Scotland national team: Why 2022 is set to be even better and more exciting for the country
Nope, not former Falkirk chief Gary Deans delivering his ‘that’s a statement not a question’ line at the infamous Q&A with fans. Or Neil Lennon calling it “remarkable” the fact his whole Celtic squad were negative from coronavirus after their Dubai debacle ... “bar two players”.
Even the Scotland fan in London lumbering into a moving scooter before hobbling off at a 90-degree angle as his friend broke down in a fit of laughter. Although that sits at number two on the list.
It arrived in November at Hampden Park as Scotland levelled Denmark 2-0 to secure second spot and a World Cup play-off place.
The moment wasn’t a goal. Nor was it a celebration. It was a dream. I still refuse to believe it was real.
Brazil. Spain. Wimbledon. All in their pomp, rolled into one.
Ryan Christie. John Souttar. John McGinn. Billy Gilmour. Che Adams. Christie again. Andy Robertson. Adams again. From one box to the other in 13 seconds. It was sharp. It was sumptuous. It was sexy. It was … Scotland?
The move may not have produced a goal but it was about more than that. It was the feeling it brought amongst those in the stadium and those watching from home or in the pub. Like that giddy rush of excitement which overtook as you watched a grainy Charmander become a Charmeleon on your Gameboy as a kid, this Scotland side were evolving in front of our eyes.
We were dominating Denmark in front of a sold-out crowd in Mount Florida but even then few saw this exquisite pom-pom-pom, one-touch football arriving, as the team played their way through pressure before Christie hit a booming and trajectory-defying pass out to Robertson who in turn set up Adams with a one-touch pass.
Trust and pride
The Scotland national team under Steve Clarke reached a new level in the second half of 2021. But what is perhaps most tantalising is the realisation that this squad are just getting started. This squad can evolve further. Scotland can get better.
2022 is set up to be a special year for the Tartan Army.
For the first time in more than 15 years a trust exists in the men's Scotland national team.
Going back to that night in Serbia to qualify for Euro 2020, the return to an international tournament this past summer and then through the current six-game winning run a connection has grown and grown. In fact, it's more than a connection. It’s a bond.
That has helped turn Hampden Park into a fortress of sorts and, at times, a de facto club. The scenes which greeted both the 3-2 win over Israel and aforementioned Denmark victory will live long in the memory as the crowd bounced to the sounds of ‘Yes, Sir I can Boogie ‘ and ‘Freed from Desire’. Those moments took on greater importance and prominence with the restrictions on crowds before and after.
Rather than feared and endured, international breaks are now anticipated and enjoyed. A hugely likeable, personable and talented group of players have helped build pride as Clarke has created a strong club-like unity and spirit. There is an identity about the team and a way of playing which the squad have bought into.
With many of the country’s key men plying their trade in England, it is a chance to see their qualities in the flesh. Billy Gilmour's vision and awareness, John McGinn's caboose, Kieran Tierney's attitude, Andy Robertson’s rampaging runs, Lyndon Dykes causing mayhem.
Demand for tickets
That excitement has been reflected in the Scotland Supporters Club memberships. There have been surges after key moments this campaign and The Scotsman understands the figure has hit more than 31,500, the largest number in six years.
Tickets for the World Cup play-off clash against Ukraine are going to be like gold dust with the country just 180 minutes from a return to the World Cup. It has reached the point where every game Scotland play feels like a big, like a cup final.
It is easy to say now that few will be bigger than Ukraine then possibly Austria or Wales. But then, what about potential World Cup matches? Such is the confidence in the team, supporters are already talking about plans for Qatar and how to afford it.
As I write this it is difficult not to get carried away and make brash predictions such as, I dunno, Scotland progressing from the group for the first time ever at an international tournament.
That's what this team does to you. They make you dream, make you believe, make you get ahead of yourself.
Even before any potential World Cup appearance there will be six important Nations League fixtures, including the excitement of two fixtures with the Republic of Ireland under the management of Stephen Kenny.
Those games alone will have a derby-day feel with the fixtures scheduled for a Saturday afternoon and Friday evening.
It truly is an exciting year to be a Scotland fan and a Scotland player.
Beyond the big games on the horizon, it will be fascinating to watch the partnership between Dykes and Adams grow. To see Gilmour and McGinn taken on greater responsibility and prominence. To not have to worry about Tierney and Robertson playing in the same team. To see the development of Nathan Patterson.
But more than anything, just the thought of making your way back to a rocking Hampden Park. Packed trains and buses. A bag of cans. Belief in the national team. Dreams about what they can achieve in 2022.
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