Alba / Scotland
- Capital: Edinburgh / Dùn Èideann
- Official Languages: English, Scots, Scottish Gaelic
- Nicknames: The Tartan Army
- Association: Scottish Football Association (SFA) / Comann Ball-coise na h-Alba / Scots Fitba Association
- FIFA Code: SCO
- Best World Cup Result (Men): Group Stage (9 times)
- Best World Cup Result (Women): Group Stage (2019)
- Best Euros Result (Men): Group Stage (5 times)
- Best Euros Result (Women): Group Stage (2017)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Men): 13th (October 2007)
- Highest FIFA Ranking (Women): 19th (March 2014 & September 2018)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Men): 88th (March 2005)
- Lowest FIFA Ranking (Women): 31st (March 2004)
- Most Capped Player: Gemma Fay – 203 caps
- Top Scorer: Julie Fleeting – 116 goals
Scotland has a hugely significant impact in the world of football (arguably more significant than England’s impact to world football). From playing in the first ever international match and being early pioneers and masters of the ‘passing game’ (which was dubbed as “Scottish style” in many countries for decades afterwards), many of its players and managers have had massive impacts in many countries, not just south of Hadrian’s Wall, with a number of early Scottish pioneers spreading football in many other different countries around the world. Despite having a tenth of the population of its fierce southern rival, the country has produced some of football’s greatest ever and world-class players, and massively iconic and legendary managers, such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Jock Stein, etc. Not to mention, Celtic became the first northern European side to win the European Cup by using a side made up local players.
Originally regular qualifiers to many World Cups and European Championships, they have sadly underachieved in the major tournaments, with the 1978 World Cup being a particularly heart-breaking failure. No Scottish squad has ever qualified beyond the group stage of any tournament. Sadly, recent Scottish sides have even failed to live-up to their more illustrious predecessors by failing to qualifying for any major tournament held in the 21st century. However, the hurt of missing out has finally been eliminated when the Tartan Army managed to qualify for their first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup. By beating Serbia on penalties in the UEFA Nations League playoff final, it meant they qualified for their first major tournament in 23 years by qualifying for the 2020/21 European Championships.
To talk about one of football’s most significant and historic football nations, we interviewed the absolutely excellent Fitba Nomad. A highly respected groundhopper, commentator of the Scottish game, and author of the book ‘The Adventures Of The Fitba Nomad‘ (with another book on the Scottish national team on the way), he was the perfect person to ask questions about the Scottish national team. To find their social media accounts, follow the links below:
- The Fitba Nomad Blogsite: https://thefitbanomad.wordpress.com/
- The Fitba Nomad Twitter: @FitbaNomad
- The Fitba Nomad Book Link: Amazon
- The Fitba Nomad Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FitbaNomad/
Also adding his opinions on the men’s national side is the talented journalist Ross Kilvington, who occasionally writes for the Rangers-themed This Is Ibrox website, and the superb Forgotten Clubs website, as well as other sporting websites. To find his social media accounts, follow the links below:
Finally, talking about the Scottish women’s national side, which has arguably been the more successful Scottish national team in the past five years, and have a wealth of talented players, is Chris Marshall. He is a writer for many different football sites, a researcher for BBC Scotland’s @TheTerraceTV, and a specialist on the women’s game in Scotland. He is involved with Leading the Line, a podcast about Scottish women’s football. To find his website and social media accounts, follow the links below:
- Chris’ Website: https://mershwrites.medium.com/
- Chris’ Twitter: @mershdoes
- Leading the Line Twitter: @LeadingtheLine
- Leading the Line Podcasts: Apple Podcasts; Google Podcasts; Spotify
Key: FN = Fitba Nomad; RK = Ross Kilvington; CM = Chris Marshall
Q. Who would you say is your country’s best player and coach/manager of all-time, and the reasonings behind the choices?
FN: In terms of the greatest ever Scottish footballer, there can be only one and it is ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish. Any argument against is simply not based on fact. Dalglish won four titles in Scotland and six in England with Liverpool, who he won the European Cup three times with as well. For Scotland he has the most caps (102) and the joint largest goal haul (30). Don’t just take my word for it; FourFourTwo magazine named him as ‘Britain’s Best Post-War Striker’ and Sir Kenny was part of the ‘FIFA 100’ in which Pelé named the hundred best living footballers.
