Twenty-three years. Twenty-three years looking from the outside in, faces pressed against the TV watching the rest of the Home Nations enjoying their moments in the sun while we Scotland fans relive the moments that haunt us. England, Northern Ireland, Wales, and the Republic of Ireland have all enjoyed at least one international tournament to varying degrees of success in this time, while Scotland have at worst, bombed out early in qualifying and at best were left licking their wounds after a memorably forgettable performance.
The Tartan Army have played out ten disappointing campaigns up to the 2018 World Cup, with one playoff appearance being their best showing, a playoff that started brightly with a 1-0 win over the Netherlands. Smiles turned to tears soon after as the Dutch thumped us 6-0 in the return leg to book their place at Euro 2004. Seven managed have tried, and failed, to get us to a major tournament; Craig Brown, Berti Vogts, Walter Smith, Alex McLeish, George Burley, Craig Levein and Gordon Strachan – though credit where it is due, Brown did guide the team to the 1998 World Cup.
This stint saw us score 149 points out of a possible 282. That is 94 games (plus the two playoff matches against the Netherlands.) In this stint, 43 games were won, 22 drawn and 30 lost. The team scored 131 goals and let in 100 (including our playoff loss bumps an extra win and loss on the board, taking total goals scored up to 132 and the number conceded to 106).
It has been a haze of mediocrity. There have been good moments for sure. The aforementioned first leg win again the Netherlands gave the team a boost, albeit for a matter of days. No Scotland fan can possibly forget the historic double over France in the 2008 qualifying campaign, James McFadden lobbing the French goalkeeper from 40 or so yards being a particular highlight. The much-criticised Craig Levein got us damn close to another playoff spot, an outrageous dive costing the Tartan army a shot at glory. Even in the latter years, they had a historical win over England cancelled out in the dying seconds, masking a still impressive result, while a double over the Republic of Ireland raised some smiles.
For every decent result, though, a stinker was on the line. A 3-0 loss to Kazakhstan kicked off the most recent qualifying campaign. Defeats to Georgia in 2007 and 2015 still haunt us, the memory of what could have been. Failure to beat Slovenia, Moldova and Belarus in the 2006 World Cup campaign stung and of course, October 11th, 2008. Chris Iwelumo. If ever a singular moment could capture a national feeling. If you haven’t seen this miss, I urge you to look it up now.
Following on from World Cup ’98, Scotland kicked off their road to darkness against Lithuania in Vilnius. A 0-0 draw, desperately disappointing in September 1998 and even today it feels like an opportunity missed. Since that game, up until our final qualifier for World Cup 2018 (a deflating 2-2 away to Slovenia), these seven national team managers have picked 132 players in qualifiers – and countless more in friendlies and training camps who never kicked a competitive ball. 132 men who, try as they might, failed to get us over the line.
Jim Leighton. Tommy Boyd. Christian Dailly. Colin Calderwood. Matt Elliot. Colin Hendry. John Collins. Paul Lambert. Kevin Gallacher. Darren Jackson. Ally McCoist. Barry Ferguson. Callum Davidson. Neil McCann. David Weird. Ian Durrant. Allan Johnston. Billy McKinlay. Simon Donnelly. Billy Dodds. Neil Sullivan. Craig Burley. Stephen Glass. David Hopkin. Gary McAllister. Eoin Jess. Don Hutchison. Colin Cameron. Scot Gemmill. Jonathon Gould. Brian O’Neil. Paul Ritchie. Mark Burchill. Gary McSwegan. Gary Naysmith. Gary Holt. Jackie McNamara. Paul Dickov. Dominic Matteo. Scott Booth. Dougie Freedman. Gavin Rae. Scott Severin. Rab Douglas. Maurice Ross. Scott Dobie. Kevin Kyle. Stevie Crawford. Graham Alexander. Steven Thompson. Stephen Crainey. Stephen Pressley. Lee Wilkie. Russell Anderson. Kenny Miller. Paul Devlin. Paul Gallacher. Andy Gray. Andy Webster. James McFadden. Darren Fletcher. Stephen Pearson. Craig Gordon. Gary Caldwell. Malky Mackay. Nigel Quashie. Richard Hughes. Steven Caldwell. Ian Murray. Lee McCulloch. Paul Hartley. Garry O’Connor. Craig Beattie. Shaun Maloney. Kris Boyd. Gary Teale. Robbie Neilson. Stephen McManus. Scott Brown. Charlie Adam. Alan Hutton. Jay McEveley. Graeme Murty. Barry Robson. Kris Commons. Kirk Broadfoot. James Morrison. Chris Iwelumo. Allan McGregor. Christophe Berra. Ross McCormack. Stephen Fletcher. David Marshall. Steven Whittaker. Lee Wallace. Graeme Dorrans. Jamie Mackie. Phil Bardsley. Danny Wilson. Don Cowie. Barry Bannan. David Goodwillie. Robert Snodgrass. Craig Mackail-Smith. James Forrest. Paul Dixon. Jordan Rhodes. Steven Naismith. Danny Fox. Matt Phillips. Grant Hanley. Charlie Mulgrew. Chris Burke. James McArthur. Liam Bridcutt. George Boyd. Russell Martin. Ikechi Anya. Leigh Griffiths. Matt Gilks. Andy Robertson. Chris Martin. Gordon Greer. Matt Ritchie. Craig Forsyth. Johnny Russell. Callum Paterson. Oli Burke. Kieran Tierney. John McGinn. Stuart Armstrong. Ryan Fraser.
