I don’t care for rugby, but I visited an egg-chasing friend at the weekend so was obliged to accompany him to his local boozer on Saturday to watch fifteen genetic freaks lumber around under the dreich Auckland skies playing against the Scottish team. After a stout performance where the underdog Scots won an early lead and held tight to it for over an hour, England stole the game in the final minutes with an undeserved try. Scotland had to wait until the next day to be mathematically drop-kicked out of rugby’s top tournament, but their boarding passes could have been printed when the final whistle blew inside Eden Park.
My Facebook stream after the game was full of consolation messages from and to Scots across the globe. “We had no luck”, “We played well”, “We deserved better”.
England used to have the “English Disease”: hooliganism. Now we have the “Scottish Disease”: thinking that glorious failure is glorious. It’s not; it’s failure, and I’m sick of it.
There are a lot of possible permutations for the final rounds of Euro 2012 Group I qualifiers, but I can confidently predict one thing: come Wednesday morning, we’ll be out on our hairy ginger arses once again. The Czechs won’t cave in Kaunas, and even if they do, we’ll manage to avoid victory in Vaduz. With the benefit of a plucky performance against the reigning European and World Champions, this fresh failure will be spun by Scottish fans, management, and the media into another in the long line of Scottish footballing tragedies, with diving Czech cheat Jan Rezek in the bad guy role.
The only bad guy is anyone who swallows this fairy tale. The real tragedy is that we should be travelling to Liechtenstein looking for the win to seal our playoff place.
Craig Levein has to realise that we expect better. He has cocked up our best chance in years to qualify for something, even if it was just a November doubleheader against one of Europe’s top second-tier teams. His excessive caution cost us against the Czechs, home and away. His pride is preventing Stephen Fletcher, our best striker, from suiting up for Scotland. And Levein’s general aversion to gallusness insults the finest moments in Scottish football tradition.
The players need to know that we expect better. Liechtenstein’s population is smaller than Hampden’s and we took until the seventh minute of stoppage time to squeak a winner against them there. There are no easy games in international football? Sorry, but if the Scotland team turned up to a sold-out Hampden and challenged the best eleven players in the crowd to a game, the remaining audience wouldn’t exactly expect a tense rerun of Faddy 1 Holland 0. We need to be banging in four, five, six against the likes of Liechtenstein.
The Scottish Football Association needs to know that we expect better. Twenty-five years after commissioning a high-profile report but doing absolutely nothing with it, they have repeated the first half of that act and are in danger of duplicating the second with the McLeish report. Yes, it’s hard to change Scottish football and yes, it will take time. But if the SFA just act as administrators to distribute the tickets and book the team hotel – well, we can outsource that job to India.
Finally, the fans need to expect better. An 18-year-old Scottish kid won’t remember what it was like to regularly qualify for big tournaments; he’ll probably not remember us playing in any, so he has no expectations. But the younger generation need to be taught to be angry when we come back from Kaunas with one point, not three, or from Prague with nothing. We don’t want to be like England’s historic hooligans, but we shouldn’t just shrug our shoulders, swap tops with a local, and launch into a chorus of “we’re only here for the bevvy”. You’re not. The bevvy’s just fuel for the real business: winning.
Kenny Dalglish said it best. “You show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser.” We’ve become so used to losing good that we’ve forgotten a vital fact: we have become losers.