The Five Billion Person Party

Notes of a wandering American soccer fan

Scotland, oh, Scotland

Posted by steigs on December 2, 2007

Scotland doesn’t count as a minnow, not really, despite some hard years lately.  But they were going to be my Euro 2008 team.  I was lucky enough to spend most of ’04 in Edinburgh and was charmed by the place.  I root for Glasgow’s Celtic — a story for another day — and have picked up some Scottish tendencies, like rooting against England.  When the Scots were placed in a qualifying group with the World Cup champions (Italy), finalist (France), and a quarter-finalist (Ukraine) with only two to make it to the tournament proper, I assumed all was lost.  But the Italians got off to a weak start, perhaps enjoying that post-World Cup honeymoon, and the Scots beat France 1-0 in Glasgow early on.  Hmm.  Respectable.

Ukraine had some troubles.  Then the Scots beat France 1-0 in Paris!  Suddenly, they could see qualification.  After a stumble in Georgia (the country), it all came down to a game in Glasgow against Italy.  Defeat the world champions and qualify.  Lose and you’re out.  Draw and leave your fate in the hands of the Ukrainians (who played France a few days later).

Along with a host of expat Scots, I gathered at my local soccer bar to watch the game.

When we saw that it was, as they put it, pissing rain in Glasgow, the crowd cheered.

Surely, the Scots would know better how to play in such foul conditions!

Ah, no.  This is Scotland, a land filled with noble failures…

Italy scored almost immediately, thanks to clueless defending, and dominated the opening stages of the game.   Gradually, the Scots fought back, almost equalizing just before the half.  Still, 1-0 was the half-time score.  The Scots continued to struggle, as the rain poured on and on, the pitch starting to get soggy.  Finally, an ugly goal tied it around the 65th minute.  Hope!  The Scots were charging forward, looking for a winner.  About minute 80, after a nice bit of passing, they had it — Mcfadden (scored of the winner in Paris) wide open in front of the net and…he misses.

In stoppage time, as we comfort ourselves with the idea that maybe France will falter in Kiev in a few days, an Italian player challenges Scottish defender Alan Hutton near the Scottish goal, wiping him out.  A clear foul, not that it will help.  Wait!  Did the referee call the foul ON Hutton?  For what?  Being in the way?

On the ensuing free kick the Italians score, clinching the victory, eliminating Scotland.  Sigh.

As Alex Massie describes it over at the Debatable Land:

If ever anyone asks you to explain the quintessence of the Scottish footballing experience you need merely point them towards this afternoon’s game at Hampden Park. Every essential element was duly present. Hope. Fear. Calamity. Melodrama. Passion. Joy. Purgatory. Glory. And finally, that familiar friend Disaster. As it always seems to be, watching Scotland play football was to hop on a switchback that would take you to the top of the highest mountain – with just a momentary pause to admire the splendour of the view and the freshness of the air – before plunging back into the deepest, darkest valleys of despair. And then repeat the process just for fun. Whatever else it might be, it’s one hell of a ride.

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