Euro 2000; Tartan soldier who doesn't want a war

The Scottish fanzine editor who lives with the enemy would rather be in the Ukraine than going to Wembley.
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The Independent Online
FOOTBALL, BIRDS and booze, not necessarily in that order, preoccupy those who follow Scotland to foreign parts. So says a stalwart of the Tartan Army with 20 years footsoldiering to his name, although the weekend skirmishes which spilled over into chaos in Glasgow's courtrooms yesterday underlined the wisdom of his priority for tomorrow's return encounter with England: to get in and out of Wembley in one piece.

Kevin Donnelly's perspective differs from the thousands who will form an "invasion" force from north of the wall in one critical respect. For the 38-year-old City computer analyst, a stalwart of the 100-strong Scotland supporters' club in the English capital, Lunnainn Albannaich (Gaelic for London Scottish), and editor of the Scotland fanzine Haggis Supper, lives and works among the supposed enemy. "There's been no escape from the hype," Donnelly sighs. "I told an English colleague last Friday that I'd rather have been sitting outside a bar in sunny Tel Aviv or freezing my nuts off in Kiev than playing England. We actually played better at Hampden than I expected having seen some of the qualifying games, but I always felt it would take a superhuman effort to win because they've got the better players. You have to take your chances at this level and we didn't.

"Now I just want to get Wembley over with and get on with my life. I didn't see any of the trouble on Saturday - you tend not to if you don't go looking for it - or at the Euro 96 game, unlike some Scots I know who sat in the England end. I was drinking with some Chelsea fans at Baker Street beforehand, and it was friendly banter. But I won't be wearing the kilt, or any colours, or opening my mouth until we're inside."

For Donnelly, who comes from Dumfries, hearing the draw did not conjure visions of wading in the fountains at Trafalgar Square draped in the Lion Rampant, merely a sense of "complete dread" in terms of personal safety and the unpleasantness he was certain would be whipped up. Things have certainly changed since the days when four-fifths of the 100,000 tickets seemed to be snaffled up by Scots. Two decades ago, it was the Tartan Army rather than the England supporters who personified "football hooliganism", showing their affection for Wembley by taking chunks of it home. Yet, as England attracted ever more bellicose and xenophobic followers, so the Tartan Army's self-image changed, among the regulars if not the reservists who will swell their ranks this week. Like the wearing of the kilt, now virtually obligatory on overseas tours, staying genial when getting "blootered" became a way of affirming a distinct Scottish identity rather than being lumped with the English as "British".

Heavy drinking brings out the differences. England fans, or at least a menacing minority, go for the jugular, sometimes literally. The Scots, admittedly with some belligerent exceptions, go for the jocular (no pun intended). Donnelly says: "People tell me: `Your lot swung on the cross- bar at Wembley'. But that was 22 years ago and it's still the only negative image they can find. We've never caused a match to be abandoned, like the England fans did in Dublin, nor been involved in riots and tear-gas all over Europe."

Journalists voted Les Supporters Ecossais the most sporting and convivial at France 98, and the Scottish FA flew Donnelly to Monte Carlo to collect the trophy from the International Association for Non-Violence in Sport. The fans have also used their collective clout to take medical supplies, clothing and gifts to orphanages when visiting poor or war-torn countries like Belarus and Bosnia.

Not that they are all saints. Donnelly tells how a compatriot was ejected before Scotland's friendly against Colombia in New Jersey last year. "He was dressed like Mel Gibson in Braveheart; long blond hair with braids in it, knee-length felt boots, leather bodice, face painted like some blue scurvy. He'd had a few drinks, and for a laugh he pretended to scale this fence around the pitch.

"Unfortunately, he fell over the top, head-first. It was a 10-foot drop so he was lucky to be alive. A security man ran over so he put his hand out as if to say: `It's not what you think, I'm not invading the pitch'. But the guy ran into his hand and fell over, so other guards rushed in and threw him out, shouting: `Don't ever come to Giants Stadium again.' He just paid again and sat with the Colombians."

Donnelly's first away match was against Wales at Anfield in 1977. "Joey Jones had said he couldn't wait to see the Kop full of Welsh flags, but it was just a sea of tartan." His first foreign trip, to a 4-0 romp over Norway, soon followed and he was hooked. If the result in Oslo was deceptively good, the craic and the camaraderie simply got better. The game that never was, the one-sided, three-second affair in Estonia, stands out for the chants of "One team in Tallinn" and "Get intae them", as do four World Cups and two European Championships. However, as his best Scotland memory he nominates Moscow in 1995.

"Not only did we get a draw with Russia but we had a fantastic time. There was a night-club in a Stalinist-Gothic skyscraper run by a Scot called Jacko. He invited us into his bar and 250 of us ended up in a banqueting suite, with these long tables heaving with free drink. They also had a casino, and Jacko was overruling the croupiers and letting us win. Not surprisingly, he disappeared without trace." Just who are these unofficial ambassadors for Scotland in their plaids and plumes? "There's a few Rangers and Celtic fans but far more Aberdeen, Hearts and the like. A lot come from the north, places like Inverness, the east or the south, like me. You get accountants and QCs along with labourers. It's not all SNP either; I've got a friend who always insists he's an internationalist rather than a nationalist." Increasingly, he says, recruits are middle-class; some attend games "wearing pounds 2,000 worth of gear". A London comrade has noted that it is de rigeur to wear expensive Timberland boots with the full tartan regalia.

There is also a minority, observes Donnelly, for whom the real sport is pursuing female company. "This may step on a few toes, but if you speak to some guys you meet abroad, their priorities are, first, to have sex; second, to have a good time; and third, the game.

"There are others who sing and dance whatever the result. But if you party after every game, how do you separate the highs from the lows? Surely there are occasions, like when we lost 3-2 in Prague after leading 2-0, when you need to lock yourself away, with your head under a pillow in a darkened room, before you go again." Depressed but defiant after Hampden Park, Donnelly is hoping against hope that tomorrow night does not turn into another.

Lunnainn Albannaich can be contacted by e-mail: mcdowc@hotmail.com and Haggis Supper at PO Box 28230, London N21 1DO.

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