Drunk on the Tartan myth

31st July 1998 at 01:00
Thank goodness it's all over, and only the echoes of Teddyboy's army being sent away to think again by the Tartan Army remain, like the wind blowing through a broken whisky bottle in the grog shops and stews of various French sites.

Le Coupe Mondiale, apart from being the consumerist coup of all time, has shown the world once and for all that while isolated groups of survivalists and cranks may celebrate their millennium what really matters is football, and we who live in Europe's boondocks are among its most fervent proponents, over the parapet in self-indulgence and all that goes with it. Football is God.

Just in case anyone harbours any delusions about the importance of the People's Game to us and our masters, the chattering classes are still up to their hips in the desiccated analysis they love to indulge in.

Naturally, a scapegoat must be found. Because some teachers declined over a decade ago to give up their quality, meaning own, time on Saturday mornings, the nation is plunged into a gloom of sporting mourning, and worse than that, an orgy of other-recrimination.

If it were not for the knock-on effects, we could look on the whole football syndrome in general, and eccentricities like the Tartan Army in particular, with mild amusement. Not so. The commercial thrust of World Cup advertising has been significantly targeted towards children, taking advantage of the glamour, fame and publicity that the beautiful game engenders to sell anything and everything under the sun.

Backing much of it is the prospect held out to them, however remote, that this could be you. Raising hopes like this deserves top table treatment in any one of Dante's infernal circle time sessions, because the seine-nets of football's constant need for new blood have long ago trawled out any talent that may be left there. When football is God, and money its prophet, and when the team lists of our top clubs read like a caserne in the Foreign Legion, the chances for home-grown talent get slimmer by the minute.

What really worries me are the long-term effects of this current trend. Unable (and in many ways unwilling) to play, but only to support, our children are open to the temptation to take the Tartan Army's bawbee and enlist as a footsoldier. This makes me feel uncomfortable.

I don't mean merely things like following the kind of banners that figured prominently in Nuremberg 60 years ago, wearing orange wigs and parading down the Champs Elysee behind statues that looked like they had been dreamed up by Ray Harryhausen.

What I have in mind is the perpetuation of the exuberant laddish tendency, the macho image, that in spite of every effort made to camouflage it constantly breaks through.

The Jack the Lad Tendency has an age reference point that is synonymous with adolescence. Carried excessively into adulthood, it becomes a signifier of emotional retardation, and when assimilated into the Tartan Army bodes ill for teachers' efforts to develop ethos, and for the whole field of personal and social development.

A recent study carried out by Edinburgh University's Centre for Theology and Public Issues into family issues made the quite clear point that macho fathers breed macho sons, and that somewhere this cycle has to be broken. Deeply embedded in this imagery is alcohol abuse, and it is no accident that disadvantaged children spoke a lot about parental drinking habits.

The Tartan Army showed us and the rest of the world football support in almost complete voluntary liquidation. No image lacked alcoholic back-up and I wonder just how far it cemented the macho posturing. Certainly I fear for the relevance of schools' health programmes that contain an alcohol abuse warning. Scotland was defeated in more places than France this year.

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