Column One: Scotland extracts a brave victory in defeat

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The Independent Online
TO BE in Scotland yesterday was to be in a nation that had been to the edge of hell and back with its football team, and seen its brief hopes of heaven dashed.

"Be Proud," declared theDaily Record after Scotland's 1-0 victory against England at Wembley. Heaven would, of course, have been the auld enemy knocked out. But the Gods, who play so cruelly with Scots' emotions, never script it that way. There is always defeat in victory. One more goal could have made all the difference. But the final scoreline was insufficient to overcome Saturday's hellish humiliation when the team went down 2-0 at Hampden Park. The Scots had to make do yesterday, as so often in their history, with celebrating heroic failure.

In their determination to celebrate regardless, the Scots, decked out in kilts, glengarries and "See You Jimmy" ginger wigs, showed their brave hearts, but also betrayed their still limited national ambitions.

For them, it was enough to have beaten England on Wednesday night. Never mind that England, not Scotland, will now play in next summer's Euro 2000 championship. It is satisfying enough to Scottish minds that because England lost at Wembley, they cannot really claim they won the tie.

In the perverse logic of many Scots their boys really won anyway. Did they not play better overall? Did they not deserve to win? Did they not win at Wembley? What more proof does anyone need that Scotland is superior to England?

To the rest of the world football, this might sound like whistling in the wind, but Scotland sets its own yardsticks for football and national success. So yesterday you could still find plenty of fans explaining that Scotland were the World Champions back in 1967.

The rest of the world missed this achievement. But Scots remember when Denis Law, Bobby Lennox and Jim McCalliog hit three past Gordon Banks and the team that won the 1966 World Cup. Everyone else just recalls that England lost once at home.

Under this strange thinking, should a miracle happen and England win Euro 2000, expect the Tartan Army to be singing next year that Scotland are in fact the real champions because of what happened at Wembley on Wednesday.

All this would be funny if it were not so sad. Because it demonstrates that Scotland, for all its talk of a modern nationalism set in Europe, remains stuck in the past, expressing its identity in its duels with England.

It seems that the real task for the national team and the Tartan Army was to annoy England

rather than qualify for Euro 2000. So we can forget the Hampden defeat because every Scots schoolboy's dream is to score the winning goal against England at Wembley and that is exactly what Don Hutchison did. As a result, Craig Brown, the Scotland manager whom many would have lynched at the weekend, has been redeemed and sanctified.

Scotland's limited ambition explains the German flag being flown by the Scots at the match saying: "World Cup 2006, here we come". Never mind missing out on Euro 2000, the Scots are just hoping England fails to secure its bid to host the next World Cup but one.

And, after all, the tie did as much as too many Scots think they can achieve, namely a trip down to London to remind the English they are still around. If defeat is inevitable that is tolerable because the script is predetermined and it bolsters that great chip of historic injustice that feels so comfortably familiar on so many shoulders.

Of course, annoying England is fun. It was great yesterday to roll down the street, singing "Oh Diego Maradona", to the tune of the "Hokey cokey". But to many Scots this obsession is looking dated and immature.

The Daily Record declared Wednesday's game to be "The Night We Won Back Our Self-Respect". It is a seductive attitude that may have been OK in the Sixties and Seventies. But it does not suit a Scotland that is trying to define itself as a unique entity in Europe. Going down fighting to England is an image of the past. Scotland needs to find something more modern to cheer about.