I’m writing this from a hospital bed where I’ve been for the last week. A stay in hospital is every bit as exciting and desirable as it sounds, which is to say it’s in no way exciting or desirable.
However, it does come with the odd bonus – assuming you’re in for something inconvenient and boring rather than actually life-threatening.
A chance to catch up with shows you’ve missed, the opportunity to say, “Ach I feel fine to be honest, just waiting for them to let me know when I can leave” 17 times a day, a never-ending supply of hand sanitiser and, most importantly, an excuse.
I love football and I love having the opportunity to write about football. However, as with any job some parts feel more like a chore than others.
Had I not been given an important reminder of the excellent care provided by the doctors and nurses on the NHS, I would probably have been working on stories such as, “ Clarke vows to take the game to Russia”, “Clarke vows to learn from Russia mistakes”, “Clarke vows to limit Belgium to a comfortable win rather than resounding doing”, “Clarke vows to take positives from resounding doing” and “Clarke vows to build time machine and return to May 2019”.
But during this international break I had an excuse. I got to miss the Scotland games. Both of them. Didn’t watch a second. I read a brief match report after the Russia game to make sure I hadn’t missed any major development I would have been talking about on Twitter under normal circumstances but apparently not.
The gist seemed to be – Scotland gave everyone some false hope then capitulated and everyone left in a bad mood.
Any seasoned Scotland watcher could have written that script prior to kick-off but my hospital stay meant I had an excuse to duck out of the whole depressing affair. This is my guilty secret. I’m bored of watching Scotland.
Club football in Scotland is relentlessly compelling. Even leaving aside the visceral, frenzied nature of the games themselves, a constant supply of pettiness, incompetence and paranoia is humming away in the background.
One of the Premiership ’s last acts before being stopped in its tracks by the international break was Jordan Jones managing to own himself in spectacular style. Jones, who permanently wears the expression of a man wondering if socks constitute part of his five a day, had joined the action with 20 minutes remaining of an extremely disappointing Rangers performance against Celtic.
In the dying moments of injury time, Jones had a choice. At the end of a humbling afternoon for the home side he could applaud the fans and shuffle off the pitch with some dignity, making a note of the embarrassing sting of defeat and using it as motivation to avoid feeling that same humiliation in future.
Or he could misguidedly try to get the home fans on side by halving new Celtic signing Moritz Bauer, getting sent off and somehow managing to injure himself rather than his opponent.
As he almost certainly would if you asked: “Who was the first man on the moon? Was it a) Neil Armstrong or b) Boris Johnson?”, Jones went with the second option.
This kind of thing happens on such a frequent basis it’s hard to keep up. Who would want to pause that kind of surreal nonsense to sit through some Scotland matches? Would I like Scotland to win? Of course I would. Do I want to sit through two Scotland matches in some kind of sense of duty every time there’s an international break? No, life’s too short.
I remember rushing home from school for the opening game of France ’98 when Scotland took on Brazil. At that age I assumed Scotland would always be there on the big stage – 21 years later and it hasn’t happened again. And what genuine excitement has there been over those two decades? If you’re a member of the Tartan Army there’s the camaraderie of the away trips, the shared experience. For everyone else though the international break just feels like something you’re forced to endure.
Maybe once every few years you’ll get a six-minute burst of excitement such as the Leigh Griffiths’ free-kicks against England. But inevitably that will soon be tempered by the harsh reality of Stuart Armstrong giving the ball away. Against England.
It feels like sacrilege to admit the national team don’t excite you but the sense of apathy around the national set-up is clear. And not only among the fans, as Oli McBurnie proved.
For the hundreds of thousands of Scottish football fans who have never seen and quite possibly never will see the men’s national team compete in a major tournament how could the entirely predictable drudgery of the 2-1 defeat against Russia hold any appeal?
Aside from getting the chance to see Kevin de Bruyne at close quarters what could possibly have excited anyone about the prospect of Scotland enduring an evening of being toyed with by Belgium?
For me and the vast majority of football fans I know, international football is just something we have to put up with for a couple of weeks before the real football starts up. There’s a sense of obligation about it rather than anticipation.
The SPFL organising their annual photoshoot featuring the captains of all the Premiership sides when the captain of the champions was unavailable. Queen of the South threatening to eject fans who feed seagulls. A tournament being named after Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers.
Celtic fan Tommy Sheridan ranting about Celtic fans ranting about Neil Lennon.
Scott Brown liking a tweet that slagged off his boss then issuing an explanation featuring the line “must of touched the button by accident”.
Boy George tweeting about how Ryan Jack was “amazing in Harry Potter”.
Livingston using the term “thunder twatted a rocket straight into the top pokie” to describe a goal on Twitter.
Clyde boss Danny Lennon, aged 50, throwing himself on as a substitute against Celtic Colts 11 years after retiring.
The Evening Telegraph headline: “Dundee FC launch investigation after bed frame found on top of pie kiosk leaving fans baffled”.
The Evening Telegraph headline: “Arbroath star who sunk Dundee United with penalty gets parking ticket outside Tannadice”.
Falkirk making Conor Sammon pose with pizzas and burgers for no discernible reason.
Dundee giving away a penalty with what was described as a “head-first sliding tackle”.
St Johnstone marking Stevie May’s return to the club with a video entitled: “Remember me?”.
All those things happened in the first few weeks of club football in 2019-20. If you can tell me with a straight face anything relating to the Russia or Belgium games was remotely comparable then next Saturday’s column will have the headline: “Why my column last Saturday about being bored of Scotland was utter sh***”.
But you won’t be able to. I’ll always want Scotland to win but when it comes to internationals
sometimes it’s nice to have a break from the break.