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The Not-Quite-United Kingdom

Roger Mosey | 10:55 UK time, Monday, 29 May 2006

There's been a lot of skirmishing on the border of late. The Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell said he'll be supporting England's opponents in the World Cup - and conspiracy theorists claimed that Alex Ferguson (a Scot) seemed to be against Wayne Rooney (an Englishman) travelling to Germany.

Meanwhile, we were under attack from a couple of SNP politicians for allegedly choosing an anti-Scottish World Cup theme tune; and I was summoned onto the BBC's Points Of View programme to promise fair play for all parts of the UK during this summer of sport.

And we'll do our very best, but it's worth saying this is one area where we can't please all the people all the time...

The most obvious problem in Germany 2006 is that only England have qualified from the home nations. It was much easier in France 1998 when both England and Scotland made it.

I was controller of BBC Radio Five Live at the time and we were gung-ho for England and gung-ho for Scotland: we wanted both to do well.

Even in the last World Cup we had Ireland also in the competition - and though it's an independent state there's a certain familiarity for the rest of the UK in the accents of its team members and in its coaching personnel from Jack Charlton to the current day involvement of Sir Bobby Robson. So the focus wasn't just on England.

But it's hard to argue that our coverage of England should be tempered this time round because there's no other near neighbour also in the competition - and the fact is that the overwhelming majority of our viewers and listeners want England to win.

According to a BBC Sport poll in April, that even includes majorities of people in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland - though in Scotland a significant 25% of the population want England to do badly and some of our emailers showed a degree of scepticism about the findings.

The other point to bear in mind is that the BBC supplements its network coverage with reporting and commentary from our teams in the nations and regions of the UK.

An interesting example of this was in the Northern Ireland v England qualifier last year when BBC Northern Ireland produced its own coverage for Ulster - so Gary Lineker and John Motson and the rest were broadcasting just to England, Scotland (who'd earlier had coverage of a Scotland game) and Wales.

Even then we had some balance in our panel: Iain Dowie spoke as a former Northern Ireland cap. But as we reflect an increasingly devolved UK there will be more and more examples where we offer a choice of perspective, with the only anomaly at the moment being that we have Radio Scotland and Radio Wales and Radio Ulster - but no Radio England. I also get emails from time to time asking why our website has the other nations but not an England page.

Which brings me back to the point about not pleasing everyone - but whatever the squalls ahead don't imagine this is a debate simply about England versus Scotland. There are, of course, many views within Scotland and for just one have a look at Brian Wilson's piece in Scotland On Sunday which has an interesting take on the argument north of the border.

And meanwhile: we'll just get on with covering the football and hoping that as many of the home nations as possible make it to Euro 2008.

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