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Tartan Army veteran on what puts Celtic and Rangers fans off supporting Scotland

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“The win over Czechoslovakia in 1973,” said Husband without hesitation when asked what his most memorable victory is. “That was a night of grown men greeting, it really was. It was an amazing experience.”

That epic 2-1 result, secured in front of a crowd of 95,786 at Hampden thanks to a second-half Joe Jordan diving header, ended an excruciating 16 year wait to qualify for the finals of a major tournament and is seared into the subconscious of anyone who was fortunate enough to be in attendance. 

Could events in Germany this month top it? There is growing feeling of foreboding about Scotland’s prospects at Euro 2024 due to their underwhelming form this season, Ben Doak, Lyndon Dykes, Lewis Ferguson, Aaron Hickey and Nathan Patterson all being ruled out by injury and the quality of the opposition.

However, Husband remains optimistic that a place in the knockout rounds can be claimed for the first time ever and is hopeful that his Czech highlight can finally be eclipsed after over half a century.

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“It’s about bloody time we got through!” he said. “But I think we have a proper team for the first time in a long time. The side is better than it was three years ago, there is no doubt about that.

“The McGinns, the McTominays and the Robertsons are now of the right age. It is almost now or never for them. But these guys play at the top level, they don’t fear anyone, they really don’t.

“Did we peak last year in qualifying like we did in 1977? We could have beaten virtually anyone in the world at that time. But the World Cup in Argentina in 1978 was a complete disaster. Is this a similar situation? I don’t think so. I have faith in the players and in the manager Steve Clarke.

“I suspect it will go down to the last game. I am sure we will get a draw in one of the first two games against Germany or Switzerland and then go into the Hungary game needing a win to go through in typical Scottish fashion. But I think we will go through.”

(Image: PA) Husband, who is set to depart for Germany along with tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of his compatriots next week, is sure that he will enjoy himself regardless of how Scotland fare and irrespective of whether they reach the last 16 or not.

The 66-year-old relished seeing his country feature at a major tournament for the first time in 23 long years at Euro 2020 back in 2021. But it proved, with Covid-19 social distancing restrictions in place and stadiums less than half full, to be a joyless experience. He is confident that Euro 2024 will be an altogether more uplifting event. 

“It was awful three years ago,” he said. “I ended up having to go to Wembley for the England game by myself. I was the only one of us who got a ticket because the size of the crowd they were allowed to let in was so small.

“It is the young folk who populate Hampden now who I am really pleased for. This is the first proper tournament they will have been to. I have some great memories of following Scotland at World Cups and European Championships.

“At Italia ’90 I can remember playing a game of football against the Brazilians who were staying in the same campsite as us. Euro ’96 was good because it was in England and we were there in large numbers. France ’98 was just amazing.”

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The Tartan Army are not without their detractors. Their footsoldiers are often accused of being more interested in dressing up like walking shortbread tins and drinking themselves into oblivion than how Scotland actually perform on the park.

Husband accepts the criticism is sometimes justified. However, he argues there is only one difference between them and supporters of their international rivals – the fact that they wear kilts. 

“I sometimes think we’re a parody of a parody,” he said. “There was a period where we were reinventing themselves, when it was all jolly japes and a carry on. I think what put a lot of people off was this ‘we will party if we win or lose’ attitude. There is the song ‘No Scotland, No Party’.

“I think that is what turns some of the Celtic and Rangers fans off of Scotland. They will never be the teams they once were, but their fans will still go to the Nou Camp to play Barcelona and secretly believe they can get a draw. They have this in-built belief they can win.

“But the Danes, the Dutch and the Irish fans all enjoy themselves as well. The difference with us is that we all wear kilts. I think that is what distinguishes us from the rest when we are at tournaments.

“When you go abroad, it is the kilts that make you stand out. When Scotland played Russia in Moscow a few years ago we went to Red Square and the Chinese tourists there were more interested in taking photos of us than the landmarks. Euro 2024 will be a love-in because the Germans adore the Scots.

“All football fans have to accept we are not perfect. But I would counter that criticism of the Tartan Army. What do you do when it is the Berti Vogts era and the team is dreadful?  What do you do if travel thousands of miles and get beat 6-0?”

