NOBODY wants to be a Cassandra. Hence why some of us self-quarantined this week rather than join in with the build-up to a certain football match. There is no vaccine against being a supporter of the Scotland football team.

Even if there was, would anyone take it? Or as a nation are we more comfortable with the notion of being perennial losers, plucky underdogs forever destined to be the runners-up in the game of life?

Anyone who doubts there is such a thing as a national psyche should look no further than Euro 2020. It is there in the face of every player that belts out the national anthem, and in the attitude they display on the pitch.

Scotland got one out of two right. If a passionate rendering of Flower of Scotland earned points the team would be through to the next round no question. But once the whistle blew it was the same old story of over-promising and under-achieving.

Scotland were masters in that discipline long before Boris Johnson adopted it. Older generations could see the phenomenon happening again as the tournament drew closer. After 23 years in the wilderness of football, Scotland was back. The excitement among younger supporters was palpable. No longer was Scotland on the edge of the action.

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Hold on, you wanted to say. Some of us have been through this movie before, and we know how it ended. Take it easy, tone down those expectations, just enjoy it while it lasts.

Yet there was no stopping the optimism that surged in. You could hardly blame people. It has been a rotten year, a time that no-one wants to go through again even while it seems we might have to.

A grim milestone was reached this week when Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK Government’s chief scientific adviser, said: "This is a virus that is going to be with us forever.” Even though many people have long accepted this, it was still dispiriting to hear, and even more so when the Prime Minister added his agreement. Mr Johnson and realism are an awkward fit at the best of times, and we are far from those.

With the acceptance that we are in this for the longest haul comes a new set of fears, for livelihoods, for mental and physical health, for the future in general. Many who have hitherto been protected from the worst of the pandemic now feel a chill wind at their backs, and it is not yet autumn.

No wonder people have seized on a football tournament and other events as causes for hope. There is something about seeing people together again, albeit socially distant, doing something essentially frivolous, even if it is big business, that gladdens the heart. The sound of a crowd, when you have long been denied it, is a wonderful thing, as is the feeling of unity. We are social animals, let there never be a doubt about that.

Back to the football, if we must. The story of the game against the Czech Republic was written all over the faces of Scotland supporters. First came soaring hope, followed by disappointment as the first goal went in, then the final crushing blow from that strike from the halfway line. Many were shocked by the sheer outrageousness of the Schick goal, but not the veteran Scotland supporter. We have seen worse. If we must be humiliated, best it be done in a way that leaves no room for the lethal commodity that is hope.

So we arrive at the big match tomorrow against England in our customary position as underdogs. It is here we see a familiar narrative kicking in. Let us call it the Archie Gemmill goal theory. If we go in expecting the worst the gods will smile on us and something wonderful will happen. We might ultimately fail to make it into the next round, but we will find there is pride to be had in losing, comfort to be gained from not expecting too much.

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Those who say it is only a game miss the point. Sporting achievement, or failure, speaks volumes about how a nation sees itself. Why else would governments subsidise it so heavily from the public purse, and exploit it for all it is worth when a team is winning? Sport, like war, is the continuation of politics by other means. If a country is a winner on the international stage it does not matter so much if other things are falling apart. Hence how much time, effort, and drugs, have been, and still are, poured into sport by totalitarian regimes.

In Scotland, football has found its way into the national story. It fed our belief in a glorious past when things were different, better. Then came the slow decline and the wilderness years, when Scotland's confidence went the way of the shipyards and the oil. Heads went down, and stayed there. The idea of Scotland as a winner became a joke, and we were the first to laugh at ourselves.

Then something changed. A division grew up between Scots who accepted that it would always be this way, better get used to it, and those who questioned that assumption.

These feelings found their purest expression in politics, but they were also evident in the economy as new businesses took the place of old industries.

Eventually the divide would come to be associated with a simple choice of Yes/No. Was Scotland too wee, too poor, too stupid to go it alone? If we couldn’t get a football team to the World Cup, what chance of us thriving in a global market?

You do not have to be a supporter of independence to recognise that Scotland has so much going for it. In recent years there has been a radical shift in how we view ourselves, one that is most obvious among the young and one that, yes, is reflected in attitudes to sport and much else besides.

The generations coming up today do not have the cringe of old. They do not try to tame their accents, they are proud of them. They want to go out into the world, then come home again. They love their country, but they know its failings.

To these new generations, what happens tomorrow is just another game. Important, not to be missed, and all that, but the Scotland that first and foremost defined itself in relation to England, and through the national football team, is fading away fast. Win, lose, it matters little in the scheme of things, particularly after the last year and a half.

That said, if there is a Gemmill out there among the Scotland squad, now is the time to make yourself known.