France twice, Germany three times, Chile, Sweden, Croatia, even Northern Ireland – just a few of the nations to whom the England football team have surrendered since the IRA formally ended its armed campaign in July 2005. But, as their travelling fans have again loudly testified, it will not surrender to them.
So what is behind this continued reluctance to surrender to an organisation that has long ago yielded? At first impression it appears misguided, but then, when you get knocked out of the World Cup after five days and with a match to spare, there is a logic to picking your fights only with enemies who are no longer real.
Then on Tuesday night in Glasgow, England surpassed themselves. Not only was there to be “No Surrender” to an ill-defined group that has had no practical function for almost a decade, but we also promised to “f***” them too. “F*** the IRA”, sung to the tune of the rather obscure England band favourite “Follow England Away”. Of course, there are practical benefits to f****** the IRA. It doesn’t exist, so you can’t go to jail for it. Nor on your release can you suddenly force your former employer into the reluctant position of becoming the moral arbiter for the nation.
“No Surrender! Naaaaao Surrender! To the IRA!” Is there a sporting refrain in any language guaranteed to make the heart sink faster? On more than one occasion over the summer, the Copacabana air was alive with its execrable sound, causing a few embarrassed England supporters in the beach bars to apologise to whoever was around – usually Argentines.
I happened to overhear one such conversation at the time. “What is this song about?” asked a man in a Maradona shirt, talking to the English table next to him.
“Erm, it’s hard to explain. It’s to do with the fighting we had with Ireland in the Seventies and Eighties,” they replied.
“Oh. Er. OK.”
As it happens, the Three Lions all but surrendered to Costa Rica the next day. The fans in the stadium couldn’t have cared less. It’s the Irish Republican Army, with its pursuit of peace through political means, that so winds them up.
It is a situation made doubly depressing by the sheer waste of it. Usually the one joyful recompense of supporting a team who repeatedly break your heart are the bittersweet chants. Yet even there England must be the tragic exception to the rule.
Who wouldn’t have loved to have been at Maine Road one afternoon in the mid-Nineties when, so the story goes, tortured down the right flank and having just sold a popular full-back, the Kippax broke out in, (to the tune of the Righteous Brothers classic): “We’ve lost, our Terry Phe-e-lan/Oh-oh our Terry Phe-e-elan/We’ve lost our Te-e-ry Phelan/Now he’s gone/gone/gone.’
Scotland 1 England 3 player ratings
Scotland 1 England 3 player ratings
1/22 David Marshall
Survived an early fumble from a Danny Welbeck shot but there was little he could do about Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's header. 6
2/22 Steven Whittaker
Had a couple of shots blocked following short set-pieces, the right-back got little joy going forward in the second half but was dependable at the back. 6
3/22 Grant Hanley
The Blackburn centre-back's lack of mobility told at times. 5
4/22 Russell Martin
Came close with a header but found it difficult to cope with England's movement up front. 5
5/22 Andrew Robertson
Lost the first goalscorer and inadvertently set up the second but showed his character with an excellent first goal for Scotland. 5
Distribution was not as accurate as his man-of-the-match display on Friday and his misplaced pass and crude block on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ultimately led to England's second goal. 5
7/22 Scott Brown
Withdrawn at half-time after a decent if uninspiring display. 5
8/22 Ikechi Anya
Lifted the home crowd with a couple of early runs but could not make a telling contribution. 6
9/22 Steven Naismith
Was out on his feet at the end of Friday's win over the Republic of Ireland and lacked a spark both up top and just off the front. 6
10/22 Shaun Maloney
Was well off target when given a chance to shoot late in the first half, although from much further out than his goal against the Irish. Otherwise failed to threaten. 5
11/22 Chris Martin
Held the ball up well at times but was unable to make a major impact and rarely had the ball with his face to goal during his 45-minute run-out. 5
12/22 Fraser Forster
The former Celtic goalkeeper's defence allowed him one of his quieter 45 minutes at Parkhead but was exposed for Robertson's goal. 6
13/22 Nathaniel Clyne
The Southampton right back's well-timed tackles and ability to break quickly gave England an edge down his flank. 8
14/22 Luke Shaw
Dealt well with the threat of Shaun Maloney. 6
15/22 Gary Cahill
Came close from an early header and marshalled Martin well in the first half. 7
16/22 Chris Smalling
Totally comfortable in central defence and showed his confidence as the game progressed. 8
17/22 James Milner
A disciplined display in the anchor role. 7
18/22 Jack Wilshere
Floated an inch-perfect cross over the top of the Scotland defence to set up the opener and had a hand in both other goals, the Arsenal midfielder imposed himself on the game. 8
19/22 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Drifted into the goalmouth to head the opener. 6
20/22 Stewart Downing
Showed enterprise and control in central midfield. 7
21/22 Danny Welbeck
Caused some problems going forward in the early stages and put in a power of work to disrupt Scotland further back. 7
22/22 Wayne Rooney
Overtook Jimmy Greaves in the England scoring stakes with his 45 and 46th international goals. The skipper showed hunger and drive as he led from the front. 9
Likewise, only a club as tortured as Norwich could come up with, to a rather well known Status Quo track: “Youssef Safri!/Moroccan All Over The World!”
Yet for England, it is No Surrender or nothing. Why do they do it? There’s been many an Anglo-Irish historian or cultural commentator addressing that question this week. The causes are there but the elastic of history has snapped. The answer now is that they just do. Why do Liverpool sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone”? Why do they blow bubbles at Upton Park? Sure there are reasons but, given how few of those who take part actually know what those reasons are, they have all but ceased to matter.
The deindividuation of the man in the crowd and, by extension, of the fan in the stadium, has fascinated social psychologists for decades – whether it is true that the “I can get away with anything as long as everyone else is doing it” rationale takes over. The wisdom of crowds: wise enough to guess correctly the weight of cattle at a county fair, apparently, yet powerfully persuasive enough to convince whole swathes of otherwise productive, law-abiding citizens in the stands at Twickenham to hurl homophobic abuse at a gay match official, before catching the train back to the suburbs, putting their kids to bed and quietly ironing their shirts for the week ahead.
Pity poor Roy Hodgson, too, having to offer his diplomatic apology “if anyone was offended”. Graciously uncoupling yourself from well-intentioned support that you just don’t want is a tricky thing to do.
The efforts to stamp abuse out, particularly in football, and particularly with regard to racism, have been impressive. Personally, I have occasionally tried to make the argument that it isn’t football itself that is racist. Quite the opposite, in fact. If black players are being abused on the pitch it is simply because that is where they are. Football is the great meritocracy. The counter-argument is that it is the nature of a crowd itself that draws out people’s baser instincts.
That is something that will be harder to eradicate. Still, No Surrender.Reuse content