Nation BackgroundIn regards to the game of Football, Scotland are one of the first International sides, in fact, they are the joint oldest International side with England, having played the very first international football match in 1872.
It, being football, ended, nil-nil. Scotland lost only two of their first forty-three internationals (ah the good old days), this included a five-one victory over England, with the side crowned “the Wembley Wizards”.
Like all of the Home Nations, despite this early period of dominance they did not win any major international honours. Due to the fact that none of the Home Nations entered the World Cups in the 1930s due to a disagreement regarding their amateur players.
However, things were patched up and Scotland entered their first World Cup in 1950, however in behaviour that explains a lot of the years since the SFA stopped Scotland from competing.
To qualify, the Home Nations were put in a tournament with the finalists qualifying for the World Cup, England beat Scotland in the final. Unfortunately, prior to the tournament, the SFA laid their own decision that Scotland would only attend the World Cup in Brazil as champions of Britain.
Since they came second, they ignored the pleas of the squad and the English team and denied the Scots entry to the World Cup. This actually explains so much, if you’re Scottish and aware of the SFA I think you’ll agree with my sentiment here.
Since then, the Scots have qualified for eight tournaments and have yet to make it out of the Group stage, the last time in 1998.
Regarding the Euros, Scotland did not enter the first two in France and Spain (1960 and 1964) and failed to qualify for the next six. Qualifying for the first time in 1992 in Sweden. Again, in the Euros Scotland have failed to pass the first round.
Of course, this included the agony of going out on goals scored in Euro 1996, having missed a penalty and allowing Gazza to score that goal. However, I guess they owed them a win having beaten the World Champions side of 1966 at Wembley to become “Unofficial World Champions”.
Throughout Scotland's history, they have produced some quality footballers.
Highlights include (but not exclusive to) the record cap holder (102) Kenny Dalglish, Dennis Law (joint top scorer with Dalglish with 30), Graeme Souness, Danny McGrain, Billy Bremner, John Robertson, Dave MacKay, “Slim” Jim Baxter, Gordon Strachan, Alex McLeish, John Collins, Willie Miller and of course currently Andy Robertson.
However, despite the riches available in the past, it is often the more cult heroes that prevail in the Scottish memory.
Goalkeepers like Jim Leighton and David Marshall (that save in Serbia), Defenders like Colin Hendry and Andy Considine (that stag do video), Midfielders such as Archie Gemmell (that goal against the Netherlands) and Ryan Christie (that interview after Serbia) and Forwards like James McFadden (that goal against France).
CultureI might be biased but I think on the whole Scotland is a pretty friendly place, even, if you have the misfortune to be English (which technically I am due to my birthplace). A small nation with a population of around 6 million but with a wide variety in culture depending on the local area.
The majority of the population live in the central belt (the areas around and surrounding Glasgow and Edinburgh) with other major cities (for Scotland) including Dundee and Aberdeen. The Highlands are less populated but just as friendly and welcoming as the major cities if you exclude the midges.
In general, the western part of the country is more chatty and outgoing as a population however the eastern part is just as welcoming, all be it, more reserved. In popular culture, like reality, there are often extremes highlighted when looking at Scottish culture.
From the “roamin’ in the gloamin’” stereotype of the Highlands as highlighted by the masterful Billy Connolly, to the bleak yet somehow heartening outlook of Scotland from authors like Irvine Welsh and back again to the humour of Still Game and Rab C. Nesbitt the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but, to get a full appreciation of Scotland I encourage you to check out all of the above.
Scotland is a historical nation, with great pride in its history from great inventions such as the Television, the Telephone and Tikka Massala. Great authors and Poets such as Robert Burns, Arthur Conan Doyle, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Scotland does love its food and has a strong history with fried food, Scotland also loves its drink (alcoholic and non) with world-famous Whisky, beers such as Tennents and Brew Dog and of course the hangover cure, the orange giver of life, IRN-BRU.
Slight asides: Scotland is one of the very few nations that has a drink that outsells Coca-Cola, the Coca-Cola organisations do not like this and another note it turns out you can get Tennents export on tap in Florence.
Manager and Formation
The man in charge of Scotland currently is Steve Clarke, who has guided Scotland to their first international tournament since the 1998 World Cup. Clarke was a player for clubs including St Mirren and Chelsea and a Scotland International in his own right, earning 6 caps.
His coaching career started in 1998 at Newcastle United, being brought in by Ruud Gullit as his assistant manager. Clarke had a single game as caretaker manager, losing 5-1 to Manchester United.
He then moved to his previous club Chelsea and worked within their youth setup, before being brought up to the first team as assistant manager to Jose Mourinho. After Chelsea, he took on similar roles with both West Ham and Liverpool.
In 2012 he was appointed manager at West Bromwich Albion, in his first season he guided the club to a record finish of 8th place and was the manager for that 5-5 draw which marked Sir Alex Fergusons last game in management. He was placed on gardening leave the following season following a loss to Cardiff City which left the Baggies two points clear of safety in December 2013.
He was then appointed the Reading manager in 2014, with his highlight being leading the side to their first FA cup Semi-final in 88 years, however, he was sacked after a year in charge, with issues seemingly caused by talks with Fulham previously during his tenure. In 2016 he was appointed as assistant manager to Roberto Di Matteo at Aston Villa, before being let go by Steve Bruce.
In October 2017 he took charge of his boyhood club Kilmarnock, the side was bottom of the table on his arrival and in his first two games in charge he presided over two one-one draws against the Old Firm sides. Clarke led Killie to a fifth-place finish that season and won the SFWA Manager of the Season.
