Alan Pattullo: How Scotland and Steve Clarke altered the mood of a football-obsessed nation
Going on the road with "Steve Clarke’s Tartan Army", with Scotland supporters now careful to include the name of the miracle-working manager, is proving an exhilarating experience.
It’s a whole lot different, certainly, to my early, invariably dispiriting, adventures abroad reporting on the national side for this newspaper.
There was a 2-0 defeat to Belgium in Brussels, 6-0 against the Netherlands in Amsterdam and then 4-0 and 3-0 defeats to Wales and Norway respectively. A new era arrived with Craig Levein. I headed to Stockholm with hope but saw Scotland crushed 3-0.
It was becoming increasingly apparent I’d be doing well to see Scotland score a goal, let alone report on them qualifying for a major finals.
Goals – or at least a goal – did eventually come. Craig Mackail-Smith’s back header in Liechtenstein was the first I had the privilege to describe. But these were otherwise bleak times for the Scotland national team. Some improvement arrived under Gordon Strachan but Scotland still seemed short of what was required to make an impact.
It’s hard to stress just how successful Clarke has been in altering the mood of a football-obsessed nation. There’s been a re-connection with the national side since this whiskery, somewhat unlikely fairy godmother decreed it was time Scotland went to the ball.
The team suffered at times in Euro 2020 but were better for the experience.
Over 1200 travelled to Chisinau last week to see Scotland triumph 2-0 over Moldova with a professional performance. The fans did not stop singing from beginning to end.
It was much the same story against Denmark. Hampden was rocking on Monday night – a school night, for goodness sake! – as Scotland secured a sixth successive competitive win for the first time since 1930. Scotland were at times irresistible.
It was only the sixth victory over a top ten ranked side in the last 30 years.
Clarke’s Scotland are re-writing the record books. The victory means fans can look forward to gathering again in March for a World Cup play-off semi-final appointment at Hampden.
Whoever Scotland are paired with, rest assured, it will be the hottest ticket in town.
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