Two adult Scotsmen from Renfrew, on a pristine lawn, in the sunshine. One on his hands and knees being dry-humped, doggy-style, by the other. Behind them, valiantly ignoring this advert for the perils of alcohol, a choir of virginal schoolchildren. In a bar up the road, an empty litre-and-a-half bottle of Imperial vodka.


Gothenburg, Tuesday

Irish Dave and I arrived in Gothenburg by train, and before we had left the station, the nonsense started. The Oslo express pulled in and several hundred women marched off the train – all blonde, all gorgeous, and all dressed as cowgirls. The collective jaw of our greasy, pale, mis-shapen group of Scots hit the floor of the station cafe; you could have drowned in the lake of drool. (They were going to a country music festival somewhere else in Sweden, we found out.)

The next day I bumped into Murray from Fife, who reappears later. He was with other Fifers, and they’d all spent the prior evening chatting up Scandic goddesses in bars: “They even talk to short, fat, ugly guys like me,” I remember a short, fat, ugly guy telling me. “That’s just because they can’t tell you’re from Fife,” I remember thinking. Or perhaps saying.

When there’s no game on, you have to fill your day with something other than drink. So the day before the match we went out to the suburbs to see Scotland’s football journalists take on their Dutch equivalents in a game (it was either that or a museum). A Scots collective packed with Derek Johnstone was soundly beaten something like 5-2 by a team of talented and healthy-looking hacks from Holland. (I’d bet they write better stories, too.) We then went next door to a shopping mall and ate some herring-based muck, because that’s all they had to eat. I learned that “Takk” means thank you. I would find this useful later.

Scotland lost 1-0 to a team with Bergkamp, Rijkaard, van Basten, Koeman (Ronald), and Gullit. I think Ruud Gullit was one of the most elegant and athletic players in footballing history, and he was the best in the world at the time. We did alright, but lost, like we always did.

Did I mention we spent every night in Gothenburg sleeping in an ice-rink?


Stockholm, Sunday

Sweden were playing Denmark that evening, so we went to the Rasunda to see if we could get tickets outside (those were simpler times). But as soon as I heard cockney and scouse touts in the subway station, I knew we had no chance, so we parked ourselves on a grassy knoll near the ground next to a couple of guys from Renfrew we’d met in Gothenburg. We shared some vodka as we passed the time.

Soon after, we were approached by a local. “Are you from Scotland?” asked the dude. No shit, Swedish Sherlock (the Renfrew boys had a massive flag). “Can I have a drink of your vodka?”

Now, in most places in Scotland, this question would elicit a punch in the face, because the requester is either (a) gay and hitting on you (b) a jakey or (c) a gay jakey hitting on you. But in Sweden, it is acceptable – the equivalent of asking for a light. It might lead to great man-on-man sex if you want it to, but that’s not generally the intent – I think it’s probably something to do with the high alcohol taxes.

Our new friend turned out to be alright, and suggested we go into town to watch the match in a bar with his friends.

While sipping a can of beer on the subway platform on the way there, I was tapped on the shoulder and told something in Swedish. I turned round and was face-to-face with the chest of the biggest human I had ever seen; he was dressed in a police uniform. He repeated what he said, still in Swedish. “Erm… do you speak English?” I asked. “Oh, you are a visitor,” he replied. “No problem. But can you please not drink in the subway.” I looked at my beer can, looked at him, and went straight to the nearest trash can, apologising profusely to avoid getting a truncheon in the head.

On seeing this, our new Swedish friend approached the polis – who was huge, dressed like a paramilitary, and carrying a gun – and suggested, calmly, that I was a guest of Sweden and that he shouldn’t have asked me to do that.

What happened next was one of the many things I’ll never forget that night.

The policeman had a civilised, rational discussion with this half-drunk football supporter, explaining why he needed to do what he did. They spoke for a few minutes, took time to understand each other’s point of view, shook hands, and we all moved on with our lives. At no point did the policeman raise his voice or threaten arrest, violence, or worse.