The only person who comes close to Dalglish in my opinion is Denis Law, who shares the title of joint top scorer for Scotland but hit the 30 mark in just 55 games. Our nation’s only Ballon d’Or winner, he also won the European Cup alongside George Best & Sir Bobby Charlton for an amazing Manchester United side. Many forget also that he was cultured enough a player to star for Torino in Italy, long before many of his native Aberdonians had ever tried pasta!
RK: The best player in Scotland’s history is arguably Kenny Dalglish, setting records for both the number of goals he scored and the most caps. He was a member of 3 World Cup squads and for a brief period of time, one of the finest footballers on the European stage.
The best manager debate is a slightly tougher one for me to answer as there hasn’t really been any who have given us a sustained period of greatness. Through my life as Scotland supporter, there have only been a few at best who have managed to get the best out of our squad, Craig Brown did well to steer us to two consecutive major tournaments, and Walter Smith was able to pick us up from our lowest ebb after the Berti Vogts era and establish a long term plan for us to succeed.
CM: Jeez, no easy start here. Despite the short time the Scottish women’s national team (SWNT) have been competing (women’s football was outlawed in Scotland until 1971) we have been blessed with a number of quality players and whilst the blistering hit rate of striker Julie Fleeting, who scored 116 goals in just 121 games, will see her backed by many, for me Kim Little has been the most gifted player I have ever seen in a Scotland jersey.
It’s not just the way she glides with the ball, her intricate feet or that trademark shimmy but also her ability to score in the games that matter, with both successful qualifying campaigns for Euro 2017 and the 2019 World Cup sprinkled with moments of magic from a midfielder that has performed at an elite level for club and country for over a decade.
Recently departed Shelley Kerr has to be a contender for the best all-time manager, there will never be another first manager to take us to a World Cup or win a Pinatar Cup, but the way things ended still feel a little raw, so for overall impact on the Scottish game, Anna Signeul, who led the side to the 2017 European Championships just edges it. The Swede has been widely acclaimed for her impact off the pitch in reforming women’s football in Scotland as she was off it and there will be those that argue that without those reforms Scotland may not have got to where it has today.
Q. Who could be regarded as a ‘cult hero’ in terms of the national team both in the past and present?
RK: ‘Cult hero’ is a term that I associate with someone like James McFadden, a player who maybe was slightly inconsistent and could have potentially scored more for us, but his impact on some of Scotland’s highs over the previous 20 years is undeniable. Holland in 2003 and France in 2007 were two of my greatest memories in my early days as a supporter, so he goes down as a cult hero in my eyes. In regards to a cult hero from the past, I think I would be inclined to go with another forward in Joe Jordan, the only Scottish player to score at three successive World Cup finals is a record that won’t be beaten so his cult status is secured!
CM: To call her a ‘cult hero’ is to do her a disservice but the swashbuckling adventures of trailblazer Rose Reilly captivates every person that is privileged enough to know her tale. Banned from playing for Scotland in the early seventies, she moved, first to France and then to Italy where she switched nationalities and made a goalscoring impact as Italy defeated West Germany 3-1 in the 1984 Mundialito, an unofficial precursor to the Women’s World Cup. A tournament won with ‘a Scottish heart beating under an Italian jersey’, she often says. She now lives back in Scotland and is a passionate advocate of Scottish women’s football. Legend.
FN: I am going to appease both halves of Glasgow by naming two cult heroes, one from Rangers and one from Celtic. Firstly for his ability on the pitch I am going to say Davie Cooper, a man that Ruud Gullit made part of his dream XI despite the unbelievable talent the big Dutchman played with and faced during his career. Cooper played for Clydebank, Motherwell as the aforementioned Rangers and is an icon at all of them, winning trophies at each. For Scotland he played 22 times and scored six goals. His sudden death from a brain haemorrhage at the age of 39 in 1995 marked the passing of a genius.
