Now the Tartan Army has been hailed as the “quintessence of football” in a new academic study, which finds that followers of Scotland’s national football side have even come to epitomise traditional English sporting values.
The collective of fans, who have won plaudits internationally for their good humour and charitable work, have long been held up as some of the best football supporters in the world.
But the study from Glasgow Caledonian University suggests that the news media across Europe regards the Tartan Army as the example for all to follow.
Professor Hugh O’Donnell, an expert in sport and popular culture from the university’s school for business and society, studied newspaper coverage across ten European nations in an attempt to ascertain how the continent viewed the footsoldiers who support Craig Levein’s team.
Having learned Macedonian and Icelandic in order to analyse the reports, Prof O’Donnell discovered that the praise was nothing other than glowing.
His research, published in a new book which explores the culture of football supporters, quotes at length from several translations of articles where the Tartan Army is described as “incredibly popular” in Norway, “highly fun-loving” in Iceland, and the “quintessence of football” by Italian commentators.
Prof O’Donnell found that while Scottish writers see the Tartan Army as an anarchic home for nostalgic male working-class identity, the European media across the continent have elevated the fans to the level of “great ambassadors for sport”.
His chapter in the book, entitled “Scottish Football Fans: Hame and Away”, focuses on media coverage during the national team’s qualifying campaign for the 2008 European Championships.
Prof O’Donnell explained: “In Scotland, most people know what the Tartan Army is all about, but across Europe there is a totally different interpretation.
“While at home the story is rooted in the history of Scotland and in its relationship with England, the European version removes the Tartan Army from all of that and gives it a quite different function: that of representing ideal fandom.”
He added: “Scottish fans’ fraternising with the local fans is not seen as working-class solidarity as it is in Scotland, but as an expression of commitment to ‘quintessential’ sporting values. Given the insistence on ‘fair play’, these are in fact synonymous with the Tartan Army’s polar opposite: historic English aristocratic sporting values.”
Hamish Husband, a spokesman for the Association of Tartan Army Clubs, said: “What we hope is that we put the game into perspective, and a part of what we do represents modern Scotland when we are abroad.”
The research is contained in the Swedish book We Love to Hate Each Other. Mediated Football Fan Culture, published by Nordicom this month.