IT HAS been a long time coming – 23 years, to be exact.
On Monday the Scotland men’s football team will play their opening game at the Euro 2020 tournament – their first major competition since the 1998 World Cup.
With social distancing greatly reducing stadium capacity, tickets for Scotland’s three group games – which includes a match against England – are like gold dust.
But a group of five men from Brae have landed tickets for the games, which will take place at Hampden in Glasgow and at Wembley in London.
The group – John Gold, Addie Manson, James Milne, Ryan Sutherland and Ryan Tulloch – have been following Scotland at home and abroad together during the last few years, proudly taking with them a ‘Brae Shetland Tartan Army’ flag – as well as kilts, sporrans and hats.
Their trips together have seen them visit countries such as Russia, Hungary and Albania, and their loyalty points gained with the Scotland Supporters Club enabled them to secure tickets.
Addie has the longest connection with attending Scotland games, which stretches back to the mid 1970s when he was in the crowd for an England match.
He was also at the infamous Scotland v England match at Wembley in 1977 which saw the Tartan Army invade the pitch after full-time, breaking one of the goal frames in the process.
“I was on the pitch…but I didn’t break the crossbar,” Addie laughs.
He went to domestic Scotland games when he was younger but commitments like family and a mortgage saw him halt his trips south, until being encouraged in the last few years to hit the road again.
His daughter’s pony Dibbles has also affectionally become something of a mascot for the Brae Tartan Army.
“On one of our trips, Addie got a call saying Dibbles had bolted. During the day word got around the fans, on the odd occasion there would be tannoy announcements about it. It stemmed from there – badges and flags with Dibbles have been made up.”
It is fair to say Scotland’s participation as one of the 24 teams at Euro 2020, meanwhile, should not be underestimated.
The country’s failure to qualify for any competitions since the 1998 World Cup has gnawed away at a generation of footballers.
But a penalty shootout victory over Serbia in November saw Scotland enter through the back door to qualify.
The Brae group watched it unfold at the Lights bar – but due to Covid guidelines there was no sound coming from the TV, creating a “surreal” atmosphere.
“It was just fantastic, though – that feeling,” James says. “A penalty shootout as well. It was just a momentous occasion. It was a pity we weren’t there.”
It has been a long 23 years, which has included a few near misses – the loss against Italy in 2007, for instance, leaves a sour taste.
One of the Brae group, John, was lucky enough to be in France for the 1998 World Cup. Although Scotland failed to progress out of the group stage, the atmosphere was “just amazing”, he says.
“It was like every Scotland trip. Excellent, apart from the football. I never thought it would be another 23 years before I get to another national championship.”
John said he has been following Scotland since 1996, and it has seen he travel to countries as far flung as Japan.
“Moldova was a brilliant trip, because they had a big wine festival on at the time,” he smiles.
“You had to get a visa to get into Moldova, but the wife at the office had said to us ‘if you say you’re here for the wine festival, you’ll get a free visa for a week’. We did actually go to the wine festival, and they looked after us brilliantly there.”
“You spent thousands every year following them everywhere,” he adds. “You give up your own holidays to follow Scotland. But I’ve been to countries where I would never have gone to, and enjoyed it.”
The match experience at the Euros will be unusual, the atmosphere no doubt stunted with people having to sit apart and hugging and high fives technically not allowed.
“We are next to each other, but we’re a couple of seats apart. That won’t be as good, when you’re four nil up against England and you can’t hug your pal,” Milne laughs.
When it comes to atmosphere, Ryan Sutherland happily recalls a trip to Paris in 2007 which saw Scotland upset heavyweights France 1-0.
There was a march through Paris from the Eiffel Tower to the stadium before the game, while Scotland fans managed to blag more tickets than expected inside the stadium.
“I’m 41, and I’ve been in this for 20 years now, and this is my first chance at getting to something,” he adds. “We’ve had a few close shaves over the years, nearly getting there.”
He also remembers an Italian TV presenter getting “blootered” on whiskey at the 2008 Italy game in Glasgow – who ended up going live dressed as a jester.
Ryan is having to miss the final group match at the Euros to work offshore, but he is set to make the most of it while he is down.
“The fitba has never been great through the years, but the party when you get there is brilliant,” he says.
So what are the chances of success for Scotland? Even getting out of their group – which also features England, Croatia and Czech Republic – would be an achievement.
But with decent options in the squad the last-minute hope and optimism is simmering away.
“I genuinely think we’ve got a chance,” James says. “We’ve always got a chance.”
John, meanwhile, has got himself covered should Scotland progress into the knockout rounds.
“My flight back, I’ve just booked a flexifare – I went for the full price one, thinking that if we do qualify then at least I can change the flight.”
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