Who supports whom?

by Chris Bertram on July 2, 2006

It was interesting to watch England’s defeat in a bar in Dublin. The locals were plainly pleased with the result, and so were — on the whole — RTE’s studio panel. But I rather got the impression that the anti-Englishness was more for form and tradition’s sake than based in any deep feelings of hostility. Contrast that with the Scots. I just wouldn’t have felt comfortable (or safe) to cheer England on in Glasgow.

I had a chat with an Estonian philosopher on the subject, which revealed a couple of interesting data points. First, that Estonians don’t feel anything like the degree of sporting antagonism to the Russians that you’d expect (she found the Scottish feeling about the English mystifying). Second, she was rather hoping that the Germans would do well. I’d hypothesized the day before that no-one except the Germans themselves would be supporting their team (with the possible exception of Austrians and the odd relic of a Nietzschean colony in Paraguay). It seems I was wrong: Estonians will happily cheer for the Germans. (The English, on the other hand, backed Argentina against Germany to the last, despite a recentish war and some notable grudge matches between England and Argentina.)

There are clearly some patterns out there reminiscent of those typical of the Eurovision song contest. (Maybe a Finnish team composed of axe-wielding lunatics in latex masks would get widely supported.) So which other countries do your compatriots support? And which do they have an “anyone but X” policy towards?



Kevin K 07.02.06 at 1:01 pm

I will be backing the Germans against the Italians. This has more to do with that last second penalty than anything historical.


Flea 07.02.06 at 1:04 pm

Both Gordon at Harry’s Place and me supported Germany against Argentina so that is two – possibly lonely – Englishmen contra your blanket assertion.


I am now supporting France. Allez les Bleus!


Nick 07.02.06 at 1:17 pm

This Englishman backed German against Argentina to the hilt – a choice quite justified by the latter’s choosing to disgrace themselves (yet again!) after the final whistle . . On the other hand I don’t feel comfortable shouting for England in England. Just look at the tossers you’re associating yourself with . .


Isabel 07.02.06 at 1:52 pm

My first reaction was that we, Portuguese, would never cheer for the Spaniards. On second thought, we probably would, against the Dutch or the Americans, for example. Nuestros hermanos and all that (but, of course, victory against them is oh so sweet…).

We would certainly cheer for the Brazilians, and I’m sure they are cheering for us now. I also expect that the PALOPs (Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguese), that is, the ex-colonies, will cheer for Portugal (as Goans and Timorese do, apparently), now that Brazil is gone. So, I would think is more a question of familiarity than anything else, at least in some cases.

I regret to confess that I contributed with my fair share of noise pollution in Brussels yesterday…


Sam 07.02.06 at 1:52 pm

I’ve enjoyed the football France have put together, getting better and more relaxed game by game. The same for Germany. It was the highlight of the tournament to see Argentina humbled before the might of Lehmann.

At this point, my only wish is that Portugal, and especially that mincing little primadonna Ronaldo, is humiliated with a brace of one touch goals from Henry to Zidane and vice versa. If Ronaldo ends up with a shattered kneecap in the process…

I understand Rooney has pledged never to play along side Ronaldo again. Too bad. It would have been a pleasure to read about the prison house beat-down Cristiano would’ve received in the changing room at Old Trafford had those two met again.


Dan Simon 07.02.06 at 1:57 pm

So which other countries do your compatriots support? And which do they have an “anyone but X” policy towards?

Does this help?


Carlos 07.02.06 at 2:31 pm

Sports nationalism. Yuck.

Of course, it’s soccer, but still.


Kieran Healy 07.02.06 at 2:40 pm

One important difference between Ireland and Scotland in this regard is that many Irish football fans are strong supporters of English club teams. Actually having won your independence from the U.K. (instead of just pretending) can do a lot to ease tensions too. The last decade of economic growth has probably something to take the edge off the bitterness, too.


Cheryl Morgan 07.02.06 at 2:46 pm

On a stop-over at Aukland airport I was amused to find the tourist shops selling t-shirts that read, “I support New Zealand and anyone who is playing Australia.”


Ron F 07.02.06 at 2:50 pm

The English, on the other hand, backed Argentina against Germany to the last,

Maybe in that bar, but not anywhere else. BBC Radio 5 Live poll on the day of the match – 87% of callers backed Germany.

