Love thy neighbour? You've got to be kidding

'Sheffield? You come from Sheffield? In Nottingham, we use Sheffield as a wind-break'
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The Independent Online

Yesterday I started a meditation on local rivalries, leaving off with a reference to rivalry between North and South Wales. I know about this from experience. Although I do not have an ounce of Welsh blood in me, I grew up in North Wales, in Denbighshire, and when I meet Welsh people these days I sometimes try to ingratiate myself by mentioning this fact.

Yesterday I started a meditation on local rivalries, leaving off with a reference to rivalry between North and South Wales. I know about this from experience. Although I do not have an ounce of Welsh blood in me, I grew up in North Wales, in Denbighshire, and when I meet Welsh people these days I sometimes try to ingratiate myself by mentioning this fact.

Their eyes light up.

"Grew up in Wales, did you?" they say, tremendously impressed that any Englishman would take the trouble to do such a thing. "Whereabouts, then?"

"Not far from Wrexham."

The light always fades from their eyes at this.

"Oh, right, the North..."

They're always from South Wales, you see, and South Walians have no love for the North. I did some of my growing up in a village called Gresford on the Wrexham-Chester road. Wrexham and Chester were great rivals - Wrexham, the last slightly bleak industrial town coming out of the Welsh hills, Chester the first posh, cultural place in the lush Cheshire plains, and only 12 miles apart - and there was much rejoicing in either place after beating the other at football, which I think Wrexham was rather better at than Chester.

Even Gresford had its local rivalries. Gresford was a mining village, but a superior mining village, with a grand church and village pond and some nice houses. Llay, across the valley, was just a mining village, tough, red brick and free of frills. I think Llay hated Gresford because Gresford had pretensions, and we hated Llay because they didn't - anyway, I remember one day a boy coming up the road into Gresford shouting "Watch out - the Llay lads are coming!" and although I didn't exactly know what this meant, I thought it would be a good idea to go home for a while.

As the song says, when you've got friends and neighbours, you've got heaps of trouble. Nobody hates Arsenal like a Spurs supporter. Manchester United and Liverpool are rivals, but not in the way that Everton and Liverpool are, or indeed Rangers and Celtic. The only way to get rid of a local rivalry is to find a common enemy. Rangers and Celtic are supposedly divided by unbridgeable religious differences, but when it comes to supporting Scotland against England, those great differences magically become bridged...

I once stayed in a Scotland in a town where there were two Indian restaurants. I said idly to a local that it must be nice for the two Indian families to have each other to talk to.

"You'd think so, wouldn't you?" he said. "But in fact, they're not even on speaking terms."

"Why not?" I said. "Do they have religious differences?"

"Not quite," he said. "One family is Glasgow Indian and the other is Dundee Indian. So they don't get on."

Does this sound fanciful? Well, I met a man the other day who convinced me that it wasn't. He is quite high up in a certain industry and had recently been given the job of setting up various local advisory centres in the regions.

"I was doing all this from London," he told me, "and of course, from London it all looks quite easy. For instance, I decided that for the West region we should have our initial meeting in Bristol, which looked nice and central. I received a blistering message from our people in Plymouth saying that in no circumstances would they go to Bristol, which was halfway into South Wales as far as they were concerned. I tried setting up Plymouth as the meeting place, but you can imagine what the Bristol people said. Back of beyond, and so on.

"Eventually we settled for Taunton, which nobody really wanted to go to but nobody deeply objected to. Same in East Anglia. Would Norwich people go to Ipswich? Would the Ipswich people consider going to Norwich? Would they, buggery. This time we settled for Bury St Edmunds, which was a good compromise, as nobody even knew how to get there..."

I'll leave the last word on this to Les Dawson, whom I once saw on a TV chat show, on which one of the other guests was from Sheffield.

"Sheffield?" said Dawson in a voice filled with contempt. "You're from Sheffield? In Nottingham we use Sheffield as a wind-break..."

Which, considering that Les Dawson came from Manchester and lived in Lancashire, is somehow rather pleasingly impartial.

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