Ben Lowry: I once always wanted England to lose, now I want them to win

Northern Ireland seems to have more England football supporters than other non English parts of the British Isles.

Saturday, 10th July 2021, 5:59 pm
Updated Sunday, 11th July 2021, 5:36 pm
England's Raheem Sterling son Thiago celebrates with family after the final whistle during the UEFA Euro 2020 round of 16 match at Wembley Stadium, London on June 29. Pic: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.
England's Raheem Sterling son Thiago celebrates with family after the final whistle during the UEFA Euro 2020 round of 16 match at Wembley Stadium, London on June 29. Pic: Mike Egerton/PA Wire.

There certainly seems to be higher support for England here than in Scotland, where there is barely any enthusiasm for the Three Lions, and perhaps even more than in Wales, which is very anglophobic in parts but much less so in the south of the country.

Many unionists in NI support England, yet even within that community there are high levels of ambivalence or even hostility to the players in white.

With regard to the Republic of Ireland, the former Irish diplomat Bobby McDonagh has written an article saying Ireland has found it harder to cheer England this summer, for reasons such as Brexit.

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This suggests that the Republic has not always been hostile to English sporting success. This is not my recollection, and I remember well the mood in Lansdowne Road in the 1980s and 1990s watching Ireland playing rubgy, and the particular pleasure there was in beating England. Ireland beating England was the best result, but seeing Scotland on TV defeat them was good too.

My own boyhood joy at seeing England national teams being beaten persisted into adulthood, such as in the 1990 football world cup, when they reached the semis and seemed perilously close to victory and endless re-runs of the 1966 triumphalist spirit.

Later I was living in London when England was in the 1996 Euros and I remember sympathising with an article written by the Scottish Tory and (then) strong unionist Michael Gove, in which he said he felt a tinge of exclusion at living in the southeast of England amid such English nationalism.

Over the years my desire to see England lose began to fade and slowly turn into a degree of goodwill, and ultimately now a strong desire for them to win.

There are many reasons for this, including coming to realise that they are not the super confident nation that I assumed in my youth. In the sporting big league they are very much underdogs. It is ridiculous that they have not even been in a major soccer final for 55 years.

I have also come to dislike intensely the Celtic chippiness towards friendly England.

Yes they are far bigger than us and, like many big entities, they either ignore or look down on smaller ones. But they also, generally, have the magnanimity of strength, and do not even return the resentment they receive from the geographic fringes of these islands.

Ben Lowry (@Benlowry2) is News Letter deputy editor

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