Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Scotland v England. 18/11/14

"I'm not sure going in this Rangers pub wearing a green hoodie and green trainers, with ID saying my surname is McCarthy and looking look Paddy McCourt is a good idea."

Scotland 1-3 England. Celtic Park.
Tuesday 18/11/14
Watching England is 90% of the time a complete and utter chore. But every now and again you get one game that comes along and makes all that time, money and inevitable disappointment worth it. Scotland v England was one of those games.

History and geography ensures there is more than enough spice to fixtures with Scotland without needing to add fuel to the fire. But hey, what the hell. If you want to add to the already feverish atmosphere guaranteed to surround the clash, then holding it less than two months after an extremely close fought independence referendum and choosing Celtic Park as the venue should do it.

Duke of Wellington complete with cone
In fairness to the SFA, their hands were tied somewhat by the unavailability of Hampden Park which is still undergoing work to transform it back following its use for the Commonwealth Games. Celtic Park was their next best option in terms of capacity and raking in the money which at £50 a ticket they certainly did.

Quite why nobody raised the prospect that England playing in a stadium owned by a club whose supporters are known for their Irish republicanism and who have a minority that have even sung in support of the IRA in the past might lead to "inappropriate and offensive chanting" is a total mystery. Only answered by the fact that they are thick, as shown by the FA's apology. Here's to the day when we play Afghanistan in a game and have to say sorry for offending the Taliban with our songs.

But enough politics. Glasgow was a brilliant city full of brilliant pubs and brilliant people. Shockingly, this was my first ever visit to the place and only my second time in Scotland following a brief swaray to Edinburgh when on the way to watch Brighton at Carlisle a few years back (don't ask).

Full Scottish breakfast - the epitome of health
For just £15, the good guys at National Express went from London Victoria at 10.30pm on Monday to the city's Buchanan Street bus station at 7am Tuesday morning. Even a blocked toilet by the time we had got to Manchester (not guilty m'Lord) couldn't spoil the money saving both on transport and accommodation.

Arriving in Glasgow before most of the city had woken up, let alone started the working day meant a decent snoop around the sights, a check out of the high standard of girls at the massive University of Strathclyde campus, a good old fashioned Scottish fry up including potato bread and lorne sausage and getting in the pub early doors. All of that went according to plan bar one major hitch in the works - nowhere was serving alcohol until 11am. This meant the alien concept of two pints of orange juice before that first glorious Tennants could be consumed. It honestly felt like putting diesel in a petrol car.

One TARDIS - needed to travel back in time to when
Scotland were good
The FA in their wisdom had decided to make every one of the 5,000 England fans collect their tickets from Candlerigg Market in the city. Getting there for 10.30am meant missing the queues and being able to meet up with a couple of fellow fans in the Blackfriars pub.

It was here I had my first ever experience of haggis. As a man who would quite happily eat a dead cat if you plonked it down on a plate in front of me, this was something that needless to say went down a treat in the form of a chicken and haggis pie washed down with copious beers.

Mark's idea of "taking it easy"
Mark had decreed we should "take things easy" in the run up to the game given the importance of it, which naturally meant heading to one of the finest Wetherspoons in the country in the Counting House which was full of passionate Scot's having a sing song of Flower of Scotland, then onto Committee Room Number Nine opposite Georges Square which was the scene of some of the more lively rioting after independence was voted against, then onto a German market for mulled wine before heading to Celtic Park on the train.

Rangers pub in Glasgow's East End. As you do
There are no stations around Scotland's biggest stadium, the nearest ones all being ten or 15 minutes away and as luck would have it we got off at Bridgeton and walked right into the surreal sight of a Rangers area in the east end of Glasgow. There were several pubs here, all draped in red, white and blue and they were heaving with England fans. Get to the ground in good time for kick off? Of course not, a pint in this most extraordinary of circumstances was a must. Even if yours truly was wearing green shoes, a green hoodie and supporting a Paddy McCourt-esque beard.

The big game...
Security was tight as you'd expect. We had to walk through a plethora of stewards all wanting to check tickets to the point where you simply had to walk through holding your tickets out in front of you like an identity plate. Comparisons to being branded with the Star of David in 1930s Germany were probably a little over the top but you get the picture.

It's not hard to see why the Scots are one of the most obese nations on earth if the catering inside of the ground was anything to go by. Take the "Burger supper", which actually consisted of a battered, deep fried burger and a family sized portion of chips. One bite of said item was enough to clog an artery and in truth the local emergency services should have been more concerned with healthy Englishman keeling over and dying from the Scottish diet than injuries as a result of fighting between the fans.

Rob enjoys his "burger supper"
Celtic Park itself was excellent. Three tall two tiered stands, one smaller main stand and England packed into one corner. The teams entered to a plethora of fireworks which just highlighted that this was Scotland's cup final and the atmosphere was electric for God Save The Queen (completely drowned out with boos) and Flower of Scotland.

*Avoids inappropriate and offensive IRA joke*
And then ten minutes in, it went quiet. We'd all heard in the build up to the game how the Celtic Park atmosphere was going to help the Scots to a famous win and that it would be so loud that even Rosetta would hear it on that comet 6.4 billion miles away. But from that point on it was all England - and not just inappropriate and offensive chanting either.

It wasn't just in the stands England dominated but on the pitch as well. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain securing a first half lead with Wayne Rooney doubling it two minutes into the second period. The stadium did spring back into life when Andrew Robertson pulled one back but they were silenced within 120 seconds, Rooney rounding off one of the best passing moves England have produced in years and celebrating with some gymnastics. 3-1 in your cup final sang the Three Lions support.

England flags on display
3-1 England. An excellent result
There are worse places to be kept behind
That was that. Beating Scotland 3-1 meant that nobody much minded being held in the ground for 15 minutes afterwards or the merry dance of a walk around the east end that the police had set up to allow the Tartan Army to vacate the area and offset the chances of trouble. We even had time to head back to the Station Bar for another beer, unfortunately just too late to join in the bingo evening which had just finished and saw all manner of unflinching elderly Scottish ladies spilling into the streets with England fans for another one of those surreal moments.

Ibrox was visited on Wednesday to clear the lingering hangover and complete the Old Firm set and several more of the cities finest pubs were frequented before the flight back to Gatwick in the evening.

Fair to say Rangers fans were supporting the No vote
Old Firm ground 2/2 done
I'd had my doubts about Scotland and Glasgow before the trip, as any self respecting individual would about a place where men wear skirts. But what a place. Anywhere that the local cuisine can cause you to put on two stone just by looking at it is fine by me.

Just please try and give us a bit more of a game on and off the pitch next time, yeah?

Celtic Park - cracking ground
Not even The Bill employed this many extras
Wayne Rooney celebrates the second
Scotland: David Marshall (Craig Gordon), Steven Whittaker, Russell Martin, Grant Hanley (Steven May), Andrew Robertson 1, Shaun Maloney (Johnny Russell), Charlie Mulgrew, Scott Brown (Darren Fletcher),  Ikechi Anya (Barry Bannan), Steven Naismith, Chris Martin (James Morrison).

England: Fraser Forster, Nathaniel Clyne, Gary Cahill (Phil Jagielka), Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw (Kieran Gibbs), James Milner, Jack Wilshere (Ross Barkley), Stuart Downing (Adam Lallana), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 1 (Rickie Lambert), Danny Welbeck (Raheem Sterling), Wayne Rooney 2.

Attendance: 55,000

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