Monday, August 10, 2009

Scots wey hey?

I can’t quite figure it out but I really think I’m beginning to care less and less about Scotland.

I’ll watch the game on Wednesday night. And I’ll be keen for us to do well. But I’ll be watching more in hope than expectation, I’ll be an armchair fan with very little invested in the result.

The thought of taking a trip to Hampden, far less trekking to Oslo, fills me with absolutely no wonder at all.

I was as incensed as the next man when Barry Ferguson and Allan McGreggor "shamed the nation." But it strikes me that the most emotional interaction I’ve had with Scotland since the Italy game (maybe even before as it always looked like we had too much to do) is being annoyed at a couple of neds acting like neds are supposed to.

And that seems odd to me. What’s going on?

Maybe its simply the inevitable apathy that is bred by repeated failures. When I was two Scotland played in the World Cup. They repeated that every four years (apart from once) until I was 18. They also notched up two Euro’s in that time.

We might not have done much when we got to major tournaments but by God we were as good as anyone at getting there.

Maybe the run of recent failures has made my formative years seem like a golden age of achievement. Maybe I’m simply getting old and turning into one of those "in my day, X, Y, Z were much better" grumpy old idiots that go to every football ground in the land.

Maybe it’s the manager. Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown made being dull a virtue. George Burley strikes me as being one of the dullest men to have ever walked on the Hampden turf. I’m sure he’s not as bad as he seems but his mournful delivery and apparent “woe is me” reaction to every minor setback doesn’t inspire confidence.

If you’re going to pitch yourself as a duller version of Craig Brown then you really need to get success quite quickly to have any hope of capturing the public imagination. Chris Iwelumo sclaffing at a chance that Douglas Bader would have put away comfortably is probably not the level of glory you’re aiming for.

Then there’s the players. James McFadden might be a throwback who repeatedly has the pundits in raptures but is he a figure for a nation to rally around. Chick Young obviously thinks so. Clearly agreeing with Chick is out of the question so we’ll need to look elsewhere.

Stephen McManus? Nah. You can’t command the respect of a country when you’re clearly not good enough to live up to a hysterical press billing. Not even the new Colin Hendry let alone the new Billy McNeill.

Alan Hutton? Craig Gordon? A full back and a goalkeeper who may or may not get first team action for their clubs this year.

Scott Brown and Darran Fletcher? They need to come to the fore. If they don’t grab this squad, and the nation, by the scruff of the necks then nobody else well. But are either of them yet the characters that we need to galvanise a country?

So the manager and players aren’t helping me get over this growing disconnection. What else is there?

The fans. The fabled Tartan Army. The best fans in the world.

What a bunch of guys. But, you know, I find them increasingly cliquey and arrogant about their status as the best fans in the world. And all the enforced jollyness looks like bloody hard work.

Drinking all day and still having the energy to stand and sing catchy, if antiquated, ditties into a freezing night sky in a country you’d never heard of the last time Scotland played in a World Cup takes discipline. This is no longer going to the game with a few mates. This is football supporting as an endurance sport, fandom taken to Olympian heights. Smile though your heart is breaking…

Well, actually don’t. Somewhere along the line we’ve got confused. We seem to think that the only alternative to a destructive rampage through foreign cities when we get beaten is a laughter fuelled rampage through foreign cities when we get beaten.

Seriously, why the need for such extremes? Is the constant, maunfactured atmosphere of extreme happiness not exhausting. If I was a fully paid up member of the Tartan Army – I think I’m too misanthropic to be allowed – I’d be fecking knackered the whole time.

So there we have it. A lack of success. A manager who seems to be aiming to come across as a kind of inverted Ally Macleod. Players who are decent, honest and hardworking. But not players who are flirting with greatness. And loveable fans who are becoming increasingly less loveable because of their constant need to appear loveable.

The result is an increasing distance between myself and the national team. I watched the Holland game in particular with a sense of detachment. I wanted a good game certainly. I wanted Scotland to do well. But really I approached the game with the lack of passion you’d expect from a neutral. As I’m not becoming any less Scottish that’s strange.

Maybe it’s just me. I’m prepared to accept that. I am failing in my patriotic duty, a disgrace. People fought a war for my right to support Scotland. And I fling it back in their face.

Fine. Except I’m not sure it is just me.

The international game is being devalued by the neverending reach of the major European leagues. But Scotland, a small country used to punching above their weight with a weak domestic league, shouldn’t be in that position. The national team should still be a focal point.

And for many people it still is. But I don’t think I’m alone in becoming less passionate, less wrapped up in the country’s success and failures. And that’s a trend that worries me and one that I can’t find a cure for.