EVEN LONG SHOTS MAKE IT - Del Amitri, France ’98 & The LaFontaines

Football and music have combined to produce some truly iconic moments in recent history.

From John Barnes joining New Order to create the bond between ballers and spitters at Italia 90, to some twenty-thousand Hibs fans expelling 114 years of hurt with their post-Scottish Cup wining rendition of Sunshine on Leith; the two have always been inextricably linked both - both culturally and emotionally.

But perhaps the most fascinating intersection of the two concepts is that of a country's official major tournament song. Many national sides, for better or worse, have been sent to the biggest sporting events on earth on the back of some truly captivating records. But what makes a memorable football song? It should inspire, first and foremost. Evoking a sense of national pride is a must-have trait, of course. It also needs terrace appeal - something for the fans to chant in the stadiums. The success criteria for a memorable track really is a lengthy one it would seem. At least artists have two years to come up with something worth shouting about (literally); whereas some singer-songwriters from certain nations have a little longer to make their masterpiece - twenty-three, for example...

But let's go back to the start of that period. In fact, why not one year prior?

It’s October 1997, and Craig Brown’s Scotland have just beaten Latvia 2-0 at Celtic Park to claim their place at the 1998 World Cup. While hard to believe now for readers of a certain demographic, Scotland were once something of a regular fixture on both the European and World stage. With regards to World Cups, we qualified consecutively for the tournaments held between 1974 and 1990. Missing out in 1994 had hurt the nation, and France ’98 was an opportunity to remedy this, on and off the park.

Scotland were bound for the Channel Tunnel, and we needed a summer anthem to send us on our way. As a nation, we had had previous successes with World Cup songs - Argentina ‘78 saw Andy Cameron release “Ally’s Tartan Army”, an iconic anthem that looked to lure the nation in to expecting Billy Bremner & Co. to return home with the new and improved Jules Rimet trophy firmly in their grasp. The Tartan Army were wise enough not to fall for the level of hubris throughout that particular joint though, with the national team sitting 41st in the rankings at the time.

We were also more than wary of setting the bar too high for France. We had seen many a rival national succumb to the weight of unrealistic expectation over the years and had learned from our mistakes of the aforementioned sound of ‘78. Scotland needed a song that reflected where we stood on the food chain, whilst also capturing the hearts of the nation. Enthusiastic yet pragmatic. A song engulfing the passion and also the pain. We needed something intrinsically Scottish.

Step forward Del Amitri.

The Glasgow indie rockers were tasked with writing the official song of the Scotland National

team for France 98, and duly delivered with "Don’t Come Home Too Soon".

A hit commercially, the song debuted at Number 15 in the UK Singles Charts and topped the Scottish equivalent. Critics were less kind however, with many considering the song to be overly dour and mawkish - specific reference being made to lyrics such as the opening salvo: “So long, go on and do your best” and “The world might not be shaking yet, but pretty soon you’ll see, even long shots make it.” Perhaps not so much a “let him know you’re there early doors” as a polite and bashful throat clearing while asking for the ball if it’s not too much trouble please and thank you.

The song is also often, and perhaps unfairly so, read as defeatist by those less familiar with our national relationship with the beautiful game. Don’t Come Home Too Soon exhibits a uniquely Scottish sense of self-awareness in the face of the maudlin. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the music video for the song; a parody of Nike’s now iconic Brazilian Airport ad campaign from the same summer. We may not have had the samba flair of Ronaldo, Denilson, or Roberto Carlos, but what we did have was the perfect setting for the music video - Prestwick Airport.

The video opens with shots of the Tartan Army napping to kill time as they wait on their departure to St Denis. Among them sit Del Amitri’s Ian Harvie and Justin Currie. A young boy clad in tartan, a Scotland goalkeeper jersey, and a face full of Mel Gibson-inspired paint starts kicking a football around before he launches it out onto the concourse. Grassroots football hasn’t progressed much since, it would seem. The music then swells to its chorus as we are met with the glorious site of captain Colin Hendry running with a football at his feet, triumphantly leading a horde of gallant Scots towards airport security. Before the reach the metal detectors, they coincidentally run in to Gordon Durie, Christian Dailly, Colin Calderwood, and Scot Gemmill for a kickabout with the waiting fans. What a Five-A-Side team that would have been. No need for a goalkeeper.

This scene is accompanied by the tercet “And I don’t care what people say, we can laugh it all away, but if I have a dream at all, for once you wont be on that stupid plane” which, for me, ranks as one of the most engrossingly incongruous moments in music. The video draws to a close with scenes of fans, players, and band members alike joint in celebration, chanting the refrain.

Of course, we only went on to claim the solitary point in Group A and were sent home as soon as we arrived. Or that’s what it felt like. Thirteen days. The 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Morocco compounding the pain of seeing us prop up a table also consisting of reigning champions Brazil and Norway. The ill-fated trip to France was our last involvement on the world stage, but it wasn’t our last World Cup song...

England were drawn alongside Trinidad & Tobago in Group C in Germany back in 2006 which meant that The Three Lions would come face-to-face with Scotland. Jason Scotland. In the end, the St Johnstone striker didn’t make it on the pitch as the men from Caribbean looked to contain our cross-border rivals (and succeeded in doing so until the 83rd minute) but that didn’t stop the ‘Trinidad and Tobago Tartan Army’ creating a song in support of the big striker. Their track also made it’s way to Number 1 that summer and, to our collective delight, England didn't.

As for our current crop, a surge in form last year under the watchful eye of Steve Clarke saw Scotland successfully negotiate the Nations League Play-Offs to end a generation of hurt. And what a feeling it was. And as Euro 2020/21 looms, it's just starting to sink in. As far as expectations go, some of us are just glad we're there in the first place, whereas others have ambitions of sweeping aside England and the rest in a Get Him To The Greek style sequel. After all, long shots do make it, don’t they?

But to get there, we need a song. Yes sir, we've boogied already, but does that capture the emotion of the here and now? In the meantime, The LaFontaines stepped up to the plate to deliver their unofficial banger in the form of 'Scotland, Bonnie Scotland', featuring commentary from the night in Serbia as well as the hero from the shootout David Marshall in the accompanying video, along with a host of other familiar faces. If no official track is released, we'll happily take it, but who would you render to give their own rendition of Scotland's presence back on the map?

Location: Euro 2021

Words: Andrew Christie

Photography: Connor Stewart