It’s S*** Being Scottish is the name of our latest podcast, where three members combed over the Scotland situation from a number of different angles. Below one of our other contributors, Andy Harrow, gives his reasons for giving up his Tartan Army membership recently. It really is s**** being Scottish just now.
I’m 32 years old and all my Scotland memories are tinged with disappointment. A spirited draw with the Netherlands and a win against Switzerland at Euro ’96 ultimately counted for nothing; the unfortunate defeat to Brazil and capitulation to Morocco at World Cup ’98; the 2-2 draw at home to 10-man Belgium that scuppered our chances of another tournament. Even the happy memory of my first live Scotland game – the 1-0 win at Hampden against France – is retro-actively clouded by the knowledge that we couldn’t get passed Georgia later in the campaign.
I’m used to disappointment as a Scotland supporter. I’ve had a lot of time to get used to it. And yet, I currently feel about as disinterested with the national team – and the elements that surround it – as I ever have.
The last good win we had was at Parkhead against Ireland. It was a scrappy game, but Scotland had at least tried to play a passing game in the style which Gordon Strachan had drilled his team. Ireland seemed like our regressive cousins in a footballing sense; physical and uncultured. After the game, I was convinced we were going to make the playoffs ahead of Martin O’Neill’s side.
Fast forward almost a year and I was in Lisbon with family and friends watching Scotland-Poland in an Irish bar. By now we were hanging onto hopes of a playoff place by a thread. We’d agreed that if we could still mathematically qualify we’d travel to Faro with our tickets for the Gibraltar game and cheer the team on.
Against Poland, Scotland conceded an ugly equaliser in the last few minutes. I turned my focus to the Ireland game on the large screen around the corner and stayed long enough to see them hold onto an incredible victory against Germany. I cursed Strachan and the players for the next few hours and we unanimously agreed we’d ditch the tickets and just enjoy ourselves in Lisbon. Life’s too short.
I gave up my Tartan Army membership at the start of this campaign – a mixture of lingering anger from Portugal, the grim thought of trudging to Hampden on a midweek night and the fact no one else I knew was going anymore. I missed the England game on Friday and wasn’t particularly bothered.
I might be alone in this slowly, creeping disinterest, but the empty seats at recent home games suggests not. There are many factors.
At Celtic, I remember Strachan morphing from an open, interesting interviewee to something more belligerent, awkward. The more the pressure grew – and it can surely only grow in that job – the more difficult he became. The same has happened at Scotland. His comments and managerial decisions give the impression of someone who has little time for the supporters and who has become so stubborn that it actually affects his decision-making. Every Scotland fan could tell you Chris Martin was no better than third choice striker at the start of this campaign and yet he started in Malta. He scored but was otherwise hopeless; surely he’d be dropped against Lithuania? ‘Think again, bozo. What do you know about football management?’ was what Strachan seemed to say in his press conference afterwards.
The excitement has grown this season (from, frankly, a standing start) about Oliver Burke. He showed glimpses against Malta and Lithuania of his potential but, for whatever reason, he didn’t even make the bench against Slovakia. It seemed like another two-fingered salute to the fans from wee Gordon. He’s continually frozen out the likes of Leigh Griffiths despite the clamour from all-comers to give him a chance. While we were winning, his arrogance did not matter; that attitude stuck in the craw once we began to lose.
There’s no doubting that Strachan’s hamstrung by the players. We have the worst set of centre halves in living memory and the majority of our strikers cannot score goals. It does not make for a side likely to challenge for major honours. But other countries – other managers – have shown it is possible to challenge for qualification. Michael O’Neill has worked wonders with a Northern Irish team which includes a 36-year-old centre half and a talisman up front who can’t get a game in the English Championship. Martin O’Neill, also without a world star at his disposal, has moulded Ireland into an effective unit that are hard to beat. Like they showed against Austria last week, they’re capable of scoring some aesthetically-pleasing goals now too. Hungary had, until recently, Gabor Kiraly in goal; a man who still wears jogging bottoms from the 1990’s. Both him and his jogging bottoms were at Euro 2016.
The most damning evidence is that Strachan himself proved it was possible to keep clean sheets and win matches with this Scotland squad. Somewhere along the line he’s lost that ability but, sadly, he either can’t see it or chooses not to.
Neither, apparently can the SFA. We’re not going to qualify from the World Cup and, frankly, we’re not even going to get close. Only the most optimistic of Tartan Army members will still be playing mathematical chess with the points table. We’re second bottom. We cannot beat Lithuania at home. We’ve lost 3-0 away from home twice. We are not suddenly going to turn it around.
Any other manager would have been given his P45 by now but, instead, it seems like the SFA have devolved the decision to their employee. The rumours suggest Strachan might decide to carry on after all. The turkey is not going to vote for Christmas.
Stewart Regan should be taking responsibility. It’s what he’s paid to do, after all. But it seems like he might be shirking this responsibility and, if he does, I can’t understand why. Is he misreading the public mood? Ultimately, the SFA wants to fill Hampden for games and it’s not going to happen with Strachan in charge of own his own listing ship. Does he have faith that Strachan can turn it around? There would seem little evidence of this on the park. Is he conducting enquiries behind the scenes? The press have given no indication that this is happening. Whatever the reason, it displays a lack of decisive leadership.
In the same way that Strachan now openly treats punters with contempt, the SFA’s actions often betray a similar attitude. They’ve lumbered us with Hampden as a home venue which, the last campaign proved, is completely redundant as a national venue. All other major football stadiums in the country offer a better atmosphere and prove more intimidating to the opposition and, with FIFA’s Week of Football nonsense, having a fixed venue has made it increasingly hard for Scotland fans from anywhere but Glasgow and surrounding area to watch games in person. If they do, it’s a half-day at work, a long train or bus and a very late night to watch us draw or lose.
The costs for tickets also remain too expensive – it’s £30 to watch Malta if you want to sit in the North or South Stand, £37 for Lithuania and £60 for England. If you want to be guaranteed a ticket for all games you need to join the Scotland Supporters Club at £55. If you bought a season ticket for all games – between £125 and £180, you’d currently be looking forward to 4 home games that mean very little.
So, in summary, we’ve got a set of effective dead rubbers in 2017, only useful as an exercise to improve our co-efficient (which, by the way, we’ve been spectacularly bad at improving thanks to who we agree to face in friendlies), and a manager with a terrible attitude who patently cannot arrest the slide. We’re playing games in an atmosphere-less stadium and it’s all being managed – or not – by a governing body that can’t decide what to do next (but will charge you £30 to witness their inaction in person).
It really is rubbish following Scotland right now.
Written by Andy Harrow (@andyharrow)