Negative Norman about Scotland at Euro 2024? I'm Optimistic Osbert

Scotland manager Steve Clarke is seen during a training session at Hampden Park on June 06.Scotland manager Steve Clarke is seen during a training session at Hampden Park on June 06.
Scotland manager Steve Clarke is seen during a training session at Hampden Park on June 06.
A run of games where we couldn’t win. Our right-back production line, not quite of the standard of our left-back production line, clanking and spluttering. Our Serie A star, awarded a year’s supply of bolognese, in a stookie.

England unveiling their squad stuffed with so much ridiculous attacking talent there was no room for a guy who cost £100 million and whose calves have their own social media account. Wait, there’s more: the two candidates for prime ministership not even bothering to acknowledge we exist. And little Gibraltar, recently thrashed 14-0 by France, being amenably Aunt Sallyish for a friendly in an almost-empty stadium so we could finally - at last - get that victory (though nothing like 14-0).

Safe to say that a Scotland manager has had more auspicious weeks going into Friday’s final warm-up for the European Championships than poor Steve Clarke.

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But are we bothered by any of this? Isn’t it how we always like things to be? Backs to the wall and a list of grievances pinned to the dressing-room door? No one rating us, or certainly no one saying it’s our tournament to lose (cf, England)?

Billy Bremner of Scotland has words with referee Herr Tchencher of Germany in 1973.Billy Bremner of Scotland has words with referee Herr Tchencher of Germany in 1973.
Billy Bremner of Scotland has words with referee Herr Tchencher of Germany in 1973.

Ah, but those slights and setbacks would be our hair shirt, and one that’s a comfortable fit, if achievement was simply being invited to the party.

For the team to be gallant group-stage losers and the fans to frolic in the fountains and endear with our innate good humour and peely-wally knees. But that won’t satisify this time. This time we want more.

Next-phase qualification. Hanging out with the big boys for whom knockout stage football is routine. There was a moment earlier when we thought it could conceivably happen, in Germany this summer, and it was probably the 50th minute of the Spain game.

Scott McTominay the dressage horse, always upright. Even when moving onto an enticingly loose ball 16 yards from goal. And the player even having the gallusness to proffer a casual side-foot volley, despite the risk of premature exultation, of imagining what the unholy racket might sound like before the goal had been scored.

Ryan Jack, Liam Cooper, Andy Robertson, Lawrence Shankland and Kenny McLean during a visit to the Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park.Ryan Jack, Liam Cooper, Andy Robertson, Lawrence Shankland and Kenny McLean during a visit to the Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park.
Ryan Jack, Liam Cooper, Andy Robertson, Lawrence Shankland and Kenny McLean during a visit to the Blair Drummond Safari and Adventure Park.

From that incredible high, how far have we dropped? Really, not much. At least that’s the hope. There was another standout win in Oslo, then came the near inevitability of Spanish revenge and a couple of draws with qualification already sorted. Friendlies? Pah, they don’t matter. It’s the injuries which are niggling us more than that winless sequence. Aaron Hickey, such a poised footballer. Lyndon Dykes, such an unpoised one but important to the way Clarke’s Scotland play.

When our best 11 were fully fit and not showing signs of being knackered from demanding domestic commitments, we felt really good about these Euros. The very fact we could nominate a best 11 was remarkable. When this century have we been able to do that?

So we aren’t able to field our absolute bonniest team but can we still get out of the groups? Of course we can. You’ll not find a Negative Norman on this page, oh no. Me, I’m Optimistic Osbert. In fact, Sanguine Sigmund, Confident Clifford and, on especially sunny days, Panglossian Percy.

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Understandably Clarke and his men couldn’t wait for Friday to be over. No more friendlies, no more questions about friendlies, the performances and the results, the overall mood. They couldn’t wait to get on the plane and get into the camp. And maybe the next time they encounter the meeja, on-site and in actual Germany, then the Normans will be less Normany and happy that in the countdown to this Friday at the Allianz, everything becomes that bit more real and that bit more exciting.

I’m excited, aren’t you? I’m remembering all the near misses and minor tragedies and thinking: maybe this time. Maybe this time, instead of Billy Bremner against Brazil in 1974 loitering at the back post like a toerag outside a sweetshop up for mischief, one of the lads in a similar position is able to usher the ball over the line.

Maybe this time, not much further out and with the goal gaping, instead of Steve Nicol with his size 13 feet gallumphing into the Uruguayan box in 1986 and sclaffing, someone can make true and decisive connection.

Maybe this time our goalie doesn’t suffer like Jim Leighton against the Brazilians in 1990, Gary Gillespie doubling down on the keeper’s save with a heroic block only for the game to revert to agonising slow-motion slapstick before the dagger was finally plunged.

And maybe if we’re awarded a penalty this time the ball doesn’t suddenly quiver like it was sat in the middle of Madame Zaza’s seance table but remains static and on the spot until the moment of impact, which unfortunately wasn’t the case for Gary McAllister against England in 1996.

We will need some of the good fortune which deserted us on those occasions and we will require our defenders not to charge for the same ball and end up simulating an odd chest-bump animal mating ritual, the fate of Alan Hansen and Willie Miller against the Soviet Union in 1982. But I truly believe we can go where no Scotland team have gone before.

Knockout need not be our Brigadoon, a mythical land which only comes alive every one hundred years. Yes, yes, I know: the team never got out of the groups in 1824 either. But we can do it in Germany. Come on, Normans, believe. Beer stein half-full is a lot more fun than half-empty.

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