‘We’ll always be here’ – Scotland fans enjoy England’s frustration

Scotland fans (PA Wire)
22:19pm, Fri 18 Jun 2021
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One Scotland fan gave a simple explanation of why thousands had gone to London without tickets, despite pleas to stay away if they did not have a safe place to watch the game.

“We’re here and we’ll always be here,” he told a television reporter outside King’s Cross station.

While most parts of the world have had to wait about 18 months, so far, for anything like normal life to return, the Scotland supporters had experienced a 23-year absence from a major tournament.

What had been common throughout the 1970s to the late 1990s had become a holy grail for several generations of supporters.

Scotland fans (PA Wire)

Monday heralded the comeback but a 2-0 defeat by the Czech Republic in front of about 10,000 fans at Hampden, in the words of one fan, felt a bit like a bad friendly.

With the rest of Europe watching on with interest at the resumption of the oldest rivalry in world football, the Auld Enemy clash was a chance for Scotland to make their mark on and off the park.

Over Thursday and Friday, hundreds of Scotland fans streamed off every train that arrived at King’s Cross and Euston from north of the border. More came down by road.

Central London was full of Scots again, just like the days when the teams played each other every year. The official advice, the lingering Covid-19 risk and even torrential rain could not stop a significant portion of the Tartan Army making the pilgrimage.

The opening defeat was a distant memory as the 2,700 fans with official Scotland-end tickets warmed up for kick-off inside Wembley, their optimism revived by the return from injury of Kieran Tierney as well the pre-match refreshments.

The England fans had more justified confidence after their team started the European Championship finals with a comfortable 1-0 win over Croatia – just their third opening victory from their last 10 major tournaments.

The home fans in the 22,500 sell-out turned up very much in expectation rather than the hope that dominated the feelings of the away support.

Each anthem was roundly booed by the opposition fans but there was solidarity as the 22 players took the knee in support of racial equality. Loud cheers from all four sides of the ground drowned out some very isolated individual boos.

England fans (PA Wire)

Scotland got the first chance but there was a huge let-off when John Stones headed unchallenged against the post 11 minutes in.

By 25 minutes in, Flower of Scotland was ringing around Wembley as the Tartan Army matched their heroes’ increasing confidence.

“Can you hear the English sing?” soon followed, with the Scots answering their own question in emphatic fashion, and Stephen O’Donnell almost silenced them further, along with his own critics, when his volley was brilliantly saved by Jordan Pickford.

The half-time whistle was greeted loudly by the Scotland fans but the home support must have quietly welcomed a chance for Gareth Southgate to lift his players.

The over-30s in the Scotland contingent will also have had a nagging fear that Euro 96 history might repeat itself after England came flying out of the blocks after a slow first half.

Although there was only one set of fans joining in with Sweet Caroline.

England fans (PA Wire)

The hosts restarted on the front foot and their followers also stepped up a gear. It was almost as if they had realised during the break that this fixture was a contest after all and their team needed their help.

Mason Mount and Reece James threatened but the sight of Jack Grealish warming up garnered a bigger cheer.

The England faithful raised volume further around the hour mark as Scotland were pinned back and Grealish was given a rapturous reception when he came on, although the visiting fans rediscovered their voice when Lyndon Dykes had an effort cleared off the line.

The tension around Wembley was palpable as both sides searched for a winner and the England fans showed some frustration as they jeered some long spells of Scotland possession in the final 10 minutes.

‘Flower of Scotland’ once again filled the north-west London air as the game entered the closing stages and the final whistle was met by boos from the home fans and celebrations from the Scots after their first point of the tournament.

They and their team had certainly let their neighbours know they were here, and they might well hang around in Euro 2020 a little bit longer.

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