In the quiet, soggy streets of central London, I heard them long before I saw them. They might only be half a dozen fans, in disposable ponchos and plastic bags full of cans, but they sounded like a battalion. “When you hear the noise of the boys from the Tartan Army, we will be walking down the street.”
On Friday, just for one afternoon, Soho belonged to Scotland. The Euro 2020 match with England at Wembley had been preceded by a week of warnings: of 20,000 Scots descending on the English capital, of masses in kilts roaming the streets without tickets or a pub table reserved in advance for call yours. It was a situation that required intervention from the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, the Prime Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, and the UK Government Minister for Sports, Nigel Huddleston. “Remember you are guests in London right now, so make sure you conduct yourself in a way that shows the best of the Tartan Army,” Sturgeon said Friday. There were other calls for calm and consideration for public safety, which were absent for the crowds of 12,000 a day who attended Royal Ascot earlier in the week.
Several thousand traveled, but those who did thought they were meeting a very real need. “No Scotland, no party,” they chanted as they colonized a small terrace of pasta restaurants on the south side of Leicester Square, a de facto tartan army headquarters after a fan zone had not been provided for travelers and Hyde Park had also proven to be just plain wet to occupy.
“We’ve been looking forward to seeing the team,” said Brian McEwan, a firefighter who had traveled for the game with half a dozen friends, two of whom had tickets to Wembley. “It has been 23 years since Scotland qualified for a major tournament and we have just spent a year under restrictions. Of course we were coming, but we’ve all been looking for places in bars to watch the game. It has not been configured correctly. I don’t know if he’s the mayor of London, but they haven’t been well prepared. “
In years past, Scottish fans would always gather in Trafalgar Square before Auld Enemy matches, dancing around the fountains and perhaps filling them with magical liquid. This time they were greeted not only by incessant torrential rain, but also by 2-meter-high fences that cordoned off the square for a “fan park” accessible only to key London workers.
Of all the people who deserve to be treated well after last year, they are the key workers, but while no Scotsman complained about this decision, there was widespread bewilderment as to why something else could not have been put in its place. Another common theme, however, was the willingness to improvise. At lunchtime, five young men from Falkirk arrived at the closed hobby park. Instead, they turned around and booked tickets for the National Gallery.
Videos of Scottish fans staggering against moped drivers and coming out better, or of makeshift water slides through the puddles of Leicester Square have spread on social media, but police managing the crowds said, In their terms, they had only seen one “stupid” individual in two days.
Every fan The Guardian spoke to claimed to have at least one spot reserved to watch the game and while it was impossible to deny that the crowd outside of MOD Pizza was breaking social distancing rules, it was also the case that Scottish fans They brought an energy to this part of London that is currently eerily lacking. Soho merchants report that footfall is only 25% of normal cookouts at night, simply “making a show of normalcy.” Boisterous noise is usually inescapable in central London, this afternoon felt like a welcome relief.
For Scottish fans the feeling was mutual, as the opportunity to make some noise had been a long time coming. “We’ve been waiting 20 years for this,” said Evelyn McLaughlan, who had traveled from Perth with her family. “We have come down for the atmosphere, to be with other Scottish fans. We are mingling and everyone is so nice. If we lose, we don’t care, what counts is that we win here ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism