For over forty years I have lived with the anguish and pain that it is to be both Scottish and a lover of sport.
It really, really hurts.
Don’t get me wrong, I am in touch with reality. A small country with limited resources and a somewhat carefree attitude to healthy living, does not a nation of athletes make. And it’s not that we lose. Losing is what a small country should have to put up with. It’s the manner in which it happens.
The last minute goals. That desperate fumbling try. This happens with such alarming frequency that there should be a conspiracy theory blog about it somewhere.
There’s an old quote that Scotland constantly manages to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory”. It was a nice line in the 80’s but now it’s a mantra. It should be a team motto, maybe someone should translate it into Latin.
On Friday, Scotland once again stepped out onto the Wembley turf to do battle with the Auld Enemy. As it turned out, it wasn’t that much of a battle. Scotland did give a good account of themselves, actually produced some very impressive football and carved out some golden chances, only to lack the necessary flare or killer instinct needed in such situations. For all the talk of the weakness of the English side, (and they probably are the weakest in as long as I can remember) they do have the necessary skills to finish off teams like Scotland, and well done to them.
On Saturday, the Rugby side took to the field in a home game against Australia, desperate to avenge the (once again) injustice of the World Cup when they were cheated out of a place in the final. (Cheated? Too strong? Nah, I don’t think so!) And dash it all did they not just go and do that, outplaying the Wallabies for most of the game. A confident, powerful and resilient Scottish side put on a proper display. But it didn’t matter, the script had already been written. Of course they would lose. The clock ticked away, and right on cue, there it was, of course it would be by one point.
Is it possible that a nation could develop painful loss as something that is now part of our psychological fabric? Could it be that it is Scotland ourselves who have this belief so entrenched in our make-up that we bring it on ourselves? And again I emphasise, it’s not the losing, it’s the manner in which we do it.
Yes, it could be argued that the current football side lacks the higher level of skill and flare needed in international football. It’s a workmanlike side that on a good day can be effective and produce results. But I remember having similar painful experiences with Scotland sides that were full of world class players.
The sides of the late 70’s and early 80’s were populated with players who would arguably be the target of any European countries top four clubs. When Alan Hansen left Match of the Day, the BBC made a documentary about his career. In one scene, he was having lunch with Kenny Dalglish and Graeme Souness. It struck me that in the current market, those three men would each have a £50 million plus price tag. Yes, they were that good. There a pretty good reason why Liverpool won the European Cup (aka Champion’s League) four times. And yet, the feeling I remember when they pulled on a Scotland jersey was one of pain and torture.
Small or unfancied nations do, on occasion, produce outstanding moments of sporting history. Wales, Northern Ireland and Iceland all proved this in the summer during the Euro 2016 Finals. This has never happened to Scotland. Yes there have been moments. Beating France twice in the qualifiers for Euro 2008 for example. The moments we felt the elation that other people feel. Or drawing 1-1 with Brazil in the opening match of the World Cup 1998. I remember thinking at half time. “This is it. This could be the moment something swings our way”. A point against Brazil would have put Scotland in a uniquely strong position. And it happened again. And once again, in an utterly painful and even ridiculous way. Did Brazil score a spectacular winning volley from 30 yards? No, a calamitous move in the box resulted in the ball trundling over the line at a pace that one would have been forgiven for thinking the actual time was in fact a slow motion replay. Pain. Again.
So, yes, my unscientific conclusion is that it’s in our nature. Part of a national psyche to suffer in the most awful way whenever we play sport. And it’s in that very nature that we suffer the most. I would almost prefer it if, like San Marino, we just got gubbed all the time. With the odd 0-0 draw that happens once in a decade to give cause for celebration. There would be a great freedom in the acceptance of that. I think we would be a happier nation for it. But we Scots are, I think, destined to forever suffer at the curse of expectant spectacular failure. Or are we?
Just as Luke Skywalker was the one, solitary hope for the future of the Jedi, we have one man who can bring hope to a dejected people.
Andrew Barron Murray.
In the week that Scottish football and rugby fans are suffering, we can at least find some quantum of solace (see, that phrase really can work in a sentence!) in the fact that a Scotsman is the number one tennis player in the world. For a Scot, one really has to take a moment and let that sink in. Because it’s so unlikely it goes against what has become our entire belief system.
Renton said in ‘Trainspotting’, ‘It’s shite being Scottish’. It’s not really, it’s quite nice actually. But for sports fans, that quote rings true. Here’s hoping that Andy Murray can help change our psyche, and allow us to rise into a country that can maybe scrape into a World Cup every now and then. That would be nice.