More than 20 million people across the UK are expected to watch live coverage tonight of the World Cup semi-final between England and Croatia, but questions remain over how many in Scotland will be cheering on Gareth Southgate’s side.
The game, which kicks-off at 7pm, is the first time the Three Lions have reached the final four of the biggest competition in football since 1990.
If they can overcome the challenge of the skilled Croats, England will be just 90 minutes away from equalling the achievements of the fabled team led by Sir Alf Ramsey, which defeated West Germany in 1966.
But for Scotland fans the prospect of football “coming home” – as England fans have chanted throughout the tournament – causes more mixed emotions.
The First Minister tweeted her congratulations after the Three Lions won 2-0 against Sweden in the quarter-finals on Saturday. When asked if she would be backing the team in tonight’s game, a spokesman advised keeping an eye on Nicola Sturgeon’s Twitter feed.
The question over who to support has even been debated in council chambers. Members in Angus clashed this week over a call to fly the England flag over municipal buildings ahead of the semi-final.
Cllr Braden Davy said it would ‘“show our support for our nearest neighbours”, but Bill Duff – an SNP councillor – said it would be “daft”.
Cllr Davy made the call following the announcement the flag of St George would fly from the Scotland office on the days England play.
Meanwhile, the Lord Provost of Aberdeen, Barney Crockett, will be issuing a good luck message to the England team ahead of the semi-final and again should the team reach the final on Sunday.
Glasgow City Council told The Scotsman it could not fly a flag in support of Three Lions as it does not own a St George’s Cross. The local authority in Edinburgh said it had no plans to mark Sunday’s final, presuming Southgate’s side are involved.
Scotland and England contested the first ever recognised international match in 1872 when they met at the Hamilton Crescent cricket ground in Partick and remained firm footballing rivals throughout the 20th century.
But the end of the annual fixture in 1989, and Scotland’s subsequent failure to qualify for the finals of any major tournament this century, has seen the rivalry lessen – at least from an English perspective.
Edinburgh Western MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton tweeted this week he hoped the SNP group at Westminster would not try any “mean-spirited attempts to stop MPs and more importantly staff from seeing the World Cup semi-final”. He added: “It’s been 28 years. How about a bit of neighbourly love?”
But SNP MSP James Dornan shot back: “Memo to Alex Cole-Hamilton from constituents and taxpayers. They are there to do their job, not loll about in bars when issues of importance are being debated.”
If England do reach the final match in Moscow, Aldi and Lidl stores south of the Border will close early at 3pm on Sunday.
Lidl UK chief executive Christian Hartnagel said: “We absolutely believe it’s coming home.”
American pop star Justin Timberlake announced the World Cup semi-final between England and Croatia would be shown in the O2 arena before his show. The singer said he would be joining fans to watch along with them.
English comedian Jason Manford has postponed his show in Stevenage tonight after hundreds of fans begged him to avoid a clash with the World Cup semi-final.
Game Of Thrones actor Kit Harington declared himself so confident England would win the World Cup that he is planning to travel to Moscow to watch the final.
Harington, 31, made the bold call during a BBC Radio 2 interview.
With a reference to the chorus of Baddiel and Skinner’s song Three Lions, presenter Craig Charles asked the pair if they thought “football’s coming home”.
Harington replied: “I believe it is Craig, I think football is coming home ... I’m going (to Moscow) whether we make it or not, but that’s how confident I am that it’s coming home.”