23rd June 1998 - Stade Geoffroy-Guichard (Saint-Etienne) and as the tartan army followed the tabloid sponsored tartan bus as it meandered through the city centre of the industrial city of Saint Etienne making its way to the outskirts of town towards the stadium you could sense something special was gonna happen, this was it, we were going to make it through the group stages of a major tournament for the first time in our history. Brazil had already won their first 2 games and were a certainty to beat Norway in their final game. I recall discussing with my mate that we would have to start making plans for the trip south to Marseille for the round of 16 and also negotiate more time off work with my gaffer back home!
The previous day we had travelled to the Scotland training camp in St Remy, it was a closed doors session but we managed to watch through the gaps in the fence, the hero from the previous game Craig Burley had taken a leaf from the Romanians and went for the peroxide blonde hairdo, he stuck out like a beacon... A group of media had also arrived and as they couldn’t get in they asked us lads if we’d do an interview for them and we duly obliged with the enthusiasm you would expect, giving a wee rendition of Flower of Scotland for good measure... As the players exited the session to board the bus big Colin Hendry signed our football for us and I wished him all the best....
I was 22 years old when I made the trip to France with a couple of older mates, and as we left the stadium that night having been soundly beating by 3 goals to nil by a decent Morocco team (albeit against 10 men for a while) the aforementioned peroxide Burley having been sent off in the 2nd half (it was easy to spot him)... Had you told me then that some 19 years and 9 major tournaments later that we wouldn’t have qualified for any tournament again I’d have laughed in your face, but here we are and as Scotland go into their last 3 games of the current qualifying the odds are stacked against us and its more than likely that 19 years will become 20 and we will be facing 10 tournaments in international exile.
You could argue that Scotland have over achieved for a nation of only 5 million people, as a kid my earliest memory of Scotland was of them beating a decent Spanish side 3-1 at Hampden on the road to Mexico 86 with the King curling a beauty into the top corner and Mo Johnston grabbing a brace. A few years later and my first Scotland game the same Mo Johnston grabbed another brace this time against France in the pouring rain at Hampden, a victory that set us on our way to Italy 1990.
Qualifying for Italy 1990, Sweden 1992, England 1996 and France 1998 makes for a good CV (we won’t count USA 1994 as they don’t have a clue about it anyways, of course I am joking). We had a decent squad of players; Mo Johnston, Ally McCoist, Paul McStay, Gary McAllister, Brian McClair, Colin Hendry, John Collins, Richard Gough, Andy Goram and also good pros who always put in a shift the likes of Kevin Gallacher, Colin Calderwood, Eoin Jess, Tosh McKinlay, Tom Boyd, Christan Dailly... One name missing from the list who in my opinion should’ve been a Scottish legend was big Duncan Ferguson, he had everything in his locker to terrify the best defenders in the world, we got a glimpse of this in a friendly against Germany at Ibrox where he bullied, harried and terrified the German defenders all night, sadly off the field incidents and the interference of the SFA led to big Dunc spending time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure and who can blame him for turning his back on Scotland after that!!
The 2 Euros we qualified for (Sweden 92 and England 96) should not be underestimated particularly the 92 version as only 8 teams qualified for the final tournament so in some ways while we didn’t emerge from the group containing the Dutch, the Germans and the former Soviet Union you could argue that we were in fact already in the quarter finals (tenuous I know but I’ll take it haha).. Joking aside to even qualify for that tournament was an achievement in itself, but in a group that contained the holders (Holland) and World Champions (Germany) it was always going to be a tall order to emerge from the group, the abiding image is that of a Scottish fan kissing one of the Swedish policewoman through the perimeter fence of the stadium, we left our mark.
Euro 96 will always be remembered for that goal by Gazza and McAllister’s penalty miss, the game itself from memory was far from a classic but defined by those 2 moments. McAllister in particular became vilified by certain parts of the Scottish support but I’d rather remember the very talented player who stepped up to score the only goal of the game from the spot away to Belarus the following year to help us qualify for France 98. Bottle? You bet. The other memory of Euro 96 is England’s resounding victory over the Dutch, the nail in the Scots coffin though was Seaman letting a Kluivert trundller through his legs to send us out on goal difference having hammered the Swiss 1-0 thanks to one of the best goals scored by any Scotsman in a major tournament when McCoist laced one into the top corner from 25 yards....
And so we come back to France 98 by which time I was a fully-fledged member of the Tartan Army who set off on a holiday of a lifetime taking in games all across the fan zones of France inc Paris, Montpellier and Saint Etienne meeting fans from all over the world. Overall though we came up short the highlight being involved in the opening game against holders Brazil and the image of John Collins slotting his penalty past the despairing dive of Taffarel is another that will live long in the memory. Craig Burley’s cute lob over the advancing Norwegian goalkeeper in Bordeaux gave the travelling hordes hope.
We flirted with qualifying for Euro 2000 but more Wembley heartache when the bitter sweet victory of beating the Auld Enemy 0-1 in their own backyard had already been scuppered by 2 Paul Scholes goals at Hampden a few days earlier. It must be said that the unassuming Craig Brown who many laughed at when he took over from Andy Roxburgh was pound for pound one of the best Scottish managers in the modern era and as we now look down the barrel of 20 years in international exile a bet wee Broony can afford himself a wee laugh as he has seen Vogts, Smith, McLeish, Burley, Levein and now Strachan all fail what he managed to do on 2 occasions in the mid to late 90s.
And as that 22 year old left the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard totally despondent an old timer with the badges of all his previous travels said to me ‘it’s the hope that kills ye son’...
How very very true....
Tartan Army since 1989