Posted by: Gerry | October 18, 2007

Why I Will Be Supporting England On Saturday

Back in 1990, I was working in a pub in the City of London. As the Five Nations that year drew to a conclusion, England and Scotland were due to meet in Murrayfield for a winner-takes-all encounter. The Calcutta Cup, the Triple Crown, the Championship and a Grand Slam were all up for grabs for whoever won. The British media were at one that it was to be England’s day.

The pub where I worked was frequented mainly by City-type bankers and stockbrokers, many of whom were committed rugger buggers. The night before the match was chaos, punctuated by occasional choruses of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.” The one dissenting voice that could be heard all night was an ebullient Scot called Danny. He was having none of it. “I tell ye, we’re goin’ tae win!” he repeated incessantly, as he took bets from anyone who was willing to take him on.

The following day, Scotland held out for a 13-7 victory. On Monday, Danny arrived in at lunchtime with the biggest grin I have ever seen on any face. He held court in the middle of the pub as he collected his winnings. The banter was good natured, but one English guy was getting narked.

“Your problem Danny,” he remarked, “is that you’re prejudiced.”

“Me? Prejudiced?” replied Danny. “I couldnae gie a fuck who beats England!”

Danny could have been Irish or Australian and his attitude would probably have been the same. For some reason, our three nations have this “Anyone but England” attitude written into our DNA. The Welsh and the New Zealanders have it too, but to a lesser degree.

Speaking from an Irish point of view, it seems to me to be a knee-jerk reaction. For years, I was the same. I couldn’t stand to see England do well at anything. Even if Ireland were doing really badly, it didn’t feel too bad as long as England were having just as torrid a time. There was also the satisfaction in seeing the former colonial overlord getting one in the eye.

In recent years, I have forced myself to reassess this attitude. Why should I feel this way about a country I lived in for all of my twenties, and for which I have very fond memories? Could it be the English media who famously go over the top whenever England win something? Well, the Irish media do the same whenever an Irish sporting triumph happens. We beat a weak England in Croke Park this year on the way to a Triple Crown, er, triumph, and there were pull-out supplements, wall posters and the like in the newspapers the following Monday.

In the 2003 World Cup I gave my grudging support to England in the final. As far as I was concerned, it was better than Australia winning it for the third time and at least England were a northern hemisphere team. But I couldn’t muster any sense of jubilation when Martin Johnson lifted the Webb Ellis. It was a stupid attitude to have as England fully deserved that win, as they had been the best team in the world for quite some time, and had closed out the deal by winning the world cup. I think it was to do with the pre-World Cup hubris that surrounded the team, much of which was generated by the media. There was also Protocolgate at Lansdowne Road the previous spring, which was still fresh in our minds.

I was lucky enough to board the Prawn Sandwich Express to Twickenham for Ireland’s match against England in March 2004. It was England’s first match back home since winning the World Cup, and they hadn’t been beaten at Twickenham for something like five seasons. But Fortress Twickenham fell that day to a rampant Irish side, who won 19-13. Ireland could just as easily have lost, as Ben Cohen had a try disallowed for a double movement, and another ref or TMO might have given it.

There was no bitterness about the loss among the England fans. I had my hand shaken by dozens of white-shirt clad fans, who had no issue with our win, or the manner in which it was achieved. That night, our group of Irish fans partied hard with throngs of English fans. We had drunken reminiscences about past successes and failures. I think it was that weekend that my attitude changed completely.

It is entirely healthy to want your own team to beat arch-rivals. But it is an entirely different matter when you wish those rivals to be beaten in any circumstances. I have many close ties to England, friends, extended family, etc., not to mention my time living there. I have no ties to South Africa whatsoever, have never been there, and have no overbearing desire to go. Maybe one day I will, but it’s not on the agenda right now.

So on Saturday night, I will be supporting England to retain the World Cup. I know that to some this is like an act of betrayal against Ireland’s patriot dead. But you gotta admire the English. They got hosed by South Africa in the group stages, but came back to beat Australia and France in the quarters and semis. If they win, it won’t have been the best team in the world that will be world champions, but that would be true of a South Africa win too. England are rank underdogs and have nothing to lose. No-one expected them to get this far. There was nothing like the pre-tournament hype we saw in 2003.

But there is another (selfish) reason. Our record against England as world champions stands at P4 W4 D0 L0. It would be nice to have another four years of annual pops against the world champions. Unlike Danny, I do give a fuck who beats England. I prefer them to be beaten by a team wearing green, just not the shade their opponents will be wearing on Sunday.



  1. In essence the reason I won’t be supporting them can be summed up by this:
    Any time England win the BBC go on, and on, and on forever. That’s why it’s a bit tedious, in particular for those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland whose main source of news is Britain based.

    In short: England won the soccer world cup over forty years ago, and we’re still hearing about it as if it was yesterday every time there’s an international game.

