Friday, May 16, 2008


Watching the Rangers game this week – and perhaps most especially the fans* – made me wonder about identity, and how mixed up and muddy it can get. Quite reasonably, an English buddy of mine asked why the resolutely Scottish Rangers supporters waved the Union Jack. Now, you’d imagine that a reasonable simple question deserves a reasonable simple answer, but it’s WAY more complicated than that, and I’m not even sure I can explain it correctly.

Firstly, there’s the red, white and blue which the kits & flags share; then there’s the supposed loyalty to “the union”, which with Scottish Parliament and a SNP first minister is as fragile now as it has ever been. On top of that, what is the Britishness that such loyalty is directed towards? Is it the amazing rainbow-hued multi-ethnic society that I’m glad to experience every day in London, or something else that existed in the past but has long been consigned to history?

The waters are further muddied, because those supporters are likely to whistle raucously with the rest of the Tartan Army in protest at the playing of the British National Anthem, “God Save The Queen” for the England team on the now rare occasions when Scotland and England meet on the football field.

Also, in Scotland there’s in a growing interest in and affinity for all things celtic, not to be confused with Rangers’ bitter rivals Celtic!

No wonder it’s confusing.

For me – and I say this as someone who’s loyalty as an armchair supporter has been with Rangers since I was old enough to utter the word – I do struggle a little with seeing the Union Jack waved. Having moved to England from Scotland in mid 70s, and being of a generation when the flag was hi-jacked by the far right when my sympathies were more in line with Rock Against Racism and the upbeat joy of 2-Tone it still creates a kind of uncomfortable feeling when I see it flown.

• I’m hugely proud to be a Scot (with an English accent)
• I baulk at describing myself as “British”
• I’m probably a Londoner as much as anything else
• I feel like a Celt, not an Anglo
• I’m still a Rangers supporter, but I renounce bigotry
• I’ve never met an Irishman I haven’t gotten on with famously
• My family is a glorious mix of the celtic, anglo and Caribbean, but when Scotland are playing there’s only one team for us
• I agree with those eminent theologians at Hard Rock, and would wish to Love All, Serve All
• Ultimately, my identity is bound up in my saviour Jesus

There’s a quote attributed to Desmond Tutu that I’m finding increasing resonance with:

Jesus said, 'If I be lifted up I will draw all, all, all, all, all. Black, white, yellow, rich, poor, clever, not so clever, beautiful, not so beautiful. It's one of the most radical things. All, all, all, all, all, all, all, all. All belong. Gay, lesbian, so-called straight. All, all are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go. All.

*If you’re reading this outside of the UK you may not realize that somewhere around 100,000 football (soccer) fans effectively invaded the city of Manchester to support their team in a major European soccer final.


RichardB said...

Hey amazing that we're thinking about the same thing. Btw I didn't mention that as soon as I get to my great grandad's generation and abovem their birthplace is listed as Edinburgh. What does that make me?

Johnny said...

I should think a couple of tins of shortbread, and episode or two of Rab C. Nesbitt and you're in.

I strongly suggest you watch the Irn Bru ad too, to see if it provokes an emotional response!

Heather's place said...

I feel British.

Dad was born and raised in Scotland as were both sides of his family. Mum was born in England - her family roots go back to Ireland and the Isle of Mann.

I don't feel English.

I guess I feel Northern.

We generally visit London several times a year - it feels like home and a foreign country in equal parts.

(I must blog soon or you'll strike me from your list :-))


Duncan McFadzean said...

Johnny, can't admit to being gutted that Rangers lost :-)

I think that to consider the reasons Rangers fans fly the Union Jack without considering Northern Ireland is not quite complete. In the west coast of scotland, as you know, there is a massive divide between Protestants and Catholics. Prods identify with Rangers predominantly. This also ties them into the politics of Ulster, and hence why they generally can be found singing anti catholic songs, wearing orange tops, flying union jacks etc. It's all tied up with a strong pro loyalist view, rather than a favourable view of the queen and union. It's just an anti republican view and is more defined around hatred than anything else.

Johnny said...

Hi Duncan

You're right. As you've outlined, the Northern Irish angle is a huge factor too. Thanks for your input, bro'.


Anonymous said...

Amen brother- Amen!

Love the Desmond Tutu quote too.

I wonder if there is something that exiles will always feel in common- a resistance to easy stereotypes and a desire to read subcultures in the small scale rather than the large.