It was, though, the word that kept springing to mind amid the pre-match ‘entertainment’, and the face – woad in nature, if not actuality – the Tartan Army exhibited for the appearance of their English conquerors at Hampden. As both the SFA and the home fans appeared to lean into every twee, Hollywood-ized, shortbread-tin version of ourselves as a nation. With the English travelling support, in turn, effortlessly slipping into their boorish, forlock-tugging stereotype.
Scotland, though, were the hosts with the most to make you cringe. The appearance of a Braveheart-style musical troupe in the centre of the pitch – full plaid dress, check, bodrans, check, wild beards and bagpipes, check. The ‘no Scotland, no party’ tagline being flashed up on the screen to elicit the Seven Nation Army chant (a glorying over the ability of the populace to get jaiked in more full-on fashion than any other). All there in tacky, tartanised glory. To which, yes, it must be said, can be added the anthem that defines Scotland by a battle won against “proud Edward’s army” … or rather, the English.
Now the internal colonialism Scotland has faced in its relationship with its southern neighbour can be considered in no small part responsible for a certain grievance-culture and emotional stunting over this once independent country’s place in the world. That charged animosity and republican fervour displayed in the obligatory booing of God Save The King. In a pre-match in which the decision to have “a moment’s silence” (almost an admission of being destined to fail long before a minute) for Craig Brown and the victims of the horrendous tragedies in Libya and Morocco was horribly ill-judged. Denigrated by chants from the England fans that sparked boos in response, the not-brief-enough moment made for a sorry spectacle.
All before a ball was kicked and Scotland were put in their place by a hugely more gifted group of footballers. To leave the craving from those within these borders to believe their players could live with them as equals almost feel like a form of self-flagellation. It is 1985 since the last Scotland success over England truly to savour for the former, the 1-0 win at Wembley in 1999 having condemned Craig Brown’s team to a 2-1 aggregate defeat in the nations’ two-legged Euro 2000 play-off.
A pantomime is played out any time the pair meet in this age. Scotland talk themselves up … only for bitter reality to bite. As it did facing a performer such as Real Madrid’s Jude Bellingham, who can make the ball speak in tongues in being guaranteed to make any current elite world XI. The only real levity of the evening was provided by second-half substitute Harry Maguire slipping in the grande dame role. His every touch ironically cheered by the Scotland fans, he played his part all too completely in poking the ball into his own net to reduce Scotland’s arrears to 2-1 midway through the second-period.
Hope of a dramatic turnaround was quickly extinguished as Harry Kane added a third for Gareth Southgate’s men. As a consequence, by the final whistle, the evening had provided a mountain of evidence that 150 years of the rivalry – as the 116th iteration of the fixture was staged to celebrate – rarely provides much of the celebratory if you happen to reside north of the border. But plenty to curl the toes.