Football: Tartan Army feast after the famine

Phil Gordon watches a side on the up after the letdown in Monaco
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The Independent Online
After Lent, and seven long weeks of self-denial, there has to be a blowout. For Scotland and their fans, this was it. Even if two goals is hardly gluttony, anything would suffice after the embarrassment they suffered in Monaco on 4 February.

Spookily enough, the last match with Estonia was played on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the start of Lent. The goal famine that night lasted 90 minutes but the humiliation has lasted a lot longer. This result pacified a boisterous Tartan Army who had had a bellyful.

Possibly the best decision made by the much-criticised Scottish FA was to take this match out to the sticks. If you are going to have a moveable feast, where better to take it than Kilmarnock, the official home of British football's best pie. Craig Brown's team filled the ground, gobbled up three points and, more importantly, put themselves back at the head of the queue to be invited to France '98.

The Tartan Army, like every other army, marches on its stomach, though the traditional fuel with these foot soldiers is liquid gold rather than pies. Pub owners in Kilmarnock will be lobbying the SFA to bring every game back here, such was the volume of business yesterday.

Everywhere seemed to be enjoying al fresco drinking and that, in a Scottish spring, is brave by anyone's standards. The majority of the 18,000 sell- out crowd - Kilmarnock say they could have sold the match twice over - were mostly day-trippers rolling into the Ayrshire town from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee.

All roads seemed to lead to Rugby Park, such was the unexpected traffic jam inching off the M77. There have been fears that Scotland were falling out of love with their national football team but this carnival day away from Glasgow, the traditional home of Scottish football, proves otherwise. Certainly the atmosphere inside the splendidly revamped stadium was better than could have been expected, say, at Ibrox or Parkhead, which would have been scarcely half-full had this fixture been played there.

Painted faces, a la Mel Gibson, abounded everywhere. The Braveheart spirit of defiance was just as widespread with the chant of "Stand up if you hate England" rolling around Rugby Park at every opportunities.

Tom Boyd's first goal for his country, after 43 appearances - which is only slightly longer than many of Brown's strikers have been waiting - was the signal to lift the apprehension and spark the party spirit. From then on the crowd could sit back, sing and enjoy Kilmarnock's much-celebrated pie at half-time as Scotland killed off the Estonian resistance.

Ironically, given that we were in the home of the pie, the last word was had by the poor Estonian defender Janek Meet. However, the Scottish fans may have enjoyed their day out at Kilmarnock so much that they will be asking for another bite soon.

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