ON THE ROAD: Hellos, Goodbyes, and a New Generation of Scotland Fans

ON THE ROAD: Hellos, Goodbyes, and a New Generation of Scotland Fans

Friday night, at least for your disintegrating correspondent, was once payday and date night.

The first offered a pittance that was so insulting it invited a slap on the face. The latter offered brief, occasional hope followed by inevitable disappointment although, thankfully, only the metaphorical slap in the face.

It was a time of assignations on Boots Corner in Glasgow city centre followed, sometimes with indecent haste, by an irrevocable farewell in the shadow of bar or nightclub.

A time of hellos and goodbyes. The trick was to elongate the timespan between both events. In this, as in so much else, I regularly failed.

It was, however, a privilege to visit an old flame on Friday past. It was an honour to effect an introduction and sound an abrupt call to the nostalgia of departure.

The introduction may be addressed first. The expanses outside Hampden echoed with the hyped-up, hyena-like calls of gangs of weans. Loosely attached to harassed adults, these children had been fed on a diet of expectation and high-grade sugar. They had also just completed a journey that would have tested the skills of Indiana Jones.

Teenage Scotland fan Lewis Rooney at Hampden, with his great uncle Hugh MacDonald

Scotland fans take a selfie in the pre-match fan zone Saltire Square

Scotland fans take a selfie in the pre-match fan zone Saltire Square

It was simply wonderful, but hardly unexpected, for the Grand Vizier of Roadworks to decree that Hampden should be as inaccessible as Everest on the day of a 24-hour Sherpa strike. The roadworks were placed like booby traps in surrounding areas. The damage to punctuality was severe and, shortly before kick-off, one could spot a parent in the concourse simply by the 1,000-yard stare on his or her face.

My companion was and is no longer a wean. But it was his debut at a Scotland match. Lewis Rooney, at 15, was being conscripted into the Tartan Army (Actually Going to Games Regiment). He was judged ready for this brutal assignment by dint of being a Falkirk fan. As a mate said pre-match: ‘This has given him superpowers of resilience. Nothing can hurt him now.’

Lewis, of course, gently reminded me – not more than every 15 minutes – that the Bairns had enjoyed an invincible season. He wore the sunny optimism of one who has not yet been cut and scarred by the boys in blue. He carried, too, a sensible realism about the Scotland team and their sporting prospects. As his great uncle, it is my duty to knock that out of him.

In the meantime, Steve Clarke’s side offered an introductory lesson, taking a two-goal lead and losing it dramatically as Craig Gordon’s farewell took on a grisly hue. Lewis, though, is still sober and insightful on football. He identified the best performers with a practiced ease, spotted the deficiencies and philosophically expounded the truth at international level – particularly beneath the Big Boys – that it can be a matter of make do and not really mend.

‘We played well in parts, poorly in other parts and it was disappointing not to win,’ he said as we meditated under the sheen of an aurora borealis of tail lights on Aikenhead Road.

‘I will be back,’ he said. The hello now threatens to become a permanent relationship.

Goodbyes can be poignant but, in Scotland, we also demand that they sometimes be absurd. ‘That’s the word I would use. That and embarrassing,’ said Alan Rough, cavorting on a golf course in Portugal on Friday instead of taking his medicine as a legend of Scotland battles won, lost and drawn. The former goalkeeper was referring to the send-off from Hampden before the 1978 World Cup. It is said that 25,000-30,000 came to the national stadium to bid their heroes farewell. Only 10,000 more turned up on Friday to watch an actual match.

Tartan Army take part in a display before team's final preparations for Germany

Tartan Army take part in a display before team’s final preparations for Germany

Youngsters are in no doubt about their favourites at Hampden Park

Youngsters are in no doubt about their favourites at Hampden Park

Excitement builds in the fans zone which has been dubbed Saltire Square

Excitement builds in the fans zone which has been dubbed Saltire Square

‘I found it all a bit odd, even at the time,’ said Rough of the fondest of farewells in 1978. ‘We were all on this open-top bus and were waving as the fans sang and had their flags and scarves held out. I was thinking to myself that we had done nothing yet but we were being praised. I suppose you could look back and say: “Well, that didn’t work out so well”.’

