Now, this snapper, brilliant at it as countless awards would testify, is one of the most modest fellows I’ve met in a profession with more than a few raving egomaniacs. He was not about to over-dramatise how some Celtic fans had suddenly decided it would be really funny to shove him into one of the city’s fountains, gear and all. Unsurprisingly, his cameras were damaged in this idiotic act for which, knowing my old colleague as I do, there would have been absolutely no provocation on his part. The twins listened intently. Then one of them, with irony, impersonated some typical west of Scotland breast-beating: “Aye, greatest supporters in the world!”
There will be a lot of that, without irony, as a gargantuan Rangers contingent descends on the Andalusian capital. Who, on Wednesday or back in 2003, had the most fans? Who took the place over most completely? Who sang loudest and waved the most flags, the wittiest bedsheet banner? Who drank the most San Miguel? Who came back with the funniest stories of cultural difference? Who had the most unforgettable experience? Who had the most unforgettable experience if only they could remember what it was?
Maybe, too, there will be competition for which fans were the best behaved, made the most friends among the locals and left Seville the closest to how they’d found it. We’ve got to hope. Come on, lads, win or lose it’s only a game, eh?
For the rest of us watching at home on TV there will be one vital question. No, not: “Will this be the moment – finally – when BT Sport commentator Rory Hamilton breaks the sound barrier, achieves peaks of ecstasy only previously scaled by Sting and spontaneously combusts?” This is a good question after all those Thursday nights at Ibrox when the man’s been out of his tree with excitement over the galumphing charges of John Lundstram – but it’s not the vital question, which is this: who do you want to win?
So you’re not a Rangers fan – fair enough. But a Scottish team in a final – it’s got to be “our boys”, hasn’t it? Well, as they say in romcoms, it’s complicated. Football is so tribal now. A fan can be defined by who he doesn’t like, more than who his favourites are. Rivalries only used to come to a head twice every season. Then smaller divisions doubled the opportunities. Now, with social media, supporters no longer have to wait for games to come around: they can abuse each other at all times of the day, with 1.59am in the morning proving especially popular.
Elon Musk was all set to buy Twitter for $44bn but has just put the deal on hold. I’m wondering if he’s concerned about Scottish football and how much grumbling it generates. The tycoon is obsessed with free speech but maybe he thinks our whataboutery is off the scale. How, from a tiny land, can everyone not be beamingly proud of one of its perky teams participating in a glamour showpiece? Well, Elon, how long have you got? …
Rangers are not like Arbroath. They’re big and most of the rest of us follow smaller clubs. Scan those tweets with the Union Jack appended to them and there’s a fair bit of ignorance about what’s happening elsewhere in Scottish football, while those huddling on the diddly rump are required to know all about Rangers because they loom so large in the debate.
Also, they don’t make it easy for other fans to like them and don’t seem to care much either way. They’re not a vague concept. They’re Marmitey, or Bovrily, and you’re either in – for the entire cause – or you’re out. Somehow I can’t see Ibrox figuring on the itinerary of the football tourist. And of course all of the above applies to Celtic as well.
But, speaking from the lower slopes of that rump, round about a dismal ninth place in the Premiership, I’ll be supporting Rangers on Wednesday, just as I supported Celtic in 2003. Here, I’m probably showing my age.
In 1967 I supported Celtic in Lisbon and seven nights later I supported Rangers in Nuremberg. This was football – Scottish football – gripping me for the first time and in my naivety I thought European finals were the norm for our teams.
The following season and for a few afterwards I went turnabout to Easter Road and Tynecastle. Looking back this makes me sound like Fotherington-Tomas, the weedy drip from the Molesworth books, and instead of “Hello clouds, hello sky” the refrain would have been “Hello Hearts, hello Hibs”. That was then, a different time.
Celtic and Rangers weren’t yet annoyingly dominant. Just a couple of seasons previous to that Euro double-header, the old First Division finished: 1 Kilmarnock, 2 Hearts, 3 Dunfermline Athletic, 4 Hibs. Now the rump hardly get quoted, a situation likely to worsen with the millions about to flood into the Old Firm as reward for continental endeavours (though they’ll have to spend them wisely). Still, I just think, a final, only the tenth ever for one of our clubs, and it’s still just about possible to believe in the idea of ourness. So: hello John Lundstram with those rippling things of yours, hello Calvin Bassey … come on, Rangers!