THIS SCOTTISH SPORTING STRIFE

The dental profession owes much to my late father.  His reward of choice for a daughter able to recite the entire Scotland football team in the correct formation (club of origin, optional) was to hand out sticky sweeties. This incentive scheme dated from around my sixth year, having been hauled off the subs bench after the older brother had been found wanting in the sports department. Never quite saw the point did Bill.

At about the same age I started being taken to matches, just about able to see over the front wall of the stand with a parental hand firmly round the collar.  My brother and mother went to the movies. You might view all this as a form of child cruelty since I find myself still following the Scottish team. Subsequently marrying a sports cartoonist and photographer merely ensured that seasonal matches were augmented at four yearly intervals with trips to the world cup masquerading as holidays.

The first was by car to Germany where, no matter how early we set off for the next venue, we still found a van load of kilted foot soldiers already ensconced in the main square. These trips are educational.  You learn, for instance, never to book accommodation merely by apparent proximity to the stadium That tactic brought us an uninterrupted view of the Frankfurt gasworks.

There was also the perennial dilemma of the Scots fan; do we book the first fortnight of a world cup to be sure of seeing Scotland, or the second  almost certainly missing them altogether.  Getting turfed out on goal average may be less heinous than getting stuffed, but it was a bad habit to acquire and a worse one to reprise.

As it was a very expensive endeavour, the husband went to Argentina on his own, and I retain a particular fondness for the local bank manager who explained in some detail the implausibility of the joint account sustaining a joint visit as members of Ally's army.  The nearest I got to that gig was watching the farewell shenanigans at Hampden which was truly the '78 team's finest hour and a half.

The sojourn to Spain at least afforded the opportunity for some gowf to ease the pre-match tension.  Our base camp there was opposite a French beach club which served brilliant lunches, and had what passed in these days for a big screen in the bar.  When France scored against England, the Spanish couldn't figure out why the  first two folk on their feet were Scots, ( I know, I know, but it's not always easy to repress your baser sporting instincts.)

The Italian campaign was mostly brilliant - if you screen out the scores - and Scots fans are world class exponents of selective amnesia.  The only major disappointment was finding one venue had declared the town a dry area for the pre and post match celebrations.  We had always majored on the pre-match variety on the grounds that there was more scope to celebrate then as a general rule.  When the annual Scotland England fixture took place at Hampden we used to run a pre match victory lunch at which everyone was equally welcomed, though the cartoon tickets did advise English guests that they must be accompanied by a Scottish adult.

A refinement of these occasions was edited highlights being screened of previous encounters, edited so that only the Scottish goals featured.  (You can tell why I married that man!)

The trip to the finals in the USA was perhaps the most enjoyable of all since we didn't qualify and could go to the matches without fear of humiliation, and support whatever side took your fancy. And, thanks to the stadia involved,  you got New York, Boston and the West Coast all thrown in. 

1998 was problematical.  As we drew Brazil in the opening game, to spare humiliation we found accommodation equidistant from the Norway and Morocco fixtures.  So of course we got Brazil tickets in the draw.  All of which was further complicated by my having a radio programme to present from Paris two nights before the match.  It seemed like a good idea at the time to broadcast from the Auld Alliance pub, since there would be no shortage of atmos. Our recce had revealed walls covered in Claymores shields and other warrior paraphernalia.  On the night of the show the same walls were bare.  Mine host, it appears, was concerned that the visiting army might fancy re-staging Bannockburn.

At the appointed hour - given the main pub was separated from our temporary recording area by a tattered tartan curtain - there was so much bloody atmos the guests couldn't hear themselves shout. And the tartan army thought it a great wheeze to poke their heads through and offer intermittent encouragement.  I phoned home later to ask how it had gone. Seems it sounded like a train station crossed with a cattle auction.

The onward journey to southern France was also complicated by my having handbag and passport nicked. A very helpful Glaswegian in the British Embassy assured me that if I got some headpix and forwarded same with the relevant info, she could post them on to our world cup base camp in time for my return journey. Which she duly did.  Just a pity that the photo booth had a white backdrop which left me looking bald as well as stateless.

Two brief anecdotes illustrating the resilience of the Scots footy fan:  One was the T shirt being sported by Scots fans in Paris the text on which was headed "Scotland's sporting heroes".  Underneath as well as the predictable Law and Baxter were Maradonna and the more recent English exponents of the missed penalty.

Then there was the kilted chap on the platform beside us following the Norway game.  He had on, natch, a viking helmet.  Solemnly he took it off, reached into his capacious carpet bag and produced in its stead a Moroccan Fez.  Let nobody say we turn up underdressed.

Since then there have been many disasters and not so many triumphs and a real effort of Caledonian will to treat these two impostors just the same.  And next weekend, after a very very long wait, the match against the Irish Republic will determine whether or not we can finally embark on foreign adventures in a major tournament.

Sadly the cartoonist died prematurely ten years ago, and will not be around to cheer on the troops with me. But  if we progress I promise to have a video made only featuring the Scottish goals.  Something tells me You Tube will not be detained very many minutes.......