I forgot how much I love that feeling of togetherness, whether it’s a sellout Barrowlands gig, or a half full DIY show, or a football match. I’m a sucker for it. I get a kick out of sharing an experience with folk.
On Monday I went to Hampden. Four hundred and ninety two days since I was last at a football match, the fifth round of the Scottish Cup at a freezing Somerset Park where the wind shook everything in its path.
Eight thousand three hundred and ninety two days since Scotland’s last game at a major tournament, our group game of the 1998 World Cup in St Etienne. A win would have taken us through, they said. Morocco thumped us 3-0. I cried, as many of us did, and had done for generations, a salty consequence of following the national team. The unfancied Norwegians turned over the all conquering Brazil team, somehow, so a win wouldn’t have been enough anyway.
There were no tears at the national stadium at full time. Not from me, anyway. It was an incredible day, really. It didn’t really sink in until I woke up and saw that battlefield looked different, the saltire and the lion rampants draped from tenement windows, friends in assorted home shirts and rare away strips gathered to get in a pre-match coffee, or pint. The steps of the Mount Florida Medical Centre repurposed for the sale of scarves and flags. We had made it, finally.
And what of being of the game itself? It might have been the adrenaline, but there was something incredibly emotional about experiencing the pre-match festivities after the last 18 months. Feelings that were, of course, immediately undercut by the sheer daftness of the opening ceremony, and the unravelling of giant strips to the sound of Bono singing an EDM abomination titled ‘We Are The People’ (seriously, Bono? In 2021? This ranks up there with UEFA’s greatest crimes).
Glad to be here
Before that, watching the players run through their final warm up drills, belting out Runrig’s Loch Lomond and Flower of Scotland with 10,000 other people, it hit me that even with the massively reduced capacity this was the biggest event I’d been to in a long time. I used to do this stuff all the time, be around people at an event, a few times a week on a normal week. I forgot how much I love that feeling of togetherness, whether it’s a sellout Barrowlands gig, or a half full DIY show, or a football match. I’m a sucker for it. I get a kick out of sharing an experience with folk. My overriding thought before the game was that I was grateful to be there, and that I’d missed it, and that I wanted everyone to be there, wanted it to be full and rocking, want us to get back there, want us to get there soon.
The post-match debrief turned into a full-on session of drowning the sorrows and moaning. I’ve softened a bit since then. I would have picked a different team, sure, but I’d have picked a different squad before the tournament too – one that would have been very biased towards my (double cup winning) team with the bold Shaun Rooney sticking his sizeable heid on all sorts of crosses coming in from the left. We missed Kieran Tierney, one of our very best players and one of our only elite talents (playing tonight, thankfully). I still think we played within ourselves at times, looked a little afraid, overawed by the occasion, but it’s done now.
The difference, reductive I know, was that the Czech Republic put the ball in the back of the net and we didn’t. On another day one of our nearly chances (Robertson’s one on one in the first half, Hendry’s effort off the bar, the almost own goal, Dykes’ tame effort from six yards) goes in. On another day Patrick Schick doesn’t hit that record breaker as sweetly as he does, or David Marshall is closer to his line and saves it. These are the fine margins tournament football is built on.
Allow me to dream
That’s whataboutery though. The hardest thing to do in this game is put the ball in the back of the net, and the reason Patrick Schick took his chances is that he’s an excellent striker who plays at a high level week in week out. For all our organisational strength we don’t have that firepower at the minute.
We have two games to go, maybe more if we can somehow get out of the group, and you wouldn’t put your house on it. Next up England, tournament favourites, the auld enemy, at Wembley. I fancy us to give a better account of ourselves with the pressure of Monday lifted. We might not win. We’re very unlikely to win. I’d bite your hand off for a draw, to be honest. I just want to enjoy this experience, as weird as it is.
Allow me to dream for a moment. My great hope is that this is the start of something. We’ll qualify for the next Euros, in Germany in 2024. By then we’ll have unearthed a world class striker to go with the McGinns and Robertsons and Gilmours. Maybe we’ll get tickets for a game or two, toasting a win in a Bavarian beer garden. Or we’ll enjoy the games in a packed boozer, pints flying all over the place when we knock England out in the last 16. We’ll never win anything. We’ll always have a good time winning nothing. Enjoy the games, wherever you are.
This is Part 2 of Craig’s two part article, To read the first part, A proper underdog story click HERE