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Heartbreak, again.

‘A Spanish friend here tonight said something on a wider level that really made me think – “Scotland can never win, because it never believes it can win… football, sport, politics. You are loved and laughed at… you enjoy defeat too much.”’

David Pratt, The National, X.

Christ if I only hadn’t read this with 15 minutes to go on my walk hame last night. Maybe it wouldn’t have left me in deep thought, mulling over the result and what it’s like to be Scottish.

I genuinely left the pub in fairly high spirits tae. Maybe I'm still enjoying the post-holiday glow of travelling to Germany supporting my country for a week and all the memories that brought. Perhaps the fact my club team, Hibs, are also in my blood and I’m becoming increasingly numb to sucker punch defeats. Maybe cos I was understanding of the reality that what left the park last night simply wasn’t good enough in the end.

Folk will rightly point to Lawrence Shankland, who made a notable difference coming off the bench, and whether given more time with the likes of Mcginn feeding off him would’ve made us worthy of a goal. That’s something Stevie will have to grapple with, but I came into the tournament trusting his judgement. He’d more than earned it.

And yet you saw what happened when we brought on the players to ‘go for it’… Hungary looked even more dangerous. Szobozlai looked even more like scoring. We looked more exposed at the back.

Fans might play over the stone wall penalty shout in their minds, but Scotland got what they deserved last night. We didn’t seem to have the bottle to go and take one of our chances. Stuart Armstrong, if playing in a Southampton kit, would’ve had a shot away given that opportunity. A more experienced international player, unlike Lewis Morgan, would’ve known what to do with the ball when a chance that big was laid on a plate to him.

And I think when you get a reminder of the inherent imposter syndrome in Scots, the innate ‘take what you’re given’ understanding of life… that’s when your mind starts to dae the Cancan.

Sir Steve is a realist. There’s a reason he was able to dismantle teams like Rangers on the shoestring budget at Kilmarnock. There’s a reason he sets up with a robust midfield and plenty of bodies at the back. There’s a reason he left it until 20 minutes to go to have a pop… but to start the tournament with the sentiment: ‘Just enjoy that we’re here’ set the tone in my opinion.

Fans didn’t want to see videos of John Mcginn doing Bavarian dances with a hat on. They wanted to see the team hard at work. Business as usual. Ensure, if anything, we’re not blown away by the occasion of the opening match.

And isn’t this just classic? A stark, immediate reminder that Scotland isn’t a serious contender.

‘Nein Schottland, nein party’ might’ve been a mantra for the ages as it rang through the streets of Munich to Berlin with Germans lapping up our fan presence and party spirit, but we were there to do a job as well. Compete.

It might’ve been an all-loving experience between the Scots and Germans, new relationships formed everywhere and an igniting of tourism between the countries in future… but the Germans were focussed at kick-off. It wasn’t happy families at the very start of that match as our fans outsang them on their turf. The love that followed was somewhat patronising by the end.

Certainly from where I was standing, 5 steins deep at a public viewing area.

Don’t get me wrong, the reception we had in Munich was faultless. The patter between fans was on point and there could not have been better spirits. We were treated like celebrities as they got photos with us in our kilts.

A group of German ultras, a few hundred strong, were even singing ‘No Scotland No Party’ wholeheartedly on their own accord in the centre of Munich as they paid respect to our presence.

But again… isn’t that just classic? The good old Scots. Don’t take themselves too seriously. Great to have around if you want to get absolutely blootered drinking beer.

I wouldn’t change the humility of my country, especially when you see our neighbours singing about the World War like some sort of twisted, shame-ridden victory… but it would be nice sometimes to see a balance with expectation and drive.

I fear this is in our DNA.

The only country in history to reject its independence from an archaic, imperial ruler. Our people have all the character and talent a country could hope for and yet we rarely feel like the real deal. Kids waking up today without a meal going to school and yet we believe the status quo is as good as it gets.

We’re good at acknowledging problems but we seem to have lost our will and way to actually take it upon ourselves. Our politicians, for instance, are relentlessly after soundbites that speak to a problem people have and then avoid the question when probed for a solution.

Why? Well, partly because of the Tik-Tok brain generation… but also partly because everything in Britain is so centralised. People at local level aren’t truly empowered.

The theatrics that you see in the Westminster chamber really are just theatrics. Decisions are made by a very select few leaders and local representatives down the pecking order feed off a two-party, First Past the Post system which allows daylight between people and politician. The national brand of a political party is often enough to persuade voters to tick that box come election day. It’s why we’re seeing so much tactical voting promotion in the lead-up to the next one. Safe seats exist.

