The Ups and Downs of Following Scotland
It’s not an exaggeration to say results like Saturday evening are enough to create a generation of Scotland fans and grip them for life.
50,000 people packed into Hampden Park to witness the very best of supporting Scotland as Scott McTominay bundled home the winner against Israel to send us four points clear in a play-off place for the Qatar World Cup.
On the other hand, performances like Tuesday night in Tórshavn are sometimes enough to make you reconsider - if there was 72 hours to sum up how it feels to be part of the Tartan Army, that was it.
But let’s stick with the positives.
It’s six points where we needed them and on another day we might be reflecting on a pair of draws. On the back of the summer it’s been a hugely significant six months for the men’s national team and Steve Clarke.
Sensible ticket pricing, two Saturday home games in a row and a run of positive results have meant the momentum of the Euros has had the opportunity to grow for those who took an interest – many for the first time – in the Scotland set up which has captured the imagination of football fans across the country.
Every Scotland fan remembers the players, results or campaigns which gave them the bug for following the national team. It’s those memories which inspire us to carry on through the bad times in the hope that one day we’ll return to the joy of those first glorious moments.
Saturday’s last-minute winner and the scenes of celebration which followed the full-time whistle will, without doubt, be that sparking moment for a new crop of fans. They’ll look back on McTominay’s goal in 20 years’ time and remember what encouraged them to follow Scotland’s men to obscure corners of the globe.
Then they’ll probably struggle to remember the not-so-emphatic 1-0 win in the Faroe Islands which followed, it was just one of those nights.
Despite all the tough results in recent qualifying campaigns it’s memories of McFadden’s screamer against France, Lee McCulloch’s excellent finish from set-piece magic against Ukraine and Barry Ferguson’s dubiously offside goal against Italy which spur me on, they remind me that following Scotland can be worth it and give me the hope that it’ll be worth it again soon.
My dad queued up outside the local Safeway to secure Hampden tickets for a World Cup 2006 qualifier against Italy, Kenny Miller nodded us in front against the mighty Italians to give an 11-year-old me something to hold on to.
Cannavaro, Nesta, Zambrotta, De Rossi, Camoranesi, Gattuso, Pirlo, Totti, Vieri. Our brilliant wee country took them on and nearly won. It was enough to capture my attention and keep me coming back.
For today’s fans of a similar age and younger, the recent accomplishments of the national team will be their Kenny Miller moment. Sorry kids, you’re in it for life.
Qualification for the European Championships was an era-defining achievement, for those months between David Marshall’s heroics in Belgrade and our three games in the tournament the country came together with pride and hope for the first time in 23 years.
Families were decked out in brand new kits, flags were flying in classrooms the length and breadth of Scotland and young football fans picked their heroes ahead of a summer where the men’s national team were involved on the big stage at long last.
To follow that up with some excellent and hugely important results has ensured all of the good feeling has not gone to waste – for a generation of new fans the sense of value in supporting Scotland has been given an extended opportunity to have a lasting effect.
In Tierney, Robertson, McGinn, McTominay and co we have a talented group of really likeable footballers performing at the highest level. These players want to be involved, they very rarely call off and when they arrive for Scotland duty they give it their all for the cause.
Players have recently commented on the fact they can’t wait to get together again. That good feeling and excitement is starting to rub off on the fans, too.
The reaction on the pitch following Saturday’s winning goal showed exactly how much it means to this squad – it’s a moment which will never get old and should be repeated for years to come. That’s how good it feels following Scotland.
The lap of honour was a celebration, a pat on the back and a thank you all rolled into one. We were all back together again and it felt great.
The famous Hampden atmosphere has for too long been an anecdote, harking back to the Euro 2008 campaign and the days of regular Saturday 3pm sell outs.
With a few notable exceptions, Griffiths’ day in the sun against England in 2017 and big games against Germany and Poland in 2015, Hampden Park has for years been characterised by half empty stands and an atmosphere to match.
The second half on Saturday was everything Hampden is supposed to be, and it can’t be written off as a cliche to suggest the immense backing of 50,000 Scotland fans helped drag the team over the line to deliver a massive result.
For the first time in years fans weren’t scrambling for the exits at full time with their chins dragging on the floor. Supporters stayed behind en masse to enjoy the moment; singing, dancing, clapping and appreciating a brilliant Hampden night.
The sense of joy was palpable. Many of those who were in the stadium on Saturday evening would have and should have enjoyed the Euros had it not been for restricted attendances, meaning there was an outpouring of jubilation at full time which went beyond simply celebrating Scott McTominay’s winner.
For some fans the international breaks are an unwelcome distraction from club football – that’s easy to understand when the national team aren’t particularly successful – but things are different now.
Forget what the media have been telling you for years. Supporting Scotland really matters to people. It still means a huge amount and recent relative success means it’s going to matter to new people now too. Welcome aboard.
It’s not to say the current group aren’t capable of disappointing us - they very nearly did on Tuesday night - but it wouldn’t be the same without the ups and downs of following Scotland.
Hopefully these players have inspired a new crop of the Tartan Army to get involved and carry the baton onto the next major finals and beyond.
Supporters old and new should be welcomed back into the Scotland fold and encouraged to tell their friends. A well supported Scotland national football team is healthy for the whole country.
We’ve raised the standards and the expectations – long may it continue.