Trip Report - EURO'96 - Kenny Bell

Trip Journal of EURO'96 Scotland Matches, June 1996
Kenny Bell - San Jose Mental Tartan Army, Costa Rica

There's no point in me going over much of what happened on the park - you've seen it, read about it and discussed it. Scotland yet again sought out the narrowest and most obscure way to marginalise themselves from the final stages, and - as ever - succeeded. They scored only one goal in three matches, so didn't really deserve to qualify. Mind you, the Dutch record looked pretty dodgy by the end of the qualifiers, so it's hard to see that they deserved to go forward, any more than us. There was however the wee Collins volleyball incident on the line against them...

I noticed the ball moving as McAllister took the penalty, but a professional should always score. He could always have stepped back. Ally scored an absolute beauty - the reverse-angle replay showed it swirling to the left, beyond the goal, then swerving inside the post and behind the keeper to give Pascolo no hope - but should have had another. I think the ball spun unexpectedly towards him as it bounced over to his feet, all alone there six yards in front of the Swiss goal. He should have hit it on the drop. The Portuguese gave a couple of object lessons in first-time finishing against Croatia the next day. And he should have played the 90 minutes against England. Should, should, should - it's easy to say.

But the boys played above themselves, so congratulations to them. None of them disappointed. If you start mentioning individuals - McCall, Boyd, Durie, Collins, McAllister, Goram, Hendry, McKinlay - you end up with the whole team, and that's what sums them up. I honestly never imagined they could play such consistently good fitba' over the three games.

Congratulations too to Broon, who also surprised us. My only carp is that that he told the boys to take it easy for those fateful fifteen minutes when England were four up. I could have strangled him after I saw him on the highlights, giving the thumbs up to the players from the touchline. When Italy were in the same position the following day, with the Czechs 3-2 down, was Sacchi giving the thumbs up? No, he was waving his troops forward. Does no one remember Zaire, how we took it easy, won 2-0 when we could have had 6, and went out of the World Cup on goal difference?

So to more important things than the ephemera of football action - the Tartan Army's experiences off the park. The highlight for me was the game against the Dutch. The atmosphere in the Aston Hotel before and after the game was something to treasure - we even made the Nine O'Clock News. All the stuff about "striking up an immediate rapport" was off the mark, though. This is a relationship that has been building up for years, from Gothenburg to Utrecht and even further afield.

During the game I heard something unique - the Dutch would start up with the famous March from Verdi's Aida (OK, for youse philistines, that's da daaa, da da da da, da-da da-da da da, da-da da da da), and we would take it over, till the whole stadium echoed with it. I have never heard two sets of rival fans sing together like that, and at a major championship match. Magic. While we're about it, why don't we take off that shagged-out Beethoven Ode which masquerades as the European anthem, and substitute him with Verdi, a tune we all know and sing?

Full marks to the owner of the Aston. He avoided troublemakers by checking tickets on entry before the game, and put on a Scots fiddle band out the back after it. In came the Dutch brass, and a right party was on the way. Those boys know Scotland the Brave and all sorts, though their rendering of the British "national" anthem got short shrift.

And credit too to the Brummies in general, who were helpful and friendly at all times, let us off with the fares, and got into the right spirit of things, even the polis. Excepting of course the tits who made the attack on the camp the day before the Dutch game. I did see a couple of nasty-looking skinheads about, and even one in our end at the Swiss game, obviously looking for trouble, but for me the Brummies were great and deserve the privilege of being considered honorary Northerners.

I wish I could say the same about London. Even after they'd beat us it was enough to walk down the street with a square inch of tartan showing to be the object of mindless abuse from neo-Nazi style cretins. The main incidents were the pre-match bottle-throwing at the Globe near Baker Street tube (mostly directed at the polis), and the post-match surrounding of and attack on the Scots in Trafalgar Square, although I heard various other stories of attacks on Scots or on pubs where the Scots were drinking.

There was of course the sanctuary of the Vine in Kentish Town, and all credit to the (Scottish) proprietors for offering up this haven. The late drinking was good, mind, but by 2 am the day of the game the crack was dire, drunken bums strewn everywhere, most well into their kip.

I must say I felt great relief boarding the train for Brum. I was uneasy the whole time in London, whether it was due to a bastard "fan" pushing me off the tube to Wembley Park as the doors closed, a drunken arse poking me in the ribs in Leicester Square ("two NIL for the INGELUND"), or six yobs throwing stuff at us on Oxford St.

For me, that was a big difference from previous Wembley turf-collecting expeditions. I cannot remember any aggro whatsoever in my previous visits - but then again, I cannot remember much at all. Admittedly I never went after 1979. Apart from presenting a cardboard trophy to some rat-arsed compatriot from the royal box at Wembley, only a few memories stand out from those days. One, being invited, naw, forced, to get up and sing for the welcoming clientele of some Cockney pub. All we could manage was "Show me the way to go home".

The other memory was of some wee Hasidic Jewish boys - all black coats, big hats and curly sideburns - who approached us to wish us well in Golders Green on the way to the ground. We wished them well too, and went away shame-faced... we had been chanting "Yasser, Yasser Arafat" just a minute before. By the way, no disrespect meant, but wouldn't that be a great get-up for Israeli fans? Oh God, I think I've said the wrong thing.

