How two Tartan Army fans who helped an elderly German man snatched victory from defeat for Scotland

The performances of the Tartan Army – epitomised by their fine renditions of Flower of Scotland and two Scotland fans who saved a frail old man from the rain – make them well worthy of the ‘best fans’ accolade

This is going to be difficult. Finding consolation amid the beer cups and bratwurst wrappers and broken dreams. A bit of hope. Something to make us feel better about ourselves.

But it’s surely this: the fans. The great, lurching, sweaty, skirling, cavorting mass of humanity that is the Tartan Army. For the millionth time in old Scotia’s history, and the 471st in a football context: wha’s like us?

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And what’s this, Herr Burgermeister of the latest municipality to be blessed with one of our friendly invasions… as well the Euro 2024 trophy for the best-supported nation, you’re also awarding us the prize for anthem of the tournament? Danke!

The defining image of Euro 2024: two Tartan Army foot-soldiers shelter an elderly German in a Cologne downpourThe defining image of Euro 2024: two Tartan Army foot-soldiers shelter an elderly German in a Cologne downpour
The defining image of Euro 2024: two Tartan Army foot-soldiers shelter an elderly German in a Cologne downpour

Oh “Flower of Scotland”, when will we see you properly accepted by your countryfolk as not just a fitting hymn but a fine one? About 7.59pm on Sunday, I reckon this happened. After Munich, after Cologne, and after spontaneous recitals in countless beerhalls and on many trains, our wee mournful choon came of age in Stuttgart.

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Defining sound of the euros

Surely that’s it now. Surely there will be no more mention of “dirge”. No more barneys about anti-English sentiment in the first verse (and the second verse). No more casting envious ears at the French anthem, the Italian one and others much more rousing.

And not only can we claim the defining sound of these Euros but also surely the single most outstanding image. You know the one I mean: the two guys in kilts helping the elderly German negotiate a downpour. Make no mistake, the beautiful moment will be prominent in the clips compilations when broadcasters wind up coverage of the tournament and it is destined for a life far beyond.

It happened in Cologne. Tartan Army footsoldier Ali Murray noticed that the fellow with the walking frame didn’t have an umbrella or indeed a free hand to hold one. Teaming up with another Scotland fan, the pair hoisted their brollies to help him on his way.

“It was heavy rain and I saw this old man struggling,” Murray told the Press and Journal. After being chaperoned across the main square, the man, who spoke no English, offered a grateful smile. “Everyone around was clapping, it was amazing,” added Murray.

Germany loves Scotland’

German transport bosses agreed and an artist’s depiction of the good Samaritan act quickly popped up on train carriages. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility in an age fond of making heroes out of ordinary folk that the brolly guys will become mini-celebrities, much like baggage handler John Smeaton after he stopped a terrorist attack at Glasgow Airport in 2007.

A TV chat show might reunite the pensioner with his helpers. It would be funny if he was to confess he was heading in a completely different direction before being benignly waylaid. Funny and, if you like, classically Scottish. Still, the gesture summed up the Tartan Army’s good intentions at the tournament: to have fun, drink lots, be respectful of another country and its customs, make friends, drink more, support the team, leave a good impression and be a great advert for Scotland.

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The intentions worked. A social media post from the host nation minutes after the final whistle was typical: “I’m so so sorry it didn’t work out tonight. My thoughts were with you and I’m so sad now. It was a pleasure to have you here in Germany and I’m sending much love. Please come again whenever you like. Germany loves Scotland and the Tartan Army!”

This is also a homogenous age: everyone seems to look the same and act the same. Well, maybe not everyone, and not all of the time. Where else do the men wear skirts? Which part of the UK did not vote for Brexit? And at Euro 2024 which part of the UK, out in the stadplatze, did not wind up the locals with “Ten German Bombers”?

Instead, the lament was “Flower of Scotland”. On the marches to the stadia which became events and – chests out, bellies further out, neck veins throbbing, faces turning puce – during the pre-kickoff formalities. We couldn’t score a goal that wasn’t a crazy deflection but we could certainly sing.

New Flower of Scotland fans

For an anthem, ours has had a brief and controversial history. Here I should probably declare a tiny interest. The composer is Roy Williamson, one half of Scottish folk duo the Corries and back in the 1960s my father, a BBC Scotland producer, put him and sidekick Ronnie Browne on TV. As well as their Tuesday tea-time appearances on The Hoot’Nanny Show, they were often round our house, lugging weird and wonderful instruments for rehearsals in the sitting-room. The Corries outlived the programme but the friendship remained, and I well remember the moment of Dad telling me of Williamson’s pride in a new song, just completed – “Flower of Scotland”.

Every now and again, though, there are grumbles about its suitability, most recently last year when rugby legend Jim Telfer called for it to be ditched and replaced with a new anthem, something which demonstrated “maturity” and was “for something” rather than referencing Bannockburn.

How well the song is sung depends on the form of the team in dark blue. Murrayfield has been belting it out for a while with packed crowds enjoying exciting rugby, and the ground always contains enough old boys from private school choir practice to confidently go a capella for the final verse.

After a lengthy absence from tournaments, Hampden has only recently caught up, and in Germany the football hordes seemed to finally realise what we have in “Flower of Scotland” as love for the melody – and the sentiment – flowed our way from other countries where there’s less self-consciousness about politics and having a cause.

The Tartan Army found their voice. Pity about the team.

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