by Colin Campbell
THE country was united by nerve-shredding tension on Sunday night as England were defeated by Italy in the final of the European Championships in a penalty shoot-out at Wembley.
The country, from Land’s End to John O’ Groats.
England haven’t won a major tournament for 55 years and south of the border and among the many English people living in Scotland hopes were running high that that long, barren stretch would end.
But it wasn’t to be.
As we predicted here after England beat Denmark in the semi-final of the tournament, Italy looked too good for them. And for much of the match, particularly throughout the second half, they looked far too good for Gareth Southgate’s team.
But England held on for the match to go into extra time with the scoreline at 1-1, and at the end of 120 minutes the teams remained level.
With viewers across Britain on the edge of their seats, the result and the destination of the trophy was decided by a penalty shoot out.
Even for those who were neutral about the outcome it was agonisingly tense to watch.
The Italians, the team of the tournament, held their nerve better and emerged victorious as three England penalty takers succumbed to the extraordinary pressure on their young shoulders.
Heartbreak for England but there was widespread acclaim for their achievement in reaching the final of the tourney.
Just as there was acclaim and celebration in Scotland three weeks ago when we held them to a draw and refused to buckle at Wembley.
But this was a national event drawing a massive nationwide television audience. The large majority of households in Scotland would have been tuned in and been almost as tense as our cousins south of the border as the match reached its dramatic conclusion.
Many Scots, adopting the traditional football default position, wanted England to lose. A very large number wanted them to win. Many others merely wanted a thrilling Sunday night occasion, and that’s what they got.
But whatever the feelings of the millions watching in Scotland, a night of relentless drama proved the absurdity of the claim by some nationalists that England is “a foreign country”.
Germany, France, Holland and Italy are foreign countries. If the final had been between Italy and Denmark, the team England beat in the semis, that would have been a final between two foreign countries and the low level of interest would have been reflected in TV viewing figures accordingly.
Whatever lies ahead in the separation debate, England will never be a foreign country to Scots.
We are bound together by centuries of shared history and last night’s match and the huge level of interest in it in Scotland yet again demonstrated the fact.
Whatever your feelings about the outcome, England were beaten by Italy, which is indeed a foreign country.
But to the overwhelming majority of Scots, centuries of history in which we’ve been bound together mean only one thing.
England, excruciatingly pained by last night’s defeat, will never be “a foreign country”.
England will always be England.