Ruth Wishart: Yes sir, I can boogie – even after 50
DONE and out. And that weary wait for another World Cup appearance continues. For many players, their only chance for global glory is now over.
Yet, for once, our dismay was tempered by genuine joy that Ukrainians had something positive to cheer for. We all felt mixed emotions when their team came out draped in their national flag. We all felt vicariously happy for the blue and yellow hordes in the stadium.
Otherwise, it was an all too familiar story. Familiar too for young fans who can hardly believe Scotland regularly attended the quadrennial competition. Like me by the way.
This happy state of affairs came through a stint as a “volunteer” collector for the National Syndicate of Journalists. One day, a possible new recruit arrived at the newspaper for which I then worked. I thought of a rather attractive guy, as I approached asking for money with less than threats.
Reader, I married him. Married to a sports cartoonist and photographer whose vacation idea was to go to the World Cup or, if pushed, the Olympics. Unfortunately, my father had died at that time. A man who gave me sweets if I could recite Scotland’s current squad in the correct order. He took me to my first game when I was six and I could barely see over the wall at the front of the stand.
So, let’s be clear on this nature/nurture stuff. With this education and this engagement, there was no doubt that my only future was to become an infantryman in the tartan army. The groom and I got together.
As newlyweds, we spent our first World Cup vacation in Germany. Natch. I asked a friend to recommend affordable accommodation near the stadium in Frankfurt. He did. And we had a great view of the gasworks. We had driven to Germany from Scotland in a less than recent vintage vehicle. Still, it was confusing to find a loaded army van constantly beating us up at the next concert.
It started out a wee bit of a theme. The goal difference made us consider whether we would go to the first fortnight of future tournaments to see our team or the second fortnight to catch the final.
The next encounter saw Ally’s army travel to Argentina where ‘we’ll really shake them up when we win the World Cup’. Still. Right. He himself went alone to this concert given the expenses incurred. I stayed at the ranch trying to design menus for friends that reflected the food culture of those who bumped into us. An extraordinary goal from Archie Gemmill provided a modicum of balm.
Our dynamic duo met for Spain where we met Brazil in Seville. The game where our first goal became Jimmy Hill’s toe poke. Not sure he ever came back across the border.
OK, so the other batch then scored four. But believe me, the after party at the pub with the mix of bagpipes and brass and South American drums was a bit special.
It was still a solo trip for the man of my life to Mexico next time (did you see the cost of flights to Central America?) But then came Italia 90. See us? See sorted? A base camp from where all the stadiums were accessible. Although one of them banned alcohol in the whole city. Heavens to Betsy. Who saw a Scottish fan with a drouth? Even a cairry oot wasn’t on the cards.
At that time, I was filing a copy of the matches, with a state-of-the-art machine that could erase 15 whole characters by backspace. In front of the gem or what? Coming back from a game on a train, we ran into another army recruit, a guy named Stuart Cosgrove. Seemed a rather nice chiel.
When the caravan left for the United States, the team, inexplicably, failed to qualify. So we switched allegiance to the closest available cousins, which in New York happened to be Northern Ireland. The brightest part was that being in an Irish pub in New York – of which there is no shortage – meant no one cared the least about which part of the Emerald Isle featured.
We moved to the west coast for the final – Brazil vs. Italy. Two classic teams that finished 90 minutes 0-0. Two teams that had already played in a final before.
After the penalty shootout, the only safe bet for the Italians was superstar striker Roberto Baggio. He missed. It’s not just Scotland that can blow the guys away. But you know, it was one of the best World Cups of all. Because we weren’t there, none of that PMT – the pre-match tension – got in the way. We could just admire the football.
Then came France 98. Children, you must know that was the time when we took qualification for granted. 94 had just been an aberration. We don’t talk about it in good company. The boys were back in town. And what a city. As usual, I had requested match tickets for all of our matches, more hoping than expecting. By the time I learned that we had tickets for the opening match against Brazil, plus the matches against Norway and Morocco, real life had intervened.
The BBC, my employer at the time, had decided that I could record my Monday evening radio show in the French capital. Which would mean going to Paris, coming home, and then leaving a few days later. But hey, it’s the World Cup, and we qualified.
Our program was recorded in a back room of the Auld Alliance pub – the favorite haunt of Scottish fans of all sporting codes.
When we scouted 24 hours earlier, the walls were awash with claymores and other military memorabilia. The night of the recording, they had disappeared. My host said he was worried about an impromptu re-enactment of Bannockburn.
We had other worries. We had booked our guests but never met them. Sitting outside a pub asking passers-by if they spoke English and if they had been booked by the BBC was not a professional highlight.
Separating our ‘studio’ from the main pub was a ragged tartan curtain sling. Periodically, during the taping, sartorial challenge bettors would pop their heads asking “Awright Hen?” Then we headed to a recommended brasserie for a bite and a drink.
When I phoned home, I asked my beloved what he thought of the show. I couldn’t really hear a word of it, he offered. Anyway, he said, what about Ally and Ulrika and all?
It looks like after we left, Ally McCoist arrived to pull pints for the fans, and Ulrika Jonsson and Stan Collymore had a bit of housekeeping at our old studio. Scoop Wishart strikes again.
When I went back for the second round, we met a lot of Scottish fans with T-shirts saying ‘Scotland’s sporting heroes’. They included ‘Hand of God’ Maradona and Gareth Southgate who missed a penalty for England at Euro 96! Our group went to all the matches, including a meeting with Norway. On the train platform, we then met a Scottish guy wearing a kilt and a Viking helmet. Slowly he took it off, reached into his carpet bag and pulled out a Fez. After all, Morocco was next. And any self-respecting Scot should adhere to the appropriate dress code.
Last night’s meeting was therefore the last refrain of a lang sang. It was cardiac arrest. He was stained with tears. And the beloved companion of my life was now in the great fitba’ museum in heaven.
However, once a tartan infantryman, always a tartan infantryman. And Yessir, I can still boogie.