What Euro 2020 Qualification Meant To Us

Scotland Fans Reflect

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by Ross Kilvington

Dante Alighieri’s seminal text The Divine Comedy, is lauded as one of the most important pieces of literature in history, split into three sections, Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, where it gives detail to the author’s pilgrimage through these three realms. I hope this is not going to sound too farfetched, but I believe Dante’s adventures, if that is the right terminology, can relate to the suffering of every Scottish football fan over the previous 23 years. We have all gone through hell (many, many times…) purgatory, and unless you count qualification for Euro 2020 paradise, then we have yet to reach the ultimate utopia.

23 years is a long time, and even longer time in football, especially when the national teams’ absence from major competitions almost feels like a curse. The near misses, the humiliations against minnows, the surprising wins and the shite managers have all contributed, to an extent, towards us eventually reaching a first major competition since the 1998 World Cup in France. The old saying goes “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger/” I have never really believed that, but it certainly fits in with Scotland’s ethos over the years.

Although our stay at the tournament only lasted eight days, nowhere near what we all wanted, I suppose it doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, when the storm dies and we slowly return to domestic football, we will all realise that the first step was qualifying for a major competition. Not a single player from our squad had played in one to know what to expect from such an elitist stage. What we know is they did us proud, regardless of the results.

This article will hopefully give some sort of idea about just how much it meant, for a wide range of people, to see us perform at a major competition, and what the legacy will be for future generations.

European Championship Trophy

“UEFA EURO 2020 Trophy, Football Championship” by wuestenigel is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Firstly, let us forget about the football for a minute. The build-up to the first match against Czech Republic was arguably the most exciting part. From the squad announcement to the preview magazines and panini stickers, this is something that a new generation of fans could enjoy for the first time along with evoking memories from the glory days gone past for the older generations. Scotland even had their own sticker album, a fantastic item to collect and it really built the feeling that we had made it!

The nature of the competition meant that it was to be played at 12 host cities throughout Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic had drastically altered plans for full capacity stadiums, especially at Hampden and Wembley, so crowds were unfortunately tiny compared to what they should have been. This was the most disappointing aspect, the fact that only a certain number of fans could travel and watch our nation compete at a major competition in our backyard.

Good To Be Back

For the veterans among us, the build-up to the opening game against the Czechs was like catching up with an old pal after a few years, a mixture of excitement and nervousness, wondering if anything might have changed since the last time. Most of us, however, were alien to this type of sensation. How would we do? Can we really banish our knockout stage hoodoo once and for all? So many questions yet, truthfully, did anyone really want the answers or were we all quite content to remain in the pre-tournament bubble of optimism? Knowing that it might never get better than this.

The most beautiful thing was seeing a mixture of supporters from all walks of life, uniting behind the country. I spoke with Gordon Sheach, who runs the fantastic Tartan Scarf blog, who told me just how much it meant to him to finally watch us at a major tournament; “I felt so much pride to see a Scotland side back on the biggest stage after so long and pride at how the country united behind the team in a way never seen since the Euro 2008 qualifiers.” This is true, the period between our heroic effort to reach Euro 2008 and qualifying for Euro 2020 saw some fans lose faith in the national team. A succession of poor results and managers meant optimism was low.

Euro 2020 Decoration

Euro 2020 street lights in Bucharest” by wuestenigel is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

John Bleasdale, writer and podcaster at the Scottish Football Forum podcast, also expressed his delight in seeing us play at a major competition, explaining to me that, “After seeing us fail campaign after campaign for that length of time, just seeing us there again was incredible.” A sentiment that surely resonates with so many of us. “We can’t wait another 23 years for the next one,” John carries on, and he is right. The current generation must be handled well in order to achieve continued success.

One thing that really impressed me during the build-up, and throughout the duration of the tournament itself, was the sheer volume of quality content being released, especially from Adam Miller, who is the mastermind behind Old Firm Facts. “I’ll always be a club over countryman, but like everyone else, I was swept up in the excitement this summer.” Over the years, there has been a simmering bubble of discontent hovering over the national team, with results being poor and qualification always beyond us, many have put our support for the national team on the back burner.

Adam explained to me, “We shouldn’t let our happiness at being there take away from the disappointment at our performance. While no-one would have called Scotland favourites for any of the three games, one point from nine can hardly be considered a success.”

Three different perspectives from three different people, but the overall feeling is one of pride and a feeling of what might have been.

We could all sit there and perform autopsies on Scotland’s performances at the Euros, but really, what’s the point? Of course, we wanted to exceed expectations and go as far as we could, maybe a win over the auld enemy while we were at it. The reality is though, being there was the only thing that truly mattered. Some might see this as a defeatist attitude, I don’t think there was any chance of us following in the footsteps of a Denmark in ‘92 or Greece in 2004, that’s not how the national team operates! We specialise in heroic failure and the Croatia match proved this to be correct. That was Scotland down to a tee.

