Football: A borderline case of split loyalties

Euro 2000 Battle Of Britain: In Berwick, English and Scottish flags flutter side by side. Simon Turnbull reports

IAN OLIVER was sitting back, admiring the view. "Just cut that today," he said, nodding towards the splendidly clipped sward before us. "Ready for Saturday. Big game, you know." Indeed it was. Forfar Athletic might not be the biggest draw in British football, but when you happen to belong to Berwick Rangers every game is an England-Scotland match.

"Aye," Berwick's groundsman pondered, "I suppose you could look at it that way. We're three miles inside the border here. But I dinna look at it that way. I'm just happy that we have a team in one of the senior leagues, that's mentioned in the football scores on telly every Saturday tea-time."

Berwick Rangers, of course, are the English team who play in Scotland - or the Scottish team who play in England, depending on which way you look at it. Since 1951 they have been members of the Scottish League. Since 1482, though, Berwick-upon-Tweed has been an English town. It has changed hands on 14 occasions. But, thanks to the decisive away victory scored by Richard III and his chain-mailed team, it has been England's most northerly town for 517 years now.

It might have been different, but when the Rangers of Glasgow were humbled by the Rangers of Northumberland in a Scottish Cup first-round tie at Shielfield Park in 1967 the invading Scots chose to wreck the town rather than take it. In 1305 William Wallace's left arm was hung on the old town walls as a warning sign to other Caledonian bravehearts. In 1967 it was both arms of Jock Wallace that kept out the Scots. The future Ibrox manager was Berwick's goalkeeper and manager in their famous 1-0 victory.

Not that the keeping out of Scots is a preoccupation in Berwick. Far from it. The coach trip arranged by Berwick Rangers Travel Club to the Wembley leg of the Euro 2000 play-off will carry both English and Scottish supporters. "Most of the lads who support the football club are very much English," Ray Graham, secretary of the travel club, said. "If you were to go into the pubs in town you'd probably find a ratio of three or four to one who are pro-English. But it's a good rivarly up here. There's never any trouble. We're all looking forward to a good day out."

At the end of that day out there will be celebrating as well as commiserating on the bus back to Berwick, where English and Scottish flags can be found fluttering in alternate order from the top of Castlegate to the bottom of Marygate - a cross of St George conspicuously positioned above the Scottish Power showroom. "Being on the border is good for business," Brian Johnson, manager of McGurk Sports, said. "We score on both sides. We sell England shirts, Scotland shirts... Celtic, Rangers, Sunderland, Newcastle... It's a good position to be in."

Though the border line is strictly drawn three miles north at Lamberton, the national boundary seems blurred in Berwick, where the accent is more Scottish than Geordie and where many of the 12,000 residents have roots that twist through English and Scottish soil. "My dad was Scottish but I'm English," Dennis McCleary, secretary of Berwick Rangers, said. "He was from Kirkudbright and I'm a Berwicker. But you're neither one thing nor the other if you're from Berwick."

Not that Liz Breckons, Berwick's mayoress, considers her townsfolk to be afflicted by a national identity crisis. "Not at all," she said. "I think Berwick's got an identity of its own - a mixture. The two halves come together very well, I think." They do indeed. As Ian Oliver reflected, as he gazed out from Shielfield Park towards Berwick's stunning townscape and Scotland beyond: "We've got the best of both worlds here."

Queen Victoria was not exactly amused by the place when she opened Robert Stephenson's monumental Royal Border Bridge in 1850. She spent fully 12 minutes on the station platform, performing her ceremonial duty, before chugging off back to London, sad case that she was. So dismissive, in fact, was Victoria of the gleaming jewel of a border town it was an oversight on her part that led to Berwick being famously at war with Russia.

The town having been mentioned specifically in royal proclamations since its annexation from Scotland, when she signed the declaration of war against Russia at the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854 she did so with her full title: Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, Ireland, Berwick-upon-Tweed and the British Dominions beyond the sea. When she signed the Paris Peace Treaty, however, Berwick was not mentioned. "It became a publicity gimmick, really," Sir Lawrence Airey, chairman of Berwick History Society, said. "But it was resolved in the 1960s when some Russian diplomat or minister came over and solemnly shook the mayor's hands. They agreed that the war was over so that the Russians could sleep peacefully in their beds not worrying about suddenly being attacked by all the Berwickers."

In one respect, however, Berwick remains feared as an attacking force on foreign fields. Berwick Rangers boast the best away record in the Scottish Third Division - but one of the worst at home, on the English soil of Shielfield. It may be mere coincidence, but all except one of their players happen to be Scots living north of the border. Their manager, Paul Smith, is Scottish too. He lives in Edinburgh, where the squad meet to train twice a week. "For a team who are looking to go up this season our home record is letting us down badly," he lamented. "Maybe we should think about moving Shielfield Park over the border into Scotland."

If that were to happen Ray Dixon's bedroom window, in Shielfield Terrace, would no longer look out over the goal into which Sammy Reid struck the giant-slaying winner against Glasgow Rangers 32 years ago. Not that he would be guaranteed to notice. As chairman of the Berwick branch of the Manchester United Supporters Club, he spends his Saturdays far from the maddeningly low crowds (510 average) on his backdoor step. "We run a bus from Berwick to every game," he said. "I'm no glory-seeker. It's in my blood. I've followed Man U since 1954."

Other Berwickers have got away too. Trevor Steven was a ball-boy at Shielfield in the 1970s. "We couldn't sign him on schoolboy forms," Dennis McCleary recalled, "because Berwick High School is affiliated to the English Schools' FA and the club is affiliated to the Scottish Schools' FA." Such are the complexities of life on the border-line.

Steven, as it happens, was a member of the last England team who ventured north of the border - to the ground his home-town team visit the week after Alan Shearer and Co. To the lone Rangers of north Northumberland, Queen's Park at Hampden will be just another Scotland-England game.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Qualified Primary Teaching Assistant

£64 - £73 per day + Competitive rates based on experience : Randstad Education...

Primary KS2 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Primary NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam