Sunday, 24 June 2012

Viva l'Italia!

I don't usually include music on my blog but this is a special occasion
The Man who wrote the Italian National Anthem actually died fighting for Italy in the aftermath of the 1848 Revolution. For many years I had a picture of him being cut down on the barricades while confronting the forces of black reaction. Actually however he died of blood poisoning after being accidentally (?!) stabbed by a bayonet belonging to one of his own side. And he wasn't fighting black reaction but rather the forces of the French Second Republic who, for reasons of 19th Century realpolitik, were fighting to restore the Pope. Who was opposed to the "Italians". It's a very Quarantotto tale.

Anyway, tonight, we will all be Italians. And there's nothing wrong with that. 

I was last night at the Dinner of the David Cairns Foundation. If you had suggested to me ten years ago that I'd have a great night out in Greenock surrounded by Blairites, I'd have struggled to think which was the more unlikely proposition. But a great night it was, with, to be fair, an ecumenical audience. Indeed, among a number of great speeches, easily the best joke of the night came from David Mundell. I won't repeat it for causing yet more disharmony among the Coalition partners.

But, obviously, much of the Labour talk was about the imminent launch of the cross-party anti-independence campaign. And in that context I raised with one of the organisers what they would say if asked about the football. "I know, it's difficult", he replied.

To my mind it's not difficult at all. I will, of course have a particular affection for the Azzurri this evening but over the last fortnight I've been successively French, Swedish and even Ukrainian; and if the worst comes to the worst sometime next week I will become a stout ally of Frau Merkel.

I've never understood the idea that the sporting rivalry between Scotland and England is anything but a natural state of affairs. The idea that, in our increasingly common non appearance at major tournaments, somehow Scots should automatically support England is farcical. As farcical, dare I say it, as any suggestion that when France played Brazil in the 1998 World Cup Final, the English should have supported France as their closest continental neighbours and fellow members of the European Union. Or indeed that I personally should support Renfrewshire's other team in any circumstance or against any conceivable opposition. Sport disnae work like that.

But there's actually a wider point here. The European Football Championships are a great event for breaking down barriers. Countries who once marked their differences through blood and misery now engage much more benignly on the sporting field. There is certainly fierce rivalry on the park and still, regrettably, the occasional few nutters off it, but, generally, in  the mixing of nationalities united by the common language of football it is the nutters who find themselves increasingly isolated.

And, oddly enough, this United Kingdom has been the model for that. For if their is one thing the British can unapologetically and unconditionally be congratulated on bringing to the world it is organised sport. And it is no accident that the first football (and rugby) international was played between two countries once long at war but yet then enjoying, between close neighbours at least, the longest period of peace and common purpose. Just not on the football field.

So, here's hoping that if asked tomorrow, whoever fronts up the Campaign launch will be able to answer sincerely that they are sorry for our Southern neighbours themselves that they have been eliminated. But if fate determines otherwise, then among the Union Jacks and Saltires, let's not be afraid to sneak a metaphorical Bundesflaggen.

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