Oh, and every English person I know who is following the World Cup supported Germany too.


jakeb 07.02.06 at 2:51 pm

Well, I have one data point. I was chatting with a Malian friend during the first round, and to my surprise he was cheering for the Germans. It didn’t surprise me that he didn’t like France, but I was a little surprised he didn’t cheer for Togo or Ghana (he doesn’t like Ivoirians). Don’t know exactly what about the Germans he likes.


simon 07.02.06 at 2:53 pm

Also a lot of the anti-english teamism in Ireland. Is to do with the english media constantly saying how great David Beckham is and going on and on about the spirt of 66 and generally the hype that surrounds the team.


Isabel 07.02.06 at 2:54 pm

Maybe their playing, Jakeb?


franck 07.02.06 at 2:56 pm

It seems to me that people cheer against other teams because of unresolved issues between the nations/states.

England sees the Falklands as resolved (in its favor) so it doesn’t care so much about Argentia beyond the football rivalry. On the contrary, England is still annoyed that it “won” both World Wars but lost its economic preeminence and its empire as well despite that, so it strongly resents the Germans and will cheer against them. That of course, may be changing with the youth of England now, though I doubt it.

Irish people in general root against England because they were colonized by them and Northern Ireland is an open wound between them. The pronounced economic disparity and thus ingrained cultural disparity is of course mostly in the past now, so that does lessen the hostility.

Scotland resents being ruled by England while receiving few benefits. The economic rise of Ireland is just another resentment – a lot of the Scottish nationalists make hay out of Ireland’s recent performance since it escaped English economic domination. If anything, Wales is in many ways still a colony of England, so resentment is natural there as well.

The Estonians got away from the Russians and are in NATO and the EU, so they don’t see the Russians as anything like the threat they might once have perceived them to be. The issues between them are basically resolved, and the Estonians got everything they wanted except a tiny sliver of land. I imagine a lot of Russians, on the other hand, are still annoyed about the loss of empire and would root strongly against non-ethnic Russian Estonian athletes.

It’s not at all unusual that Estonians would root for Germans. It’s not like the Soviets were less brutal than the Germans in Estonia. (Something like 10% of the prewar Estonian population died or was deported as a result of the Soviet occupation.) The Germans also have apologized for their past actions, something the Russians refuse to do, all the while maintaining that the Estonians “voluntarily” entered the Soviet Union.


David B 07.02.06 at 3:29 pm

“Scotland resents being ruled by England while receiving few benefits.”

– You seem to have accidentally transposed the two words “Scotland” and “England”.


Rio 07.02.06 at 3:39 pm

I must say I found it extremely difficult supporting the Brazilians in an Irish pub in the middle of Paris, especially given the fact that the Brazilians lost. I was almost doused by a bucket of water from a balcony, too.


Walt 07.02.06 at 3:42 pm

Now that’s some funny trash talk.


Wolfgang 07.02.06 at 3:47 pm

> with the possible exception of Austrians

If you think Austrians would cheer for the German team, then you just indicate that you know nothing about Austrians.


Ben 07.02.06 at 4:32 pm

If England had beaten Portugal, I would’ve supported France vs Brazil on the grounds we’d probably have had a better chance against them (though maybe I should revise that!). As it was, I was supporting Brazil.

Now I’m not too sure. I might well be supporting Germany on grounds I’d dislike any of the others winning more. If they were still options, I’d probably rather Brazil or Argentina than any of the four remaining though.


Randy Paul 07.02.06 at 4:35 pm

I know of no Brazilians who pull for Argentina and vice versa.


will u. 07.02.06 at 4:41 pm

I’ve been rooting for ze Germans since the American exit. Interestingly, I know a number of Chinese from Nanjing who are doing so as well, possibly because of the importance and visibility of German investment there. (All of their taxis are green Volkswagens, for instance.)


Tracy W 07.02.06 at 4:58 pm

To my surprise, quite a few Kiwis were supporting the Aussies, despite the sentiment in those t-shirts that Cheryl notes.


nick s 07.02.06 at 5:02 pm

Oh, and every English person I know who is following the World Cup supported Germany too.

Count me in on that. It’s a finger in the eye for Klinsmann against the old guard of the German FA, and taps into his greater political aim of presenting a new face of the nation to the world. Let them go all the way now, and face France in the final (for obvious reasons).


Richard 07.02.06 at 5:13 pm

About the strongest antipathy I’ve seen is the one Brazilians feel for Argentinians, and the strongest friendship, that of the Brazilians for the Portuguese.

