Cars with saltires proudly hanging out the window, ‘Caledonia’ blaring out whenever the red of a traffic light brought movement to a halt, the continuous wave of national team tops on the optimistic pedestrians strolling past; and all of that was just on the taxi ride into Edinburgh town centre.
Everybody believed. We’d waited 23 years for this. Scotland were back at an international tournament and, like Wales and Northern Ireland in 2018, we were going to make up for lost time by really making our mark. Then the match started.
From the basement of a city centre bar, this author ran through the gamut of all the familiar emotions: the nervous camaraderie upon arrival, the debate over the team selection, the pride at belting out Flower of Scotland – keenly feeling the anticipation of how much noise this establishment would make if Scotland manage to take the lead. Ultimately, the only time the decibels reached piercing levels would be in anguish and frustration.
After a bright start the nerves started to creep in. Our interlopers, the Czech Republic, were looking just as dangerous, if not more so. It was clear that a dream scenario – early goal en route to a comfortable victory – was not forthcoming.
Covid restrictions meant no standing, while there was the unusual experience of watching a big game while having beers delivered to the table, but everyone was still fully transfixed on the action.
Moments of levity cut through the nerves, like when Grant Hanley performed a Cruyff turn and the whole bar cheered in humourous appreciation, while there were the flashes of promise. Andrew Robertson’s shot had everyone out of their seats (Covid be damned) as the dream stayed alive.
Then the opening goal happened. The ball looping from a header into the back of the net as a frustrated punter shouted “no, no, NO!” After that, silence. It lasted just a couple of seconds but felt significantly longer. Finally a quip: “Well, that’s that. I should’ve known. I should’ve taught myself.” Another stated: “At least I feel normal again.”
There was a perverse comfort to be had. We’re all used to Scotland disappointing us and, if we’re honest with ourselves, it was mainly the trap-door pathway of the Uefa Nations League which got us here in the first place.
Half-time was, as usual, dissection time. Why did Steve Clarke select Stephen O’Donnell? Why does Scott McTominay always fail to influence play in the centre? How many substitutes should be made?
The second goal soon followed. Unusually, for such an important goal conceded, there was no silence this time. It was such a shock, earned with unbelievable skill, that it was instead greeted with the sound of several grown men and women trying to find the right words when there was none to be found. There followed a heated argument which half the pub then became involved in. Who was more at fault? Jack Hendry or David Marshall?
The rest of the match played out as a series of moments similar to the Robertson one earlier: drinkers on their feet, hands the air, thinking surely this time it’ll hit the back of the net. It didn’t, and that was that.