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Tartan Army

Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy - British Council
 This article was generously provided to ClubFootball by the British Council, which operates in China as the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy.

 

Scotland's fans, popularly known as the 'Tartan Army' put on a party in Glasgow for the visit of Germany for last Saturday's Euro 2004 qualifier. Footballculture.net was there to meet with them.
 
It seemed like the whole of Glasgow was out to party, a feeling enhanced by the beautiful sunny weather that led one fan to comment "it feels like an away match today."
 
The streets were packed with fans in tartan kilts (traditional Scottish skirt-like garments with different chequered patterns) and football shirts. Many also sported hats with comedy orange wigs underneath, Scotland being famed for having lots of redheads.
 
Many fans from Germany had travelled too. The streets and bars were filled with fans from both countries mingling as friends. They quenched their thirst for drink, as well as thirst for knowledge, exchanging football stories and memorabilia. The soundtrack included traditional bag-pipes, The Proclaimers (quite big in the 1980s and still revered in Scotland) and The Pogues, more celtic rock.
 
The Tartan Army had really brought Glasgow to life and it was impossible not to be swept along by the jollity of it all. Also it was impossible not to wonder how this blue army has come about?
 
Ian Black, originally from Motherwell just south of Glasgow, is one of many who are proud to be part of the Tartan Army. He explained "we vote for informality and spontaneity, we don’t have committees or meetings."
 
"The Tartan Army has no leaders, the only democratic army in the history of the world." And possibly the only "army" that is not set up to fight, but instead is set up to give massive support to the national team, home and away, to make friends of people around the footballing globe, and to have a lot of fun on the way.
 
"It has no enemies and we would like to keep it that way."
 
The friendliness of Scottish fans, and the feeling of camaraderie you feel when being amongst them has actually led some football fans from England opting to support Scotland rather than their homeland. They join the 'sporran legion'* as many T-shirt's said.
 
Paul, from Stockport just outside Manchester, was one such fan. "When I was younger I went to see a couple of England games, but didn't enjoy them. There is an element among the crowd that fails to make you feel proud of your country. It's not like that in the Tartan Army. Of course, you get some whose behaviour can get out of order, but then we soon bring them back into line. It's part of our unwritten code to embrace people, rather than intimidate them."
 
We didn't see any trouble, hear any racist chanting or feel any intimidation during Saturday's game with Germany, a game that ended in 1-1 draw. None was reported by the press the next day.
 
Tamb, from the Scottish Highlands said "there will be a hundred great stories of fandom around international games to every one bad story, but the press only ever seem interested in that negative one."
 
The fact remains that Scottish fans are deeply revered by the international fan community. They were recognised by FIFA as the best fans at the World Cup in France '98. But perhaps there was no better evidence than the fact a dozen fans had travelled from St. Etienne in France to spend the weekend in Glasgow and see the game. These fans were not ex-patriate Scots, but Frenchmen touched by the Tartan Army during that World Cup five years ago.
 
And like the fans of SC Freiburg, newly promoted to Germany's Bundesliga, who revelled the night away, swapping shirts and laughs in one of the Tartan Army's unofficial headquarters, they have been infected by the camaraderie and good spirits of the Scots.
 
The 'informality and spontaneity' that Ian Black spoke of, coupled with the sheer friendliness and desire to make new comrades, means that many more will surely be welcomed with open arms into the ever-growing ranks of the Tartan Army.
 
* A sporran is a small pouch worn at the front of the kilt. 'Sporran Legion' is a play on words on the elite fighting force, the French Foreign Legion

 

 

Jon Wilkinson, June 2003

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