Glasgow to Sarajevo
MOBILE PHONES go on as the official Scotland party lands in Sarajevo for the Euro 2000 qualifier with Bosnia. The buoyant mood is punctured when those calling home learn of the plane crash at Glasgow, minutes after our take-off, in which eight died.
The bag containing Craig Burley's boots goes missing. Colleagues tell him that John Barnes, whom the midfielder has yet to convince of his merits at Celtic, has thrown them out. Bagpipes welcome the Scots, but the sight of so many homes bombed and pockmarked by bullets has a furthering deflating effect.
Petrol tankers are camouflaged, while at night searchlights probe rooftops around the wrecked Parliament building. "This is Sniper Alley," says our taxi-driver. Three media men slide down in their seats. An old Sex Pistols' line comes to mind - "A cheap holiday in other people's misery" - but Bosnians seem defiantly optimistic rather than miserable.
Saturday 4 September Sarajevo
THE MORNING after the flight before. Pressmen and punters who found restaurants in the "old town" relate their dismay at discovering they could not have a "bevvy" with their meals. It turned out to be the Muslim quarter.
The Scottish support gathering in the bar of the Holiday Inn trade travellers' tales of sleeping in doorways in Slovenia or parks in Croatia. Responding to a Scottish FA appeal, many bring shoe boxes containing medical supplies and cuddly toys for a local orphanage. Scotland's Under-21s, leaving for the three-hour trek to Lukavac, slip out unnoticed by Bosnian autograph hunters who are besieging exotically attired Tartan Army foot-soldiers for signatures.
Scotland close in on a Euro 2000 play-off by winning 2-1 against a background of what sound ominously like air-raid sirens. The Bosnians appear oblivious to the din and Billy Dodds' spectacular strike proves the most dangerous thing to come out of the air.
A thousand British peace-keepers join 350 Scotland fans, and one bags Colin Hendry's shirt. The captain throws it to them rather than swap with opponents whose gamesmanship "overstepped the mark".
Sunday 5 September Sarajevo To Tallinn
A CRACK-OF-DAWN visit to the bridge where Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb, shot Austria's Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in 1914, killing both and in the process starting the First World War. A slab of pavement supposedly shows the assassin's footprints, although, as Radio 5 Live's Ron Jones remarks: "I'm not sure he'd have stepped in fresh cement like that."
En route to Estonia, Jones' producer tells of his cab ride back from the Olympic Stadium. He had ventured to call Sarajevo a beautiful city. "It is my baby," came the reply. "I have killed people for it." Among those departing is an Edinburgh accountant. He watched the first half wearing a pink tutu, into which "friends" slipped him during a boozy pre- match doze.
Monday 6 September Tallinn
THE DAY of the big game - between the Estonian and Scottish media. Reinforced by Craig Brown's No 2, the former Rangers player Alex Miller, and by the SFA's new chief executive, David Taylor, the visitors win 3-1 on a dust- bowl of a pitch.
Taylor, whose profile has been subterranean since he succeeded Jim Farry, earns "street cred" by scoring a fine goal, despite having had a toe-nail removed by the Scotland physio in the morning. The victors can even afford to have Alan McInally, once of Celtic, Aston Villa, Bayern Munich and Italia 90, relaxing on the bench.
The Scots' "technical director", the News of the World's answer to Alex Ferguson, is in demand with the local TV and radio. Also with the referee, who stands over him, making him write out his players' names and dates of birth.
Estonia may have slipped its Soviet shackles, but still the bureaucracy lives on.
Tuesday 7 September Tallinn
MANY SCOTLAND fans swap the sun-kissed streets for the sweaty, smoky heat of the Nimeta Bar (Pub With No Name), run by a Dundonian who came for the 1993 match and stayed.
Some invite local females to satisfy an assumed curiosity about what is worn beneath the kilt. Haggis Supper, a fanzine doing the rounds, portrays Craig Brown asking: "Where's the burdz?"
Ironically, one of the few single Scots here is reportedly keeping a low profile after tabloid allegations of philandering.
The Under-21 side follow up the 5-2 romp in Bosnia by gubbing Estonia 4-0. Paul Dalglish, fouled in the 18-yard box, seizes the ball and flashes a look that says "My dad's your boss" when Celtic's Mark Burchill advances as if expecting to take the penalty.
Among a crowd of Queen's Park proportions, one Scot appraises everyone of his views via a megaphone. He is drowned out by a new set of Tartan Army anthems: The Drifters' "Saturday Night At the Movies", the Tom Jones/Stoke City melodrama "Delilah", and the poignant, poetic "You Cannae Shove Your Granny Off a Bus".
Wednesday 8 September Tallinn To Glasgow
THE RETURN to Kadriorg Stadium, scene of Estonia's no-show. Nervous young squaddies stand 20 yards apart in the woods around the ground. "Ring of steel," says the Sunday Post scribe. Scotland sport a salmon-and-navy strip but, more often than not, Estonia are in the pink. A surreal banner demands: "Legalise Voodoo, Bring Back Jim Leighton". The fanged one's successor, Wimbledon's Neil Sullivan, does most to ensure a 0-0 draw.
Craig Brown candidly admits his selection was flawed. A senior player claims in mitigation that the Estonians are gaining experience in Europe's top leagues and cites Indrek Zelinski's proposed move... to Blackpool. "We played better last time we came," says one disaffected wag. An Aberdeen man, his club without a point or a goal, is alone in thinking it was a thriller.
At the airport, reporters ringing home hear the England line-up and wonder whether Ossie Ardiles is now advising Kevin Keegan. Billy McNeill, the former Scotland stalwart and Celtic manager, says sagely that when you pack your team with strikers "it never works".
The pilot avoids the gaffe of the colleague who flew Scotland back from the Faroes and congratulated them on drawing after they conceded a late equaliser. Meanwhile, Scotland's manager browses criticism of himself in the Daily Record. The headline reads: "Snipers hit out at Craig Brown". Sarajevo seems an eternity ago, but this is where we came in.Reuse content