  2. I am a “plastic paddy” my mother Irish, my father English and me born and raised within earshot of Kingsholm, home of the cherry and whites and having played for a local feeder club who’s motto was “if yer on the ground yer grass.” Then being transported into the middle of Ireland to live with my beautiful Irish wife, 2 kids, mortgage and a 140 mile round trip commute to Dublin most days. Well,tonight whilst contemplating my early morning drive to meet up with my new MD near the airport at 9am and thinking about the rugby, sipping Tesco’s finest red and surfing my way about the old world wide web I am suddenly renewed in my hope for humankind. I have always supported England and could, in my past, point to the fact that I had never ever missed a fixture in 7 years home or away in the 5 nations (which became the 6 nations half way through my boast). This was, of course BK (before kids). I also used to support the sevens venture always earmarking a week in March for Hong Kong and 4 or 5 days in Dubai sometime in November depending on when old ram-her-dam appeared. But I always took pride in one thing. England first, Ireland second and whoever played a good game (especially if they were underdogs) thereafter.
    I have been deeply saddened by Irish attitudes over the last 10 or so years whereby anyone playing England, even if it were Uzbekistan at tiddlywinks were fiercely supported beyond belief. This is not restricted to Ireland, as your article suggests my best friend, whilst at Junior School, who is in fact English but moved to Scotland at 10 years old rants at England in a language that I record and decipher later! I never fail to receive a text message before the England game saying “Allez le bleu” or “come on the Taffs” or the like, but I alway reply “Good Luck Scotland”.
    The time is now 12.15am the glass empty and time for bed and I have just noticed that I have been ranting myself – so apologies all round. The reason for my mailing is that tonight, with all the emotion of a whole bottle of Jacobs Creek I have been thrilled to read your article. i wholly endorse it and thank you for your input. I too hope that England will win on Saturday, they probably wont but at least they have started for the first time since winning 4 years ago, looking like world champions. Thanks again for your article and forgive my bumbling unpunctuated comments – but they were heartfelt. COME ON ENGLAND !!

  3. Prospectus –

    In the past, that would have been one thing that would have turned me off supporting England (not that reason ever really came into it, it was mostly down to involuntary impulses.)

    However, I think that there is a world of difference between the British (or English, really) media’s attitudes to England’s soccer and rugby teams. Even now, forty years on from winning the World Cup, the media attitude towards the English soccer team is that they are still a major world force and genuine contenders for a major championship, when quite evidently they are not. However, in the run-up to the Rugby World Cup, it was only Rob Andrew that was saying that England would get this far.

    It must be galling though for the Scots or Welsh when they are playing England, and all the coverage from the media is that they are the opposition.

    Gary –

    Hope you managed to make it to the airport on time 🙂

    One thing I should have mentioned of course is that if it was the other way around, and Ireland were playing South Africa in the final, virtually all of England would be supporting Ireland.

  4. “Even now, forty years on from winning the World Cup, the media attitude towards the English soccer team is that they are still a major world force and genuine contenders for a major championship, when quite evidently they are not. However, in the run-up to the Rugby World Cup, it was only Rob Andrew that was saying that England would get this far.”

    Yes, that’s a fair point Gerry. Then again, if England win, the unexpectedness will likely make the media gloating even more intense! 🙂

  5. I think I’ll be following the red rose on Saturday as well. There’s the chance of the “two in a row” record as well as the Webb Ellis returning to the northern hemisphere. After the gauntlet the English team have run over the last two years, I think they deserve another big win. Maybe if we give Ireland a good grilling over the next four years, the 2011 world cup could be ours! Wishful thinking?

  6. Plus Brian Ashton is another one of the good guys who got shafted by the IRFU. How sweet this must all seem to him.

    Go on England!

  7. Greta article, and absolutely spot on. The only thing I dislike about England at the moment is the style of rugby they’re playing, but on every other level they desrve to be there, and they deserve our support.

  8. Yep, great article and the English do always support us – I remember watching an Irish soccer match against Holland years ago in a pub in England and being amazed at the level of vocal support for Ireland – and thinking to myself ‘Christ, they just wouldn’t understand how we feel about them!’

    I too have softened and was supporting England strongly against the All Blacks – as, apparently, were the other twenty or so other people in the pub – times have indeed changed.

    However I’m going to be supporting S Africa tomorrow – not (possibly for the first time in my life) as an anti-English measure – but because in terms of quality and flair this has been a most disappointing World Cup and I would prefer to see a team with Brian Habana in it lift the trophy.

  9. There seems to be a lot of this navel-gazing going on, to the effect that we must support our neighbours. If you can find me a single situation worldwide where the small fry feels obliged to support their Goliath of a neighbour, I might give this opinion more credence. As it is, if their fellow countrymen in Scotland, Wales and NI – which is what they are – can’t be arsed cheering for England, I don’t see why I should.

    NB I did cheer for them in the final four years ago, but the Aussies need as many lessons in humility as can be found.

  10. No-one is saying you have to, deiseach. All I did in this post was set out the reasons why I will cheer for them.

    If you don’t want to, that’s your choice, and I’m not going to take you to task for it.

  11. while i am sad that you won’t be supporting our boys, i think its very refreshing that you’re supporting england.

  12. I can tell you all – being in England at the moment – that the English were supporting Georgia and Argentina against us.Where you get this English were supporting us from is beyond me. Delusional arrogance and bad losign spirit typifies English rugby. How an English win can benefit NH rugby I do not understand – their play is a bad advertisement for our game.

    I am so happy England lost. South Africa needed this and they got it well done.

  13. What a sad bunch some of you are. Supporting Ingerland is not a question of avenging 700 years of oppression. We’ve grown up and left that sh**e behind long ago. No, my friends, it’s a question of NOT supporting a team (either soccer or rugby) with ridiculously inflated notions of their worth. Which is why I supported….Argentina, and the only game they bottled in the entire tournament was against SA, because Contempomi clearly was not match fit!

  14. Oh and PS, how is it that Ingerland are still allowed to belt out God Save The Queen, the nominal anthem of the UK, when we have to sing Phil Coulter’s cross-community-acceptable piece of latter day Redmondite tosh???

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