JULY 7 — Andy Murray enjoyed the fervent backing of the Centre Court crowd as he held on to defeat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in four sets in the semi-finals at Wimbledon yesterday.
And across the UK, most people will be willing Murray to become the first Briton since Fred Perry in 1938 to win a Grand Slam final when he takes on living legend Roger Federer tomorrow.
Most people, but not all. Because there is still a significant number of Brits who want Murray to fail for one simple reason: He is Scottish.
The same kind of intra-national antipathy has led to fears that the Great Britain football team may be jeered by sections of the “home” support when they face Uruguay at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, in the rapidly approaching Olympic Games.
Like many countries, British cultural politics is a complicated matter. I’m not particularly patriotic but I regard myself as English, not British, even though my maternal grandparents were Scottish. And the majority of Britons feel the same way, identifying themselves most strongly with their particular corner of the kingdom rather than the overall entity.
That’s especially the case in many parts of Wales and Scotland, where local cultural sentiments can be particularly strong and there is frequently bitter resentment of the English — who often react to that hostility by smugly regarding themselves as superior to the native Welsh and Scots.
Hence the less-than-unanimous support received by Murray, and the concerns that the Olympic footballers will receive a hostile welcome in Cardiff (although I can’t believe that will happen — surely any Welshmen who vehemently oppose the idea of a British team will simply boycott the event, rather than fork out a lot of money to go along and boo).
The composition of the Olympics football team is a peculiarly complex and delicate matter. Great Britain has not entered a football team into the Olympics since 1972 because the individual nations have been fearful for their future autonomy if they were seen to be willing to compete as part of Great Britain. If they play in the Olympics as British, why should the World Cup, for example, be any different?
Logically, it would be perfectly reasonable for Fifa officials to regard the Olympics as a precedent and refuse to allow England, Scotland, Wales and Scotland to compete as separate nations in future tournaments.
It would be a fair argument: Why should we be allowed to fluctuate from being British to English to British to English depending on how the mood takes us? Surely we should either always compete as one nation or as separate nations, not have the luxury of being both.
Ryan Giggs is either a Welsh international or a British international; Micah Richards is either English or British. They can’t be both depending on which tournament they happen to be taking part in.
If we compete in the Olympics as Great Britain, then we should be obliged to compete in the World Cup and other international events as Great Britain as well. That would mean no more football teams for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — just one, unified team. Clearly, very few people in the UK want that to happen for a wide range of cultural and commercial reasons.
But the thought of an Olympic Games taking place in London without the host nation even entering a team for the world’s most popular sport was not something that the organisers were prepared to accept, and after lengthy negotiations Fifa gave assurances that the involvement of a British football team in the Olympics would have no repercussions on the future status of the individual national teams.
Problem solved — but not really, because the Scottish FA, in particular, remained extremely concerned that Fifa may go back on their word or change their stance at some point in the future (fair enough — we are dealing with Sepp Blatter here, after all). So the Scots continued to lobby strongly to avoid any Scottish players being called up, and in the end that’s exactly what has happened.
Stuart Pearce, the team’s coach (who is English and is employed by the English FA, surprise, surprise), has vehemently insisted that he picked his squad entirely on playing merit and did not face political pressure to make any inclusions or exclusions. However, the fact that he selected absolutely no players from Scotland looks suspicious.
No Northern Ireland players have been called up either — although it’s easier to accept that one on the basis of playing strength — so the British Olympic team will only feature players from England and Wales. Hardly the all-inclusive, unifying force that it was surely intended to be.
In reality there is no such a “country” as England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. My passport confirms that legally I am British, not English. In fact, the full title of the passport states that I am from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The word “England” is not even mentioned.
So, technically, the involvement of the football team in the Olympics as Great Britain is the correct one, and all Britons — whether English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish — should be cheering on Andy Murray as one of their own.
But reality is a lot more complicated: so come on Roger, beat that darned Scotsman! Hang on…I’m half-Scottish. So come on England! I mean British! Or is it UK?
Oh, I give up.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.