FOOOOOOOOOOOTBAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLL! (EU edition)
One of the things we wanted to experience during our month-long stay in Scotland was a rugby or football match. We are big sports fans and enjoy experiencing another culture’s top sporting event.
When we did some research and asked around, everyone warned us about going to see a local football match as the fans have such intense pride for their team that they often brawl with the other team's fans. "Absolutely do not wear either team's colors" we were told. This seemed to match up with the signs we'd seen in pub windows saying "No football colours allowed." What on Earth? It's just a sport (don’t hate us for saying that)!
We heeded the advice of locals and opted to go see Scotland's national team face off against San Marino during the last week of our Scotland stay. "Surely if the majority of fans are pulling for the same team there should be less likelihood of any shenanigans between fans" we thought to ourselves. Also, if you randomly saw Eddie in Scotland, you would immediately think he was a local (the red beard helps) and would have no problems at a Scottish national match.
The match would be played at Hampden Park, which is located on the south side of the River Clyde and is Scotland's national stadium. After finding out it was a mere 24-minute train ride from our Glasgow flat, we bought tickets online. Hampden Park first opened in 1903 and has gone through a lot of changes over the decades. It’s current capacity is 51,866 people which is much smaller than the 90,000 Wembley Stadium holds but still significant.
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Game day arrived and the forecast called for….you guessed it…RAIN! Welcome to Scotland in the fall, folks (or Scotland at any point in the year honestly). We wouldn’t be deterred though! Megan in particular was determined to see some football.
Game time wasn’t until 5 PM but our tickets were to be picked up at will call as early as 12:00 PM. Not wanting to be late nor wait in a long line, we chose to take the train several hours early and scope out somewhere for lunch and a pint before kickoff.
We were pleasantly surprised that round trip train tickets set us back only $5.50 USD. If we were going to an American football game in our home city, parking alone would cost us $20 USD minimum and a lot more hassle than this simple train ride we could take in Glasgow.
Arriving at Glasgow Central Station, we noticed there was a train for our route leaving in 5 minutes so we hopped aboard and found seats. Four stops and about 15 minutes later we arrived at our stop. Upon “alighting” from the train (fancy Scottish speak for disembarking) we noticed there was a sign about an alcohol ban being in place from 14:00 on game day. “Less chance of a brawl, I suppose?” we shrugged and continued toward the stadium.
It was clear that everyone who got off the train at our stop was headed to the same place. Fans were dressed in all kinds of attire…from full tartan getups to national team jerseys. There were also plenty of scarves (very common for European football fans). We never knew scarves were match specific with the teams and date of play on the scarf itself. No wonder people collect them! See? We’re learning more about the Scottish culture!
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Within minutes we had located the ticket office and with a non-existent line and quickly collected our two tickets. By this point it was just before 2:00 PM so we had a lot of time to fill before kickoff.
Some online research suggested Montford House might be good local spot for lunch and a pint. We walked around to the opposite side of the stadium and easily found the pub.
As we entered the pub, we noticed the place had a few other customers but was by no means full so it seemed we’d made a good choice. There were plenty of people with beers but no one had food or even empty plates in front of them. We walked up to the bar and asked the bartender if they were serving food. “No, I’m sorry. No food today. We’re too busy.” As Americans, we couldn’t imagine a business not capitalizing on a captive audience! Although it’s true serving food fore kickoff would put a lot of stress on the kitchen, so perhaps the Scots have it figured out. We asked her to recommend another place nearby for food but she was skeptical an other restaurants would be serving food either. Damn.
We hadn’t had lunch and neither of us would last until game time so we opted for the only other food option we had come across…..food trucks. These were more of the carnival variety than foodie sensations. We ordered two burgers and an order of chips (french fries to our American friends) to share and were simply grateful to find anything to eat.
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Near the stadium we passed several police officers on horseback who were very clearly there to keep the crowd in check. No one was rowdy (at least not by this point) and we never felt unsafe at any point. It was just a bit odd to have such an obvious presence of horseback police.
With semi-full bellies, we returned to Montford House for a pint (because of course). Large TVs were showing matches between the other team’s in Scotland’s group for this particular tournament so their outcome would affect whether Scotland would continue on. The place was much busier this time around but we were lucky enough to find a tall table we could stand around. Two pints later we were headed to the stadium.
We knew that the stadium had been renovated several times in it’s 100+ year history so we didn’t really know what to expect. Would it feel similar to stadiums in the US? Surely something so old by comparison would have more character.
A closer inspection of our tickets told us to head to “turnstile 30-39” whatever that meant. It sounded similar to a gate number. We followed the signs to the proper entrance, showed our tickets, and proceeded with the smallest turnstiles we’ve ever seen! If a fan happened to be taller than average, larger than average, or not of the right “proportions” they would not fit through!
We found our seats which were conveniently located very close to concessions and restrooms. Both teams completed their warm ups followed by the playing of the two national anthems. It was a really fun experience to be at Scotland’s national football stadium with almost the entire crowd belting out the national anthem with a huge amount of pride!
A quick survey of the crowd after the anthem and we noticed several older men wearing pins that reminded us of American Legion pins in the US. We never got a closer look to confirm, but we suspect they were actually football team pins. There were also lots of people wearing kilts. And it was not warm by any means so you’ve gotta really feel passionate about your team to willingly freeze your butt off like that!
The concession stands were selling items much the same as we see in the states. Candy, soda, beer, etc. The one really unique item we saw was Bovril. Some quick googling and we found out it’s a type of beef broth and is “made from boiled cow carcasses with added flavouring.” Yummmmmmm. Just kidding. Neither of us was bold enough to try it but in hindsight we definitely should have.
The match got somewhat sloppy after half-time as the rain was starting to come down a lot harder. Several missed tackles, water spraying when a player put on the breaks, sometimes the ball even stopped rolling in a puddle! We’re pretty sure the players weren’t enjoying that type of football but as a member of the crowd we have to admit it was pretty entertaining. We both spent our fair share of days on a soggy sports fields.
Scotland’s team won the match handily with a 6-0 final score. They finished 4th out of 6 teams in their group (consisting of Russia, Belgium, Cyprus, San Marino, and Kazakhstan). A team had to finish in the top 2 in group play to qualify for Euro 2020. Luckily for Scotland, their team was already guaranteed a play-off place in March 2020.
The rain continued to fall as the crowd excited the stadium. Our plan was to head back to the same train station we had arrived at hours earlier. Nope. The horseback police were now solely in charge of funneling the crowd a specific way, which meant we couldn’t follow the same route.
Once we got our bearings again and realized where they were directing people, we noticed a GIANT line forming in what seemed to be the direction of the train station we’d been headed for. Um…..no. “Let’s walk to the next station? I don’t think it was very far back.” Take THAT massive crowd! We’ve outsmarted you!
We puddle-stomped our way through the rain and the dark and the cold to finally find the next closest train station. There were a few people already waiting but no crowd by any means. Winning! Getting cover from the rain would have been nice, but by this point we were so soaked it didn’t matter.
About 30 minutes passed before the next train arrived and we squeezed in just barely, as it had filled up almost to capacity at the prior station. After a short ride, we were back at Glasgow Central Station and started the short walk back to our flat.
Whew! What an evening! Changing out of our soggy clothes into warm, dry pajamas felt soooooo good. We made some tea to warm ourselves up and laughed about the day we’d had.
We were really glad to have been able to fit in a football match during our stay in Scotland. The jury is still out on whether local team matches are as contentious and heated as people warned us, but going to a national team match appeased us (for now at least!).
Eddie + