Glorious Losers Nae Mair?
A recording ae this piece can be heard here.
The last time Scotland qualified fur a major fitba competition wis aw the wiy back at France ’98. No only that, we opened the hale tournie wae oor game against the mighty Brazil. Ah still mind running hame fae Primary School tae watch that game (although kick aff wis at hauf 5 so ah wis in little danger ae being late). Maist fowk probably willnae believe ye if ye say we wur unlucky no tae take a point fae that game, wae a late own-goal by Tam Boyd making the difference.
Despite that solid showing, Scotland wur ultimately papped oot in the group stages — par fur the course, but ah dinnae hink anybdy thought oor exile would last ower twenty year.
Later oan at the tournie in 1998, nine year auld me wis enjoying a caravan holiday in France wae ma parents. We wur still there fur the final, where France — the hosts — faced Brazil, Scotland’s vanquishers. Even though they’d beaten us in the groups, ma faither held nae grudges and decided tae show the world whur his loyalties lay by positioning a Brazil basebaw cap oan oor caravan’s windaesill. His heroes wur still Pele and Sócrates. Ah hink he got aggro aff some ae the locals because the next day he rushed oot tae a sports shop and bought a French basebaw cap. It wis reverently placed next tae the Brazil original tae show he wis really jist a misguided neutral.
“May the best team win!”
Wae the locals placated, we wur allowed intae the nearby pub tae watch the final and France’s ultimate triumph. Ah still remember the chants ae “Allez Les Bleus!” and the wild celebrations at each ae the three goals. Even ma faither put his latent affection fur Brazil tae wan side and got swept up in the fervour. In 1998, France wurnae the world-beaters we ken the day. But lookin at their team wae hindsight, it wis chock full ae legends: Zidane, Barthez, Henry, Vieira, Desailly. How could they possibly lose?
It wis amazin tae be in a country at the very moment that country became World Cup winners. Unforgettable but by nae means unrepeatable. Ah chased that same buzz some 16 years later when ma girlfriend and ah hopped oan a plane tae Cologne jist in time tae see Germany face Argentina in the final ae the 2014 World Cup.
Oan the day ae the final, we went doon Zülpicher Straße — Cologne’s “perty mile” — and crammed intae a random bar. It wis a long, tense game that meandered intae extra time. Germany felt like the underdugs since Argentina had the explosive Lionel Messi in their arsenal. But a late goal fur Germany in the hunner and thirteenth minute sealed the deal and wance again, ah wis in the right place at the right time.
Ah pair ae Scots celebrated through the streets as if we wur German through-and-through. And fur that nicht, we wur. “Glory hunters!” ye might cry. Aye, well, yer probably right. But it wis cheaper tae go tae Germany than it wis Argentina.
Noo, minds turn tae Euro 2020 in the summer ae 2021. Nae need tae pick anither low-ranking minnow tae support because Scotland are back at lang last! Well, the men’s team that is — the women’s team huv shown their male counterparts how it’s done fur years, wae little fuss and even less fanfare.
The excitement ae qualifying wis incredible enough, even wae everybdy locked away in their hames. Ah must’ve watched the highlights oan Youtube a hunner times. At first it wis hard tae unnerstaun why it meant so much to me that Scotland had qualified but eventually ah realised: it made me feel nine years auld again.
So, ah’ll make sure tae stay in Scotland fur the hale competition because ye never know. Could lightning strike thrice? Maybe ma celebrations at the final whistle dinnae huv tae be vicarious. Could ah be in the right place at the right time, again?
But really, jist being there is guid enough fur me.
This was written as part of the Scottish Book Trust’s “Your Stories” competition, which this year focuses on the theme of “Celebration”. It’s an unofficial entry though, as I’d already submitted my piece “Mindin”.