Scotland as a nation erupted in joy last night as an embarrassing twenty-two-year record of failure to qualify for a major international football tournament was banished to the past.
I appreciate it is only a football game and we are in the midst of a serious health crisis claiming lives daily and causing social and economic chaos but the incredible efforts of the Scotland players on the pitch in Belgrade, Serbia lifted the spirits of the whole country. Scorer of our excellent goal Ryan Christie did us all proud in his emotional interview immediately after victory in the penalty shoot-out with his words and tears illustrating just how much the triumph meant to him, the team and our country.
🗣 “We deserve it, we’ve been through so many years”
Ryan Christie gives an emotional post-match interview after Scotland’s qualification trying to hold back the tears 🏴 ❤️ pic.twitter.com/MbkBHTmo0R
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) November 12, 2020
To their shame the BBC failed to secure the rights to show live to everyone in Scotland and Northern Ireland their respective European Championship qualifiers but Sky TV recognised the importance of the games and seized the public relations opportunity to make the game accessible to everyone rather than solely to Sky subscribers.
Millions of Scots were glued to TV screens in every corner of Scotland mostly gathered in hope than expectation given our twenty-two-year record of glorious failures and the fact the Serbia side we were facing up to on their own patch were much more fancied and stronger on paper than us. They are jam-packed with multi-million pound stars. Their centre forward Aleksander Mitrovic moved to Fulham FC from Newcastle FC two years ago in a transfer deal worth £27 million while the Scottish centre back tasked with marking him throughout the game moved from Livingston FC to Motherwell FC in a free transfer last year and has a current transfer market value of only £450,000. The substitute Serbia brought on to save them from automatic elimination from the tournament in normal time, Luka Jovic, cost Real Madrid £50 million last year, a remarkable transfer fee for a twenty-two year old player.
Football is Played on Grass Not on Paper – Effort is Everything Sometimes
However, football is played on grass, not on paper, and the gulf in market values between the players was crushed by the relentless effort, commitment, and skills of the Scotland team. Declan Gallagher may be worth less than half a million pounds in transfer valuation but last night he marked the £27 million-pound Mitrovic out of the game. Fellow Motherwell player and free transfer Stephen O’Donnell at right wing back for Scotland knocked the multi-million pound stars off the ball for fun while Scotland’s midfielders displayed enormous stamina, courage, skill and guile to play Serbia off the park for almost the entire game. When Ryan Christie guided a sublime shot in off the post to nestle in the Serbia net on 52 minutes it was no more than we deserved. From then on, we ran Serbia ragged and captain Andy Robertson really should have put the tie to bed when played in by the warrior that is John McGinn, but his shot was too high. That the Liverpool left back, and Champions League winner failed to hit the target with the goal gaping illustrated the tension and high stakes of the game.
Scotland to a man were superb. Going into this game with the hopes of a nation on their shoulders and acutely aware of the 22 year absence from major tournaments they played like the team that has been unbeaten in the last eight games and were determined not to be overawed or let down their country. Typically, however they did it the hard way. The substitutions made with only eight minutes to go disrupted our rhythm and with less than 60 seconds remaining Serbia snatched an equaliser from a corner. Young McTominay of Manchester United, only 23yrs of age, played superbly all night but momentarily lost his man from the set-piece and tragedy could have struck. The game went into an arduous 30 minutes of extra-time and clearly Scotland were tired and a little ragged but they dug deep and a world class save from keeper David Marshall was to see us through to a penalty shoot-out and set Marshall up for an even bigger prize.
In the second penalty shoot-out in successive games Scotland’s ten nominated takers all stuck the ball in the net with aplomb. And for the second shoot-out in succession our hero was Marshall. Just as his save against Israel in the last match set us up for qualification so his incredible save of Mitrovic’s kick, Serbia’s fifth, sparked joy and jubilation. For the first time since 1988 we are through to a major footballing tournament. The nation was united in joy and manager Steve Clarke merits special mention. He took over last May with the chances of qualification looking slim and his forst few games in charge ended with disappointing results but his down to earth approach and acute football brain prevailed to deliver an unbeaten run that now stretches to nine with 6 victories and 3 draws. Not since 1930 has a Scotland team went on such a run. Clarke is clearly a man able to communicate well, motivate well and set his teams up to be difficult to beat. He did that with great success at Kilmarnock and turned down bigger club game offers to take on the Scotland job. He said he hoped to inspire smiles all across Scotland in difficult times and achieved that goal in spades.
Through to Play Against England Again – This Time We Will Win
Scotland have qualified for three European Championship tournaments but have failed to advance beyond the first round there either. Our most recent participation was at the 1996 tournament, where the Netherlands progressed instead of us based on goals scored. I remember watching the Scotland games that year while holidaying in Cuba. We stayed in a hotel in the village of San Antonia and were supposed to transfer to the beautiful beaches of Varadero, but we opted to stay where we were as the staff and locals were superb hosts. As the Cubans gathered around a small TV screen to watch the Scotland v England game that year, they were confused by the fact both countries were part of Britain. I gave a short speech come history lesson and highlighted Britain’s imperialist past and drew comparisons with the exploitative activities and imperialism of the US in relation to Cuba and the rest of the world. In a matter of ten minutes or so I had them convinced who to support and thereafter Scotland was their team. Sadly, we lost the game and failed to progress in the tournament, but we did win new supporters thousands of miles away.
Next year the Covid19 delayed 2020 European Championship takes place and once again Scotland will be there and once again one of our opponents will be England. After 22 years being deprived of qualification for a major tournament this time, we are not just going to compete we are going to progress to the next round for the first time and beat England in the process. Scotland is back. The Lions who represent us on the park are roaring again and the smiles on our faces today will be as nothing compared to the laughs and tears of joy that will cascade across the country on the evening of 18th June 2021 when we take on and conquer the mighty but smug England team. Bring it on. We’re On The March With Stevie’s Army.