Scotland faced two massive games in early September and I have to say that I had to check with a Tartan Army friend who they were against and when exactly they would be played. I used to be a fairly regular attender to Scotland games in the 1980s and early 90s. A combination of things stopped me going, mainly the fans bias towards players from a certain team and a little exploration of the SFA history. Despite that I remain a supporter but fear that the Scotland we knew is already gone and lost forever. I've heard and read numerous theories about why we are so God awful now and I don't think you can put it down to one single thing, more a perfect storm that started just before the Morocco game in France 1998.
I doubt many realised that this game v Morocco would be our last game at a major tournament for a generation but there was a tiny indication. As the teams came out for the game everyone noticed it right away, Craig Burley had dyed his hair blonde. This may be a small thing, and it was done because of boredom, but at what point do any of you think Alex Ferguson or Jock Stein would not have just killed Burley on the spot when they saw it. A day before a massive game and his focus was one his hair colour. There is a good look into the Scottish psyche there, "It's only Morocco" is pretty much what the nation thought then. Not now. After the end of the Brown era, Bertie Vogts came, tore the team apart, blooded what felt like the entire cast of Braveheart and got Scotland nowhere near Japan/South Korea 2002 or France 2004. The slide to total mediocrity was in full flow now. After Vogts was sacked The SFA issued the rallying call "Send for Watty", and despite abject failure at Everton, Walter Smith got the gig and was doing well when he jumped ship for Ibrox in January 2007 and let Big Eck takeover for about 10 minutes. To be fair, between them, it started an upsurge in fortunes that culminated in the home and away defeats of France but still neither Germany 2006 or Austria/Switzerland 2008 would have The Tartan Army anywhere near it. The fact was Scotland had put in a herculean effort to to get to The European Championships in 2008 and still fell short. Always a worrying thing.
Somewhere between Norway in the second game in France 98 and now, the Scottish national team and support have got lost. In around 1995 there was an upsurge of nationalism in Scotland, spurred by Mel Gibson it has to be said, and this changed the face of the Scotland support. Previous to this, around 70% of it had been made up with Rangers supporters but they began to feel like Celtic fans did in the 60s and 70s, outcasts. The culmination of this came at Hampden in November 1999 when, before a match v England, their national anthem was booed with as much gusto as anyone could care to remember. This kind of identity was growing arms and legs within the Scotland support, whilst the SNP were on there way to governing Scotland, the problem was the team, now under Bertie Vogts, was absolutely dreadful. The crowds were plummeting and the team was fragmenting. What was the Scottish national team now? A joke.
When pride began to be restored under Smith and McLeish, a lot of fans came back and what they witnessed was a new type of Scotland fan. Lots more wore kilts and full highland dress, new songs had been adapted and there was an official club now for fans regarding tickets, home and away, whilst the North Stand at Hampden became the home of the hardcore. Gone were the days where you could just roll up to a Scotland game with your only worry being how much drink you still had left. A kind of mix and match of The SNP and The SFL made up the support now. A support which still has people in it who look at the five home fixtures in the latest World Cup draw and will say, with a straight face, "Well that's 15 points right away". The high point for these supporters came when Scotland faced Italy at Hampden, for a place at the European Championships in 2008, full house, top class opposition, this is how it should be. Despite that loss in November 2007, hopes were high for the future and then.....nothing.
What has happened since? Crowds seem like they are tumbling again, yet another embarrassing campaign, this time under George Burley, has been replaced with Craig Levein's attempt to bore a nation to tears and right now no one really knows what the future holds. Scotland needs to ask itself "Who are we and what do we want?" An often ridiculed and exposed SFA has been reformed and that has to be a step in the right direction. If Scotland is to have any chance of a proper revival, that has to be done now because there is more catching up to do than most of us can possibly imagine.
The reality is though that a perfect storm hit Scotland, Craig Brown's reluctance to blood young players, Bertie Vogts need to blood young players, fans not knowing if they were William Wallace or Jim Wallace, decent managers being allowed to jump ship at a moments notice without a fight and some the most inept and boring football that has ever been witnessed have all culminated in Scotland fans not really knowing what happens next. This has also created an apathy amongst guys like me who nod towards Scotland but see it, and a lot of the current fans it has to be said, as a wee bit nonsensical. When I was growing up, Scotland was something you watched, supported and cheered on but the idea was to never it take it too seriously as fans, and hope the powers that be would take it very seriously.
Sadly, it seems the roles have been reversed.