Can you imagine that happening in Glasgow? Or anywhere outside Sweden, for that matter?

We found ourselves in a basement bar in Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s Old Town, and watched Sweden beat the Danes 1-0 (one Tommy Brolin!). At the end of the game a guy on the next table leaned over. “Are you from Scotland?” he asked, in a strong Swedish accent. Here we go, I thought, another Swedish c*nt wants some of my beer: “Yes, I am.” “Ha! My name is Jimmy McIver and I am from Clydebank.” And so it was: his dad had married a Swede, and they had begat Jimmy McIver, the Swede from Clydebank. Jimmy suggested we move on with him, and as our original friend was now quite drunk and aggressively singing AIK Stockholm songs with his equally drunk and aggressive friends, we didn’t need much persuasion.

Three hours later we were still in Gamla Stan, but in a German karaoke bar packed with Germans, Swedes, Danes, and now three Scots and an Irishman. Someone put “Dancing Queen” on the jukebox and the whole place erupted. The last thing I remember is being part of a massive conga line through the bar, outside, and back in again. Abba never felt so good.


Norkopping, Monday

We travelled down with the Renfrew boys for the Germany game, arriving at noon. We found a spot in the corner of a busy bar, and I started sharing the bottle of vodka. It had been bought on the Dover-Calais ferry and preserved for this moment. When it ran out we left, got a carryout, and wandered down the road.

Norkopping is a mid-sized, pleasantly provincial town. Euro 92 was a big deal for them and they had put on many events to entertain the travelling fans. I can imagine the scene at one of the town meetings late in 1991 or early in 1992 – someone proposing to have the local church or school choir out in the city centre, maybe singing some traditional Swedish songs to give the friendly visitors some appreciation of what it is to be Swedish. “That sounds like a great idea,” the mayor would have agreed, and so it was done.

But when our Renfrew friends came across this pastorally innocent scene of lawns and choirs and singing, it was too much for them. They’d also been in Sweden for a week, surrounded by “stunners, nae dugs like”, and perhaps they needed to release those carnal passions. Or maybe they just thought it was funny (it was), or maybe they were just drunk (they were). However it happened, I will never forget the scene as we parted with them, never to meet again:

Two adult Scotsmen from Renfrew, on a pristine lawn, in the sunshine. One on his hands and knees being dry-humped, doggy-style, by the other. Behind them, valiantly ignoring this advert for the perils of alcohol, a choir of virginal schoolchildren. In a bar up the road, an empty litre-and-a-half bottle of Imperial vodka.

At half-time, we were one down but should have been three up. I only know this because I read the reports afterwards – I remember the emotions of that match but not the details. In fact, six months later I bumped into Murray from Fife again and he mentioned that I’d been “a wee bit the worse for wear” at the Norkopping game. This was a very polite phrasing, because I was standing next to him throughout the game and had no recollection of him even being there.

Scotland lost 2-0, and we were going home, but the fans remained for what seemed like an hour until Andy Roxburgh came back out and told us all a funny story about the German manager Berti Vogts, who would later turn out to be a clown himself. After the match I walked down a long line of Swedish riot police, shaking them all by the hand and saying “Takk” to every one of them. My pal Dave was laughing at me because he thought I was an idiot. I thought I was improving international relations.

There was an old woman in my reserved seat on the very busy midnight train to Copenhagen. She claimed not to understand me, so I told her, in very loud English, several times, “YOU’RE SITTING IN MY SEAT”. She didn’t get the message, so another Scottish guy said he spoke the language and could help. He leaned over towards her and said, in very loud English, “YOU’RE SITTING IN HIS SEAT.”

She understood him. I woke up hungover in Denmark.


Scotland v Netherlands, Euro 92

Scotland v Germany, Euro 92

Scotland v CIS