The Scotland independence referendum centers mainly on political and social issues, but as is often the case, the implications run far below the surface. One such area is the beautiful game itself.
While many follow football in an attempt to forget about the problems of the world, the current climate in Scotland makes it impossible to ignore the reality of the impending referendum – from aggressive chants to verbal attacks on Scottish players, Scotland’s football takes first stage on the referendum.
Try as you may, there’s no way to avoid the political discussion. Look no further than the kickoff to England’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign in Switzerland, which saw plenty of chants directed at the political climate in Scotland, while the crowd aggressively chanted, “F— off Scotland, we’re all voting ‘yes’.”. Even in a game which didn’t involve Scotland and wasn’t played in the United Kingdom, the tension was palpable.
Of course, there’s plenty of reason for supporters of the Three Lions to have Scotland on their minds. Next month will see a renewal of the rivalry between the football teams of England and Scotland, with this year’s edition to be played at Celtic Park. The fixture is expected to bring rivals head to head both in the field, as well as off as sports betting sites are preparing for the influx of fans ready to put money on their team’s victory.
Although the vote will be old news by that point, the fallout from the referendum — and how the English and Scottish people feel about each other — will be the real story coming out of that friendly. The odds are against any sort of violent incidents happening, but it will be interesting to see if the match takes on a greater meaning.
You don’t need to look very far to see where football and reality might intertwine. Look no further than John Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, a staunch advocate of the “no” side of the vote. Prescott suggested that should Scotland stay part of the United Kingdom, the English and Scottish football sides should merge, causing an uproar by football fans both in England and Scotland. The theory, Prescott says, is that a combined superpower of England and Scotland “could at last beat the Germans”.
Was Prescott truly joking? Possibly, maybe even probably. But his comments speak to the uncertainty that exists surrounding the referendum and how it intertwines with football. Who knows what the future holds? It’s highly unlikely that the two sides would combine their forces on the pitch, but stranger things have happened. Furthermore, Prescott’s statement might have done more harm than good to the “no” stance. While any football fan wants to support a stronger side, nobody wants to see their country’s team taken away.
Besides, there’s plenty at stake even if the referendum does pass. The Telegraph reports that Scotland’s bid to host a portion of Euro 2020 could potentially be in jeopardy upon Scottish independence, with UEFA stating that the bid would have to be re-assessed if independence is approved, a blow that would damage Scottish football. Scotland believes that its infrastructure is sound, but ultimately it’s up to the governing body of European football to determine if Scotland can host the games on its own.
Although sports are supposed to be separate from political and societal issues, people often look to their sports heroes for leadership in uncomfortable situations. The Scotland referendum is no different. As footballers take sides, they risk both further popularity and alienation as passionate supporters of either side go on the attack.
A group of 16 legendary former Scottish footballers have come out in joint opposition of the referendum, positioning themselves as leading voices in the “no” movement. However, this also comes at a cost, alienating football fans who are in support of independence. Opposing fans have taken to social media to express their anger to the statements, which range from ridiculing the players to direct insults and threats.
Of course, there are some players on the side of independence as well. Former Scotland international Michael Stewart is the most notable player who has publicly taken the side of the “yes” vote, and surely there are others who have not been quite as vocal. Perhaps other footballers will make their stances known as the referendum approaches.
Though there is plenty of unrest regarding the referendum and the sides people have chosen, there is hope that football can eventually be the force that unites both sides. We’ve seen countless examples of sport serving as conduit for peace and normalcy.
Perhaps the England-Scotland friendly in November will provide such a showcase. In any event, the battle that engulfs Scotland has trickled down to the pitch, providing a fascinating glimpse into the movement for independence.