Robin Scott-Elliot: If you cannot be an English optimist now just when can you?

 

There is something endearingly English about the send-off given to Roy Hodgson’s squad from Wembley on Friday. With paper aeroplanes whizzing around it all got a bit Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Goodbye Mr Hodgson, accompanied by some over-priced chips.

Hodgson’s England are not like the ‘golden’ squads who have jetted off for previous attempts at world domination and that seems to have filtered through to a decent proportion of the country’s supporters. They are setting off on an awfully big adventure from which fingers crossed for the best but whatever happens there will be lashings of beer and rueful smiles. If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well it were done quickly, as Shakespeare had it.

That was a line delivered by a Scot, and is very much how Scotland used to manage their World Cup participation way back when. Watching England’s solid so-long at Wembley it makes the departure of the previous British side to head for a World Cup in South America seem ever more fantastical, a fairy tale for Tartan Army mothers and fathers to tell their children. “Once upon a time when I was on the march wi’ Ally’s army, we truly believed we might win the World Cup…”

On Thursday morning, Kings Cross was populated by blurry-eyed members of the Tartan Army, heading home after Scotland’s game with Nigeria at Craven Cottage the previous evening. Not far away from the station is the British Postal Museum and Archive. Among its archive of stamps designed but never used is one that any Scotland fan would love to have, let alone love to have licked and fixed to a letter.

In the background of the 9p stamp footballers are leaping up and down in celebration, in front of them another is lifting the World Cup, wearing a dark blue shirt. Underneath is written “SCOTLAND, World Cup winners 1978.”

Scotland’s farewell was on an open-top bus driven around Hampden Park in front of a crowd of 30,000. Supporters lined the streets en route to the airport. Ally McLeod, who turned chutzpah into a Scottish word for one summer, claimed to have seen a man so excited by it all he had run naked from the shower to wave at the team bus as it passed.

“We have 17 or 18 of the finest players in British football, men who had it in them to win the World Cup,” said McLeod, as Alan Rough plumped up his perm in the background. It was actually a very decent squad: Gemmill, Buchan, Dalglish, Rioch, McQueen, Hartford and a snarling Souness, socks around his ankles.

Everyone knows what happened next. When the squad returned a number of players even slipped off the plane when it stopped in London to avoid coming home through Glasgow airport.

For those who grew up in the 70s and 80s World Cups were the only time football was wall-to-wall on TV. It was a time to marvel at the world’s game – nobody had a clue about Peru’s left-back (including McLeod, who didn’t bother to even scout his side’s first opponents in Argentina). For many World Cups are the first kiss, the beginnings of a life-long affair with the game. 1978 was my first, and even though it was like being canoodled by someone who had consumed a bagful of deep-fried onion rings smothered in curry sauce, I was head over heels. Archie Gemmill, oh my god. It’s why so many grown-ups still do Panini sticker albums on the sly.

What must it be like to play in a World Cup? A couple of years ago a commentator on a Champions League game made reference to Andres Iniesta, the man who scored the winning goal in the World Cup final. That struck a chord; imagine being Andres Iniesta. Imagine what Luke Shaw at the age of 18, or Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert must be thinking as they unpack in Miami.  

What will the young Scotland players who impressed in that friendly against Nigeria be thinking when they sit down to watch the finals? Under Gordon Strachan (1986, trying to get his leg over the advertising hoarding after scoring against Germany) there are the first signs that it might, just might, be worth dusting down that old Scottish optimism. The reason for Scotland’s improvement is that Strachan has freed his players to do what they do best for their clubs. Gone is the fear and restriction of Craig Levein’s time.

Last week I interviewed Stuart Broad and he spoke about how the key to succeeding at international level is to play as you do for your club, and to have coaches around the international set-up that help and allow you to do that. At Lord’s on Saturday Jos Buttler managed it gloriously.

The mood around England’s footballers seems notably relaxed. Maybe Hodgson, with a little help from Steve Peters, has freed England’s players from the irons that appear clamped on whenever they leave these shores for World Cups, and Lallana will play as he plays for Southampton and Steven Gerrard for Liverpool…

As any Scotland fan can tell you, if you cannot be an English optimist now just when can you?

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?