Although Euro fever gripped every football fan in Scotland, some of the most interesting stories come from how it impacted society. Take education for example, the current COVID restrictions have played havoc with schooling over the previous 12 months. A return to some sort of normality only really began in April with full classes being allowed back together. Utilising the fact we qualified for the Euros, some schools managed to incorporate this into the curriculum, allowing youngsters to get a feel for just how much this meant for the country (and preparing them for the inevitable heartbreak).

My fiancée is a teacher, her school was one of the many that got caught up in the footballing frenzy, organising many football and Euro related activities to build up the excitement ahead of Scotland’s campaign. Many of the teachers couldn’t remember France ‘98 never mind the children, just showing how long it had actually been!

Lynne Ward, a teacher at Buckhaven Primary School, told me just how special it was to use Scotland’s qualification as a welcome distraction and integrate topics such as health and wellbeing and technology into the curriculum.

“Seeing Scotland qualify and play in a major tournament boosted self esteem and morale during the last few weeks of what had been a really tricky school year,” Lynne explained to me. Of course, the children were excited too, a month-long festival of football welcoming them and giving the kids plenty to chat about. Lynne also went on to tell me that “the build up to Scotland’s first game, making flags and discussing the players and tactics made it such a memorable few weeks.”

Ultimately, it gave Scotland a boost that was sorely needed, with the current COVID restrictions slowly easing and as we approach a return to a new normal, this was a tournament that gave us all a welcome distraction.

Was this enough though? Looking back should be merely satisfied with qualifying? Or can this group of players take the next step. As I mentioned earlier, maybe getting to the competition was the goal, the pressure would be off us once we were there. Banishing the agonising 23 year wait for a major final’s appearance was the first step in our pilgrimage to paradise. With this group of players however, the legacy should be one of consistent qualification to World Cups and Euros.

“I have to hope this will be a gateway moment for a whole generation of young Scotland fans to supporting their country.” says Gordon and this is one aspect that I think will be the most important as we move into the next stage of the journey. This has given people who usually have no interest in football or watching the national team, a different perspective, one that can bring people together.

Adam sums it up perfectly, “If we harness the sense of pride and belief that reaching Euro 2020 gave us while learning from the mistakes made over those three games, there’s a lot to look forward to.”

As I am finishing this article off, the Stone Roses appear on my Spotify shuffle and the lyric from She Bangs the Drums perhaps encapsulates what Scotland’s future might look like –

“The past was yours, but the futures mine.”

Let’s face it, we have certainly waited long enough.

Euro 2020 Ball

“EURO 2020 official ball, Uniforia, dark background” by wuestenigel is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

 

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by Ross Kilvington

Dante Alighieri’s seminal text The Divine Comedy, is lauded as one of the most important pieces of literature in history, split into three sections, Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, where it gives detail to the author’s pilgrimage through these three realms. I hope this is not going to sound too farfetched, but I believe Dante’s adventures, if that is the right terminology, can relate to the suffering of every Scottish football fan over the previous 23 years. We have all gone through hell (many, many times…) purgatory, and unless you count qualification for Euro 2020 paradise, then we have yet to reach the ultimate utopia.

23 years is a long time, an even longer time in football, especially when the national teams’ absence from major competitions almost feels like a curse. The near misses, the humiliations against minnows, the surprising wins and the shite managers have all contributed, to an extent, towards us eventually reaching a first major competition since the 1998 World Cup in France. The old saying goes “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger/” I have never really believed that, but it certainly fits in with Scotland’s ethos over the years.

Good To Be Back

Although our stay at the tournament only lasted eight days, nowhere near what we all wanted, I suppose it doesn’t really matter. At the end of the day, when the storm dies and we slowly return to domestic football, we will all realise that the first step was qualifying for a major competition. Not a single player from our squad had played in one to know what to expect from such an elitist stage. What we know is they did us proud, regardless of the results.

This article will hopefully give some sort of idea about just how much it meant, for a wide range of people, to see us perform at a major competition, and what the legacy will be for future generations.

European Championship Trophy

“UEFA EURO 2020 Trophy, Football Championship” by wuestenigel is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Firstly, let us forget about the football for a minute. The build-up to the first match against Czech Republic was arguably the most exciting part. From the squad announcement to the preview magazines and panini stickers, this is something that a new generation of fans could enjoy for the first time along with evoking memories from the glory days gone past for the older generations. Scotland even had their own sticker album, a fantastic item to collect and it really built the feeling that we had made it!

The nature of the competition meant that it was to be played at 12 host cities throughout Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic had drastically altered plans for full capacity stadiums, especially at Hampden and Wembley, so crowds were unfortunately tiny compared to what they should have been. This was the most disappointing aspect, the fact that only a certain number of fans could travel and watch our nation compete at a major competition in our backyard.

For the veterans among us, the build-up to the opening game against the Czechs was like catching up with an old pal after a few years, a mixture of excitement and nervousness, wondering if anything might have changed since the last time. Most of us, however, were alien to this type of sensation. How would we do? Can we really banish our knockout stage hoodoo once and for all? So many questions yet, truthfully, did anyone really want the answers or were we all quite content to remain in the pre-tournament bubble of optimism? Knowing that it might never get better than this.

