Och aye the no – why I can’t bring myself to support Scotland against England
When Scotland square up against England tonight, I would, on the face of it, have an easy decision to make.
As a Welsh football fan you might imagine my default setting would be to throw my support behind anyone who plays England.
However, for me and many other Wales fans of a certain vintage, there are several reasons that when it comes to the Scottish national football team, we have long held issues that are still to be fully resolved.
Football has a habit of bringing out the irrational in all of us. And for me that irrationality is no more transparent than when it comes to the Scots.
Not the Scottish people, nor their beautiful country, nor their wonderful culture and insatiable thirst for independence, just their national football side.
Happily they’ve not actually qualified for a major international tournament for more than 20 years, so I’ve not had to worry about having to address my evidently deep seated issues.
For many of us this skewed relationship begins one fateful night in the late ‘70s – and with one man in particular – Joe Jordan.
The gap-toothed, handball thief, and for so long enemy number one for many Wales fans, who to this day have still not forgiven the Jock cheat for robbing us of a place at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina thanks to famously handling the ball and a penalty being awarded against Wales in a 2-0 loss to Scotland at Anfield, is most definitely a key catalyst for my long held trauma.
His kissing of his arm as he wheeled away following the penalty and his refusal to have ever acknowledged his complicity let alone apologise, only compounded matters.
That infamous qualifier, on October 12, 1977 is the first Wales game I can remember watching on TV. Days later, despite our ignominious failure to qualify – teaching me a life lesson as a nascent supporter of the international side I would learn to shoulder for another three decades – I was taken to Edwards Sports in Cardiff city centre to buy my very first football shirt. The work of art that is the Wales Admiral kit, replete with green and yellow stripes.
So every cloud etc.
The years 1976/1977 were the moment of my footballing inception and an introduction to Welsh footballing pain. Years zero for my lifelong love of the game, and my antipathy to Scotland’s national football team.
Football then, like most young boys my age was the epicentre of my world (that and the music of The Jam and Madness, but that’s a musical rites of passage for another time) And amongst my footballing world which revolved around, in no particular order, Gola football boots, Roy of The Rovers comics, Adidas holdalls and Shoot magazine League Ladders, the 1978 World Cup collection issued by Italian sticker manufacturer Panini was, for several months at least, where my pocket money was neatly filtered like some pre-pubescent money laundering scheme.
Although it was through gritted teeth and a pained expression that I gingerly applied Scottish team stickers to this album, handling them as I would a test tube containing coronavirus.
This instantaneous dislike was compounded eight years later on another fateful – and this time tragic night. September 10, 1985, Wales v Scotland, at Ninian Park in a decider for qualification to the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
That ‘85 team, managed by Mike England, was brimful of players with star quality – Neville Southall, Kevin Ratcliffe, Ian Rush, Mark Hughes and Mickey Thomas, who all lined up in this crucial World Cup decider.
Everyone was hoping there wasn’t a sense of deja vu playing the Scots, while hopes were high that Wales would march triumphantly towards the World Cup.
Although, as we now know, it didn’t quite work out like that.
Wales drew 1-1, losing out to another harsh handball decision and with it hopes of qualifying for another major international tournament.
It was, however, a tragic evening. Scotland manager Jock Stein collapsed pitchside at the final whistle, and died moments later in the treatment room at the stadium.
It cast a long and sombre shadow on footballing history between the two sides.
They say it’s always good to confront the demons from your past. Bizarrely, and unexpectedly, I got the opportunity to confront one of mine almost 20 years ago.
It was February 2002. My mate and I had travelled to the McAlpine Stadium to watch Cardiff City take on Huddersfield Town, only to find out the evening game was off as we arrived at the stadium.
Furious that the match had been postponed so late in the day, we vented our spleen at staff. It was after all, a 456 mile, eight and a half hour round trip from Cardiff, so you could forgive us our ire.
Then, walking across the car park I spotted a familiar face – the panto villain of Welsh football, Joe Jordan and the man who gave me that very first taste of the sort of footballing disappointment I would have to learn to suffer in the course of my life supporting Wales.
At that point he was assistant to manager Lou Macari at Huddersfield Town.
The red mist was already rising, but spotting the bogeyman of 1977 in front of me I thought this was too good to be true.
Racing towards him I started spitting invective. He was so startled he didn’t say a word as I roared at him that his club was tinpot, he was a gap-toothed cheat and he and Scotland could f*** off. Or words to that effect.
By this point he had reached his car, gave me a look that screamed ‘who is this demented lunatic?’ and hurriedly drove off.
My mate was bent double laughing. It’s just a shame it was before you could properly record videos on your phone, as this was a viral video waiting to happen.
Yes, it possibly wasn’t my finest hour, I’m not prone to confrontational outbursts and I’m not particularly proud of this chance encounter, but god I felt bloody good getting it out of my system.
On more sober reflection the man famed for having two front teeth missing, would no doubt have removed mine if he had put his mind to it. Possibly me taking him by surprise and the CCTV that was no doubt trained on the car park put paid to any physical retribution.
Which, let’s face it, is a good thing. The former Leeds and Manchester United striker is revered as one of football’s legendary hard men. In short he was a nutter on the pitch – and for those who remember his infamous squaring up to Italian enforcer Rino Gattuso during and after Milan’s European tie with Tottenham (where Jordan was a coach) he was unhinged off it, too.
If my close shave was catharsis or a mental cleansing, I’m afraid it’s yet to rid me of my dislike of the Scottish football team.
Russell Todd, of the very fine Podcast Peldroed, sums it up perfectly in an excellent essay on the subject of Wales v Scotland rivalry: “The tribal, partisan nature of fan loyalties is such that injustices are branded in fans’ collective consciousness, and passed down through the generations. Grudges are held, whether that’s against refs, certain clubs or certain opposing players; and are inherited, learned and borne by successive generations of fans. That’s just how it is.”
I still can’t stand Scotland (a reminder – just the national side, not any of you wonderful and possibly bemused Scots who might be reading this). And Joe Jordan will always be fully garnished with words not suitable for a family audience.
As a Tartan Army-related aside I saw Gordon Strachan at the Wales v Slovakia game at Euro 2016 – and laughed myself silly after I’d told him: “It’s nice to see someone from Scotland at the Euros, Gordon.”
Fair play, he told me to ‘f*** off.’
Moments later, Hal Robson-Kanu scored the winner in Wales’ Euro opener and me and my mate danced like ecstatic lunatics in front of rows of amused French people, who gave us a round of applause when we’d finished.
Football then, both the most irrational and the most beautiful game.
*For the sake of fairness, I should also declare I have an English wife, who will no doubt read this – and to be honest, I don’t want to be sleeping in the spare bedroom again tonight.