My second cult Scotland star is Frank McAvennie who, while a great player, is more remembered for his antics off the pitch; including drink, drugs, womanising and not exactly being the sharpest knife in the drawer. The Celtic and West Ham United man spent much of his playing career inside Stringfellow’s and for a period afterwards was involved in the recovering sunken treasure business. Frank became immortalised in Scottish comedian Jonathan Watson’s football sketch show ‘Only an Excuse?’ where Watson played an exaggerated version of McAvennie with the catchphrase ‘Whaurs the Burds?’. For Scotland he only managed five games but will be remembered, in certain ways, as our Georgie Best.
Q. Of the current team, who would you say is the best player from Scotland currently?
CM: I’ve already spoke of my admiration for Kim Little so in the interest of difference I’ll give a shout to Manchester City midfielder Caroline Weir who’s elegance on the ball, passing vision, both from deep and in close quarters, and ability to pop up with the odd howitzer from range means that she is set to be key for many years to come. A mention should also be made for the bombastic talents of Chelsea’s Erin Cuthbert, who despite her young age is already viewed as a talismanic talent for our national side.
FN: Currently the debate in Scotland is between two left backs; Liverpool’s Andy Robertson and Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney. While Tierney, at just 23 years old, has time to be the top Scot, there can be little doubt that Robertson currently is. Having got to the summit of world football the hard way via Queen’s Park, Dundee United and Hull City, his is a bit of a Cinderella story and I think most in the ranks of the Tartan Army are proud to see him win the Premier & Champions Leagues with Liverpool. For Scotland he plays very well and is a marvellous leader. It is perhaps in no way a coincidence that Andy being made captain of the national team was followed by us qualifying for a major tournament for the first time in two decades. 40 caps in the bag at 26 years old, the boy from Maryhill could continue to be a massive player for us for the next decade too.
RK: The best player in term of the level they are playing at would have to go to Andy Robertson, but I think John McGinn has the potential to hit the very top and could be vital for us over the next 5 years.
Q. How would you describe the current state/performance of the national team?
RK: It’s remarkable how much things can change in 6 months! If I was writing this in June last year, I would say we weren’t improving at all, the manager had reverted to a very pragmatic style of play that, in all honesty, wasn’t getting us anywhere. This changed massively from October onwards, as the players adapted to the style and managed to grind out results, we defeated Serbia on penalties to make Euro 2021 (or Euro 2020 whatever it is) for our first appearance at a major tournament since France ’98, the only way is up from here on in!
FN: So obviously things are going pretty well at the moment with Scotland qualifying for the ironically named Euro 2020, but this achievement is still a part of us climbing out of a pretty big hole we got ourselves into over the last few decades. When my Dad was much younger than I am now, he saw a Scotland team full of superstars and, like many others, thought we might become champions of the world in 1978. I grew up in a time where hopes like that were long gone but I still saw my country qualify for all but one major tournament in the nineties. Scotland are playing well at the moment, are on a great run and Steve Clarke is a fine coach, however compared to the Scotland of old we are still light years behind. I was delighted when we absolutely thrashed the Serbians (on penalties) to get to the European Championships, but I know it was an achievement that should have been much more frequent in the last 20 years.
CM: After our World Cup exit, qualifying started strongly for the European Championships but the side has underperformed since football’s return with three consecutive 1-0 defeats, ending our Euro 2021 qualifying hopes with two games still left to play. For a squad as talented as Scotland’s, that’s not good enough and that run saw Shelley Kerr end her tenure early leaving the SFA on the lookout for a new head coach. Whoever comes in must get the best out of a squad still currently capable of qualifying for major tournaments.
Q. Are there any Scottish players who you think we should be focusing on for the future – who would you say is the most exciting up & coming talent from the country?
FN: As far as future Scotland superstars, many are touting Aaron Hickey and I very much agree with them. The 18 year old was one of the few bright spots in Heart of Midlothian’s disastrous 2019/20 campaign and deservedly earned a move to Serie A with Bologna where he has made a number of first team appearances already. He seems to have a sensible head on his shoulders too, opting for Italy ahead of a move to Bayern Munich due to I Rossoblu’s family feel and the intent to use him as a first team player. There is one problem however, he is another bloody left back. Therefore his chances to play for Scotland may be limited in the next few years.
