Gin ye hink the dool o the referendum wis the lowest Scotland could mak ye feel, Ah’d say ye’ve hud it easy. Fir longevity an hopelessness o suffrin, ye cannae beat the bitter passion o supportin Scottish Rugby. Nae wins in the Six nations in twa year, an no a decent showin fir a lang time syne. Bit the gemme wis nearly up. Gin we didnae beat the Italians this year, the clack wis we’d be cut fae the competition. This wis the big ane. A chance fir ane mair glorious, burnin failure. Or mibbie no. Lik the auld yin merkin oot his lottery coupon for the thoosanth time, ye’re aye hinkin “mibbie the day’s the day…”
Bit awa gemmes ir anent mair thin a sportin shaw. It maun ging thegither wi a guid swatch o anithir airt, anithir cultur. The day, it wis the capital o Italy playin host. Ah pit oan ma kilt an wint fir a guid stravaig afore the match.
Rome. Jings. It’s some place. Ilka piazza is mair bonnie, ilka pizza mair delicious, an ilka monument mair staggerin thin yi would e’er credit gin ye huvnae seen it yirsel.
First, the Colloseum. A stane stadium wi a capacity o mair thin Hamden. Its terraces, aince marble bit nou mair a rickle o rubble an brick, owerlook an oval fechtin pit. Slaves, professional gladiators an wild African animals paggered wi each ithir here. It’s cried efter a muckle stookie o Nero whit bade there fir centuries. It wis taller thin The Kelpies bi feev metres. Emperor Hadrian, the same canny chiel wha biggit the wa atween the Scots an Romans, hud the stookie maneuvered intae position wi a harnessed train o 24 elephants. How he didnae bring thon elephant army north tae smash us tae bits Ah dinnae ken.
Amang the thoosans veesitin the Colloseum, hunners wir Scots. Maist wir kiltit or bearin the plaid. Oor clash an compliment o loadsay different tartans wis a rare sicht. Sae wis wir stracht-backit, self-concious merch afore the array o camera phones pyntit at us bi the ithir veesitirs. Belts like barrel hoops focht agin boukit guts, and baldy heids keeked oot fae aneath Tam o Shanters. Wir buits reeked o Military Surplus shoaps. We luiked lik an unruly Scottish Dad’s Army.
Nixt, the Pantheon. Thon’s an ancient religious ha. It’s body’s a dome, the auldest ay its ilk in the warld, wi a hole in the ruif fir licht cried an Oculus. Pagans biggit it, an sacrificed tae thir wheen o Gods there. Thirs summit gey eerie lingerin in its derk, toom belly yet. The twa thoosan-year-auld wa’s hae bin drookit wi bluid o man an beast, the flair drooned in dubs o gore. The hauntit place gars ye grue. Christians hae bunged a wee gowden alter in there noo, but thons as ceivilisin as pittin a cassock on a Neanderthal. Auld, ithir, unkent ghaists hing in the air lik smoke.
An hour afore the gemme the north ay the toon wis thrummin tae the beat o an anarchic carnival. Canty loons gart thir pipes skirl oot the Freecom Come a Ye’s an the Scots Wha Hae’s, as possies o Italians in reid, green an white wigs took swallies fae bottles an merched alang side. Bairns rode oan shouders o faithers, Italian flags fleein in ilka airt. Cars marooned in the spate o fowk disgorged thir cheery occupants ontae bonnets an roofs, wha smoked fags and watched wi smiles. Wi the monstrous energy o atoms gaithert tae a singularity afore the Big Bang, the hail carnival squeezed itsel intae the circular Stadio Olympico.
Keekin oot ower the saxty thoosan fowk in the stadium, ye could mak oot the Saltires an blue paintit-Scots bletherin in the aisles an poolin thegither in sky-blue lochans aroon the bevvy vendors. The Italians wir oan a rollin bile, waving, shouting, lauchin an singin. Fowk fae aa ower hud descendit oan Rome – a puckle English loons wir gingin aboot dressed as Italian chefs. Teams o gladiators in plastic helmets dooned pints o lager. Hail faimlies crowdit sections o seatin, jostlin an joking. The energy biggit itsel up like lichtenin in a thunnerclood.
The teams spued oot o the tunnel, an we gied that energy voice in ae great roar. We gied it laldy fir Flower o Scotland, bit thir wisnae enough o us tae mak a real din, an wir hertfelt cry tae be that nation again wis swalleyed up wioot a rift bi the great mou o the stadium. Thin fifty thoosan passionate Italians nigh oan blastit aff wir lugs wi thir ain anthem. They hud the reek o Scots bluid in thir neb an wir fired up bi it.
The gemme kicked aff tae anithir primeval roar. Scotland focht weel richt fae the stert. In nae time we’d breenged doon the pitch an scored. We couldnae credit wir een – Scottish players crossin the try line!
The hail first hauf wis Scotland’s. Oor wee Captain Greig Laidlaw, man o the match, wis ne’er aff the big screens, kickin penalties an bein amazin. An Embra wifey near us wis unco fond o the wee Borderer. “Oooo, looook at him!” she cooed whine’er his wee beardit pus wis oan the screen. Guys wi trays o Italian beer dondered up an doon the aisles, flogging us booze, keepin us weel-iled.
A surge o energy wis brocht aboot bi the hosts findin thir smeddum in the saicont hauf. A Mexican wave rolled aroon the stadium as Italian runners whummelt a few Scots, makin grun. Bit lik the wave itsel, Italy’s attack rolled an rolled but ne’er cud brak ower the high watter merk o the Scots try line whin it maittered. The score wis aye ticht, but jist as the gemme wis balanced, we goat anithir penalty fae miles oot.
‘There’s oor Grieg!’ cries Embra Wifey, as wir Captain steps up, direcks his beady wee een at the posts, an maks anithir majestic penalty kick tae tak us oot ay Italian reach. The Edinburgers wir dauncin in the aisles as the Scots ran in anithir try afore the enn.
Then cam the final whistle, an wi it the win.
The Scots supporters wir cerried oot bi the wecht o bodies like ecstatic blue flotsam oan the Italian fluid, birlin blissfully aa the wey tae toon. The nicht wis as ye’d expeck. We daunced, we drank, an ae steamin loon dooked in the watter o a fountain. We filled wir banks wi the precious gowd o guid cheer, stockpilin it tae see us through the lean years tae come.
Alistair Heather is a student o Historie, French an Gaelic atween Geneva an Aiberdeen Universities.