Husband also suspects the years the national team spent in the doldrums were partially responsible for the Tartan Army growing in prominence. But he has seen how the support has developed in modern times and argues the stereotypical image of the Scotland supporter is no longer valid. 

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 “In the last 25 years, the team has, more often than not, been woeful,” he said. “So maybe the fans became the stars, not the players. We no longer had the likes of Kenny Dalglish or Graeme Souness, so the Tartan Army became synonymous with the team, not the players.

(Image: Promotional) “But if you look at the history of the Tartan Army you can see it has changed. In the games at Wembley that I went to in the 1970s it was all about drink. That and a kind of nationalism, a sort of ‘wha’s like us?’ attitude. That changed in the World Cup in 1982 and onwards. It became less male orientated.

“When you go to Hampden for internationals now it has definitely changed. In the 1970s or 1980s it was tens of thousands of drunk men peeing down your trouser leg. It is far more family focused these days, there are far more women and children there. It is a bit more sanitised, but football in general is like that.”

Husband is involved in the Tartan Army Sunshine Appeal – a charity which has been giving money to worthy local causes wherever the national team play abroad since way back in 2003 – and has witnessed first hand how Scotland supporters can spread joy on their travels.

They made their 100th donation before the Gibraltar friendly in Faro on Monday night when they presented a cheque for £5,000 to Saffron Rose 4 Rett at the local botanical gardens. They cash will be used to build a sensory environment and raised beds so that children with special needs can plant vegetables and flowers.

“We believe it is the first football-based charity in the world,” said Husband. “It is all part of the fun. Money is raised from functions and the like. Recently there were evenings with Colin Hendry and Kevin Gallacher.

“The charities are always amazed and grateful when you get in touch. I went to the Peru and Mexico friendlies in 2018 and we made a donation to a charity called Project Peru which was set up in the favellas in Lima to assist children who came from difficult families. It was quite an emotional experience.”

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Seeing Scotland get Euro 2024 up and running in the opening game against hosts Germany in the Allianz Arena in Munich on Friday is sure to cause a few tears to well up in the eyes of a man who has been watching teams decked out in a dark blue jersey since way back 1965.

“My first game was an under-23 match against England at Pittodrie when I was six,” he said. “I don’t remember it of course, but I have a programme from the game and know that Billy Bremner and Alan Ball were both playing.”

He was in the 134,000-strong crowd at Hampden the following year when Scotland were on the receiving end of a 4-3 defeat at the hands of opponents who would lift the World Cup three months later. However, the occasion would leave a lasting impression on the wide-eyed youngster and be the start of a lifelong love affair.

“My abiding memory of that game was of Denis Law scoring a header,” he said. “My two all-time Scotland heroes are Kenny Dalglish and Denis Law. I was privileged to see Denis Law and Jim Baxter play together.

“The other thing I remember about that game was the sheer size of Hampden and the size and noise generated by the crowd. We were down near the corner flag and Willie Johnston took the corner.

(Image: PA) “The only England game I have missed at Hampden since then was the centenary game in 1973. The weather was atrocious and we were living in Carlisle at the time. My father didn’t want to drive even though we had tickets.

“But my father drove my two brothers and I to Prague for a World Cup qualifier in 1976 in a Hillman Avenger Estate. It beggars belief now.”

That proved to be a disappointing trip. The Czechs ran out 2-0 winners thanks to second-half goals from Antonin Panenka and Ladislav Petras. But there is not really a wasted journey for Husband when Scotland are playing.

He knows that he and his countrymen will not regret going to Germany for Euro 2024 whatever transpires in the coming weeks.

“The win over the Czechs in 1973 was the start of a halcyon era for Scotland,” he said. “We made it five World Cups in a row. You qualified for so many tournaments at that time you thought it was just natural. It will be good to be at a proper tournament again after so long.

“We have had our glorious failures, coming home from the 1974 World Cup unbeaten, or losing that late goal at the 1982 World Cup and going out. Hopefully this time will be different. I think the belief is there among the players.

“But we know Scotland will never win a tournament so we will go and enjoy ourselves. Isn’t that what being a football supporter is all about?”

 

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