Euro 2024 red carpet laid for Scotland: Ticket demand ridiculously high, all hail Matuidi, lewd noises and odd own goals
Forty years after Aberdeen secured a creditable 0-0 draw against SV Hamburg in the first leg of 1983’s Super Cup final, Scotland landed another result in the city to make Europe sit up and take notice.
There is no second leg to negotiate either. What’s done is done. Steve Clarke’s side will open next summer's European Championship finals against hosts Germany, mirroring what Craig Brown’s team had the honour of doing at the World Cup 25 years ago against Brazil. For Paris, read Munich. Instead of under the Eiffel Tower, the wide spaces of the Marienplatz will be the appointed meeting place for tens of thousands of Tartan Army conscripts determined not to miss out on an occasion they have longed for.
Who present in 1998 could have believed it would be another 22 years before Scotland qualified for a major finals and a quarter-of-a-century before fans were allowed to travel to a tournament in non-restricted numbers? Scottish Football Association chief executive Ian Maxwell’s mobile had already begun to vibrate with ticket requests by the time he met Scottish reports moments after the conclusion of the draw.
As well as Germany, Scotland will face Hungary and Switzerland in Cologne and Stuttgart respectively. It will be a long way from the rather downbeat experience of a quarter-full Hampden at Euro 2020. Two defeats against Czech Republic and Croatia, bookending a goalless draw against England at Wembley, did not help the mood. “It is a fantastic honour to be involved in the opening game, everyone talks about France ‘98 and remembers it every fondly,” said Maxwell.
Trust Clarke to almost immediately contradict his boss. “I remember almost nothing about the France 98’ game against Brazil because I didn’t get selected to go!” he said, which is slightly harsh on the then manager Craig Brown. Clarke was in his mid-thirties and reaching the end of his playing career. Indeed, he made what turned out to be his final Chelsea appearance a few weeks earlier in the final of the Cup-Winners’ Cup against Stuttgart in Stockholm. He won the last of his six Scotland caps in 1994. Still, he was sore he had not received the call ahead of the glamour clash against Brazil. “I was in the huff so I never watched it!” he said.
Walking out with his team at the Allianz Arena on June 14 will provide ample compensation. Whether the players will be wearing kilts, as happened against Brazil at the Stade de France, is one of myriad details to be confirmed between now and then. Tickets are the main point of interest and likely contention. “I am sure we will have a huge Tartan Army presence there,” said Maxwell. “The build-up to your first game at any tournament is brilliant but to take part in the opening game of the tournament is fantastic.
“The way my phone is buzzing it will be pretty desperate – trust me,” he added. “UEFA have said we will get 10,000 for the Scotland Supporters Club and they will be going on sale as soon as we can, later on this week. I can just imagine how quickly the UEFA website crashed as soon as they announced there were tickets on sale for that game and it will be mostly caused by people from Scotland for that game. Fans will be scrambling to buy tickets and buy flights and organise hotels and do other things but listen that is a great problem to have. We would much rather fans had the challenges of trying to get there than us not being there at all."
It was put to Maxwell that as many 100,000 Scotland fans might travel. “There will be tens of thousands certainly, whether we quite get to hundreds of thousands I don’t know,” he said. “The number of people I have spoke to throughout the qualifying campaign that had already booked hotels and had already booked flights before they knew where we were playing. It just shows you the passion there is in the country and we will take huge numbers and they will all have a fantastic time.”
All hail Blaise Matuidi. The former France midfielder pulled Scotland’s name from the plastic bowl at around 6.40pm local time and then, when it was confirmed Scotland would be appearing in the opening game, some gasps were audible. Shortly afterwards gasps of another kind were heard in what is believed to have been the work of notorious prankster Dan Jarvis. Sexual noises were heard, presumably from a remotely activated mobile phone, just as Switzerland were about to be drawn in Scotland’s group.
Hamburg felt like the centre of the football world and it had done a fine job of kicking-off its weekend in the spotlight by laying on one of the greatest own goals ever seen, when Hamburg goalkeeper Daniel Heuer sliced into his own net on Friday night in the Stadtderby against St Pauli. The moaning disruption was another amusing episode providing levity amid the otherwise serious and complicated business of confirming who plays who and where next summer.
Clarke has the hopes of a nation on his shoulders. He has taken charge of 51 matches to date. Scotland are planning to play four pre-tournament warm-up friendlies. There are then three Group A games. All being well, Clarke’s 59th match as manager will come in the last 16. His 60th could be a quarter-final. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
There were over 850 dignitaries in the Elbphilharmonie, the well-appointed concert venue that hosted the draw event, another couple of hundred journalists watching on from a media room next door and a crowd of interested onlookers braving the freezing conditions outside. They saw celebrated former stars of European Championships of the past such as Luis Figo, Steve McManaman and Brian Laudrup stride down the red carpet.
Another red carpet will be laid out for Scotland in Munich in June. They are guaranteed to make an entrance. Clarke’s great task is to ensure a Scottish team won’t be taking their leave in the usual manner.