The reaction of some Scotland fans when Chris Martin removed his tracksuit and strode on to the pitch at Hampden got me thinking: who have I ever booed? I’m talking about as a fan rather than a journalist because you’re not allowed to boo from the press-box, far less cheer. Early in my tenure covering matches, I did get frustrated with a refereeing decision, clodhoppingly the wrong one, but a mild rebuke by the man from the Sunday Times quickly sorted me out.
I mean, it’s not as if I’ve ever worn a scarf in the press-box, unlike the Barcelona-based journos who report on the Catalan greats. When a French hack arrived at the Nou Camp for Paris Saint-Germain’s recent Champions League tie and saw the festooning club colours, he harrumphed: “I’m here to work!”
No, I’m going back to those days of glorious partiality, one-eyed zealousness and frankly outrageous bias. But, hey, your team are your team. You’re passionate about them. You desperately want them to win. And sometimes in your frustration you get a wee bit carried away.
Was this what happened at Hampden? It was the 82nd minute of the World Cup qualifier against Slovenia when Martin, pictured, was given one last look at the clipboard by Gordon Strachan in the hope of finding the goal which could save the game and our hopes of getting to Russia, also the manager’s skin.
A section of the Tartan Army booed the player. Or maybe they were booing Strachan. Perhaps because of the poor results until that point in the campaign, perhaps for not sending on Jordan Rhodes instead. Maybe a combination of the two. But by the law of averages some must have been aiming the abuse at the burly Derby County striker.
Who have I ever booed? Okay, opposition players have always been fair game. Some actively invite it. These guys would be mortally offended if you didn’t jeer them. They’ve worked hard on their pantomime-villain personae and they want results: boos for sure and hopefully a half-drunk Bovril or barely-touched pie which they know the irate fan will regret throwing the second the missile leaves the hand.
The wind-up merchant in the other team will, after he’s done his worst and got away with it, sneak a sideways glance at the disgruntled mob while trotting back into position. This will occur behind the referee’s back to avoid further censure. The mob will boo. They’ll point at the official and the polis. “Officer, he’s making us go radge and swear in front of our sons who’ll then swear at their teachers next week. Something’s got to be done!” And they’ll boo some more.
But boo at one of your own? That takes some doing. Hey, I’ve done it. We all have, haven’t we? When all hope is gone and all chancers are at large. A perceived lack of effort is guaranteed to annoy. The guy who plays to the gallery is a pet hate. This fellow will do a lot of pointing and shouting even though he’s not the captain. He’ll lunge for a ball he knows he won’t reach because the play is directly below the noisiest stand where he thinks they’re too stupid not to see through his charade. It’s a crude theatrical ploy aimed at the medieval rabble, in the hope of inspiring slavering growls of approval. I’ve never wanted to stick the offender’s head on a stake but calling him a varlet has definitely been in order, as has giving him a shake with some chain-mail.
But booing someone who hasn’t yet contributed to the game, good or bad? It’s crossing the line to abuse a man who hasn’t even crossed the white line to enter the field of play. Those who don’t like Martin or who have been seriously underwhelmed by his contribution to the cause thus far – and I’m one of them – may have doubted his ability to get the goal we desperately needed, but how was jeering him going to help?
It was one of the great “Up yours!” moments of Scottish football that he did score. He could have walked away from dark-blue duty after that, an eight-minute hero we didn’t love, and who could have blamed him? In a few years’ time he’d be a cert for a place in an all-time forgotten Scottish XI, or as the subject of a quiz question. But he’ll probably report for duty for the next game against England, not quite sure of the reception he’ll get, but ready for action all the same.
All those fine fellows who cover their glengarries with metal badges and proud feathers must be feeling terribly frustrated. They spend small fortunes following Scotland, usually to parts of the former Soviet Union or Yugoslavia, and when an excursion ends in disappointment, as it often does, TV directors will zoom in on the crowd’s saddest puddin’ face. Pink and puffy from the Macedonian sun or the Georgian beer, the Scottish napper has become the best expression of international football despair in the same way the samba-shaking, Brazilian booty has become the top emblem of joy.
The Tartan Army will be frustrated that an entire new tradition of football tourism had developed since they last bathed in municipal fountains while the team competed in major finals. Fans from other nations have stolen their clothes as the friendliest, maddest supporters. Not literally, of course: they have their own outfits accentuating and poking fun at national dress. And what’s made it worse recently is that countries have qualified with the likes of Hal Robson-Kanu and Kyle Lafferty leading the line.
Why not a team with Chris Martin up front? But while the Tartan Army continue to suffer withdrawal symptoms from not being able to swing their kilts in foreign parts and lament the lack of opportunity for reminding the lager-laden waitresses of the world “Wha’s like us?”, they’re not going to get back to a tournament any quicker by booing the last man the manager had left last Sunday to keep our hopes alive.
What happens now? Well, it’s obvious. We beat England, pull out a plum of a result, like all the other home nations did for the Euros and we couldn’t. And everyone – everyone – roars ours boys home.