As many of you will know, I am a great partisan of, as the song has it, “Saint Mirren from Pais-a-lee”.
About fifteen, indeed on reflection more like twenty, years ago, our great rivals, Greenock Morton, were threatened with going out of business. Some cowboy, whose details now have faded in my memory, had gained a significant shareholding in the Greenock Club and was threatening to put them down so that he could sell off Crappielow (as we in Paisley know it) for redevelopment.
Anyway, this was an eventuality we Saints could not contemplate. So a “friendly” St Mirren against Morton match was arranged at the self same stadium to raise funds for those trying to save the Greenock side.
I went with one of my nephews who was just reaching the age that he was not prepared to do something without at least some rationale being given. So as we drove down the M8 I was subject to some interrogation.
“Why are we going to this?”
“To try to help save the Morton”
“But we hate the Morton, don’t we?”
“Of course we do, but we wouldn’t want to see them going out of business.”
“Because then we’d have nobody to hate”
“Couldn’t we just hate somebody else.....I don’t know, Kilmarnock or somebody?”
“It wouldn’t be the same. Anyway, it is Ayr United who hate Kilmarnock. St Mirren hate Morton. That is the natural order of things.”
“Look, stop asking silly questions. It just is.”
As history now records, Morton were saved and, as a result, still, on the darkest of February Saturdays, as Saints fans troop out of New Greenhill Road even after the most miserable of defeats, our fans will fall silent as one particular result from the lower leagues is announced over the Tannoy. And if Morton have lost as well we will muster a ragged cheer and console ourselves that the day could have been worse.
Sporting rivalries are in the very nature of Team sports. And in their pursuit much heat can be generated. In the real world, nobody from Paisley thinks the “soapdodgers” from Greenock have a problem with their personal hygiene, any more than those from the Arse of the Bank truly believe the entire population of my own home town are addicted to Heroin. Mind you, these are surely mild insults compared to the revelation, as Tim parks reported in his book about Italian football followers, that the supporters of Hellas Verona refer to their rivals from Vicenza as mangi gatti (cat eaters) in memory of a Sixteenth Century siege during which the residents of that latter city were indeed reduced to that sad condition.
But it is a mistake to assume that sporting rivalry has a wider resonance. I readily confess to being in the “anybody but England” camp when it comes to team sports. Earlier today, while watching the Rugby Sevens, I discovered, alongside many other Scots I suspect, a previously unrecognised enthusiasm for Samoa. So what? That is hardly the basis for a system of Government. And anybody who does surely needs to have a long think about themselves.
And anyway, team sports are quite different from individual events. Whoever a great athlete competes for in an individual contest, I am happy to give them my support. I might choose a favourite and I readily recognise that one reason for greater favouritism might be greater familiarity with one competitor over another . But the idea that i would be hostile to any competitor because of their nationality seems to me to be bizarre. And for what it is worth I believe that is a sentiment shared by the great mass of the population, whether dedicated sports watchers or otherwise.
Yet in their belief that the Commonwealth Games might represent a change in their fortunes the Nationalists seem to have ignored this relatively obvious observation.
To support Scotland and Scottish competitors comes naturally to all of us who live here because we are, or at least become, familiar with them. Even if they are from Greenock.
I am as surprised and pleased as anybody to learn that we appear to be some sort of Commonwealth superpower when it comes to Judo. I say that even while being less than clear while watching it who is winning and why. But it has surely nothing to do with Scottish Independence to be enthusiastic about Scotland, or Scottish competitors, in a sporting context. As with so much else, it is also necessary to be antipathetic to England. And to believe anyway that what happens in the sporting field, particularly in the “Friendly Games”, is capable of having any political significance.
I have no idea what the Nats expected here. That Greg Rutherford or Laura Trott or Nicola Adams would found themselves booed as bearing the hated colours of our oppressors? Really?
Well, if they did they are as deluded as they appear to be about everything else.
Indeed, I suspect that if the Games have any impact at all on the Referendum it will be the exact opposite of Nationalist hopes. The Games have brought an awful lot of English people to Scotland. And contrary to Nationalist stereotype they have not spent their time here treating the local population with little concealed disdain while talking loudly in upmarket hotels about their indifference to the poor. Rather they have proved to be remarkably like.....us.
Except perhaps that when it came to the Rugby sevens they did not share our enthusiasm for Samoa.