CM: The jump from U19’s to full international for Scottish female players is big but there are a couple now breaking through. Manchester United’s Kirsty Hanson has made a strong start to her Scotland career with her direct running on the right wing, whilst 21-year-old Rangers midfielder Sam Kerr is a relentless midfield force domestically and possesses all the tools to go far in the game. Hibernian’s Amy Muir and Chelsea’s Jamie-Lee Napier are two recent graduates of the U19’s who could develop into solid squad players at international level.
RK: There are a few talents that should be pushing their way towards the squad in the next couple of years. The one that stands out for me is Billy Gilmour, where Rangers’ loss was Chelsea’s gain, and I think it is only a matter of time before he makes the step up to claim full international honours.
Q. Looking at Scotland’s long and illustrious international history, what would you say has been the best game, result or performance for the national team in your opinion?
CM: The 2-1 victory over Albania to secure our 2019 World Cup place. It was not the best performance, and far nervier than it should have been, but Scotland got the job done in Shkodër as group rivals Switzerland failed to defeat Poland to spark some truly wonderful scenes.
RK: The greatest result for the national team in our long and established history is beating England at Wembley in 1967, even going as far to proclaim ourselves as “unofficial World Champions”. The Scotland team of the 60’s and early 70’s had so much talent but they couldn’t translate it to constant success in regards to qualifying for the World Cup, but beating England showcased just how good we were.
FN: The European Championships were always a very elite tournament, originally being open to only four sides before expanding to eight and then more. In 1992 Scotland had qualified (and been unceremoniously ‘papped’ out) of five World Cups in a row, but had only then just made it to their first European Championships in Sweden. In what was an eight team tourney, our performance in it was in my opinion Scotland’s finest hour. We were in a veritable ‘Group of Death’ with defending European Champions Holland, World Champions Germany and The Commonwealth of Independent States (the brief new moniker for Euro ‘88 finalists the USSR). Against the Dutch and zee Germans we were their equals on the park, going down to narrow defeats. Against the CIS, who had drawn with the other two, we destroyed them winning 3-0. Aye, we went out at the group stage but looked amazing while doing it.
Q. Likewise, is there a performance or result which is regarded as the team’s lowest point?
FN: I actually just wrote about this for my forthcoming book about the Scotland National Team during my lifetime, it was a draw away to The Faroe Islands in June of 1999, a Euro 2000 qualifier. Scotland two months prior we had beaten Germany away in a friendly, but had this shocking result against FIFA’s 114th ranked team on a rocky outcrop in the North Atlantic. Scotland were one nil up and cruising before being reduced, quite fairly, to ten men before half time. Trying to ride out the second half and claim the points, we sat too deep and the Faroes scored at the death. There may have been worse results since but not before, at the time it was absolutely shocking and the point we knew qualification for the European Championships would escape us.
RK: The low point for me was the beginning of Bertie Vogts’ reign when we drew 2-2 against the Faroe Islands; this was the lowest of the low and aside from a few terrible performances under Craig Levein and George Burley, our lowest ebb since I can remember being a fan. We took years to fully recover from Vogts and his terrible tenure.
CM: Scotland 3-3 Argentina in the final group game of the 2019 World Cup, where a win would have seen us through, and all the drama that accompanied it as Scotland blew a three goal lead is up there, but the recent 1-0 defeat to Finland at Easter Road was the manifestation of everything that had been wrong with the side in the second half of 2020. Unable to take or create chances and then a ‘sucker punch’ with seconds to go. A calamity of a winner that ensured we now have two dead rubbers to contend with this February in a group where we were top seeds. I’m still not really over it.
Q. What are the best and worst things about being a fan of the Scottish national team?
CM: Up until recently the women’s national side had managed to break free from the shackles of glorious failure, so that was nice while it lasted. We still have a quality pool of talent to call upon and being able to see them at close quarters can be a joy when they are on song. The hot-and-cold approach to mainstream media coverage of the side, even at its most successful, is a regular source of frustration.
RK: The best things are regular trips to Hampden Park, although in the previous few years, the atmosphere has often been flat and the crowd barely hitting over 25,000 supporters. The match against Slovakia in October 2017, in which we sneaked a last minute 1-0 win, the atmosphere was incredible, if only every match was like this. The constant under achieving and poor results against nations we are regularly expected to beat is always a downer, but being a Scot, it never deters me from supporting the national team!
