Tuesday 19 February 2019, 12:39

Tartan Army eager to renew Auld Alliance

  • Women’s World Cup is Scotland’s first senior global finals since France 1998

  • Thousands of fans expected to make the journey

  • FIFA.com spoke to one fan eagerly anticipating French return

“France ‘98 was my first World Cup. The funny thing is, I remember thinking it would be the first of many! Little did I know... ”

Stewart Mackinlay gives a rueful laugh at naive optimism of youth. Then 19, and now approaching 40, the Dunfermline supporter has remained a committed and faithful foot soldier in the Tartan Army. Last year, for example, he travelled 2500 miles to watch the senior men’s team in Haifa before dashing to Kyiv to watch the U-21s in action the following day. His reward for such devotion was, all too predictably, back-to-back defeats.

Such has been the nature of following a team that, since 1998, has failed to qualify for ten successive major championships. As Mackinlay acknowledged: “If there’s been a new way not to qualify, Scotland have found it!”

But now, 21 years on from his teenage French adventure, he is heading back to the World Cup – and back to France. This time he will be following Scotland’s women at their first global finals, and Mackinlay – who attended all of the team’s home qualifiers, and travelled to the UEFA Women's EURO 2017 – will be one of thousands cheering them on.

“There was a big travelling support in the Netherlands for the EURO, and I’d expect it to be even bigger this time,” he said. “The level of support has grown and grown in recent years, and the quality of the Scotland team – and women’s football as a whole – has come on leaps and bounds in that time too.”

In truth, if the Scots have been missed at recent major tournaments, it is because of what they bring off the field rather than on it. Journalists at France 1998 voted Scotland’s fans the tournament’s best, and those same supporters - recognised with a UEFA Fair Play award earlier in the decade - have continued to win friends in subsequent, ill-fated qualifying campaigns.

“We’ve built up a good reputation and we’re very proud of it,” said Mackinlay. “We drink a lot, but we tend to be very happy and friendly drunks! And we always seem to be well received.

“The charity work with the Tartan Army Sunshine Appeal has really helped too. There’s often coverage in local media about the donations to local charities in the countries we visit, so before we even arrive there is goodwill there.”

Nowhere, though, have Scotland fans enjoyed a warmer welcome than in France. The two nations enjoy a historic friendship that predates the 13th-century ‘Auld Alliance’, established to counter English invasions, and Mackinlay has experienced first-hand the enduring warmth.

“We have always had a great welcome in France," he said. "So often you’ll meet someone who’ll say they don’t speak English and then you mention ‘Ecosse’ or they see the Scotland badge, and suddenly it’s all smiles and they speak English after all! A friend of mine actually married a barmaid from Bordeaux after the 98 World Cup. She’d chucked him out of the pub, he went back to apologise the next day and before long they were engaged. There are loads of stories like that.”

Mackinlay has returned to France since ‘98, travelling to Paris with 25,000 others to watch Scotland claim a famous 1-0 win in 2007. Raymond Domenech, Les Bleus’ then coach, remarked afterwards: "It seems their country emptied and headed for France — and they all had tickets for the game!”

“In all the years I’ve followed Scotland, that’s the best win I’ve seen,” Mackinlay recalled. “In fact, a lot of my best memories of watching Scotland are tied up in France.”

None, of course, are more evocative than those generated during that sunny summer of 98. “I travelled to the tournament by bus from Dunfermline, and it was brilliant – just an incredible experience,” he remembered with a smile.

“Being involved in the opening game against Brazil was probably the highlight, and I remember being offered £1000 by a tout for my ticket. That was a lot of money back then, especially for a 19-year-old. But I didn’t even consider it. I remember we were in the ground hours before kick-off – it was an incredible atmosphere – and the celebrations when we scored are the best I've experienced. It was pandemonium.”

Of course, that World Cup adventure ended, like all Scotland’s others, in an early exit. And while Mackinlay and the rest of the Tartan Army will hope for a longer stay this summer, either way: every minute of their time in France will be enjoyed to the full.

'Free Hugs' from a Scotland fan on offer near the Eiffel Tower, Paris.