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On the march with Stevie’s Army: How Euro 2024 is creating optimism from Aberdeen to Inverness

Everybody from Aberdeen players Russell Anderson and Francesca Ogilvie to SFSA chairman Andrew Smith is relishing the tournament

The Tartan Army will cheer on Scotland at the European Championship in Germany next month.
The Tartan Army will cheer on Scotland at the European Championship in Germany next month.

It’s one of the few occasions when Scotland comes together in civic pride and football fosters a feel-good factor for a few weeks at least.

And, already, whether it’s Irn Bru adverts, or TV programmes, supporters booking their flights and hotel accommodation or arranging parties based around next month’s European Championships in Germany, there’s a sense of positivity about the event.

We have been here before, of course. Indeed, it’s exactly 50 years since the Scots qualified for the World Cup – also in Germany – and the players released a cheesy single called Easy Easy, as the prelude to failing to progress despite not losing a match.

From Irn Bru to Iran and Peru

Four years later, Ally MacLeod’s team travelling to Argentina and coming an almighty cropper against Iran and Peru – though there was also a marvellous victory against Holland and another hard-luck elimination.

Yet, that is ancient history to many of those who will be cheering on Steve Clarke’s side against the hosts, Switzerland and Hungary at the tournament next month – and, as the Press & Journal discovered, excitement and anticipation abounds.

Scotland manager Steve Clarke during the Euro 2024 qualifier between Scotland and Cyprus. Pic: Rob Casey/SNS.

That frisson exists among people of all ages and backgrounds and, given the misery happening elsewhere in the world, it’s understandable that individuals such as Andy Smith, the chairman of the Scottish Football Supporters Association, are savouring the opportunity to be involved in something truly uplifting in the weeks ahead.

‘We feel good about being there’

Andy, who is from Inverness, said: “It’s less than three weeks until we face the hosts and open the Euros and with the training squad of 26 now announced, it has, all of a sudden, become very, very real.

“Scotland are our team. Steve’s team belongs to the nation, the whole nation not the Hampden suits. Steve just gets on with the job and has introduced a club feel to our national side and a unifying culture that under-promises and, so far, has over-delivered.

“As a nation we feel good about being there. And that means being physically there is the most important thing, whether in the actual stadium, the Euro Fan Zone, local hostelries in Germany or at home.

“We all unify and support our team to do the best it can. Supporting Scotland is different to supporting our club sides. For the Tartan Army, it’s about the journey not the trophy haul. None of us really expects to come back as winners.

“But, with Steve Clarke in charge, we know that we’ll do as well as we can.

We will come together as a nation

“Until June 14, as the controlled hype grows, we will come together more and more as a nation and feel good about ourselves. The run up to the Euros will be a tonic for our nation. Everyone knows someone who will be in Germany.

“We all already know stories about the ingenious ways that the Tartan Army is descending on the venues. And collectively our nation will make a huge, inclusive, supportive and friendly statement to everyone they meet.”

Scotland’s John McGinn celebrates with Scott McTominay after making it 3-0 against Cyprus. Pic: SNS.

In the past, the Hampden crowds used to be almost exclusively male, but that has changed with the surge in interest in women’s football during the last decade.

And, just as myriad wee laddies will be screaming their backing for players such as Andy Robertson, John McGinn and Scott McTominay, there will be a multitude of young girls witnessing the action and thinking to themselves: I can do that.

Dons star can’t wait for Euros

Francesca Ogilvie is one of the most talented members in the Aberdeen ranks and spoke about how she and her colleagues will be soaking up the forthcoming games.

She told me: “I’m looking forward to watching the Euros, but it will be at home or in the pub, as I can’t get to Germany due to my coaching commitments.

Aberdeen Women winger Francesca Ogilvie after a SWPL match against Montrose.
Aberdeen Women’s talented winger Francesca Ogilvie. Image: Shutterstock.

“If the team can recapture the run of form they had going into the qualifying stages and, barring any further injuries, they could hopefully make it through the group stages.

“It doesn’t matter what gender you are – it’s exciting to watch the national team and others in this competition. Scotland always has an amazing support and it will be good to watch and listen to the Tartan Army.

“It’s really positive there are more young women and girls interested in football. Watching football at this level can help your own game.

“So it’s good for both the men’s and women’s games.”

Former Aberdeen captain Russell Anderson now runs a flourishing foundation.

Youngsters, too, will be allowed a few late nights to watch the Scots in battle.

And even if they can’t travel to Europe, they will be encouraged to dream by the likes of former Aberdeen captain, Russell Anderson, who now runs an eponymous foundation which has helped thousands of under-privileged kids in the north-east.

He said this week: “While June is always an extremely busy time for our schools and our coaches, there’s absolutely no doubt the great interest surrounding Scotland’s participation in the Euros will be reflected in what’s happening in the classrooms and games halls and the feel-good factor will be there in everything we are doing.

Opening doors for young people

“And, of course, our summer camps at Aberdeen Sports Village in July will be taking place as the tournament reaches its climax and, irrespective of how Scotland get on, there will be substantial Euro-themed activity taking place then.

“Our mission is to make a sustainable and measurable difference to the health and wellbeing of children living in our community.

“But the country’s involvement in such a global event definitely plays no small part in helping to forge positive attitudes and feelings in everyday life.”

Andrew Smith, chairman of the Scottish Football Supporters Association.

At 39th in the world, Scotland are the lowest-ranked team in their group, but Andy Smith is among those who can reach for the stars without going all Icarus about it.

He realises that great expectations often precede hard times, but Clarke’s squad are carved in the coach’s mould and will never offer less than 100% perspiration.

Andy said: “It would be nice to finally be one of the qualifiers for the round of 16 or go even further, but for now, just being there is as good a start as we can ask for.

“We’ll take what comes when it comes and still be the best fans at the tournament.

We know that we are underdogs

“Tickets are like hen’s teeth for the Munich tie, but the games against Switzerland in Cologne and Hungary in Stuttgart will be like playing in Scotland. We’ll be there.

“We will probably never come home with medals, but Scotland and the Scottish people want to be part of all the Euros and the World Cups too.”

Scotland’s Stuart Armstrong celebrates with John McGinn after scoring to make it 3-2 against Norway. Pic: SNS.

Our sporting history teaches us to be cautious, but football provides room for escapism and Clarke’s confreres have shown they are not frightened of any opponents.

They may be facing Germany, but that merely offers an incentive to spring a shock. And Scotland are at their best when under the radar as they proved against Spain last year.

Now, let’s hope the general election canvassers realise not to knock on people’s doors when the footie’s on!