Aidan Smith: Rethink on no-knee stopped Scotland dropping a clanger as big as 1978

Just our luck. We wait for what feels like forever, wondering if we’ll ever get back to a major international tournament, and when the invite pops onto the doormat depicting sunset over Loch Lomond, it’s for the most issue-ridden finals there have ever been.

Scotland captain Andy Robertson takes the knee before the Nations League match against Israel last September. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS
Scotland captain Andy Robertson takes the knee before the Nations League match against Israel last September. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

Even when using phrases like “Just your luck” you have to be careful. You don’t want to give the impression you’re being frivolous about the problems. For these Euros will play out under the most feverish scrutiny. What is the tournament saying about politics? What is it saying about racism? What is it saying about the pandemic? And who the hell do these footballers think they are anyway?

Scotland can’t simply turn up and play and the Tartan Army can’t simply consume a fountain’s worth of beer and then dive into an actual municipal water feature. The team need to decide: “Do we take the knee or not?” Then, having agreed their position, they need to stick to it. Or not.

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And the fans need to be aware that if they over-celebrate a John McGinn goal against the Czech Republic tomorrow, hell mend them. A big, sweaty, heaving, gone-commando display of exuberance of the type which once made them famous will not be tolerated this time.

England fans mourn their last World Cup exit at a Hyde Park fanzone. Scotland accommodating 6,000 Euros supporters at Glasgow Green has caused controversy.

Team and fans may thus conclude: “See 23 years ago when it was the opening game of the World Cup, against Brazil, the frighteningly flair-packed champions? That was straightforward by comparison, a dawdle in fact … ”

Last Thursday it emerged that the team would not be taking the knee at the championships. They were opposed to racism, no doubt about that, but instead, said Liam Cooper, they would “take a stand”.

Scotland, to show they were “against discrimination”, had sought a gesture which would be “meaningful”. “That’s how we want to do it,” the Leeds United defender added.

There was support for the move but much more criticism. How was it going to look at Wembley come Friday when the England players take the knee and a short distance away the Scots decline to do the same? Some visualised the photographs winging round the world as a glib, sensationist summation of the cultural/political differences between the two countries. And they shuddered.

You had to feel for Cooper. At the Scottish camp he’d simply been the player put up for interview that day. His remarks - and, somewhat banal in the circumstances, they’d included the admission he’s been force-feeding himself chillis to regain his sense of taste after a bout of Covid - had not been intended as a direct response to England’s decision to continue taking the knee in defiance of fans booing their men.

Feeling the heat, then, and not from Cooper’s chillis, the Scots voted on an about-turn. Yes, they would take the knee in solidarity with the English.

Manager Steve Clarke said the players’ original intentions had been “politicised and misrepresented”. He might have reflected on the influence of social media here, and the speed with which it moves. Twenty-three years ago there weren’t such challenges and Scotland only had to deal with Ronaldo and Rivaldo.

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The PR department might be involved in some reflection of their own. Before the rethink a colleague wondered if the no-knee Scots were dropping as big a clanger as the prematurely-parading Scots, the 1978 team who circled Hampden in an open-top bus before the fateful expedition to Argentina.

No matter how well-intentioned the decision to “take a stand”, it wouldn’t have been portrayed as a good look on the night. And the controversy would have continued right up until Friday and caused a bigger distraction than it’s been already. So now the team will stand tomorrow, take the knee with England and return to standing against Croatia. Clear enough?

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Much has changed in those 23 years. Wild swimming is trendy now but fountain-diving Scots were the pioneers. There’s a word much-used today - guess what it is - which means something different from when Jimmy would inquire of his epicly hungover good buddy: “Ur yez woke yet, Tam?” And in 1998 a fan would merely clamber onto a statue to adorn it with a scarf. Now, someone who does this is usually checking the inscription and the possible links to slavery. Every act can be viewed as political now, even a square pass.

In France the Tartan Army were football tourists par excellence, the best travellers, and no party was complete without us. Today, though, every fan is a man, or woman, of the world who won’t hurl chairs and sing about the war like some. Other nations have stolen our clothes, if not the kilt, but here’s where we claim them back.

Just go easy, you lot. Over the course of our non-involvement, fanzones have become a phenomenon. Scotland belatedly getting its first, though, is happening in the age of Covid. The prospect of 6,000 supporters mustering on Glasgow Green is alarming for some and angering many. It’s another unwanted rammy. Out of the pie-warmer and into the fire.

The anger comes from Mumsnet and parent-teacher associations. How are children’s sports days and leavers’ assemblies being cancelled or only allowed to happen remotely when this sort of mass gathering - with bevvy flowing freely - can go ahead? This is not a good look either.

We can only hope for a safe outcome for fans and a successful one for the team. After a long wait for this tournament and an even longer one for Scottish participation, that would be wonderful - and all the more so for being achieved under much duress. Did I say? These, because of the grave situation in which we still find ourselves, will be the no-pie Euros.

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