This good form continued as he sealed a third-place finish the following season. His Kilmarnock side was renowned for being a solid defensive unit, well-drilled and organised and they specialised at frustrating opposition and regularly were a thorn in the side of both Old Firm teams.
Since leaving Killie he has taken charge of the Scotland team, currently on a 42.1% win average and having led Scotland to their first major tournament since 1998, so far we can look back on his time with positivity.
Even if the football is not always the most entertaining and we always seem to be playing Israel next, having just played them.
Clarke and Scotland have deployed a number of systems with the most regular formation being a 4-3-3 followed by a 3-4-1-2. Both systems look to be as defensively solid as possible with looking for opportunities on the counter.
Gary Dicker commented on his time at Kilmarnock “he made the team in control even without the ball” and this is the system implemented by Clarke on the international stage.
This is shown by the fact that out of the last eleven fixtures Scotland have only had the greater possession in two matches, and, one was versus the Faroe Islands. During these games Scotland have scored thirteen goals, conceding seven and only conceding more than the single goal once, with Austria scoring twice. In this time Scotland have won four matches drawing five and losing two.
Key PlayersI have picked out four players that could be highlighted as key players and one who could be given his short time in the Tartan Army.
Andy Robertson, he's come a long way since selling programmes whilst playing for Queens Park. The nations captain and most decorated player in the current squad. The Liverpool full-back made his name at Dundee United, before moves to Hull and then Merseyside followed.
He is yet to reach the levels of consistency that he shows for his club when playing for Scotland. Often resulting in a debate whether it should be he, or, Tierney starting matches. However, things have started to turn for Robbo since the move to 4-3-3.
He has said in interviews that he feels one of his key strengths is forming a partnership with a winger ahead which allows him to make his overlapping runs, a relationship which you are unable to build playing as a wingback with no wide support ahead.
However, he is without a doubt one of the best left-backs in the world and although not performing at the levels of Liverpool’s Champions League and Premier League winning side, he is still crucial to Scotlands fortunes in Euro 2020.
The man not bothered by a bit of the cold weather and using carrier bags to carry things to matches, Tierney is unfortunate that he plays in the exact same position as his captain.
Tierney has arguably performed better than his skipper in the left-back position for Scotland, the former Celtic man, now of Arsenal, is often deployed as the left centreback for both club and country.
He has great ability on the ball and going forward provides a threat with balls into the box, even as the left-sided centre-half he is a prominent threat for Scotland, linking up well down the left-hand side. If Scotland are to perform well his ability both defensively and offensively could prove vital.
He’s better than Zidane. The Aston Villa box-to-box midfielder has proved invaluable to Scotland over the past 18 months. His form recently included a brace against Austria and having scored seven goals and providing two assists in the Euro Qualification campaign.
Against both the Czech Republic and Serbia he was deployed as a CAM, although in the 4-3-3 he plays as a central midfielder but the most attacking of the three. In-game, he is often playing off the striker as Scotland look to build up.
His all-action nature makes him a solid player in the defensive phases of play, and, he is often a very useful player with a tendency to draw fouls from the opposition, and as the song says;
“We’ve got McGinn. Super John McGinn. I just don’t think you understand, he’s Alan Stubb’s man, he’s better than Zidane. We’ve got super John McGinn”.
The first of our strikers that I will discuss, there was great delight amongst the Tartan Army fans when Steve Clarke managed to win the battle for Dykes national allegiance with Australia.
Dykes, now of Championship QPR rose to stardom north of the border first at Queen of the South as he formed a great partnership with Stephen Dobbie, before moving to Livingston and proving a more than capable SPL level striker.
His recent move to QPR has been varied in his quality, although he comes into the tournament with 6 goals in his last 8 matches, 12 in total for QPR.
Dykes main strength is as a focal point and a facilitator in the attack. It was often remarked during his time at Livingston that his main attribute was to improve others around him.
Whilst his performances have dipped from his initial Scotland appearances he is still a brilliant player to have, which allows versatility in attack. He is able to lead the line as a lone forward but also able to link well with a partner be it a named striker or an onrushing McGinn, Christie or Fraser.
Due to the emergence of our next player, he may not play every moment as it initially appeared but he is a key component if Clarke wants his team to perform as more than the sum of its parts.
Like Dykes, Adams has been a recent addition to the Scotland camp. Only recently declaring his allegiance and playing in the 3 following matches. The Southampton striker had started the campaign strongly, but, as his teams’ performance dipped so did his.
That, being said, he still scored ten and provided 6 assists during the 2020/21 season for the Saints. Having been a recent addition to the squad, I cannot say with absolute confidence that Adams is a key player yet.
Although given his quality and more predatory nature than Dykes he may prove to be a valuable asset in the hunt for goals this tournament.
Instilled with the ability and knowledge to press high from his club manager, he can partner this goalscoring with a defensive shift that he will be used to. Although, Scotland do not press with the same intensity as Southampton.
Again, like Dykes, he is versatile, but if he can form a partnership with Dykes Scotland could have a duo capable of taking some of, what could be, limited chances.
Chances at EurosI think I could confidently predict that Scotland are not one of the favourites, however, if they could get a result or two in the group, which, is a definite possibility then they have a good chance of making the next round for the first time in a major competition.
If that happens who knows how far the Tartan Army could go? It’s not like the Euros have any nation that mainly plays in blue winning the tournament by grinding out results with defensively solid football.