THE Tartan Army are a famously stoic bunch but events at Hampden on Friday night suggest that maybe even they have now had enough. And, if some of the hardiest and loyal fans in football have become so disenchanted that they can barely bring themselves to boo Scotland off the park on the back of another defeat, then perhaps the we are indeed heading for some kind of existential crisis.

Few countries are as wed to the fortunes of their men’s national football team with so little reward as Scotland. With no appearance at a major finals since 1998, that unyielding devotion has given little in return. The occasional upset here, a glimpse of optimism there. But nothing more than those meagre scraps for more than two decades. And yet the fans would always still turn out in huge numbers to watch the team both at home and abroad.

Perhaps, though, the Scottish FA were wrong to take that unstinting loyalty for granted. Of course, for many Scotland fans the day out or trip away is as much a part of the experience as watching the 90 minutes on the pitch, but in recent times we have seen attendances at Hampden falling some way short of the full houses that have traditionally been expected and nearly always received.

On a mild, dry Friday night against last year’s World Cup quarter-finalists – the first competitive home game against a major nation since England visited in June 2017 – only 32,432 were present to watch Steve Clarke’s side throw away an early lead to lose to a physically and technically superior Russia side.

More alarming than the attendance figure, however, was how subdued the crowd were. There was little atmosphere in the build-up to the match while the only real bursts of singing and noise followed John McGinn’s goal. As Scotland succumbed tamely to another defeat, the overall reaction was the equivalent of a collective shrugging of the shoulders. And that is why alarm bells should be ringing on the sixth floor of Hampden.

Fans have now become so inured to watching this team lose that it no longer has any detrimental effect on their well-being. And when football supporters stop caring, they stop going. And that could be hugely significant when it comes to Scotland’s love-hate relationship with its men’s national team.

Rugby will never be the people’s game in this country but their ability to continually draw a crowd for home matches, to provide a memorable matchday experience and to produce a successful team is something their football counterparts would do well to learn from.

More than 53,000 traipsed out to Murrayfield for a friendly game against unglamorous opposition in the form of Georgia on Friday night as Scotland wound up their preparations ahead of the World Cup in Japan.

Cheaper ticket prices – and the fact you can get a beer at your seat – may have played a part in rugby attracting around 21,000 more people through the doors on Friday night than went to the football, but it sent a message to the SFA that supporters won’t continue to turn up regardless of the product on display and the poverty of the matchday facilities.

In an era where club football is king, the sport’s governing body may have to work harder than ever to win back those punters who are voting with their feet. Having a successful team would be a huge help although Friday night’s showing suggests that may yet be some distance away. If Hampden is packed tomorrow night for the visit of Belgium it is because people have turned out to watch the opposition – never a good sign for the long-term prospects of the game.

This Scotland team are in the midst of an existential crisis of their own. Hiring the famously pragmatic Clarke and asking him to replicate what he achieved at Kilmarnock was never going to be a straightforward process.

Leading Russia thanks to McGinn’s early goal, the team inexplicably began to retreat backwards into a defensive shape despite their opponents’ evident vulnerability. That seemed a curious game plan until Clarke revealed he had not asked his players to do that. Instead, they appeared to almost subconsciously fall back into what they perhaps felt their manager would want from them.

Scotland, in fact, looked at their most dangerous whenever they cut loose from that defensive shape and started to play with a bit of creative freedom. That was evident at the goal and again in the second half when Ryan Christie came on and Scotland, belatedly, got a second wind.

If strangling the game isn’t working – as it didn’t against the relentless Russians – then the hope must be that Clarke can find a way to deviate from his opus moderandi to give the flair players in the team license to try to provide a spark or moment of genius that you won’t find in any coaching textbooks.

Of course, this bout of malaise regarding the national team can be quickly cured. Securing a back-door entrance to Euro 2020 via the Nations League play-offs remains a possibility and doing so would instantly restore the feel-good factor once more.

In the meantime, though, Clarke and his players must do something to alleviate the gloom. Because having a Scotland public indifferent to the form of its national team doesn’t seem right at all.