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Scotland: Five stages of grief

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It can take weeks, months, or even years for people to accept the loss of someone who was dear to them. Getting over that initial shock and coming to terms with the change in your life is something that everyone deals with in different ways. Just over a month to the day, I have reached that stage of acceptance after a very difficult loss; England 3-2 Scotland. As a massive Scotland supporter, the 90 minutes at Wembley, observed in my living room with eight other testosterone fueled teenagers plus Dad and Uncle, not only proved a test of our array of vocabulary (which seemed to range from a selection of words beginning with F, B and S), but gave us our first chance in fourteen years to watch an English winger jog past a hapless Scottish full-back.

Being unable to take my mind off the game for weeks on end beforehand, I really thought we could leave Wembley with the bragging rights after a ‘backs to the wall’ victory, along with a copious amount of pictures of Trafalgar square swamped in Fairy Liquid. Sadly, only the latter proved to materialise.

As we sat down with our beer and 3 for 2 pizzas, we were hopeful but not expectant. Every time I envisaged a Scottish goal pre-match, a smile akin to that of the Cheshire cat swept across my face, but not for one minute did I think we’d score two at Wembley; demonstrated by my positive ‘Snodgrass, 1-0’ coupon.

I’ve made loud noises before; loud, incoherent noises, at that. When I fell out a tree and cracked a rib at age 11; when my ‘not so thrill-seeking’ mate went down a vertical water slide in Magaluf; when I laced it into the top corner from 30 yards with a volley on FIFA 13; but despite the impending chaos when James Morrison scored being fourteen years in the making, I’m still not sure how to best describe the loud noise that escaped my voice-box and reverberated around the living room. Fused with similar sounding noises from the rest of the Scottish support within my house, we seemed to create a beautiful, joyous harmony of ‘YAAASSSSSSSS’!

If I’d been told pre-match that the score would read England 1-1 Scotland at half time, I’d have taken it gladly. Deep, knowledgeable discussion ensued in the living room where, along with other false predictions, we used our football manager expertise to deliberate what subs should be made and when. The general consensus was for Scotland to hold out at 1-1 until late on, and sneak a goal on the counter attack. Seemed like a good plan.

But Kenny Miller had other ideas. But Kenny Miller begged to differ. But Kenny Miller thought differently. Or any other version of the same cliché, bottom line is he proved he has a left-foot like a traction engine and rattled the ball into Hart’s bottom corner, providing the catalyst for smashed glasses and more nonsensical roars that could have prompted a neighbour to contact the emergency services.

Joy, of course, proved short-lived again as Danny Welbeck nodded home before Ricky Lambert came off the bench to prove it’s not actually more difficult to score a header past Russell Martin and Grant Hanley at international level than it is at club level.

At full-time I was utterly deflated, we’d blown a huge chance to win at Wembley. Having victory within our grasp twice, only to lose, it was just painful. Good performance and fighting underdog spirit against a largely better outfit but nothing to show for it. Sound familiar?

At the time, going to Club De Mar seemed like an inspired idea as I embarked on a jovial quest with a few pals to keep spirits high after the crushing defeat. But as I dragged myself into work at 10am the morning after the night before, I couldn’t help but try to convince myself that something would be done to reverse the outcome of the game. I rebuffed the reality of the defeat by focusing on how well we played and told myself that due to our brilliant performance it probably outweighed the actual result and meant that we were the real winners, hiding from the fact that England did indeed win. FIFA would look on in hindsight before dramatically intervening and rule-out Lambert’s winner because we were stupid enough to leave him unmarked at a corner.

Everything would be fine and we wouldn’t have to admit to a defeat from our fiercest rivals. Denial and Isolation, the symptoms of taking the first steps through the ‘Five stages of grief’, seemed to have taken control of my thought-process.

Stage One didn’t last long, by mid-afternoon I was firmly in Stage Two; anger. It is common for mourners to feel a sense of rage when they suffer the passing of someone close to them. They will ask God why he chose to take them and not someone else, and argue that it is unfair and wrong that they should lose a person who means a lot to them. Well, God, answer me this; how is it fair that we should put in a great performance at Wembley and still lose? How is it fair that, without our first choice striker, we score two goals and still lose? How is it fair that Steven Whittaker is Scottish?! Did vent a lot of said anger in work; rough from the soothing Club De Mar suaret, I made tedious conversation with middle-aged woman whom I hoped would be able to provide answers for why Scott Brown couldn’t be bothered tracking back at more than just a leisurely pace. As they looked at me like I just defecated in the shoes I was about to sell them, I became more and more frustrated with the lack of answers from Housewife X, and had to fight the urge to send her off with her daughter trailing with a box containing ill-fitting school shoes. Remained in Stage Two for several weeks.

Sepp Blatter clearly hadn’t looked into the possibility of introducing the ‘hindsight law’ and ruling out Lambert’s header, so as I entered the third stage, reasoning, I bargained with myself and searched for excuses. England evidently has a squad that is full of talent and that is arguably underachieving by peaking at the quarter-final stage of pretty much every tournament. The majority of the players on their bench are playing at the very highest level; Wilfred Zaha of Manchester United, James Milner and Jermaine Defoe are just three players who couldn’t force their way into the English XI, but are three players who would saunter into the Scotland starting line-up at any given time. Our squad contained the swagger of free agent Andy Webster, the cultured left foot of Motherwell left-back Stevie Hammell and League One’s most potent threat, Leigh Griffiths. Comparisons; made. England’s squad is superior, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that if Grant Hanley hadn’t been off the pitch for treatment when Walcott slotted home the equaliser, then the goal probably wouldn’t have been scored. If Scott Brown had decided to sprint rather than jog then he would have been in a good position to make a tackle on Walcott. IF RICKIE LAMBERT HAD BEEN MARKED AT THE CORNER KICK THEN HE DOESN’T GET A FREE HEADER! You might have noticed the amount of times the word ‘if’ is used there. Granted, England fans will have posed answer-begging questions as to why Joe Hart decided to throw the ball his own goal after a routine save from James Morrison’s strike, but it’s easier to find excuses for our own players’ faults.

Depression follows the bargaining stage, constant regret and gloom. The best way I can describe it is if you are to visualise a typical movie scene. A man, let’s say Dave, has just left his girlfriend’s flat after a break-up and attempts to hail a taxi. It is pouring with rain and he does well to dodge a flying puddle sent towards him at pace after a Peugeot 206, complete with loud exhaust, accelerates through it. A taxi pulls over and he gets inside with no welcome from the driver, just a simple “where to?” Dave, struggling to hold back the tears after his break up, rests his head on the rain drop covered window and stares out the pane with a blank stare, reliving every fantastic, heart-stopping moment he had with, let’s say Fiona, full of regret that it’s not going to last forever. The camera slowly pulls out from showing him staring out the taxi window until it gives a birds-eye view highlighting the hustle-bustle of the city, portraying that he is not alone and that life goes on. Now think of it like this; I am the man in the taxi after leaving the pub, and I am reliving Rickie Lambert’s goal. I see every possible angle of the goal, including the coveted reverse viewpoint, and have Clive Tyldsley’s voice ringing in my ears. Not sure if I have just likened Scotland losing against England to a break-up, but we’ll roll with it. You get the idea.

Reaching the fifth and final stage of grieving is a comforting moment; acceptance. It is hard to admit that your biggest rivals in football beat you when they didn’t deserve to. Saying that, I had two of the best moments of my life when Morrison and Miller scored and hopefully there won’t be another fourteen year wait till we next run them close. Alba Gu Brath.

Written by Andy Bargh

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