Column: Two Worlds of Sport – Part II

Douglas Burns
Staff Writer

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Sports in the United States, typically, do not denote who you are going to vote for as a citizen. They also don’t denote how typically wealthy you are, either. In Scotland, this is just not the case. The following is not an exact science and should not be taken as such; it is simply my point of view. Another disclaimer I must add is that the outliers are ultimately left out of this equation. With these out of the way, let us look at how political and socio-economic correlates to sport in Scotland as opposed to the U.S.

The U.K. has a different political setup than the U.S. The US more strongly resembles a republic, with two distinct parties constantly vying for power with very little differences in economic policy. In the U.K, there are several parties that are often forced to work with one another. One such party is Labour. The Labour Party, as one might expect, serves the best interests of those who are general labourers, such as miners or construction workers.

Now, what on God’s green earth does that have to do with football? Historically in the U.K., the upper classes (ruling classes) played cricket, rugby, crochet or other ‘gentlemanly’ sports. The working classes were reduced to playing sports that they could play with very little equipment. (From my personal recollection, we played football with a simple ball and drew chalk outlines of goals on a wall, whilst the other goal was two school bags spaced apart.) As a result, football became the working man’s game. This manifests itself in ways that cannot be fathomed in the US.

In 1914, war broke out in Europe, and the British government declared war on Germany, Austria and the Ottoman Empire. World War One had begun. It was largely touted as a war that would end before Christmas. Still, lots of men were needed, so the government implanted an incentives program known as the ‘Pals Battalions.’ These battalions would let you enlist with people from your community, whom you would go to war with. One such battalion was the 16th Service Battalion (2nd Edinburgh) Royal Scots Regiment. These men were the entire first team of Hearts (a football or ‘soccer’ club in Edinburgh), the reserve team and the board members.

Hearts invited their rivals, Hibs, to join, and many did. Joined by a slew of fans from Edinburgh, these men went to war in the battalion known as ‘McRae’s Battalion’ with the sobriquet ‘The Footballers’ Battalion’. It was a parade and a show that was meant to be nationalistic and emotional enough to raise the recruitment in Scotland—and that it did. Regardless, McRae’s Battalion came out of the war with seven of the first team’s players having been killed in action (three of whom in the same morning), and eight being wounded so badly that they would never step foot on a football pitch again.

Sports culture, in Scotland especially, extends deep. Sport is a part of our makeup. It has an impact upon who we go to war with, if we go to war, who we vote for and where we stand on the socioeconomic ladder. Of course, anyone can support any club they wish, but Scotland is rooted in tribalism and an ‘us vs them’ mentality. It is nearly impossible to find people from Scotland who support a team ‘just because they like them.’

I, myself, upon first emigrating to the US some five years ago, felt that I had to pick a US football team, and it was a family decision. My mum, dad and sister literally sat down and had a conversation about what team we would support. We eventually settled on the Panthers, for better or for worse.

Categories: Sports

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