Portugal must have ended colonialism well in Brazil.


representing queens new york 07.02.06 at 5:30 pm

There was an article in the Irish Independent (I think) a couple of weeks ago, whereby a guy walked around Dublin in an England shirt, went to a local pub in same and reported on the reactions. Gentle slagging, some winks and grins, nothing negative at all.


Randy Paul 07.02.06 at 6:08 pm


It ended with a whimper as the son of the Portuguese Emperor, Pedro II declared independence and Brazil was a monarchy until the republic was established.

Legend has it that as Teresa Cristina, Pedro’s wife, was sailing out on the ship that took them away from Brazil forever, she beat her shoes together saying “I don’t even want the dust from that country to come with me!”

In reality, many jokes in Brazil start “Two Portuguese were . . .” My wife tells me that many jokes in Portugal start the same way.

I think a great deal of the affection Brazil may have for Portugal now is for Felipão Scolari, the Brazilian coach of Portugal’s team, who lead Brazil to the Penta in 2002. He’s hugely popular in Brazil and has won just about every major championship except the European Championship, or any of the UEFA club championships.


Randy Paul 07.02.06 at 6:10 pm

My wife tells me that many jokes in Portugal start the same way.

Except with Brazilians in place of Portuguese.


Alan 07.02.06 at 7:15 pm

Another Englishman who supported the Germans against
Argentina here. Hoping for a Germany-France final. Will enjoy either side’s victory.


Dan Kervick 07.02.06 at 9:16 pm

I know that I am mostly a clueless American when it comes to global soccer, and lack the depth of historical memory and emotional commitment that colors the affections of aficianados of the global game. I played it a bit for many years, and love watching it now, but didn’t grow up watching the game on television (since it wasn’t there in the US). And the US does not have enough of an interesting on-field history with the world soccer powers for my sentiments to be influenced by the historical travails of my own country’s team.

But personally, I tend to form my attachments during the World Cup based on soccer-intrisic criteria: qualities of team and individual play I admire. It never really occurs to me to associate these teams with the nations they represent, or to develop feelings for them on the basis of some social or political backstory. In fact, I often feel a sort of disorientation or disconnect when something happens to remind me that the team called “Ukraine”, for example, is from the country of the same name.

For example, I was extremely impressed by the play and commitment of Ribery for France yesterday, and I suspect that when I watch France v. Portugal, I will now be rooting for him personally. I also have a long-standing respect and admiration for Zidane as a player – temperamentally and aesthetically – and love watching the classy veteran shine. On the other hand, I have come to like and respect the Portuguese squad very much, and will probably be rooting for them to win the whole thing. But I simply don’t have enough of a feeling one way or another for either France or Portugal, as countries, for their national identities to play any role in my sentiments.


Gene O'Grady 07.02.06 at 9:44 pm

Well, many years ago I returned from Italy a big fan of their soccer team, including their last world cup victory. After watching this world cup and a little bit of Italian league soccer on TV, I have to say I’m totally disgusted with the style of play, the flopping, and the manipulation of the officials that are seemingly universal in Southern European play, so I’ll be rooting for Germany (land of most of my ancestors, after all) and France.

One of the strangest experiences in this regard was when I was in Greece, a long enough time ago for the memories of World War II to be fresh, my seatmate on the train, an older Greek man, concluded that I must be a German. This unnerved me, and I was about to set him straight until I realized (I think we were both speaking German as the only mutually intelligible, if barely, language we had) that he was very fond of the Germans.


Anarch 07.03.06 at 12:24 am

Dan: I always start the Cup with various allegiances from countries I’ve grown up in or countries I have friends from or what have you… but I always end up supporting the teams that I think play the best (which usually ends up meaning “least floppy”) soccer, i.e. that which respects the game the most. I do that in most sports, actually, it’s just most pronounced in the Cup.


vasi 07.03.06 at 2:48 am

Here in Montréal, it feels like the dagnabbed United Nations with all the different flags flying from cars. It seems that every single country has its fans here. Brazil and Italy are probably the best represented, though there are many Italy-haters too due to all the honking Italy fans put the city through every time they win a game! I’m not sure where the Brazil fans are coming from, we don’t have a large Brazilian community–I suppose they’ve simply accumulated fans by playing good football.


Ben 07.03.06 at 2:51 am

I was in Glasgow 8 days ago and the only Scotsman I happened to talk to about football thought England would win, and didn’t sound like he would rather his teeth were pulled.


novakant 07.03.06 at 3:04 am

question is, what underlying assumptions led Chris Bertram to hypothesize that nobody would want to support Germany?


