Having lived with Coronavirus and all that comes with it for almost 18 months, can Scotland’s Euro 2020 campaign bring the nation together?
Will there be a David vs. Goliath style-narrative? Will a generation of kids be inspired to take up the beautiful game? Or will we ‘do a Scotland’ and either flatly disappoint or find a new way to break hearts? Fresh from St Johnstone’s historic domestic season, I see reasons for optimism.
An Underdog Story? It began when I was five years old. My Dad, an Aberdeen fan who’d lived through that club’s glory days, took me to watch St Johnstone, my own local team. We sat behind the goal in the Ormond Stand as our team for the day drew 2-2 against Dunfermline Athletic who were promoted to the Scottish Premier Division.
So began my relationship with the beautiful game, which carried on into Euro 96 and throughout St Johnstone’s promotion season of 1996-97. It reached a new level of obsession with World Cup 1998 – panini sticker albums, playstation games, and my first taste of heartbreak with the national team – something I would get all too accustomed to.
A sporting miracle
I’m 30 now and my football fever is an all time high. St Johnstone have just had the most successful season in their history, winning both domestic cups, something you’d have got odds of 10000-1 on at the start of the year. Using that metric (and the modern game does have an unhealthy obsession with gambling, so why not?) this ranks as a sporting miracle up there with Leicester winning the Premier League, another Goliath slaying the asset rich giants that normally sweep all before them. During a regular season I’ll make a few league games depending on work, home and away, and follow them in the cup. This year, nada.
People have asked me if it feels bittersweet. The truth is, a bit. I was looking through the photo album I have from our previous Scottish Cup win in 2014, remembering how special a day it was and recalling very little of the evening that followed. I imagined witnessing first hand the chaos as Shaun Rooney headed us into the lead at Hampden, twice, against Livingston in February and against Hibs in May. I thought about how we’d have been crestfallen as Rangers’ James Tavernier scored a late winner in extra time of the quarter final, we’d have been contemplating another near miss and how best to get home from Ibrox. And then we’d have seen goalkeeper Zander Clark undertaking the ultimate act of desperation in coming up for a corner. And then, we’d have seen him –unmarked – diverting the ball into the net off Chris Kane. They say euphoria comes from an unexpected place, so the ecstasy would have been off the charts at that moment. As well as the fans, I thought about the players enjoying the proudest moment of their careers, and not being able to share that with family and friends.
I watched it all on TV. Mostly alone. I wouldn’t change it for anything though. It’s just another bizarre consequence of the strangest year in living memory. To be honest, it was a rare instance of unqualified joy in a year where happiness has been difficult to come by. Now we have European Competition to look forward to next year. There’s a chance my pals and I could go to Prague, Istanbul, Rome to see our wee team. It’s also fairly likely we’ll, once again, have to settle for the television set.
I know…the takeover of public spaces in the middle of summer after months of enforced lockdown doesn’t sit well with many, but I hope that Scotland’s participation in the European Championships can provide a lift for us
The little guy stands up
I’ve made my peace with it either way. The achievement and success means something greater. This is a tight knit group of players and staff and indeed backroom staff, upsetting the applecart by harnessing their collective abilities and maximising those. A proper underdog story a few months after a group of European giants made an shameless attempt to undermine the sport, forming a breakaway super league with the noble end goal of, er, lining their own pockets. And that’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of the sport’s problems. There aren’t enough words to cover the corruption, racism, sexism, human rights abuses and sexual offenses we see, hear and read about, on an almost daily basis.
I know it isn’t a universally popular sentiment, and the takeover of public spaces in the middle of summer after months of enforced lockdown doesn’t sit well with many, but I hope that Scotland’s participation in the European Championships can provide a lift for us, similar to that which I felt on seeing Jason Kerr lift the Scottish Cup, watching David Wotherspoon holding back tears on live TV talking about winning with his boyhood club, and experiencing it with my oldest friends.
We haven’t played a game in a major tournament since we were thumped 3-0 by Morocco in Saint-Etienne back in 1998. A week on Monday the wait will be over, a moment we’ve been anticipating since a penalty shoot out win against Serbia confirmed it would happen back in November, uniting the country momentarily. Sometimes the little guy stands up against the big guy and wins. It doesn’t happen very often. It seems to happen less and less these days, in this sisyphean struggle we exist in. But I think that it’s something most of us can all get behind, no matter the context.
This is Part 1 of a two part article. To read Part 2 Win or Lose…enjoy the game, click HERE
Images: a younger Craig Angus in club colours; top Association football goal in training football field: wikimedia Manuel Heinrich CC BY-SA 4.0
Further Reading: Scotland is back on the international stage, Gerry Hassan Scottish Review