Football: 'If you hate the English sit down'

Phil Davison in Bordeaux joins the perpetual party as the tartan army take over
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YOU could tell them by their canary yellow jerseys, many with Ronaldo written across the back, by their swaying bodies and their unflinching conviction that their team was the best in the world. Brazilians? Not exactly. They were Scotland's football fans, the tartan army, who have won the hearts of the French over the past 10 days while the hooligans were making Angleterre a dirty word.

How many English fans wear the opposing team's strip? The Scots who took over Paris to play Brazil, then Bordeaux to face Norway, were respectful enough of their opponents to wear the other side's jerseys - even Norwegian Viking horns - but their kilts, trews, tammies, scarves and flags left no doubt as to their nationality.

In St Etienne on Tuesday, things might be a bit more tricky. The Scottish fans are not quite sure what a Moroccan strip looks like and had probably never heard of Moustafa Hadji until he scored against Norway in their opening game. But no doubt some of the many street vendors who have found their way here from Scotland will be selling Moroccan jerseys, flags and scarves outside the Geoffrey Guichard stadium.

If there were French who did not previously distinguish between England and Scotland, they have learnt to do so over the past 10 days, particularly after the Battle of Marseilles. This is not a good time in France to admit you are English. It reminds me of Iran in the run-up to the 1979 revolution, when American correspondents quickly learned to lie that they were French. (France had given haven to the exiled revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini). If some Parisiens were wary when the tartan army took over the Champs Elysees and the Rue Rivoli behind City Hall - site of the Auld Alliance pub - they were soon put at ease. The Scots were wild, "well-bevvied," many topless, fearsome in their ginger wigs and tartan tammies, but they policed themselves.

Old ladies with poodles were carefully guided through the mayhem. Motorcyclists stopped by the Scots' self-imposed traffic controls soon realised the fans just wanted to wipe clean their helmets then wave them on with a cheery "Right, then, Jimmy, awae ye go, then. Vive a France. Vive l'Ecosse."

A giant banner above the Connemara pub in central Bordeaux, which became the tartan army's assembly point, proclaimed "Jacques Chirac is a Scotsman" and, on the day, M Chirac would hardly have denied it. Outside the pub, a kilted Scot gave away the country's best-kept secret when he clambered on to the roof of a single-decker tourist bus and danced on its roof while it moved slowly through the throng.

On Rue Rivoli, passers-by stopped to watch a makeshift football game among the fans, the object of which was to kick the ball over the rooftops of the narrow street. Parisien youths joined in the party game of "if you hate the English, sit down".

Outside the Cafe des Arts in Bordeaux, local French and Arab youths asked why the Scots were singing so often about a foreign footballer, Diego Armando Maradona, while dancing the "hokey-cokey". The Scots explained the lyrics and the reference to the famous hand of god goal against England in 1986 quarter-final. "Oh, Diego Maradona, Oh, Diego Maradona, he put the English out, out, out."

Outside the Connemara pub, Tam Purdie, a 40-year-old water authority worker from Scone, doubled as fan and a kind of "military policeman" for the tartan army. After firmly expelling an Arab youth who tried to pickpocket another fan, Purdie explained to a local football fan the song to the tune of "Cheer up, sleepy Jean".

The Scot had trouble translating most of the lyrics except one - "merde" - in the chorus of "Cheer up, Glenn Hoddle, oh, what can it mean, to a sad English bastard and a shite football team."

Purdie did not have to translate the words on the back of one of his fellow fan's T-shirts - they were in French - but he had to explain them. "Nous detestons Jeemie Heele. Il est un pedale."

"You see, Jimmy, Jimmy Hill's a poofter. He's been against us for years. But England's the problem here. Marseilles was a national disgrace. How long is it going to be before something's done about the English. They're just out and out thugs. They should kick them out. Kick them out of the cup. When we got boisterous at Wembley, Maggie Thatcher banned us."

By the time they had drawn with Norway and started asking for directions to St Etienne, the tartan army were reduced to an old national tradition: bringing out their calculators to work out by how much Brazil needed to beat Norway in the unthinkable event that Scotland could only draw with Morocco.