This is an understatement of wondrous proportions. By the time, Scotland were ready to fly back from Argentina, several players had attempted to escape their hotel to visit a casino and had been arrested by security men, one player had failed a drugs test and been sent home early and the Tartan Army were looking to replace an open-top bus with a tumbril. Oh, and Scotland had failed to qualify from the group, being gubbed by Peru and holding Iran to a draw.

It is pointless now to assert that the results in Argentina – a draw and a win (against eventual finalists Holland) in three games – would be seized in the coming week in Germany and see the 2024 version of the national team achieve history. Argentina ’78 was of its time.

A colourfully-clad youngster can't wait for the action to begin at Hampden

A colourfully-clad youngster can’t wait for the action to begin at Hampden

The Saltire flies as the teams prepare for the 'farewell' friendly at Hampden

The Saltire flies as the teams prepare for the ‘farewell’ friendly at Hampden

If the send-off was daftly euphoric, the arrival home was blackly comic. The flight from Argentina alighted in London to allow the ‘Anglos’ – those who played with English clubs – to disembark and head home. The remaining seven players (Rough, Sandy Jardine, Stuart Kennedy, Tom Forsyth, Derek Johnstone, Bobby Clark and Joe Harper) headed on to Glasgow airport.

‘It was a sombre flight and there was not too much talk,’ said Rough. ‘But as we landed and taxied towards the terminal, Ally (MacLeod, team manager) suddenly said: ”Look we have a welcoming committee”. It was more like a hanging squad. I kid you not, there were people on the tarmac and they didn’t want autographs. It was all so different from the departure.’

Scotland had left from Prestwick airport and Rough was then staying in Newton Mearns. ‘It was incredible,’ he said of the departure. ‘All down the dual carriageway, even crossing the Fenwick Moor, there were people standing waving flags and wishing us well.’

On Friday, the joy and the angst were more closely linked. The goodbye goodwill had reached a crescendo when Clarke bowed to a hitherto inconspicuous emotional side and brought on Craig Gordon in goal, only for the poor chap to quickly pick the ball out of the net before conceding the penalty that ensured the draw. It was personally unfortunate but not nationally catastrophic. Argentina ’78 has the rights on that designation.

As Lewis foraged at half-time for food for his great uncle, there was time for reflection on a personal introduction to the national team at Hampden. It can be pinpointed accurately. On April 16, 1969, I stood in the schoolboys’ enclosure. It was situated just down the slope from where I took my seat in the main stand on Friday.

It no longer exists and deserves a brief description. It was basically a pit where children were herded through entrances that could have doubled as slits for archers. It seemed at eye level with the pitch but it’s hard to be definitive now. I do remember Gerd Muller scoring and Franz Beckenbauer playing for West Germany. My favourite player, Bobby Murdoch, scored the equaliser so it has that mixture of transitory excitement and ultimate disappointment that was to accompany one along football’s rocky road.

My history, though, is limited compared to Brian Jamieson. At 83, he bounds around Hampden on matchdays, spotting problems and solving them with a mixture of skill, experience and good humour. He is dubbed an operations co-ordinator but is really a national treasure.

This young fan will be roaring his team on against Germany, Switzerland and Hungary

This young fan will be roaring his team on against Germany, Switzerland and Hungary

The big screen at Hampden says it all as fans prepare to embark on their journey to Euro finals

The big screen at Hampden says it all as fans prepare to embark on their journey to Euro finals

‘I can give you my first Scotland match easily,’ he said, hardly breaking stride in his patrol of the stadium .‘It was 1957 and we beat Switzerland 3-2. Archie Roberston scored and Tommy Ring played, too. As a Clyde supporter, they were two of my favourite players.’

The match on November 6 was a qualifier for the World Cup in Sweden. It signalled Scotland were on their way … to finish bottom of the group in the finals with one point.

We were back before the postcards. It is what we do. Maybe this time will be different. This hope is what will sustain us all in the coming weeks, from the baying weans in the concourse to teenage Lewis in the stand and to a veteran campaigner who is now preparing his knapsack for Munich, Cologne and Stuttgart.

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