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Picking a team to 'support' this summer in Scotland's absence? Impossible . . .

HAVE sent this mince from my bunker constructed of World Cup supplements.

The walls are thus made up of photies of young men screaming which reminds one of the sports desk the moment my column arrives from cyber space. Or outer space, as one of the impudent young pups insists.

The sports desk has been energised by the World Cup to the extent only previously witnessed when the sports editor handed out purple pills to the sub-editors to help them through an 18-hour shift. This ended badly and was the subject of Timothy O'Leary's seminal book on sub-editing: Turn on, tune in, drop the last par.

But this week the babble on the desk became a squabble. Somebody had been playing Scrabble and they had rearranged the letters. No, the boys were arguing about who they were supporting in the World Cup.

They were talking nonsense. I knew this because their lips were moving and noises were produced.

Here's the truth. If your team is not at the World Cup - and Scotland has bravely, nay resolutely, decided not to be involved - then support is impossible. One can pick another team, even put a few bob on them but that cannot be confused with the sheer anguish of fandom.

There is talk of World Cup fever but Scots can only have minor symptoms. Fandom involves more than a notion of support or a tenner on a line. Having a team in the World Cup means that every game matters. The three group games approach with all the menace of a juggernaut driven by a homicidal maniac on acid. That's right, just like a Monday morning on the M8.

Sleep before a match is impossible and not just because the World Cup supplements glint in the moonlight. The weaknesses in the team appear as glaring as an angry sports editor. And is there any other kind?

The opponents seem as strong as Atlas on steroids.

The morning before the match is spent pacing the living-room. And wondering why you never bought a chair.

The afternoon is spent looking through newspapers for any sign of hope and clutching on to the fact that your horoscope makes no mention of the Costa Rican front two.

The preparations for the match can include the assembling of such amounts of alcohol that the wife suspects one is attempting the world record of anaesthetising a herd of elephants with attention deficit disorder.

The matches, mercifully, arrive but the torment continues. A bad result for Scotland - and, believe me, we had them - was followed by the sort of despair that must have been experienced by Midas shortly after he buttoned his fly.

A smashing result - and, believe me, we had them too - was followed by the Caledonian angst that routinely follows good fortune. This can be consigned under the file: Aye, But.

Scotland's participation in the World Cup was always about What If? and Aye, But. Now it is about: When, If Ever?

This drives us into the arms of the most unlikely mistresses. One has always had an eye for the devious charms of such as Uruguay and Argentina. And I love the way the Italians play precisely their way: parking the bus is a recklessly adventurous manoeuvre for the Azzurri, though Cesare Prandelli has pretensions of at least being mildly attacking.

Others will opt for Honduras, Germany, England, Chile or whatever on a whim or even as the result of some affection. But it is not true, desperate fandom. It does not involve group matches that take 90-minutes plus but subtract years from one's life. It is not about coming up with a series of behaviours that will ensure a Scotland victory (wait a minute: I had a perforated ulcer when they beat Sweden in 1990. Honey, can you pass me a glass and some bleach . . . ).

It is not about focusing every piece of one's damaged brain cells and every iota of one's being on every kick of a ball. It is not about cheering the winning of a shy. It is not about cursing a ref, impugning his very honour, for giving a free-kick on the halfway line.

The World Cup for me will be fascinating, intriguing and, I hope, entertaining. But it will not be injurious to my health or my sanity. The sub-editors will state that both are irredeemably damaged anyway. They would be right.

They tell me they always are.

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