Though it’s been a while since we’ve been coming down this particular road. And no one from this eyrie will be milling with the Tartan Army throng in Trafalgar Square.
No matter: the last time I was this excited about a football match was in 2011 when the Glorious Ayrshire Killie reached the League Cup final.
There’s nothing like a match against your closest neighbours and sporting rivals to whet your whistle and frankly, it’s been 14 years too long since the last one.
Being of a certain age, I can remember the famous Wembley victory in 1977. As the folklore testifies, I grew up treasuring a piece of the turf which grew in our garden. As every other child in the village and indeed, Scotland did.
For 1977 was the year that our menfolk departed en masse to the match. It was akin to them all going off to war – and some of them treated it so, such was the solemnity of their preparations. It seemed like every car, bus and van departed in convoy, horns tooting, bodies, flags and scarves waving enthusiastically through open windows and sun roofs. Tumbleweed blew through our streets that weekend, the pubs were bereft, women and weans left behind to their own devices.
My dad and his pals were no exception. Despite incessant pleading, I could not go: football was not a place for wee lassies in those days. In any event, a trip to Wembley was man’s work. I watched the match – I can still see Gordon MacQueen rising to head the ball, knowing it was goal bound even before he struck it. What a win.
The return of the conquering heroes was a much more lowkey affair, largely due to their all coming back in dribs and drabs. My memory might be failing me here, but I’m pretty sure wir ain lot were posted missing in dispatches. They came back at least a couple of days later than expected – when the beer money ran out.
They also had managed to lose many of their possessions, including their clothes. Trust me, the sight of grown men emerging from a car dressed only in four days’ beard growth and extravagantly patterned kaftans is not one that can be erased readily. Where they got them from, no one could remember. What had happened to their own stuff, well no one could remember that either.
Ventures to Scotland matches have always barely been about the football. The banter, the nonsense, the japes, high jinks and tales to retell live far longer than the goals and the occasional flowing passing moves.
Except when it comes to England. Then, only the football matters. And only a win will do.
The only time I’ve seen us play the Auld Enemy was at Hampden in the 1999 European Championship play-offs. The match was scheduled for the Big Yin’s birthday. He had attended every home match since the age of four – every dismal friendly, every miserable loss, every glorious draw. It was therefore imperative that tickets were obtained.
At that time, home tickets were always available, not least through Safeway’s sponsorship so joining the then Travel Club was an unnecessary expense. But of course, everyone wanted to be at this match and briefs were scarce. Only by calling in every favour owed and leaning on every connection ever made did my dad produce the goods a few days before the game. A handover in Moffat was also required, necessitating a cumulative round road trip of 400 miles. Who says football doesn’t matter?
Two seats numbered 13 and 14 – it’s an omen, cried the patriot pop. And so, travelling to Hampden in supreme confidence that a win had been written in the fortuitious numbering of seats, armed with a box of birthday cake to celebrate a great sporting occasion at half time, what could possibly go wrong?
Paul Scholes, that’s what.
Worst. birthday present. ever. I’m not sure he’s forgiven me yet.
Did we have tickets for the return leg when Scotland almost snatched victory from the jaws of defeat? Dinna be daft.
And so to the game tonight. Apparently, someone who clearly knows little about football has designated it a friendly. Ha!
The Big Yin is ensconced in the US and will be oblivious, but at ten, it’s time to make a man of Boy Wonder and introduce him to the character building agonies of supporting a team which is not all that impressive, most of the time. It’s his national duty, after all. Who knows, he too might wear a kaftan one day.
So here’s to the return of a great sporting occasion. And forever travelling in misplaced optimism and expectation, here’s to a famous victory over the Auld Enemy.
And here’s to making sure that next time, we’ll be coming down the road with the rest of the Tartan Army.