Why Steve Clarke could hold his head up high as comedy oompah band played Scotland the Brave after Euros exit

The players may have struggled on the pitch, but they did their best and Scotland’s Tartan Army put in a world-class performance

There are many faces of disappointment. The distant and misty-gazed sentimental face, the scrunched-up scunnered face, the hand-over-the-eyes, can’t-bear-it face. After Hungary dashed Scotland’s Euro dreams, there were plenty of tears in the crowd too. Oh, the heartbreak of dashed hopes.

The next day we saw a stellar example of a brave face on Scotland manager Steve Clarke leaving the team’s Garmisch-Partenkirchen hotel base as he walked impassively through an oompah band carrying a small, white, plush bear. After a run of defeats, bookies have already been advertising odds on who’ll do his job next but stress is hard to read on a good poker face like Clarke’s.

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The manager was followed onto the coach home by his fatigued team putting forward their own slightly less confident shows of inscrutability, looking down at the pavement and narrowing their eyes slightly against the sun, as if rows of lederhosen-clad Bavarians were not playing a maniacally cheery song on either side of the walkway, trapping them in parade.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke leaves the national side's base in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany after being knocked out of Euro 2024 (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images)Scotland manager Steve Clarke leaves the national side's base in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany after being knocked out of Euro 2024 (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images)
Scotland manager Steve Clarke leaves the national side's base in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany after being knocked out of Euro 2024 (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire/PA Images)

I felt for them; they'd done their best. The jolliness of trumpet and tuba most definitely sounded better on the way in, when the band were there to greet the arriving Scots team who had hopes of advancing to the tournament’s second stage. To be played right back out again by psychotic, high-energy oompah, no mercy for the hangover of the night before’s loss, was somehow apt. Many onlooking Scotland fans often feel like a great joke is being played on them by the cosmos. All this scene lacked was a laugh track.

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Rude awakening

There is form for oompah mischief in European football. This anecdote is from Rayleigh Brass Band secretary Kevin Hall, recounting some band lore. “We were contacted by one of the popular tabloids around the time of the Euro 2001 football tournament. It seems that the German supporters had rustled up a large oompah band to play all night outside the hotel where the England squad were staying. As a retaliatory strike, the newspaper thought it would be only polite to return the compliment for the German team, so they were out to hire a full English brass band. Whether it was due to the short notice given, or the desire to avoid involvement in an international incident, the band graciously declined the invitation.”

In the end, The Sun sent an open-top bus to the German team’s restorative country hotel with an improvised band of four pre-ban Page Three girls dressed in dirndls and carrying a giant sousaphone, a tuba, a French horn and a trumpet. Some years later, Germany goalkeeper and Arsenal player Jens Lehmann recalled being woken up by the group loudly playing tapes of Bavarian brass music at 5am in the hotel lobby, and credits the stunts for England’s 5-1 victory over Germany at that day’s match in Munich. Hotel management phoned the police on the band and several paper staff and reporters who were working on the tabloid’s “The Oompah Strikes Back” headline were arrested and fined 80 euros each for a breach of the peace. Oompah: when it’s not a fever dream, it is the rudest wake-up call.

Oompah was once described as “able to drive swine into anguish” by disapproving Irish writer William Kelly observing the pre-First World War popularity of costumed beer hall music in Australian gold rush towns. But Scotland fans already know anguish, and often. As Clarke’s breezy, sanguine saunter showed, the Scots can deal with a little bit of oompah without flinching.

Sound of the pipes

Similar powers have been attributed by critics to the Scottish bagpipes after all, even, unfairly, at moments when they’re not being used to evoke terror on the battlefield. A few months ago, after Alba party windbags hysterically compared Euros 2024 stadium rules to the Jacobite-era Act of Proscription, Uefa had to reassure the Tartan Army that a stadium ban on mechanical or electronic noisemakers, which had specified megaphones, airhorns, pea whistles and vuvuzelas, would not ban other instruments.

Indeed the unmistakably unique, stirring sound of the pipes has been heard all over fan zones and, more faintly for those of us watching coverage at home, from among the roar of the stadiums. A video went viral of German newlyweds enjoying an impromptu pipe performance of the classic song Mairi’s Wedding from Tartan Army fans gathered outside Munich Town Hall where they had just been married.

Scots win over Germany

The German people decidedly welcomed the party atmosphere the Scots brought, pipes and all, and now they party on. This is evident in the lavish praise the German media have been showering Scotland supporters with. The hosts have applauded the attitude of the some 200,000 fans who turned up for games in Cologne, Stuttgart and Munich, voting the Tartan Army the best fan group.

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It was certainly a world-class performance from the fans. “Dear Scots: We love you” was a headline in Cologne’s daily newspaper, while the channel Welt Euro displayed a ticker reading: “Cheerio Scotland. You gave us great joy.”

With this in mind, we can only look on the oompah farewell, however comedically ill-suited to our own national mood in the moment, as carrying the spirit of friendship and hospitality. Especially in the band’s halting attempt at Scotland the Brave as our team coach pulled away to the airport, locals lining the pavement to wave them off. Ach well, at least Scotland made some pals and had a good time on its travels. Maybe next tournament a bagpipe-oompah mash up band will be heard warming up as dawn breaks beneath the bedroom windows of team England.



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