Q. Have the fans adopted some kind of unofficial anthem to sing along to before/during/after matches?
FN: Officially we are a nation without an anthem as we remain part of the UK which uses ‘God Save the Queen’, but for sporting events we use ‘Flower of Scotland’ by 60s folk group The Corries. It is stirring stuff but perhaps a little too focused on the past than the future. Since devolution in 1999 there has been talk of picking something official or going with something new, but it hasn’t happened yet. I quite like ‘A Man’s A Man For A’ That’, mostly because I’m a fan of its composer, our great poet Robert Burns, but also because of the egalitarianism it promotes in its lyrics.
Recently Scotland fans, in lockdown, have been singing Baccara’s 1977 hit single ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ after the Scotland squad were caught belting it out at their Euro 2020 qualification party. Expect the Tartan Army to chant this en masse as soon as fans can get back into grounds.
RK: I think after the Serbia game our recent unofficial song will be ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie‘, which will make Hampden a very interesting place when the current restrictions are lifted and fans are allowed to pour back into Hampden. The most popular song is usually ‘We’ll Be Coming‘, which always gets Hampden into raptures during games.
CM: There’s been no SWNT banger released yet but at most games you can hear chants of “LET’S GO SCOTLAND, LET’S GO!”, usually accompanied with some thumping inflatable percussion.
Q. Do you have a favourite or iconic shirt from the whole time of the national team?
RK: There have been a few shirts that I loved during my time as a Scotland fan. One of my personal favourites was our Saltire away shirt that we wore during the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign (although I’m not sure many share the same sentiment!). This was the shirt that McFadden scored his famous goal against France in, so it holds a special place for me. There have been a few howlers in our time as well to be completely honest; some of the newer ones are a bit bland so that could be something to be looked into as Euro 2021 approaches.
CM: The Pink 2019 World Cup Shirt. It may have been an Adidas template but it was unique to SWNT, and with some women’s teams still being asked to make do with smaller versions of men’s kits, having something bespoke was significant. Getting your hands on one still remains far too tricky though.
FN: Scotland have usually kept it safe with the home kit; blue shirt, white shorts etc… However when it comes to away shirts we’ve had some horrendous designs in the past 30 odd years. For me the Italia ‘90 away shirt was utter class, while the unconventional tartan home kit at Euro ‘96 was a stunner.
Q. Finally, what are your hopes for the future of the Scottish national team?
CM: To bounce back from European Championships disappointment and to not let that failure be anything more than a bump in the road, for the women’s game to grow in Scotland and for records to continue to be broken.
FN: I think the days of a Scotland squad dripping with world class talent has gone and won’t come back. We no longer have the infrastructure for it and as a teacher I know that far fewer kids are playing the game than we used to back in the day. When I was a wee boy we all wanted to be footballers, I don’t think that dream is so widespread now.
In the immediate future I’d like to see Scotland do themselves proud at Euro 2020 and by that I mean pump the English at Wembley. I’ve seen Scotland crash out at the group stage so often now that I can see us doing it once again, but I still hope beyond hope. Over the next few decades I’d like Scotland to be more consistent, be a nation that regularly qualifies for major tournaments and occasionally give the big boys a scare. I want kids today to regard our boys as heroes, like I used to, instead of idolising only the likes of Messi and Ronaldo. I want to pass a public park and see the majority of kids in Scotland shirts (even wacky away ones) during the summers of World Cups or European Championships. Pride in our national team has come back very recently and long may it continue to flourish.
RK: I want Scotland to be competing regularly at footballs top table; we should be aiming to qualify for World Cups and European Championships every 2-4 years when they roll around. We have an excellent talent pool to choose from and I feel it is only going to get better. Whether we make use of this will be determined soon, but if we don’t, it will be a waste of a generation.
A massive tapadh leat gu mòr to the brilliant The Fitba Nomad and Ross Kilvington for answering our questions on the Tartan Army, and Chris Marshall for his excellent answers on the Scottish women’s team. Remember you can find their excellent social media accounts in the links at the top of the blogpage.
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