Part 3                                                                                                                                                                       Posted 30th August 2013

Scotland - Argentina, 1978 continued

Travelling hopefully from Scotland to Argentina isn't half as good as arriving. Those of us who have made the journey overland, the Panzer division of Ally's Tartan Army, have found ourselves disarmed and captured instantly by the irresistible generosity of the Argentine people. Advice, lifts, telephone numbers, meals and lodgings are thrown at us like confetti at a wedding. Round every corner, you bump into Santa Claus. Everybody who decided to play the long odds of trying to make it on the cheap to Córdoba finds that he has won the pools.

Some of the permutations used have been pretty bizarre. They include an interesting system devised by two original thinkers from Tarbert, Ewan Robertson and Jim Blair. Setting out last November, they came to Córdoba via Scandinavia, New York and Miami. They cycled from Bogota almost to Lima, ruining three wheels on the way.

Not all the punters are Scottish. The recipients of the Argentine blank cheque include an Englishman and an Irishman from Vancouver, two Geordies from Australia, and an 18-year-old from Birmingham. And not all the punters are men. Annie Johnston is here with her husband, Brian, whom she married in Kirkwall on 21 April. The omens for their marriage are propitious. It seems a sensible arrangement to bring your wife on the honeymoon.

As varied as the journeys are the people who have made them. Jim Fisher from Cardonald in Glasgow, a teacher of handicapped children who was side-tracked from looking for work in America, is mature and thoughtful and gives the impression that he got his last surprise when the midwife slapped him. He has found the whole trip comparatively easy. But then he seems a fair representative of that particular type of Scotsman who might raise one eyebrow at an earthquake, presumably keeping the other one for when God introduces himself.

The Heinz factor that unifies all these varieties is simply what happens when you arrive. You are swamped with hospitality. No matter where you come from or how you got here. If you are supporting Scotland, you are in. Here a tartan bunnet is better than a Barclay card.

The ultimate expression of this occurred when the Scottish team arrived. A bus-load of supporters were allowed to join the cavalcade into Alta Gracia, 30 kilometres from Córdoba and where the Scottish team are quartered in the Sierras Hotel. Thousands of people lined the streets, cheering and reaching up to the windows of our bus to shake hands and ask for autographs. Bemused supporters scribbled their names on bits of paper and found them received like precious gifts. For well over an hour, everybody was a star. The equality of players and supporters extended into the hotel. While Ally MacLeod read out room numbers, people with tartan tammies and lion rampants round their shoulders listened as if waiting for their own names to be called.

Later, when we spilled out into the streets, the dream sequence went on unbroken. In a bar a crowd of people crushed round our table, the back rows standing on chairs to watch the miraculous way in which Scotsmen raise glasses of beer to their lips. Names were asked, addresses given, gifts presented.

Dave Ednie, tall and handsome in Highland regalia, with the kind of blue eyes that look as if they could stand in for laser beams, was more besieged than most. He expressed it for everybody.

`A fitter fae Edinburgh. You spend all year up to your armpits in grease ­and then this,' he said.

Back in Córdoba, we have continued up to our armpits in friendliness. The Scottish contingent has its headquarters at 136 Deán Funes, a restaurant near Plaza San Martin where cut-price meals and bottles of beer are dispensed. A man called Miguel E. Skrzpek, who makes an anthill look lethargic, arranges special concessions for Scotsmen.

More are arriving every day. They will discover that in the fans' World Cup, the Scots appear to be well in the lead. The only niggling worry is that some of our fans may possess, like some of our teams in the past, that Scottish talent for snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Already a couple of abuses of hospitality have occurred, the sort of thing that in Glasgow would have qualified the perpetrators for minor plastic surgery.

If such instances remain as trivial and isolated as they have done, then the World Cup will have proven itself to be truly a way to bring people happily together. If not, then it is impossible to avoid the thought that people as capable of such spontaneous warmth and overwhelming affection as the Argentines might also command other kinds of spontaneity.

(To read the next post in this series click here.)


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