April 1, 2009 – Hampden Park, Glasgow
A bit of a rollercoaster ride at the home of football tonight, with Scotland eventually coming away with a precious win over group outsiders Iceland to keep alive hopes of World Cup qualification.
Typically, Scotland made heavy work of the win, only scoring once through Ross McCormack in a first half they dominated. Iceland equalised early in the second half and although Steven Fletcher re-established the lead, there were a few anxious moments in the closing stages.
That the victory was achieved was the most important thing, especially after the furore which preceded the game.
On the morning of the match news of alcohol fuelled misdeanours amongst the squad broke with the result that Allan McGregor and Barry Ferguson were both dropped to the bench, before later being banished to the international hinterland.
Regardless of whether there were other players involved, in addition to the Rangers duo, it was the right decision to sanction them heavily in my view.
Football players are role models, especially those chosen to play at international level, and as a proud Scot I feel that getting steaming drunk in a 5-star hotel just isn’t the kind of behaviour befitting players who are supposed to be representing the nation.
It’s bad enough that as a country we have a reputation for alcohol abuse, unfairly in my opinion, without senior members of our national football team playing right up to the stereotype.
Unsurprisingly, the news dominated discussion on the Real Radio Football Phone-in as I travelled through to Glasgow, a journey which took a bit longer than usual thanks to an accident on the M8 motorway.
For the uninitiated the show tends to be monopolised, like it’s BBC counterpart ‘Your Call’, by Old Firm supporters. Predictably, the Bluenoses were out in force defending McGregor and Ferguson and making wild accusations of SFA discrimination against Rangers.
As a supporter of a small provincial club, their paranoia never fails to raise a wry smile with me.
After parking in Shawlands, we wandered along to Hampden through the Southside streets where the atmosphere was boisterous, albeit not at the levels you tend to get at Saturday home matches.
Hungry, we stopped for a fish supper at the ‘Best Chippy’ just round the corner from the ground on Cathcart Road. If there was ever a misnomer for a take-away food outlet this was it – yuk!
Still, at least we were handily placed to make our way into the stadium given that our tickets were for the West Stand, more commonly known as the Rangers End.
They were decent seats too in my view – directly behind the goal, about halfway up.
Hampden has its fair share of critics and the view from behind the goals is a little distant, but for me it still takes some beating, especially when Scotland are playing.
Yes it isn’t as good as the other big Glasgow grounds in terms of facilities but it has a certain ‘something’. Maybe it’s just the history of the place but I wouldn’t have internationals or important club matches played anywhere else.
I have enjoyed some brilliant occasions at Hampden and that certainly helps; Livi’s one and only Cup final victory, the UEFA Cup final between Espanyol and Sevilla and Scotland’s ‘glorious failure’ against Italy last season all spring instantly to mind.
The SFA do a good job in fostering a patriotic atmosphere too, with the singing of ‘Flower of Scotland’ usually led by one of its writers, Ronnie Brown. On this occasion we also got treated to a rendition of Caledonia at half time in addition to the other usual crowd pleasers – Loch Lomond, 500 Miles etc.
So for me, all things considered, Hampden is a fine place to watch football. No question.
In many respects this latest visit to Hampden harked back to the good old days. Despite the electronic scoreboard messages advising everyone to sit down, at least half the crowd did not, including the whole area I was in.
I prefer standing to sitting every time, so it was great to enjoy a big game on my feet, even if some orange jacketed Hitler half-heartedly tried (and failed) to spoil the fun a couple of times.
Something I wouldn’t agree with quite as readily was taking drink into the stadium, as a couple of younger lads in the row down from me managed to do. That they managed to smuggle in half sized bottles of Bells and Jack Daniels past the stewards at all would suggest that security was lax.
There was no real harm done, mind. One of the group got himself into such a state that he fell sleep after about half an hour, but he didn’t really bother anyone!
He missed a game which more than surpassed the very low expectations I had before kick off.
With Scotland fielding a scratch side lacking in experience I feared the worst but they took the game to the Icelandic and dominated most of the first half.
The only worry, as it always is with Scotland, was actually sticking the ball in the net and with Kenny Miller seemingly reluctant to have a shot, it seemed as though the crucial first goal would never come.
Enter Cardiff City’s Ross McCormack with an excellent finish about six minutes before half time.
At the halfway stage there was every reason for everyone inside Hampden to feel confident of a win. Scotland wouldn’t be Scotland if they just cruised onto victory, though!
Instead what we got was a quickfire Icelandic equaliser – a well taken goal to be fair – which left Scotland with everything to do all over again.
But what they lack in technical ability, Scotland tend to make up for in spirit and hard work. It’s almost a cliche, but it was those two attributes which saw them through to the eventual 2-1 scoreline.
Hibs’ striker Steven Fletcher showed considerable sharpness to get the all-important second Scotland goal with a header, and in the closing stages there was desperate defending as Icelandic talisman Eidur Gudjohnsen started orchestrating the visitors’ attacks from midfield.
How they didn’t score still defies full explanation. Certainly, Scotland keeper Craig Gordon played a key role with a couple of excellent and brave saves but there was at least one glaring miss right at the end. A sitter of the highest order.
Fortunately, Hampden was able to breath a collective sign of relief as the ball flew well over and a matter of seconds later the win was confirmed.
I’ve got my doubts whether Scotland can go onto qualify for the 2010 World Cup but at least there’s still a chance going into the final three group games.
Two of them are at Hampden, where Scotland are a match for anyone, so there’s hope.
Scoring – 1-0 McCormack (39), 1-1 Sigurdsson (54), 2-1 S. Fletcher (65)
Attendance – 42,259
Admission – £25
Programme – £3
Ground – 9/10. It’s got its critics but Hampden is great when Scotland are playing
Game – 7/10. A better spectacle than expected
Overall experience – 8/10. Good night out following the national side
Match Report links
BBC – Scottish Football Association official website