Some helped us reach World Cup ’98 and several have played their part in getting the Tartan Army to Euro 2020. Several in the middle scored important goals, miraculous blocks and racked up a great many caps. There are players in this spell of failure who deserved to play at a major tournament and there are some who, quite frankly, don’t deserve the courtesy of a memory of their Scotland careers.
SCOTLAND. ARE. BACK.
Yes, it has been a deflating couple of decades. Painful, heartbreaking and downright disengaging at times. The good news, if you’re a Scotland fan, is that there is light at the end of the tunnel. The qualifying campaign felt like a disaster at first and didn’t feel particularly special throughout. A playoff was sealed via the Nations League pathway, the fact that this is an expanded tournament with 24 teams participating helped immensely too. As the playoffs progressed, the team was galvanised. The failures of the past turned to hope and before long it really felt like Scotland were on to something. The following players all featured in qualifying for the final tournament, though sadly due to squad limits, not all will be going to the championships.
Scott Bain. David Bates. Scott McKenna. Graeme Shinnie. Liam Palmer. Stuart Armstrong. James Forrest. John McGinn. Callum McGregor. Oli Burke. Ollie McBurnie. Johnny Russell. Scott McTominay. Marc McNulty. Stephen O’Donnell. Andy Robertson. Callum Paterson. Ryan Fraser. Kenny McLean. David Marshall. Charlie Mulgrew. Eamonn Brophy. Greg Taylor. Liam Cooper. Ryan Christie. Matt Phillips. Robert Snodgrass. Michael Devlin. Liam Palmer. John Fleck. Lawrence Shankland. Jon McLaughlin. Stuart Findlay. Declan Gallagher. Ryan Jack. Steven Naismith. Grant Hanley. Jack Hendry. Kieran Tierney. Che Adams. Lyndon Dykes. Leigh Griffiths.
We aren’t going into this tournament expecting to win the whole thing, yet the memories of the Welsh and Icelandic 2016 tournament sit fresh in the minds of all the smaller nations. We are not there to be swept aside 3-0 by the English, Czechs and Croatians. We want to make history. We want to make our fans smile again; to give them something to hold on to for years to come.
The moment that David Marshall made that save in the Playoff against Serbia, something has changed. Not just have Scotland been in the footballing dark for over two decades, but in the grips of this global pandemic, the national morale was at a low that likely hasn’t been experienced since the 1940s, when WWII struck Europe. What this save and the ramifications of it did was to give the nation some hope.
There may not have been any fans at Hampden to witness this iconic moment of Scottish sporting history, although that certainly didn’t stop the fans from celebrating. Videos from the Scotland changing room emerged at full time of the players celebrating raucously to the Baccara song ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie”. The Tartan Army have embraced this as our unofficial tournament anthem and this song, which was first released in April 1977, was reintroduced to the charts in November 2020 following a remarkable number of streams following Marshall’s save.
Scotland could be a tournament dark horse, progressing through the tournament, particularly given the expanded format introduced in 2016. Conversely, they may exit the tournament without accruing a single point – we simply don’t know. What can be said with certainty, however, is that we are going to give it a bloody good go. Scotland may not be the most thrilling side to watch under Steve Clarke, but we have a style back. We have a core who play in the English Premier League and an exciting mix of young lads who are hoping to relish this opportunity and stamp their mark on the world.
Craig Gordon. David Marshall. Jon McLaughlin. Liam Cooper. Nathan Patterson. Andy Robertson. Grant Hanley. Scott McKenna. Stephen O’Donnell. Kieran Tierney. Declan Gallagher. Greg Taylor. Jack Hendry. Billy Gilmour. John McGinn. Callum McGregor. Stuart Armstrong. Scott McTominay. David Turnbull. Ryan Christie. John Fleck. Ryan Fraser. Lyndon Dykes. Che Adams. Kevin Nisbet. James Forrest.
These are the 26 men included in Steve Clarke’s squad. There was a debate on who would and would not go, and some still have questions over certain players. These line-ups are set now, however, and if you are Scottish then it is time to set aside club rivalries for the next month and give the boys in blue your full backing.
With an opening at Hampden Park on Monday the 14th the fans who are permitted to enter the stadium will surely be on hand to cheer on behalf of the entire nation. We have suffered for too long in the shadows. We have witnessed too many near misses, agonised over so many nightmarish results. Our time to celebrate is now. We are Scotland. We are the Tartan Army, and yes sir, we can boogie!