Aidan Smith: Scotland used to be a vague concept for my son. With his 8ft x 5ft Saltire not any more

First smile, first words, first bike ride without stabilisers, first day at school … I thought I was getting a break from such epic moments with my eldest son, at least until his first day in a job, still some way off.

Andy Robertson after Scotland's loss to Croatia. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

But no, I was forgetting about these: first time bearing witness to the land of his birth being at the finals of a major football tournament. First time not having to ask, on being presented with a Panini sticker album and a starter pack: “Dad, where’s our page?” First time, in a voice not yet broken, shouting: “Come on, Scotland!”

I was forgetting about them because it seemed likely they wouldn’t happen, not for him while he’s still a kid. There were more: first time cursing at the TV, having learned this from his father: “Why do they keep going on about England all the time? There are other teams in these Euros, you know!”

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Indeed, and one of them, for a while at least, was ours. So there also had to be this: first time disappointed by Scotland not being quite good enough to get out of the groups. Actually, not disappointed - devastated. Crushed.

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Look I said, trying to console him with Andy Robertson’s tender sign-off following Tuesday’s exit, the captain’s talking about you: “From the incredible support of the Tartan Army to the kids in the street wearing Scotland shirts, we’ve felt your love and been inspired by it.”

There was some comfort here, as if Robbo had been specifically alerted to the fact that my 14-year-old had indeed been parading around his ’hood in a replica shirt - run up, just east of Kirkcaldy, in Cambodia with the label promising “Aeroready”, whatever that is - alongside his identically kitted-out pals. Or better still that the captain himself, while on a 150-mile jog from the squad’s Darlington base - unlikely but in the skipper’s case you never know - had spotted them …

All over Scotland boys - and girls - did this. Sometimes whole families. On the day of the Croatia game a father and his three sons walked past my window in ascending order of height, all in shiny dark blue.

Maybe the dad was “reconnecting” with Scotland. This is the current buzzword for ex-absconders feeling the love again (the Labour Party is still trying to reconnect with voters who formerly made up the north of England’s red wall). But probably his sons and certainly mine had never been much interested in the national team before. Scotland didn’t qualify for anything - that was what they knew. Scotland were a vague concept - because of non-qualification but also with their games being on Sky and possibly inaccessible. Kids like certainty and Scotland couldn’t give them any.

Chris Iwelumo walking off the park after his debut against Norway in 2008. Picture: SNS

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My laddie was born just before Chris Iwelumo’s horror miss and mercifully was spared it. I saw it of course so when the boy announced he wanted to spend his birthday money - all of it - on the £50 shirt I thought I should offer a note of caution. I began telling the story of how, a bit younger, I blew the contents of my piggybank on a flamethrower for my Action Man only to be interrupted: “Yes, Dad, we know. You thought it would shoot real fire but it didn’t. I’m doing this … ”

He didn’t seem to mind that on the third day of wearing the strip non-stop he snagged it on a branch climbing a tree (sigh, why can’t all boys stay in the garden of innocence?). In fact this only seemed to spur him to greater heights of obsession by buying a flag. He already owns three Scotland flags but these hadn’t seen any action before. The new one was an absolute whopper - 8ft by 5ft. Half of my son’s Spartans team could be wrapped up in it and regularly were.

The old flags, meanwhile, were draped from the upstairs windows of our house. My wife was sure this would land us in trouble. The local neighbourhood watch doesn’t miss much, which is the point of them, I suppose, though here even a pulled-down hoodie can trigger the alert (“Sorry,” was the message back on this occasion, “that’s my son home from university!”). But no one could complain about our fluttering Saltires and Lions Rampant - there were lots of them around.

A phrase like “Euros fever” can seem clunky in the midst of a global pandemic but the sudden and dramatic surge of excitement for Scotland’s endeavours among the young will need to be categorised somehow. Can the team build on it? Easy, qualify for the next World Cup, though that won’t be straightforward after the slow start. In either Copenhagen or Vienna Scotland will need to go a step further than Wembley and win, and take seven points from that daunting triple-header in September. At least my son is asking about these games now. Come on, Scotland!

In my first finals involving Scottish participation, although older than the boy, I knew nothing of Yugoslavia who ultimately did us down, but that wasn’t so strange because Zaire knew nothing about deportment when facing free-kicks. There were no surprises for my son who was fully aware of the Czech Republic’s dangerman before he struck, being an all-seeing football aficionado of the information age when every goal is recorded.

But there is of course something very sweet about him finally falling for Scotland. He doesn’t need to know about the glorious failures, the defeats from the jaws of victory, Peru, Costa Rica and the rest. He can experience his own versions, or hopefully, something entirely different - brighter tomorrows.

You see, for him it could have been the other lot: he’s half-English.

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