“You take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Scotland before you.”
Whatever road the men’s football team have been taking for the last 23 years, it’s been the long one.
The highs, lows and downright mediocrity has put people off caring about international football for years. Generations of young supporters have grown used to watching the big tournaments without a team to support.
‘Anyone but England’ started as a joke but over the last two decades it’s gathered pace to the point it was our only real interest at major tournaments.
It’s because of this that it’s been so heartening to see awareness and passion for the Scotland national team steadily rising over the last seven months.
We have a team to be proud of representing a nation that is desperate to care.
It doesn’t matter where you’ve come from, what matters is you’re here. Football fans who have travelled home and away for years and those who have had no more than a passing interest in the men’s national team are coming together for the summer and it’s a joy to behold.
Scotland fans old and new now have something to collectively look forward to, a nation united behind 26 men selected by Steve Clarke to embody all of us on the big stage at Euro 2020.
This isn’t about corporate sponsors, host cities or UEFA suits. This is about normal guys living the dream of a lifetime and inspiring a generation of football fans.
It’s about Billy Gilmour and Nathan Patterson being part of the squad fresh out of school, giving young boys and girls a sense of realisation that playing football in Scotland is something worth doing.
Schools across the country will be full of young people looking forward to being part of the European Championships, teachers in every school pencilling in some television time for 2pm on Monday afternoon.
Panini albums are being filled in Scotland with men in navy blue for the first time in 23 years, John McGinn and Andy Robertson proudly being placed alongside the household names on other pages.
Ryan Christie was reduced to tears following the play-off final in Belgrade. These players know what it means to be at the Euros, most of them have known little of Scotland as a nation that makes it. Some of them weren’t even born the last time we did.
Christie’s tears caused the great Sir Alex Ferguson to cry himself, saying that “Ryan Christie was crying for Scotland.” A man who has done it all in the game reduced to tears at the achievements of the men’s national side - who are we to argue with Fergie.
There are a hardy few who were there when Craig Levein trotted out the 4-6-0, who were there when we lost in Georgia and who were there when we shipped three goals without reply in Kazakhstan. This is for them. There are people who have never seen Scotland at a major finals, for whom every second summer is spent watching other people enjoy other countries at other tournaments. This is for them. 23 years is a long time. It’s a time in which we’ve lost family and friends who’d have loved to share this summer with us. People who truly believed we may never make it back to the big time again. This is for them.
To my dad who introduced me to a lifetime of torture following Scotland and who should be standing by my side at these games but sadly won’t be due to the reduced capacities - this one’s for you.
I lost my mum in September. David Marshall’s heroics in Belgrade was the first time I’d smiled properly with my dad in weeks.
After traipsing home from Glasgow or somewhere more exotic she would often say ‘your team’s just not very good, is it son?’. Most of the time she was right, leaving me desperate to defend the national team after another disappointment. Well mum, look at us now. This one’s for you, too.
There will be plenty of time for reflection ahead of our group games, with UEFA enforced entry times up to three hours before kick off meaning that there will be lots to ponder after taking our seats at Hampden and Wembley.
Friends, family members, colleagues and fellow fans you only ever see at the football will all be in the thoughts of those lucky enough to be inside the stadium on Monday.
There’s a feeling of positivity around the place again, with a couple of decent showings in the warm up matches helping to create a sense of hope that we’re not simply there to make up the numbers and make some noise.
With two ‘home’ games and a squad filled with household names there’s a chance we might actually sneak out of the groups for the first time in our wee nation’s history. What a boost that would give the whole country after more than a year of Covid related restrictions.
In Andy Robertson we have a leader who is living the dream. A normal, hard-working lad who has made it right to the top and who says leading Scotland out at Hampden at a major finals will be the highlight of his career.
It’s a young, dynamic and down to earth group of players who are starting to create plenty of reasons for fans to make their way back to Hampden – here’s hoping this summer is just the start.
They say the hard times make the good times better. Well together we’ve endured our fair share of hard times, so let’s make sure we make the most of it this time.
Wherever you’re watching on Monday afternoon; at Hampden, at home, at work, at school or elsewhere – this one’s for you.
Editor: My thanks to Scott Johnston for kindly sharing the incredible photo of Hampden in the sun which accompanies this article.