The long-awaited return of the Hampden roar provided a spectacular backdrop, but there was ultimate disappointment for the Tartan Army on Scotland’s return to major tournament football.
This was a first-in-a-lifetime experience for many, and the passion which had saved up for the occasion was initially in evidence 45 minutes before a ball was kicked against Czech Republic, when the players were greeted by a loud backing as they emerged for their pre-match warm-up.
It was a warm-up in more ways than one, as it served as only a prelude for the noise which bellowed around the national stadium for Flower of Scotland ahead of kick-off. It was difficult to believe only 9,847 supporters were within the ground.
The outpouring of emotion was nothing short of what was to be expected. Not only did it mark an end to Scotland’s 23-year absence from a major finals, but it was also their first outing in front of a Hampden crowd since a 3-1 victory over Kazakhstan in November 2019. This was truly a nation in anticipation.
It was difficult not to get caught up in the fervour from the media gantry, so we can only begin to imagine how the players felt knowing the hopes they were carrying on their shoulders.
There were early signals the occasion was on their minds in the early stages, with skipper Andy Robertson more than once urging some of his team-mates to calm down.
Scotland settled into their stride though, and looked more than a match for their opponents as the first half wore on.
That was what made the Czechs’ opener all the more galling, with Patrik Schick’s headed opener causing Hampden to briefly fall silent before half-time.
It was only for a matter of seconds, however, as the Tartan Army typically rallied behind their side, using the interval to reenergise ahead of a fresh push in the second half.
A flurry of chances shortly after the break offered cause for hope, which Schick’s spectacular second goal quickly shattered.
Opportunities continued to come Scotland’s way, with Lyndon Dykes, Stuart Armstrong and James Forrest denied, but there was not even as much as a consolation goal for the home crowd to celebrate.
The defeat leaves Scotland’s prospects of reaching the knockout stages for the first time dangling by a thread already, but Steve Clarke’s men will be able to count on a renewed backing from the supporters who will be at Wembley to cheer them on against England on Friday.
With any positive result in London setting up an all-to-play-for finish to the group campaign against Croatia at Hampden, the Tartan Army will hope they still have a role to play before this tournament is over.
Should they fall short, one of the uplifting factors will be the likelihood that crowds are back to stay, and in greater numbers as the nation’s Covid-19 vaccination programme gathers further pace.
Matches played over the last 12 months have laid bare just how crucial the fans are to football, and it is difficult to imagine a situation where their absence is more keenly felt than for international fixtures at Hampden Park.
Although there is natural disappointment at the outcome against Czech Republic, the sight of supporters dotted around the streets of Glasgow’s south side ahead of kick-off can provide some uplift for a side still clearly growing under Clarke.