I was planning to watch the Scotland-Italy game in the Tennents bar in the West End of Glasgow, but not long after getting there I got a last-minute offer of a ticket to Party On The Green. This was the giant marquee erected on Glasgow Green with 8 gigantic screens inside, a stage with bands and dancers and stuff, and 7000 very drunken Scotsmen. How could I say no? The £12 tickets sold out last week in 3 minutes and were going for £80 on eBay - I tagged along with my oldest pal Alan, his gf Angela, and his flatmate Stevie.
7000 drunken and over-excited Scotsmen do not disappoint. The atmosphere was incredible, helped somewhat by the on-stage performers: firstly, a band of big beefy men, wearing nothing but kilts and wild faces, with long straggly hair and unkempt bears, blowing bagpipes and banging drums with all their might. These are men who devour porridge and whiskey for breakfast, and wrestle bears and Englishmen for fun. We sang Flower of Scotland and 500 Miles and that bloody Chelsea Dagger...and 70 seconds in to the game, it all went tits up.
We'd been asking for it! Imagine erecting a 7000 capacity bar on Glasgow Green for the game! Imagine planning a fireworks show and three post-match bands to celebrate with! Imagine the Daily Record devoting 20+ pages to the match for 6 days straight! When the game kicked off, the players who had been dreaming all week about the upcoming game-of-their-lives were still dreaming, and Italy punished us. Hutton, Brown and Fletcher stood motionless on the right flank, Weir lost Di Natale and McManus gave Toni too much room = 1-0 to Italy.
Gradually we got back into the game, but teams like Italy always do this: take an early lead, and then allow the other team to have possession. It gives us false confidence, because we think we're playing well. We only had so much of the ball because Italy were content, being 1-0 up already. At half-time I rushed to the bar, and didn't get back to the match until there was 20 minutes left.
Alan had taken an hour to get the first round in, and missed the first 15 minutes of the game (well, seen them on small screens from a distance). There were plenty of bar staff, none of whom looked like they had ever been in a bar before. Admittedly, it must be tough to get staff to work on a day like that, but it seemed like they only had WRVS ladies and foreigners: both groups who are going to struggle to understand steamin' Weegies barking orders at them. Still, most folk in the queue were in good spirits and we had a laugh. I didn't really see Ferguson's goal - on wee tellies, from afar - and didn't even know who had scored until people started singing "Oh Barry Barry!" - but the celebrations were wild, of course: everyone hugging and kissing everyone else, screaming and jumping, drinks flying, star-jumps, aerobic leaps, and primal screams. Stevie and I got back with the drinks in time to see a bit of Scottish pressure, and McFadden's glaring miss which instantly made me think of Gazza's v Germany at Euro 96 - the cross was just too fast for him to wrap his foot around the ball and keep the shot under control (or you could say he was an inch too slow in getting to the cross). The sucker-punch came in injury-time - a scandalous free-kick decision (it was a free-kick to Scotland, not Italy!) - but worse than that, our non-existent defending which allowed Panucci to rise unmarked at the far-post for a free header. All was not lost at 1-1, we would still have had a hope of qualifying, yet the defenders switched off. For Scotland, the first 90 seconds and the last 90 seconds undid the entire 90 minutes of good work in-between.
People walked. Instantly, the tent ejected dejected fans into the pouring rain. We stayed. A press photographer saw me sulking and went to take a photo - not wanting to be The Face Of Gutted Scotland in the papers, I obscured the shot with my pint glass. We watched the three covers bands trying to cheer up the hundred-odd fans that remained dry. We watched the entirely inappropriate fireworks show. We went back to Paisley and I won £20 on the karaoke. If there's one thing Scottish football fans can do, it's accept a glorious failure. Life goes on.