SAD to say, it hasn’t been a good time, of late, for followers of the Scottish International Football Team.
Younger fans – assuming there are some – might find it hard to believe, but such was not always the case. Admittedly, Scotland has never actually won any tournament of significance, but we did, once upon quite a long time ago, used to have some decent players who were capable of, if not exactly making us proud, then at least showing us how to enjoy oorsels.
And never did we enjoy oorsels more than on the bi-annual trip down to Wembley for the England game, an occasion which gave us the opportunity to (a) behave like unwashed, boorish Barbarians for a weekend and (b) watch a football match. ((A) it has to be said, was obligatory, (b) on the other hand, entirely optional.)
My first Wembley campaign was 1977, a year in which the bar for behaviour of an unwashed Barbarian boorish nature was well and truly set and, it has to be said, thus far unsurpassed.
Military strategists tell us that the secret to a successful operation is in the planning; the devil being in the detail - failing to plan equalling planning to fail and all that.
We did no planning whatsoever. Me and my mate Norrie decided at school on the Thursday morning we’d make the trip and that very afternoon saw us at our favourite hitchhiking spot, outside the Calder Park Zoo, suitably prepared for the trip.
Match tickets? Naw.
Booked accommodation? Nope.
Money? Are you kidding?
A succession of dodgy lifts from dodgy people in dodgy vehicles resulted in Norrie and me hitting Central London early-ish the next morning, an event I recall with nostalgic pleasure, as the first time I was exposed to that famous Cockney Sparrar sense of humour.
‘Hey mate’ said the bloke who’d given us our final lift – by this time we’d met up with the bulk of the travelling Tartan army hordes – ‘where’s the nearest boozer?’
‘You’re looking at him’ was the fast as lightening rejoinder from our witty metropolitan cousin.
Laugh? I nearly bought a drink. And would have done if I’d had any dough.
That Friday night, me, Norrie and thousands of tartan-clad brutes did our best to stage a re-creation of what might have happened if Bonny Prince Charlie’s Army had made it to the capital in 1745. Assuming of course that the Italian Dwarf’s lads had decided to cut back on the raping and pillaging and focussed instead on chucking each other into the Trafalgar Square Fountain, wandering futilely around the Soho area singing the same banal song over and over and generally acting like a bunch of red-necked savages to whom bright lights and a faintly cosmopolitan vibe were a wholly alien concept.
It wasn’t all good natured stuff however – when is it ever?- I can recall witnessing a pissed-up Scot pulling a barman across the bar by his hair for the heinous crime of asking for some remuneration for the 18 pints of lager that had just been ordered.
Readers of a certain vintage will remember a TV doco of the time called ‘Johnny Come Home’, which warned in some detail of the predatory individuals who preyed on young, wide-eyed, naïve Scots who fetched up in London, with one Roger Gleaves, the self-styled ‘Bogus Bishop of Medway’ being name-checked as the most obnoxious.
Norrie and I had watched the show and vowed to keep ourselves ‘nice’ and therefore felt thoroughly secure in accepting an offer from a middle-aged fella from Fife to crash on the floor of his hotel room.
For Bogus Bishop of Medway read Pished Pastor of Pittenweem, which just goes to show that when it comes to conduct of an opportunistic, unsavoury and perverted nature, we Scots are as able as anyone.
Norrie and I make our excuses. And stayed.
The Pished Pastor accepted our rebuffs with alacrity and promptly fell into a deep, snoring sleep but I have to admit it was a long, scary, sleepless night for Norrie and me. Serves us right, you might say.
Match day Saturday and though we had no tickets and no cally-dosh, somehow we made it into the stadium, courtesy of some new found Caledonian pals, which just goes to show that when it comes to an incredible generosity of spirit and camaraderie, we Scots are as able as anyone.
And the Game. Ah, the Game. Who can ever forget the Game?
Well me actually and although I know we won 2-1, the rest is a blur; the only thing I truly remember is the berserk tartan bears invading the pitch on the final whistle, demolishing the goalposts and ripping up the pitch, a curious and somewhat inexplicable reaction to a famous victory.
Free spirited, joyous jubilation. (Outrageous, despicable vandalism really, though we didn’t think so at the time and neither, as I recollect, did the Scottish media.)
In the hitchhiking equivalent of that famous fitba’ axiom – ‘leaving early to beat the crowds’, Norrie and I immediately got our thumbs out and set off, travelling through the night to emerge, bleary-eyed and knackered into the early light of a Glasgow dawn.
By breakfast time we were home, tucking into black pudding and potato scones, silently acknowledging that whilst London was all very well an’ that, there was no place like home - till the next time of course.
Thus began a number of hitchhiking journeys which led to friends wondering if my ambition in life was to become The Sunday Post ‘Hon Man’, a long running feature about travelling for free.
Unfortunately – or perhaps not - I didn’t make it as The Hon Man, although as an occasional scribe for that Sunday staple of yesteryear, I was, for a week - whilst the real one enjoyed the fleshpots of Las Vegas - couthy do-gooding columnist Francis Gay.
But that, of course, is another story.