Euro `96: Spirit of Culloden is left unbowed by defeat

Nick Harris spent a lively Saturday afternoon where it all started, some 250 years ago
Click to follow
The Independent Online
Unbowed by defeat, they danced to the tune of a lone piper. Twenty minutes earlier, the Tartan Army of the Chieftain pub, Inverness, had gone completely berserk when Scotland were awarded a penalty. It was as if they had won the championship with a last-second goal.

A minute later, after that Seaman save and that Gascoigne goal, the mood was more sombre. "There's no bigger occasion than this," Roddy McLeod, the pub's football-team manager, said before the game. "It doesn't matter who wins, as long as England lose. And that's a fact of life."

More than 100 Scots (red-wigged, kilted and thirsty) had piled into the pub to find a space in front of the big screen. In their midst was a solitary pony-tailed England fan, going only by the name of Doj. Was he comfortable in here before such a big game? "Yeah, I've lived here six years. Anyway, I like being here for a sure win." His Scottish companion grinned. "He's a bloody masochist, more like."

In April 1746, three miles down the road on the windswept moorland of Culloden, Bonnie Prince Charlie was defeated by the English. On a Saturday in June, 250 years on, the battlefield was being trampled only by a group of middle-aged Americans on a Scottish country-dancing tour, indifferent to the day's significance.

One man, sporting the name-tag "Bob" pinned to his blue-checked shirt, said: "I'm sorry. We're from Pennsylvania. I really don't know anything about the soccer match."

At the Chieftain, there had been talk of little else for weeks. "As soon as the draw was made, the European Championship was nothing," said David, an amiable local. "This game is everything. Just beating the English. In fact it doesn't matter if we don't beat them. Just score against them."

Bruce, a PE teacher at a nearby school, had been experiencing some rivalry problems of his own, when dividing his classes for football practice. "They all want to be Scotland," he said. "If I tell them: `You're England,' they just shake their heads at me and say: `Never'."

The first half was buoyant. Armloads of beer passed across heads and, when arms weren't sufficient, trays and large cardboard boxes did the job. The piper struck up intermittently, leading yet another chorus of "Flower of Scotland".

Every camera shot of Terry Venables was heralded with an eruption of booing, and every Gascoigne touch elicited a chant of "You fat bastard" or "Su-mo, Su-mo." (Never mind the fact that he will be an Ibrox hero again come the first game of next season.)

When Gordon Durie went down in the 35th minute, blood pouring from his face, someone said: "It's just a wee head wound. Probably needs stitches, but it's nae bother." The spirits were riding high.

Half-time came and went with more enthused trips to the bar. Then Shearer scored and the place fell silent. Thirty seconds later, the chants began again, and carried on until the end. Every shot, every pass, every tackle. Even every throw-in. Everything. Except the Gascoigne goal.

The history books tell us that Culloden won on tactics. Bonnie Prince Charlie: "The English hit us early on, Des. Them cannons were a right shocker." McLynam: "Yes, you never quite got back into the game after that, did you, Chuck?"

It was hardly the same on Saturday. The 1746 fixture took just 40 minutes from start to finish. The 1996 equivalent, in the Chieftain at least, started about noon and went on all day.

"Up here we live in hope, not expectation," said one fan. "And that's what makes us different from the English. When you live in hope, everything has more passion." On Saturday, that much at least was obvious.

Comments