But as a consequence, people aren’t making decisions for themselves. We might have our own parliament in Scotland but did you know that our local councils govern more people than anywhere else in Europe? The average local council in an EU country accounts for around 10,000 people. In Scotland, our 32 councils account for 175,000 people each.

What that means is that Scottish people are tirelessly working to accommodate decisions made by a distant authority. We’re not individually doing things ourselves. We’re not spending our weekends able and motivated to actually fix things in our best interest.

I sat on my local community branch when I lived in Leith and it was a collection of local volunteers fleshing out the limited opportunities we had to make small differences in the community. A guest might come in and talk about changes made to the area by a private entity. A councillor would be there taking notes, yet it wasn’t really clear what would be done with those notes.

I’m not downplaying what these people do. Far from it. These people should be sat there discussing a pot of money to spend alongside a national parliamentarian there to be held account each month. It is universally accepted that decision-making is better taken when made close to the location of that decision, yet we seem to just accept big change is more hassle than it is worth.

Don’t believe me? How often have you heard someone moan about the council? ‘The bloody council.’ ‘Nightmare to deal with eh.’ ‘So out of touch.’

Why are the people of Cologne able to wack up 6 screens across the central harbour to accommodate tens of thousands of Scotland fans at a moment’s notice, whilst Edinburgh boasts the title of being the only capital city of a competing nation without a fan zone this tournament?

Would Scotland’s children not be that bit better at football if pitches weren’t locked up all summer, a decision that would never even be considered if in the hands of local parents in the area?

We’re also a nation severely divided in its identity. This can’t help matters when it comes to self-belief.

A lot of us, for example, like the fact we’re the ‘good old Scots’ without much seriousness to our national identity. It fits the mould of Britishness: a smidgen of individualism ultimately overpowered by our devotion to a higher law and order.

Some even take joy in our shortcomings. The Scottish Daily Express must’ve been the only media outlet in Europe to report a bad word said about the Tartan Army in this tournament.

We have a fallback being Scottish. Everything’s alright because we can lean on our neighbours. They’ll sort us in the end.

We’ll have a laugh, gain some self-gratification from pointing out how bad our state of affairs is, and then celebrate a Denmark goal against England. All so we can then comfortably descend back into what’s a miserable life for so many because that’s the way it’s always been.

We’ll then supplement that comfort by hating on each other, vehemently, as we’ve always done. Be it the insurmountable hatred based on the colour of a football shirt or the ancient practices of the same religion… we’ll find a way.

This all contributes to structural deficiencies in Scottish society that cause a lack of self-belief in many facets of our country’s output, football included.

If we’re to be the ‘good old Scots,’ never taken seriously, how can we expect any difference in our sporting product? If we’re not together as a nation, how can we expect strength in togetherness when we compete? If we always have the fallback of, essentially, just being a wee nation of the UK, how can we expect to punch above our weight from time to time like other nations do?

Still sounding far-fetched? Look at our neighbours south of the border who have some of the best players in the world and have done spanning generations. They have their own problems of identity. They grip onto ancient warfare for pride, they’re bitterly divided on almost every issue and the media is actively ready to slate representatives at every wrong turn.

For all the arrogance of England fans travelling to Germany singing those songs, I’m yet to see it on the park.

Could a wider feeling of lack of identity and self-belief have anything to do with England’s woes? Maybe. There must be some reason they haven’t won anything. Their team is ridiculously good. They were 1-0 up against Italy with a home crowd at Wembley in the last Euros final and still got beat.

There’s a certain unity in European nations that both us and England don’t have. They have swagger in their identity and we’re constantly talking about how sh*t everything is about ours.

Bemoan Steve Clarke and his tactics all you want but the guy gave us character like I’ve never seen before. Like the Spanish playing tiki-taka, Clarke created a tough, robust side aimed at being difficult to beat. Before the spiral of bad results in 2024, showing the natural end of what he’s able to give with this Scotland side, it really did work.

Maybe I’m haverin, such as the nature of being a Tartan Army member… but I can’t shake the feeling something bigger goes on wae Scotland at these tournaments. World-class players like Andy Robertson should not be crumbling to that extent against such a beatable side. The pride and passion of our fanbase should be having a far bigger effect on that team. We should be able to pull out one, just one, big result at a major tournament when needed.

Whilst many are at the end of our tether with Clark, we should look back on his successful spell and take a leaf out of his book in addressing the root problem of previous Scotland sides: identity, purpose, and self-belief.

Maybe it speaks to a wider problem.


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