Nicola Sturgeon voiced the hopes of a nation yesterday on the eve of Scotland’s return to the international big-time.
The first minister backed Steve Clarke’s men before the team’s first game in a major finals for 23 years as Scots prepared for tomorrow’s match against the Czech Republic.
Just 12,000 supporters will be lucky enough to see the opening game of the delayed Euro 2020 at Hampden Park but the whole country, glued to screens big and small, will join the Tartan Army’s biggest day since 1998.
The first minister said: “After 23 years of being on the sidelines, Scotland men’s team are back where they belong – on the big stage. My message to Steve Clarke and all of the squad is thanks for getting us there, you’ve done us proud already.
“The whole country will be behind the team, cheering them on every step of the way, and with every kick of the ball. Come on, Scotland!”
Scotland have not qualified for an international tournament since the 1998 World Cup, when they were narrowly defeated by Brazil in their opening game.
But fans will prefer their chances against the Czech Republic, as Scotland have won their last three games against them – their best winning run against any of the 23 teams in the tournament.
Bookmakers are expecting a £250 million betting bonanza in Scotland during the tournament, with odds of 9/5 being offered on the home team taking the win tomorrow.
The team go on to play the Auld Enemy, England, at Wembley on Friday.
For the Tartan Army, just qualifying for the tournament has been cause for celebration, despite Covid-19 restrictions hampering what would otherwise have been carnival-style scenes during Scotland’s games.
Lifelong Scotland fan Iain Emerson, who runs the Famous Tartan Army magazine, has been lucky enough to secure a ticket for Friday’s game, more than 40 years after he first saw Scotland take on England there.
The 58-year-old said he would miss the mass party he enjoyed at tournaments in the 1990s but after 23 years, just qualifying was enough reason to be sleepless with excitement.
He said: “I’ve only got a ticket for Wembley, and they’re like gold dust. It’s a great shame everyone is not there in mass numbers.
“Just the fact we’ve qualified and everyone can watch it on TV is pretty spectacular. It was elation when we qualified, there’s no other word for it.
“When I was growing up we qualified all the time for Euros and World Cups so I was kind of spoiled.
“It’s been such a long wait. When we finally did it, I couldn’t believe it. I thought I was dreaming. It’s given the nation such a boost that it’s fantastic.
“It would have been even more frustrating if we hadn’t qualified and there were games played at Hampden. But it’s amazing we can go to our own party. It will be like a carnival and hopefully we get the result against the Czech Republic.
“The whole country is buzzing just now, everyone is so excited.
“Everyone I speak to says they can’t sleep and I’m just the same.
“It’s been a tough 23 years. I’ve been in England when they’ve been playing in tournaments and enjoying the party. Watching from the outside is not much fun.
“I think everyone has been given a lift and obviously it’s building to fever pitch now that the tournament has actually started. It’s here at last, and everywhere you go people are talking about it and the anticipation..”
The tournament had been scheduled for last June before the pandemic meant it had to be postponed.
International travel between the 11 cities – including Glasgow and London – which are hosting games has proved challenging for national team supporters.
Fans wanting to visit the UK to cheer on their team have had to quarantine for 10 days and test negative for Covid-19.
Hampden will allow just 25% of its capacity of spectators into the ground tomorrow, and again for Scotland’s final group stage match against Croatia a week on Tuesday.
The controversial fan zone at Glasgow Green, which critics say risks a a Covid outbreak, opened on Friday. Only 6,000 supporters per day, split into two sessions, are allowed into the zone in Glasgow, with entry restricted to ticketholders.
Pubs showing the game are expecting to do a roaring trade but many will tune in on TV at home when the game kicks off at 2pm.
Children at many schools are being allowed to watch Scotland’s first tournament match in their lifetimes, though coronavirus rules mean they will have to stay in their classrooms.
Scotland fans were awarded around 2,700 tickets for the key game against England on Friday night, with Wembley operating at 25% of its usual capacity and only 22,500 supporters allowed into the stadium.
Those going to the match will have to prove they are fully vaccinated or present the results of a negative Covid test.
Supporters have been warned against travelling to London unless they have a ticket for the match, but thousands are expected to travel anyway because of the excitement at playing England.
Extra police will be on duty for the game.
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