What does all this mean anyway? Are the southern English becoming as resentful and prejudiced towards us as we always have been towards them (in general, though not necessarily in particular)? Is the Eurosceptics' Little England becoming a reality? I always thought that folks had too much common sense to believe the xenophobic rantings of the (foreign-owned) tabloids, but now I'm not so sure.

Let's face it, unlike the Geordies, Liverpudlians or even Mancs, it seems many of these people DO NOT KNOW HOW TO BE SUPPORTERS. The worst thing is how the press and players feed them - Shearer, sarcastically referring to us going out: "My heart bleeds for them". And the kicking he gave Hendry. Contrast and compare with McCoist wishing the English well after our last game. Some think Ally's too friendly with the enemy: but I know he would have given anything to personally put one over on them.

Thankfully that doesn't preclude good grace in defeat - something the English team and many of their so-called supporters fail to produce even in victory. I exclude the many Brums and others who offered their sympathies to us after the Swiss game. I could see the copper who was relaying the news from Wembley to us from his radio, up in the Holte End, was almost as excited as we were about us going through.

Most London English fans appear to be a fickle and humourless lot. Had McAllister scored to give us the draw, just like their tabloids they would have been down on Venables like a ton of bricks. They don't understand the self-mocking game all other fans play with their wigs, hats, cowbells, clogs, songs, dances, what have you. They think irony is something for pressing their lovely white replica shirts.

And why such a rush for tickets after they qualified from the groups? Because many who wouldn't have thought of going to see them suddenly scented a winner and wanted to jump the bandwagon. Lads and blokes, Baddiel and Skinner, Loaded and FourFourTwo, Men Behaving Badly, fashion statements. They're a strange bunch - just not in the same game as us and other nations.

All that said, there was one special moment with them at Wembley. They had stitched us up good and well with an 8,000 ticket allocation, the main tartan battalion stuck up in the corner at the opposite end from the tunnel, the rest dispersed among the Angles. And they only sang at our example (it's only since our game that I've ever heard them generate any atmosphere at all at Wembley). But at the end of the match they applauded us, and slowly, dubiously, reluctantly, we applauded back. I never thought we'd live to see the day. A strange sensation indeed.

Don't get me wrong. None of my best friends are Englishmen, but there ARE good yins. Wilkins for one, who I saw in OUR END before the game, and who stopped to chat ("RAY!!!! Howzitgaun?!", "Oh, orlright..."). He also went out of his way to praise us on the box. Even Jimmy Hill went all out to get up our arses after the Swiss game, with his fulsome compliments to us and the team. Sorry Jimmy, it won't wash. You're beyond redemption pal. The day I see you jump up and punch the air when England lose one, I'll reconsider.

Another strange thing was seeing Joe Jordan walking down to the game from the tube, in amongst the fans. Like Butch Wilkins, NO ONE recognised him. The Saint too, in Euston on the day of the Swiss game, wending his way unmolested.

The Swiss were a funny lot. They tried to get into the swing of things in the Aston, but seemed too divided amongst themselves to really forge a cohesive spirit. A Swiss-German had to be held back - by Scots - from another Swiss, because the latter had "Forza Italia" across the back of his Swiss strip. Weird. Maybe that sort of thing would happen if we had an all-British team. Or more than likely we just wouldn't support them at all.

One last moan. What is the SFA thinking about, inviting the English for the reopening match at Hampden? They seem to loathe us now, and we have always loathed them. Why don't we invite our mates, the Dutch? Then instead of getting the place smashed up, we could have a party. Sometimes I think we're too gracious for our own good.

Beaten but not unbowed, then, we turn our thoughts to France. It promises to be a lot more fun than England. If some of the under 21s make the grade, if Drunk'n gets it together, maybe we'll make it. But both Austria and Sweden are on the way back up. I guess the boys will be needing our support...

Kenny Bell, San Jose Mental Tartan Army, Costa Rica (E-Mail to )

POSTSCRIPT. So, England are out. Good riddance to bad rubbish. We had the inevitable riot in London and disturbances around the south, but I don't believe it was people who were at the match who were involved. Those who attended the England games might in fact have learned a thing or two about what it is to be a real supporter. After the total crowd silence of their opener against the Swiss, it was our game that opened their eyes to how it is done, and from then on at least they gave their team good backing (OK, I admit they needed artificial stimulation via the stadium loudspeakers).

The troublemakers were just typical southern neds, probably not one per cent of them have ever been to a football match. Many were well-dressed, few or none had football colours or flags. Southern England has a serious and fundamental problem with its pampered youth. There was not a single incident of trouble outside the south: for me, the insistence on England playing all their matches at Wembley (actually, it was nothing less than a fix) was an error. Are Londoners somehow better than Liverpudlians? Does anyone think the support they had would have been worse up North? Why the discrimination? I have not seen any reason whatever given for this decision, it has just been assumed and accepted unquestioningly. Anyway, the southern bias got its just desserts...

Nul points also to Terry V, whingeing on about how "cruel" and "unfair" it was to go out on penalties. A different song to the one we heard from him when the English undeservedly turfed out the superior Spaniards.

The final insult is to hear of Scotland planning a joint bid with England to host the 2006 World Cup. We spend our lives trying not to get lumped in with that mob and then some idiot comes up with this brilliant idea. What's wrong with a joint bid with the Welsh and Irish, or the Dutch, or even Norway? I'm BUGGERED if I'm going back down to that HOLE again!

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