Exceptionalism is England’s Biggest Enemy!

Posted on June 19, 2021

Take yourself back 1996. It was half-time in the England v Scotland Euro 1996 game . ‘A pathetic and parochial affair’. Those were the words of Radio 5 commentator, Alan Green. He wasn’t wrong.

In the secon-half, after a 15 minute period of domination, England scored. A fine move, culminating in a Shearer goal. Then, England retreated. You could the almost smell the of fear of losing wafting out of Wembley. The draw to the Swiss the week before, still haunting them.

Scotland, the grateful underdog, sensed the fear and went for it. With nothing to lose a Gordon Durie surge into the box won a penalty. Seaman’s elbow sent it over the bar. The corner was cleared to Anderton. Anderton flicked to Gascoigne, who, red faced and clearly unfit, had huffed and puffed his way through a dismal personal performance.

Written into Folklore

Gascoigne, in one moment in time, wrote himself into football folklore. The game, with rose tinted glasses aplenty, is now deemed as a classic. It was anything but. If McAllister had scored, there would have been no Gascoigne goal. England would have suffered heaps of derision and Scotland would have celebrated long into the night. 

Playing Scotland is an ordeal for England. It always has been and always be until fans and the media rid themselves of outlandish exceptionalism. All the while it is there, players and managers have to deal with the fear of being undone by the ever willing underdog. 

The Semi-Pro

An awkward segway here but let me tell you about the son of a friend of mine, from Oxford. As a young man, he was an exceptional footballer. Lightning quick, a deft touch and a ferocious shot. I saw him play once and he tore the opposition apart. The next time I saw him, I almost forgot he was playing.

His dad (my friend) said that it was obvious by the time he was 20, it was not going to happen for his boy. He couldn’t deliver, week in week out. Getting up for mediocre games appeared beyond him and injuries also curtailed his rise. He faded into a journeyman career in the football conference, albeit, earning up to £800 a week.

Underdogs like Scotland, are full of players that show occasional moments of brilliance. That’s how they got professional contracts. Scotland of 2021 are a bit more than that. Amongst the journeyman are players from Manchester United, Liverpool, Aston Villa, Chelsea and Southampton. GIlmour of European Champions Chelsea, is an outstanding talent. 

Much has been said about how bad England were. Not much has been said about how compact and determined Scotland were. The reality is, England sit on 4 points and should be delighted to have got out of that game unscathed. They have virtually qualified for the next stage. Quietly, Southgate and his players will be glad it’s over with. A no win game out of the way.


In my opinion, England’s problems don’t lie with their manager or his players. They lie with the fans who appear to know little about football, and journalists who should know better. After 55 years without a trophy, it is utterly bizarre to think that thrashing Scotland is just a matter turning up. England weren’t playing the Isle of McLintochy wheelchair 11. 

Yes, England should beat Scotland. If an early John Stones header had gone in, they might have thrashed them as Scotland got caught out chasing the game. However, anyone who thought that a team of professional footballers playing in their first major tournament since 1998, would just roll over, are deluding themselves.

I hope England improve and I think they will. I also hope Scotland shock Croatia and experience their own wee taste of glory.  Most of all, I hope that one day, England fans will rid themselves of embarrassing exceptionalism.

That’s probably asking too much. 

1 Reply to "Exceptionalism is England’s Biggest Enemy!"

  • Freddie Bloom
    June 24, 2021 (8:47 pm)

    Bob!! per my comment on your 2017 article about world happiness day, where did you find the extended quote of Jimmy Hill’s famous “we’ll go on getting bad results” from three lions, where you listed it as ”If we don’t learn lessons from other nations, we’ll go on getting bad results.”?? I’m trying to find the source of the quote / a video. Many thanks

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