Celebrating new English football, drunken tales of the Tartan Army and looking forward to a football homecoming to Glasgow in 2020.
Lower the flags, wrap away the bunting and hush the chants. Yes England lost, but a smile has returned to English football. The lion looks less tawdry, unloved, technically clueless and out of date.
Being mostly English (I am a complicated mix of English and Scottish – not great on matchdays), my relationship with the England football team as for years been marooned in apathy and disinterest. I felt obliged rather than excited to watch their matches. ‘Oh God England are playing. Do I have to watch?’ went the internal dialogue, followed by a haunted slow trudge to the TV and losing another two hours of precious life to a joyless cause. The media and hype never helps, nor does the behaviour of the fans who can be the best and worst in the world. But Gareth Southgate’s team has shown the world that English football can positively contribute to a tournament rather than being like the drunken, boorish relative at a party, being beastly about the Germans, clinging to the past and whom everyone tries to avoid except for any hooligan who wants a fight.
The England team are slowly improving and learning from its past mistakes. The English media and some, but not all, of the fans alas are not learning from theirs and still look prone to suffocating a team with arrogance, hype, misplaced optimism, a sense of entitlement and vitriolic abuse when it all goes wrong.
Football may not be coming home via a World Cup but in two years time there will be a homecoming of sorts and I for one can’t wait. If England have suffered years of hurt (and really a semi-final exit is a thing of joy after the dismal failures of previous decades) try being Scottish, unable to reach a tournament since France ‘98. It’s been a long time since a tournament hosted the Tartan Army, the Scottish fans who win fans awards for their humour, passion and songs threatening to deep-fry any national dishes of their opponents.
Tartan Army: fountains and alcohol
The Tartan Army are not to everyone’s tastes – one fan who follows Scotland abroad says he works out where the Tartan Army will be and promptly heads off to the other side of town. The Anyone but England attitude from Scots often drifts into nasty territory and not all opposition fans are treated with friendly respect as one Welsh friend will testify. Yet friends can relate highly amusing tales of Tartan Army madness told with a tone of appalled, hideously embarrassed pride.
There was the time when BB was in a bar with French friends at the top of the Champs Elysee before a big match. He heard a familiar sound cut through the Parisian air. It was the bagpipers leading a column of Scottish fans. The column was all billowing Saltires, natty tam o’shanters and swirling kilts. He called his French friends to the balcony of the bar, heart swelling with pride. He sunk into despair when the column drew level with the bar to reveal itself to be a rabble of good-natured but Hogarthian drunkenness. Shouting, swearing, stumbling, swigging, pissing up against trees. Barely conscious fans had been shoved into shopping trolleys by their friends and were being pushed along the Champs Elysee, heads lolling, babbling incomprehensible Scottish sayings. By now BB was so humiliated he was hiding in the toilets.
Another time he witnessed a an old lady make the mistake of stopping near traffic lights to search in her bag. Within seconds she was taken across a busy road street by two drunken Tartan Army fans, thinking she needed help across the road. They then walked off with the swagger of congratulating themselves on typical Scottish ambassador behaviour while she impotently shook her fists at them. Or the fixture in Milan, when the locals enjoying their evening stroll, or passeggiare, all beautifully turned out in high-end fashion watched open-mouthed as the Tartan Army swept through the streets in jimmy wigs and kilts, carrying plastic bags full of alcohol. At the match the fans launched into a thirty minute rendition of ‘Doh a deer, a female deer’ at the end of which the Italian fans gave them a standing ovation. Later that night the Italian manager admitted to wishing Italy had such fans.
Another fan told me how they turned their large flags into trampolines for young fans, drunkenly bouncing any child that wandered past high into the air. Or throwing themselves and Fairy Liquid detergent into the fountains at Trafalgar Square and creating giant bubble bath mayhem (see link to photos below). Their way of policing trouble is the classic Scottish call / advice / command to ‘stop being a dick’ followed up by a ‘don’t be like the English’, vaguely insulting but sadly true.
Football’s coming home…to Glasgow
So why is football coming home to Glasgow? All because the first international football match took place on a cricket pitch in a quiet corner of west Glasgow.
In November 1872 the first official international football match took place between Scotland and England at West of Scotland Cricket Club’s ground in Partick, Glasgow. It was, predictably, a 0-0 draw, and was watched by 4,000 spectators who paid a shilling to watch. It is reported that there was a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere and it was not until the 1970s that the fixture adopted the more hostile tones of the Auld Enemy rivalry.
Today the ground, pavilion and surrounding buildings are still recognisable from the drawings of the match and the earliest photos of cricket at the ground. The West of Scotland continues to be one of the big cricket clubs in Glasgow and the ground is in a low-key, leafy part of the city overlooked by typically grand sandstone buildings.
Fast-forward to 2020. Euro 2020 is scheduled to be held in 12 cities in 12 different European countries. Glasgow is hosting a group stage and a knockout match and it doesn’t even matter if Scotland qualify or not. Long deprived of a summer of football parties, Glasgow will be buzzing for this. It’ll like 2002 and more, when Glasgow hosted the Champions League final and Zinedine Zidane scored a spectacular goal. The city centre was taken over by Real Madrid and Bayer Leverkusen and they were joined by friendly locals who needed no excuse to get involved in the party.
Glaswegians are proud, down to earth, warm and funny. They’re also keen to be friendly and liked, almost needy. ‘Do they like us? What do they think of Glasgow,’ the TV presenters wailed and beseeched their colleagues reporting from amongst a bunch of German or Spanish fans. They did. The Real Madrid fans gave their answer pinned letters to a motorway bridge spelling out: ‘Glasgow will you marry me’ as a tribute to their host’s hospitality. It helped they lifted the trophy.
I saw the letters myself that day but other sources suggest this might have been a homage to Glasgow by an artist, his or her message gatecrashed by a city keen to feel good about itself and mythologise its reputation for friendliness.
It wasn’t a one-off. Then there was the Commonwealth Games where Glasgow did a superb job in welcoming and hosting an international sports event.
Football is universal now, one of Britain’s finest gifts to the world. It’s always coming home somewhere. Come to Glasgow and join the homecoming party in 2020!