Ray 07.03.06 at 3:11 am

In Ireland, we get a lot of the British media, and most of them hype up the English team. The combination of that hype and a team that was pretty boring to watch, with very little talent on display, means a backlash was inevitable.
Sure, maybe there was free-floating anti-English feeling that would have found some other outlet, but maybe not.


Chris Bertram 07.03.06 at 3:40 am

question is, what underlying assumptions led Chris Bertram to hypothesize that nobody would want to support Germany?

The only _underlying assumptions_ concerned the English, the postwar history of footballing encounters between the two nations, and our resentment at the fact that, as Lineker put it: “Football is a game that lasts for 120 minutes, which the Germans then win on penalties.”

The evidence about “nobody” in my mind came from a recent exercise in my German class, which consisted of a text in which people of different nationalities gave their opinion about the Germans. There was a consensus about the engineering prowess of the Germans but a good deal more respect than affection, and a widespread resentment of German Besserwisserei.


Adam Roberts 07.03.06 at 3:44 am

I was happy not to support Germany, out, I think, of a sort of cultural inerta; until I saw this. As a direct result of that pig I’m now rooting for the Germans to win the world cup.


Tom Scudder 07.03.06 at 3:58 am

In Lebanon, there are flags from all over the place flying now, mostly off of people’s cars or balconies. Probably the most popular has been Brazil, followed by France, then Germany and Italy more-or-less tied, then various other Euro and South American teams. I saw like one Iranian and one Saudi flag during the prelims, and no Tunisian ones, though the blokes in the pub cheered for Tunisia while they were playing.

I’ve been cheering for anyone-but-Brazil thanks to all the front-runners here. Now that that team has won, I’m slightly lost and confused. A quick survey of a group of 2 dutch, 1 dane, 1 canadian, and 1 American over lunch yesterday yielded Germany as the crowd favorite, but without much passion behind it.


sanbikinoraion 07.03.06 at 6:12 am

Another English supporting Germany, here. All I’ve heard suggests that they’ve been exceptionally friendly hosts for the World Cup, particularly for the enormous swathe of England fans who travelled over, and they deserve our support for that. It’s a kind of sibling rivallry now, playing the Germans, instead of the unpleasant hatred that was there before, in my opinion.


Isabel 07.03.06 at 6:29 am

Yes, I find it much more likely that the English will support Germany (in spite of recent history) than any of those wily, slimy, olive-skinned Southerners (of which the French might or might not be a part). Even if the English-Portuguese Alliance(Treaty of Windsor, 1386) is the oldest in the world (or so they say).

The Roman Empire is not completely dead yet.


Isabel 07.03.06 at 6:41 am

Oh, and Dan Kervick, you are in fact missing most of the fun if you just root for the playing squads. The great majority of the people that are watching now (myself included) could not care less for the game if it was not a PC surrogate for revenge, prejudice, jingoism, all the bad sides of patriotism. It’s fun! :-)


glenn 07.03.06 at 6:45 am

I think the ‘Anyone but France’ is valid for many people, football fans or no.


John Burke 07.03.06 at 6:48 am

Never cheer for Fritz, but never bet against him!


glenn 07.03.06 at 6:54 am

I play soccer and am American who lives in Italy. I’m also disgusted with the way the Italians play, but odds seem favorable for them. That being said…

…as mush as I love the sport and my home country, it’s probably a good thing the Americans just aren’t very good at football, a good thing for now, anyway.

…I support Germany. In the earlier stages, I just didn’t want the host team to be humiliated, and now that USA and England are gone, I’m rooting for Klinsmann, who’s taken way too much crap from Germans. He’s done a great job, and deserves kudos, if not the Cup. That being said, if he relished a real challenge, let him manage the USA team!


Stephen 07.03.06 at 7:12 am

Going all the way back to the heady days of 1990 I distinctly remember sitting in a room full of students all of whom wanted Germany to beat Argentina and my sympathies were with Germany this time around as well.

Probably because the two times we’ve been knocked out of the world cup by Argentina there was a certain amount of gamesmanship going on – the Hand of God, Simione’s theatrical collapse whereas the two confrontations between England and Germany in 1990 and 1996 were both pretty decent matches. It’s difficult to love Germany because they always win, but they generally win fairly.

