I’m not going to lie, 2020 has been a shite year. I’m not sure anyone would argue against that in good faith but there has been one bright light at the end of this incredibly dark tunnel, and it has lit up my year. After 22 years Scotland has qualified for its first major competition since 1998, where we qualified for the world cup, only to be put out by Morocco in a brutal game that left us with a score of 0-3, and left Scotland’s dreams in tatters.
To put that in perspective, the last time the Scotland squad qualified for something I had just started primary one and hadn’t yet been aged by the emotional toll of supporting the national team.
The Euro qualifying game itself was a nail biter, as you would only expect from a Scotland game. Scotland put in a good show for themselves in the first half, even if there was a scare from Serbia, and Scotland managed to end the first half looking like the dominant team. The second half started even better with Ryan Christie scoring a goal in the 52nd minute. Now, as the clock got closer and closer to the 90th minute I was more certain we were through only for Serbia’s Luka Jović to equalise in the 90th minute. I had already turned away, telling my housemate how this was overturning years of agony, the biggest achievement in our adult lives from the national team when Serbia scored. I’m not going to lie, there was a pit in my stomach when Serbia scored in the middle of my victory speech where I thought “oh god, I jinxed it”.
Watching the extra time with my head in my hands I thought, this is down to me, I should have kept my mouth shut. Lucky for my guilty conscience Serbia didn’t score in the extra time, unfortunately neither did Scotland. This meant a penalty shoot out and this is the point where I had completely lost hope, I thought to myself “typical, Scotland’s gonna lose on penalties and it’s gonna be another 22 years before we have another shot at something like this”. I was, however, proven wrong when David Marshall saved the final Serbian shot, leaving Scotland ahead on penalties at 5-4, winning us the game. Now David Marshall showed far more sense than me and even after he had saved the final penalty shot he waited until the refs had called the game before celebrating. An important rule of Scottish football I had forgotten is never celebrate until there is literally nothing that can come up.
Now, not to show my bias or anything, but I can’t help but feel that the Scotland team’s recent success has been down to a good manager, Steve Clarke. The man was just fresh from turning Kilmarnock FC into a competitive force, and even briefly putting them at top of the league. Steve Clarke set to his next task, putting the national team in order. I remember being in Turkey when Scotland played Cyprus, and only being able to convince a café owner to put the game on on the promise that he’d get to watch Cyprus lose. I was fairly sure of this, both from my faith in Clarke, and because I knew Scotland had literally never lost to Cyprus. It was still amazing getting to see Clarke win his first game as manager. The next few games weren’t as great a success, with Scotland losing to teams like Belgium, far above their weight class, but with Clarke in charge Scottish football finally has a 9 in a row I can celebrate, having won the last 9 national games.
I’m not going to lie, now that we’ve qualified this doesn’t mean we have easy days ahead; the group we’re in is very rough. We’ll be playing the Czech Republic, England and finishing with world cup runners up Croatia. To add insult to injury if lockdown isn’t lifted before June 2021 we might not even get the chance to completely ruin Wembley after our match with England, but in the meantime, I’m over the moon. We’re in the Euros and I don’t have to worry about jinxing a match again until at least June.
As a final aside, and before any of our English readers get annoyed at Scotland over celebrating qualifying, just remember you gave your manager a knighthood for finishing fourth.