“Football is the most important things of the least important things” (Jurgen Klopp)
I was reading the various reports of Scotland’s hugely disappointing performance against Ireland in Paris last night. We’d been told that four years of planning had gone into producing a side – hungrier, meaner, more tactically savvy – that could produce when it really mattered. Instead, it was a total humiliation and we left the tournament not with a bang but a whimper, falling to pieces tactically, mentally and physically and we exited Saint Denis after being flattened by an Irish juggernaut that, in truth, barely got out of second gear, and mostly because it didn’t have to. We’ll always have Paris. But not in a good way.
Last night’s disappointment apart, I wouldn’t dream of making any contribution to the on-field debate. I’ve never played rugby. But the tournament has really drawn me in. I mean, regardless of the result or your allegiance, how could you not be moved by 50,000 Irish people in Paris singing “Zombie”? There ought to be a Gaelic word that encapsulates the words “gutted”, “gallus” and “goosebumps”. In your head, zombie.
At some point after Ireland scored their third try on Saturday night, the camera panned to Princess Anne. She looked mightily scunnered. To be fair, it seems she takes her role as patron of the the SRU seriously. But I wonder – what sort of subliminal message does it send to the players and the nation when the patron of your team is the sister of the unelected head of state of a different country? What even is that?
The SRU have a hashtag. #asone
And yet, in 2014, a group of ex-Scotland players came out for Better Together, which just proves that you should never meet your heroes. And I’ll guarantee these are the same folk who will always say politics and sport shouldn’t mix. To be honest I’ve watched every Scotland game ever since through that duplicitous prism. It was like when Alex McLeish became our football manager and came out for No. Jings, if you don’t believe in Scotland, why should your players? And why should I? I’ve never quite been able to decouple the manager’s views from our failure to qualify for a major tournament. We boast, then we cower.
It ultimately comes down to self-belief. I remember being at a football game against Ireland at Parkhead, Glasgow just after the 2014 referendum. We’d just bottled the chance to be normal. You may possibly remember that event. The Irish weren’t slow to let us know, and that was bad enough. We then played England, who told us to stick our independence up our arse. Cheers for the sentiment lads, but, by voting no, we’ve already done so. In an epic act of self-harm, we’d become the first country in the history of the world to be offered the chance of self-governance and then turned it down. We boast then we cower.
Scotland losing to Ireland last night may be the most important of the least important things, but it still matters. There were many factors at play. But the biggest one – the pride of playing as an independent nation against one who doesn’t yet have the confidence to embrace self-determination – should not be discounted. “We can still rise now”. But right now it’s later than we think and our future as an independent Scotland needs more than the faux eighty minute nationalism of a sultry Saint Denis night. Allez Bleu.