The famous exception to this is the 1982 world cup where their match with Austria was blatantly fixed and Toni Schumacher should have been sent off for an x-rated challenge when Patrick Battiston was clear on goal in the semi-final. Which made the 1986 final between much the same German team and Maradona’s lot absolutely unbearable…


abbycromby 07.03.06 at 7:29 am

Well, chalk me up as a (lonely, it seems) France supporter, out of admiration for Ribery and Zidane. Hopefully a France V Germany final — a good result either way. Portugal? Ick.


tony 07.03.06 at 7:42 am

Walking past an English bar in Lyon during the Argentina-Mexico game, I happened to look in at the precise moment Mexico scored. The cheering was very loud and quite malicious, I felt. The anti-English thing in Ireland is far less than it once was, for obvious reasons, and there is a degree of affection for the English side that there mightn’t once have been. The turning point, IMO, was the time England were knocked out by Argentina, and Beckham was sent off. I remember being struck by how Irish people seemed quite sympathetic, on the whole. This would not have been the case in the 80s. I recommend Fintan O’Toole’s fascinating article “Imagining Scotland” in Granta 56: an Irish perspective on the curious paradoxes of Scottish nationalism.


DC 07.03.06 at 8:12 am

Wasn’t “the Smoking Dog” by any chance was it Tony?


Ben 07.03.06 at 8:53 am


reuben 07.03.06 at 9:23 am

I’m an American who didn’t start following football till I immmigrated to England, so I support England rather than the US. (It’s about accumulated suffering and how much you care, and the American public has neither suffered enough nor cared enough to deserve to win yet). But having spent a week in Berlin for the world cup, I now find myself somewhat swept up in Klinsmania, and will be supporting the Germans from here on in. Which means the Italians will win. By diving. Sigh.


Chris Bertram 07.03.06 at 9:23 am

Well I certainly need to acknowledge that my assumptions about which side my compatriots would back in Germany v Argentian were just wrong wrong wrong. In a Germany-France final I’m going to be fairly neutral, I think, unless it goes to penalties when I think that cosmic justice demands that Ballack and co sky every last one over the bar.


John Burke 07.03.06 at 12:00 pm

“The locals were plainly pleased with the result, and so were—on the whole—RTE’s studio panel.”

The RTE panel is invariably more objective and provides far more intelligent and balanced comment and analysis on football than the BBC or ITV (its much easier to be objective when you’re not involved in the competition).

The person on the panel who has been “fairest” (or most favorable) to England throughout this World Cup was a scotsman – Graeme Souness.


cd 07.03.06 at 1:33 pm

Not to change the subject from soccer to tennis, but…

My English-in-laws were cheering for the Scotsman Andy Murray in Wimbledon. Any sense of how common such support for Murray is among the English? And if it is common, what is the best explanation for the difference b/w this and the football case? I can think of some possibilities, e.g. (1) the English, as the majority, aren’t as marked by resentment as minority Scots are (I won’t hazard a judgment as to the merits this resentment); (2) in tennis, players play for Britain rather than England, Wales, Scotland, or Northern Island (what is the historical reason for this vis-a-vis soccer?); (3) the English are on the rebound from their unfulfilling affair with Tim Henman and will take any sort of victory; etc.

Of course (1)-(3) needn’t be mutually exclusive.

Just curious as to others’ thoughts.


Chris 07.03.06 at 3:52 pm

As a Scot, would I be safe supporting Scotland (or Germany) anywhere in London?

Also, my unashamed feeling on England’s exit was more relief than schadenfreude (ok, so there is a little). Not out of dislike for our neighbours, rather how their aspirations and expectations manifest through our shared media, year in year out (if 1966 has fueled this much triumphalism…).


tina 07.03.06 at 5:01 pm

Since we were so lucky to have Kaiser Franz who did all he could to get the world cup to take place in Germany, since we have “die welt zu gast bei freunden” and since we are also very lucky to have jürgen Klinsmann developing to be the new Kaiser in the futere, I hope for a French versus German final.


agm 07.03.06 at 5:41 pm

The Dallas Cowboys phenomenon rears its head


Nick 07.03.06 at 5:57 pm

cd – re andy murray, it’s simple: when he wins, it’s a great triumph for British tennis; when he loses, it’s a tragedy for the Scottish nation . . .


john b 07.04.06 at 3:55 am

“As a Scot, would I be safe supporting Scotland (or Germany) anywhere in London?”

Germany possibly not, but I can’t imagine anyone getting into trouble in London for supporting Scotland (or any other British Isles national team) – see the English support for Ireland in USA 94…


tony 07.04.06 at 2:57 pm

dc – Yep, The Smoking Dog.

Comments on this entry are closed.