ALONG with a billion other people worldwide, I’ve been gripped over these past few weeks by the nightly spectacle of 22 men kicking a ball around an acre or so of grass.

I’ve always liked football, sometimes grudgingly, and can understand the pseudo-scientific jargon that commentators have discovered in coaching manuals. So, when I hear them talking about “the channel”, I know that they’re not referring to the stretch of water in between England and France.

The team of the tournament for me didn’t manage through to the quarter finals, but I loved watching Japan while they were still around. This was football as it used to be played by the likes of Jimmy Johnstone and Davie Cooper, using brains and skill rather than physical aggression. I was impressed too by the team’s dignified exit after a free-flowing match against Belgium, during which both sides allowed their opponents to display their talents unhindered by scything tackles and cynical dives.

And here I have a confession to make, which I know won’t go down well with some people, including some readers and fellow columnists at The National. Try as I might, I can’t bring myself to support our oldest rival. So, I suppose that makes me one of the vilified ABE (Anyone But England) brigade.

Yes, Gareth Southgate seems like a decent bloke with a degree of humility some of his illustrious predecessors sadly lacked. And yes, the England squad so far seems free from arrogant triumphalism. I admit that the players’ infectious joy has provoked the odd wee flicker of a smile at the corners of my mouth.

And yes, most England fans – bar that hardcore minority of xenophobic thugs, such as those who wrecked an IKEA store after the match against Sweden – are overwhelmingly considerate, friendly and tolerant people motivated by nothing more sinister than a great desire to see the country of their birth – or in some cases their adopted homeland – win football’s most prestigious trophy.

So why am I not rooting for my near neighbours? Partly, I suppose, because footballing rivalries are instilled at an early stage and run deep. We don’t demand that Hearts fans support Hibs when they’re playing in different divisions, or that St Mirren supporters back Morton. Or at a lower level, I’m pretty sure not many Cumnock Juniors fans were cheering on their near neighbours Auchinleck Talbot in the Scottish Junior Cup final earlier this year. As for Celtic and Rangers – we don’t even have to go there. At international level how many England fans supported France, just 21 miles away, when they won the World Cup final 10 years ago against the 6000-miles distant Brazilians?

So, I suppose I am a bit resentful when people desperate to appear tolerant and broadminded demand that we all show how grown-up and open-minded we are by supporting England. That might sound a bit bloody-minded and negative, but it’s certainly one reason why on Wednesday I’ll be defiantly supporting tiny Croatia against mighty England. But let’s not beat about the bush. There is a political dimension too that has nothing do with Anglophobia.

The fact is that if England get through to the final, I won’t be alone next Sunday in supporting their opponents. I suspect that, political and media classes excepted, I’ll be in tune with most of Scotland. And I know too that this attitude will transcend party political allegiance, Yes-No support and even Brexit-Remain rivalry.

Let’s flip back to 1966. That was the year after I was born so I can’t speak from personal experience. But I am assured by plenty of people who were around that most of Scotland were supporting West Germany on that eventful summer’s day at Wembley Stadium. My partner recently described to me the passionate pro-West Germany sentiment of his father and uncles, and their fury at the controversial goal award to England in extra time. All of them, just a couple of decades previously, had served in the British armed forces alongside English comrades and friends in the war against Nazi Germany.

That can’t be blamed on the SNP which was in 1966 still a marginal fringe party. It can’t be blamed on the Scottish Parliament or Scottish Government because there were no such bodies. And it can’t be blamed on an upsurge of support for independence because back then there was no serious demand for Scotland to go its own way.

The roots of the intense – and admittedly somewhat one-sided – sporting rivalry between Scotland and England reach much deeper into the soil of history. It is connected with the structural imbalance that has always been at the heart of the now dysfunctional United Kingdom. The state that was founded in 1707 never was – and never can be in the future – a relationship of equal partners.

There has long been a demographic, economic, political and cultural inequality on these islands which has proven impossible to repair within the framework of the union. With almost 85% of the population of the UK, England has always been the dominant force by far, its politics and culture overwhelming the rest.

As a consequence, national identity in all four parts of the UK has become warped and distorted – in England by a sense of superiority deriving from its dominant role in an imperialist state; in Scotland by a permanent sense of resentment towards its domineering neighbour.

That’s why we tend to get wound up by the assumption by BBC and ITV football commentators that the terms England, Britain and the United Kingdom are interchangeable. Of course, Britain is a geographical unit comprising England, Scotland and Wales, while the United Kingdom is a political unit that includes Northern Ireland. England is a country covering just 60% of the UK land mass.

But these important distinctions are lost on much of the commentariat – and not just those who specialise in football. No-one in Wales or Northern Ireland would dream of equating their land with the United Kingdom as a whole. That’s probably why I would be supporting them if they were in the finals. But BBC commentators and newsreaders, whose broadcasts are transmitted across the four component parts of the state, routinely take it for granted that “we” – the viewers – are as passionately patriotic in support of the England national team as themselves. And if England do win this tournament, we know that football will have “come home”.

If this was just a problem of semantics it could perhaps be challenged and overcome with robust education. But it is merely the outward symptom of a more fundamental disease. And that disease is national inequality.

When Scotland has achieved independence, I’m sure that many of us will then be less resistant to supporting England on the sports field. But in the meantime, please desist from trying to dictate to us who we can and can’t support in the World Cup. And as for the shallow and ignorant accusations that all Scots who refuse to support England are driven by racism and Anglophobia – give us a break – and consider why “we” don’t.