TWENTY Two and a half years, 120 minutes and fecking penalties!
Putting my own spin on Stewart Milne’s famous 2014 League Cup Final post-match interview was the only way I could summarise the emotions of last night as Scotland FINALLY ended their long wait for a place at a major international finals.
As an Aberdeen fan, that quote sticks in my mind like a sore thumb and can relate to the relief of that day The Dons ended a 19 year wait for a major trophy. But the emotion I felt after that game does not come remotely close to the feeling I felt when David Marshall saved Aleksander Mitrovic’s penalty last night that sealed Scotland’s path to Euro 2020, now being played in 2021.
Last night wasn’t just relief at ending a long wait to see Scotland qualify, last night was pure joy, euphoria and shock. It still hasn’t sunk in that Steve Clarke has guided us to our first finals since 1998.
The last time we were at a major finals, the France ’98 World Cup, I was 17 and unable to drink (legally). I will be 40 come the Euro 2020 Finals, meaning that my 20’s and 30’s have passed without seeing us at a major tournament. I still remember the hype of the nation leading up to that tournament and the opening game against Brazil, to say that it reached fever pitch would be an understatement. There was barely a shop window that didn’t have saltires or “good luck Scotland” messages, TV stations had multiple preview specials, businesses sold out whatever merchandise they had, and schools closed early for that France ’98 curtain raiser.
Now a new generation will finally get that opportunity, and the impact of Scotland qualifying for the delayed Euro 2020 Finals should not be underestimated. There is the potential for businesses to get back on track after a difficult year as the demand for commemorative merchandise will be sky high. As things stand, Hampden is a host venue for the Finals, including two of Scotland’s matches against Croatia and Czech Republic, and if that goes ahead then interest will be even higher. Throw in a Wembley trip to face the Auld Enemy of England and it’s a marketing dream!
Of course, there is uncertainty caused by the impact of the Coronavirus outbreak. Full capacity crowds are unlikely to be permitted unless numbers drop dramatically, and pubs may only be allowed minimal numbers at restricted hours to let people into watch the games. There is still the possibility that UEFA abandone the multi-nation event and move the tournament to one country, rumoured to be Russia, so the dream of having an international football tournament on our doorstep could vanish overnight.
Wherever the finals are, and however many fans are allowed into the stadiums, it doesn’t take away from the fact that Scotland will be playing in their first major finals in, what will be, 23 years. Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether or not fans will be allowed to travel, go to games or watch in the house, it does not take away from the excitement and anticipation of the finals. You can be sure that the mainstream media and podcasts will be all over this, looking to put out their own series of pre-tournament specials. I can assure you that the Famous Tartan Army Magazine and SFF Podcast will be no exception and that I will be a driver in ensuring we get a great variety of interviews lined up, from former players and managers to journalists and fans.
I have been a Scotland Supporters Club member since 2004 along with my mum and sister, my niece Megan and son Callum are also part of this club. As failed qualification became a regular occurrence, some people kept telling me “you’re wasting your money” and “people like you are part of the problem.” Last night justified why I pay up my SSC membership every two years, because it meant everything to me to see Scotland qualify. When you sign up to the SSC and be part of the Tartan Army, club politics and grievances with the governing bodies get shoved to one side. We sign up to support the TEAM and not the SFA that some perceive. For those who suffered Georgia (twice), Norway, Macedonia, 4-6-0, Boozegate and Kazakhstan, that penalty shootout win over Serbia was for them.
It may have taken 120 minutes and penalties against both Israel and Serbia, but that is immaterial. All that matters is that 22 and a half years of waiting is over for us long suffering Scotland fans to see us qualify for a major finals. Ultimately, we could go down to three defeats in the finals, but the fact we’re there is enough. Hopefully Steve Clarke can take Scotland to more uncharted territory by being the first squad to reach the knockout stages of a major finals, and if the squad carry their momentum and team spirit then there’s every reason to believe that can happen.
For now, all I can say is, roll on Monday 14 June 2021 when Scotland play their first major tournament match since the France ’98 World Cup.