now. Most of the assorted Alasdairs and Camerons who constitute it aren't really there for the football(not wholly a bad thing) but they more and more resemble those rugby fans who populate Edinburgh's George St in Jan. and Feb. Just because you'
ve got a kilt, a daft hat and cannae handle your drink doesn't make you in the laest amusing or a some kind of loveable rogue. Neither does urinating in the street either. In front of women and weans too.

Comment by Dalef65 2010-10-11 18:57:46

Scotland means "Land of the Irish"?
Didnt know that......!
You learn something new every day on these boards,I can tell you..!

Comment by Broon 2010-10-12 00:06:22

If there's one thing about WSC that annoys me it's its propensity for self-loathing. Heaven forbid a national association make a tiny gesture towards the heritage of the nation for the purpose of designing an international kit. Seriously, if that's all you've got to complain about then we're doing pretty well.

Comment by Why on Earth... 2010-10-12 02:25:49

Except that that heritage, and its relationship with Gaelic, is very problematic, and bound up with notions like the invention of tradition. Those same Lowlanders (and English) who'd collaborated in the utter destruction of Gaelic culture in the Highlands then took with indecent speed to romanticising it. Or rather, a fictional version of it.

I was in Dumfriesshire a few years ago during an agricultural festival. Of course, they had a Lone Piper and miles of tartan and all that stuff. In Dumfriesshire. It could be argued that this is false to two traditions at once: the Scots-speaking tradition of the Borders (which is being ignored), and the Gaelic-speaking tradition of the Highlands (which is being traduced). This isn't straighforward, any of this, and Alex is right to point this out.

(I should confess that I'm a Sassenach bastard, mind you.)

Comment by drew_whitworth 2010-10-12 09:56:08

I have often wondered why the England team persist with 'God Save the Queen' as its anthem. It's the anthem of the United Kingdom, not England. I notice the English winners at the Commonwealth Games are getting their medals to the sound of 'Jerusalem', which is specifically a song about England, and is a much better tune anyway (I find 'GSTQ' to be a real dirge, in fact). So why not change? It's not anti-patriotic, surely: GSTQ remains the UK anthem, and is played whenever a British team competes - but all the home nations have their own anthems to be used when they compete separately. Seems logical to me.

Comment by Dalef65 2010-10-12 16:01:23

The English winners at the Commonwealth Games are indeed getting their medals to the sound of "Jerusalem"(not a bad song by the way.)
But,I seem to recall that in Commonwealth Games in the past,the English medal song/anthem was "Land of Hope and Glory".Why the change.?
I know some will say that the lyrics of LOHAG are a bit dodgy(and admittedly they are),But surely not particularly anymore dodgy than GSTQ..

It seems that you can have an anthem with un-PC lyrics in some cases but not in others........Hmmmm

Comment by English Republic 2010-10-13 11:39:13


The choice of "Jerusalem" as the English national anthem at the Commonwealth Games was made after a consultation exercise carried out earlier this year by the body responsible for the English team, Commonwealth Games England. It has subsequently replaced the British imperialist anthem used previously, "Land of Hope and Glory".

There is an organisation putting pressure upon the sporting bodies responsible for English national teams who continue to use the UK "national" anthem:

Comment by keefer 2010-10-13 13:32:15

Our gaelic socks are certainly embarrassing and childish. What noone seems to have told the 'Tartan Army' is that Alba does not mean Scotland, it means the lands north of the firths of forth and clyde (for all intents and purposes the Highlands).

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