Army surplus?

Kevin Donnelly reports on how Scotland fans have been taken to task in the press in the wake of the World Cup debacle against Estonia

It is all too likely Scotland fans will want to forget the game against Estonia as quickly as possible. However, certain post match fallout is unlikely to allow them the opportunity, with the match seen as the breaking point in the somewhat tenuous relationship between the travelling Scotland fans and the Scottish sports press.

In the following week, several articles appeared in Scotland questioning the behaviour and, for want of a better phrase, raison d’être of the Tartan Army. Most of the writing can be dismissed as the carpings of people who either don’t know or don’t care about the fans who follow Scotland abroad. However, two people who should know better are the main columnists in the Monday sports section of the Daily Record, James Trayner, and Stuart Cosgrove, author of Hampden Babylon and now the presenter of Off the Ball a post match radio show on Saturday afternoons. “We must stop making fools of ourselves on and off the park,” said Traynor whilst Cosgrove felt that “Scottish football is keen to preserve its last pathetic myth – that a bedraggled army of travelling fans can seduce the world.”

Trayner, a very civil man in person, presents himself as the hard-bitten hack beloved of Hollywood movies. Cosgrove comes across as the knowing media type still prepared to pay for his own trips like a normal punter. However, he appears to have undergone a dramatic personality change from the picture he paints of himself in the blurb for Hampden Babylon, where he recalls being one of “Houston four”, who, due to their drunken behaviour on the flight over, were met at that city’s airport by the FBI en route to Mexico in 1986.

As expected, these negative articles have stoked the fires of outrage among fans, not least because the only supporters whose pictures ever make it into the Daily Record are those in full Bonny Prince Charlie rig out. Nonetheless, the writers should be commended for bringing out into the open a topic that many Scotland fans are unwilling to even contemplate, ie should the Tartan Army not think a bit more seriously about why they’re prepared to follow a bunch of journeymen footballers?

Given Scotland’s indifferent record in the past, the result is immaterial to many fans who just want to party whatever the score. Sometimes, though, the expectancy level can rise to such an extent, as against Estonia, that a win is the only result to be tolerated. So when the expected result fails to materialize, the previously happy-go-lucky attitude that has seen indifferent Scotland teams showered with adulation as they bow out of yet another tournament in the first stage, evaporates.

Then, when a player such as Iain Ferguson is unlucky enough to be caught saying what probably half the team is feeling, the fans sense of grievance is enhanced yet again.

The press’s call to cut out the self-delusion will probably fall on deaf ears, however, for if Scotland supporters really did face up to the reality that we are following a limited team that is never going to achieve anything significant, the support would probably fade away like a winter tan. For the foreseeable future, though, the lively times to be had outside the main event will keep the fans travelling however good or bad the team may be.

If Stuart Cosgrove really believes that “the Tartan Army’s self-righteousness is becoming a monumental bore,” there is a solution to the problem. He can always resign his commission from the aforesaid Army and stop going.

From WSC 122 April 1997. What was happening this month