The most beautiful thing was seeing a mixture of supporters from all walks of life, uniting behind the country. I spoke with Gordon Sheach, who runs the fantastic Tartan Scarf blog, who told me just how much it meant to him to finally watch us at a major tournament; “I felt so much pride to see a Scotland side back on the biggest stage after so long and pride at how the country united behind the team in a way never seen since the Euro 2008 qualifiers.” This is true, the period between our heroic effort to reach Euro 2008 and qualifying for Euro 2020 saw some fans lose faith in the national team. A succession of poor results and managers meant optimism was low.

Euro 2020 Decoration

Euro 2020 street lights in Bucharest” by wuestenigel is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

John Bleasdale, writer and podcaster at the Scottish Football Forum podcast, also expressed his delight in seeing us play at a major competition, explaining to me that, “After seeing us fail campaign after campaign for that length of time, just seeing us there again was incredible.” A sentiment that surely resonates with so many of us. “We can’t wait another 23 years for the next one,” John carries on, and he is right. The current generation must be handled well in order to achieve continued success.

One thing that really impressed me during the build-up, and throughout the duration of the tournament itself, was the sheer volume of quality content being released, especially from Adam Miller, who is the mastermind behind Old Firm Facts. “I’ll always be a club over countryman, but like everyone else, I was swept up in the excitement this summer.” Over the years, there has been a simmering bubble of discontent hovering over the national team, with results being poor and qualification always beyond us, many have put our support for the national team on the back burner.

Adam explained to me, “We shouldn’t let our happiness at being there take away from the disappointment at our performance. While no-one would have called Scotland favourites for any of the three games, one point from nine can hardly be considered a success.”

Three different perspectives from three different people, but the overall feeling is one of pride and a feeling of what might have been.

We could all sit there and perform autopsies on Scotland’s performances at the Euros, but really, what’s the point? Of course, we wanted to exceed expectations and go as far as we could, maybe a win over the auld enemy while we were at it. The reality is though, being there was the only thing that truly mattered. Some might see this as a defeatist attitude, I don’t think there was any chance of us following in the footsteps of a Denmark in ‘92 or Greece in 2004, that’s not how the national team operates! We specialise in heroic failure and the Croatia match proved this to be correct. That was Scotland down to a tee.

Although Euro fever gripped every football fan in Scotland, some of the most interesting stories come from how it impacted society. Take education for example, the current COVID restrictions have played havoc with schooling over the previous 12 months. A return to some sort of normality only really began in April with full classes being allowed back together. Utilising the fact we qualified for the Euros, some schools managed to incorporate this into the curriculum, allowing youngsters to get a feel for just how much this meant for the country (and preparing them for the inevitable heartbreak).

My fiancée is a teacher, her school was one of the many that got caught up in the footballing frenzy, organising many football and Euro related activities to build up the excitement ahead of Scotland’s campaign. Many of the teachers couldn’t remember France ‘98 never mind the children, just showing how long it had actually been!

Lynne Ward, a teacher at Buckhaven Primary School, told me just how special it was to use Scotland’s qualification as a welcome distraction and integrate topics such as health and wellbeing and technology into the curriculum.

“Seeing Scotland qualify and play in a major tournament boosted self esteem and morale during the last few weeks of what had been a really tricky school year,” Lynne explained to me. Of course, the children were excited too, a month-long festival of football welcoming them and giving the kids plenty to chat about. Lynne also went on to tell me that “the build up to Scotland’s first game, making flags and discussing the players and tactics made it such a memorable few weeks.”

Ultimately, it gave Scotland a boost that was sorely needed, with the current COVID restrictions slowly easing and as we approach a return to a new normal, this was a tournament that gave us all a welcome distraction.

Was this enough though? Looking back should be merely satisfied with qualifying? Or can this group of players take the next step. As I mentioned earlier, maybe getting to the competition was the goal, the pressure would be off us once we were there. Banishing the agonising 23 year wait for a major final’s appearance was the first step in our pilgrimage to paradise. With this group of players however, the legacy should be one of consistent qualification to World Cups and Euros.

“I have to hope this will be a gateway moment for a whole generation of young Scotland fans to supporting their country.” says Gordon and this is one aspect that I think will be the most important as we move into the next stage of the journey. This has given people who usually have no interest in football or watching the national team, a different perspective, one that can bring people together.

Adam sums it up perfectly, “If we harness the sense of pride and belief that reaching Euro 2020 gave us while learning from the mistakes made over those three games, there’s a lot to look forward to.”

As I am finishing this article off, the Stone Roses appear on my Spotify shuffle and the lyric from She Bangs the Drums perhaps encapsulates what Scotland’s future might look like –

“The past was yours, but the futures mine.”

Let’s face it, we have certainly waited long enough.

Euro 2020 Ball

“EURO 2020 official ball, Uniforia, dark background” by wuestenigel is licensed with CC BY 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/