Qualification of Wales and Northern Ireland will make tournament harder than usual to watch
24 March ~ My ticket for next Tuesday’s Scotland v Denmark match didn’t drop through the letterbox at the exact moment England’s Euro 2016 training base was shown on Sky Sports News. It just felt like that. An unwanted friendly at a deserted Hampden somehow became less palatable as Roy Hodgson prattled over footage of five-star double rooms with fleur-de-lis patterned bed linen. While Scotland prepare for another qualifying campaign, everyone else is preparing for the entire point of international football, which some Scots are trying to forget exists.
I gave up England-hating years ago. But my genuine pleasure in seeing Wales and Northern Ireland end decades without a major finals has been soured. Scotland being in the half – and it is barely half – of Europe which failed to reach the newly expanded Euros has been rammed home rather than ameliorated by all our immediate neighbours qualifying. We had one poor performance in our group (in Georgia) yet will now go 20 years without a tournament. We finished behind Germany, Poland and the Republic of Ireland despite the world champions being the only one of that top three to beat us. It’s too perverse to bear.
My tenner for the Denmark game also gets me free entry to the Under-21s friendly at Paisley that afternoon. Two games on two grounds on the same day is a personal first, and the only reason I’m bothering. I’m indifferent to internationals since Robert Lewandowski’s comically scrambled 95th-minute goal, in October, left Scotland house-sitting the British Isles this summer.
I barely remembered we’re playing the Czech Republic in Prague tonight. Gordon Strachan picked two different squads for this week and I don’t care why. Apparently I should be outraged he selected players not appearing for English clubs and omitted players excelling for Scottish clubs. I’m not. On Monday I heard Strachan’s assistant, Mark McGhee, say preparations for Russia 2018 start now. I instantly gave Radio 4’s The Archers another chance. I need to digest this summer of pain before I can contemplate another.
In April my club have two cup games and the chance to seal promotion. Most of May I’ll spend hoping Aberdeen and Leicester City can become champions of their respective countries: then it’s the foetal position until mid-July. The Scotland Supporters Club recently e-mailed to ask if I’d be attending our two friendlies at the end of 2015-16, against Italy in Malta and France in Metz. Yes. Flying out of France just as every other English-speaking nation arrives. Where do I sign.
My wife checks tournament dates every second summer before booking our holidays, ruling out the month I’ll be camped in front of our telly. I’ve usually absorbed Scotland’s absence by the December draw for any finals. But it’s March now and I’m still not over Poland at Hampden. This summer I’ll holiday between June 10 and July 10. I’ll go anywhere that’s not France or any of the other 23 qualified nations. I’m not sitting in some bar on the Dalmatian coast, the Austrian Tyrol or Tirana’s main street, watching locals scream at a television with a passionate involvement I’ve been denied since France 98. This is one sans-Scotland tournament too many.
All I currently know about Euro 2016 is Albania will play Switzerland (they’re two UEFA nations I’ve never seen in the flesh) and Northern Ireland didn’t draw the Republic. Beyond that, all I see is a pile of dark blue shirts and white shirts on a goal-line directly in front of me and Lewandowski squeezing home a ball so close I feel I could have palmed it away myself. Russia 2018 is so far away it just doesn’t count. Alex Anderson
Photo by Colin McPherson/WSC Photography: Scotland fans feel the tension during their Euro 2016 qualifier against Republic of Ireland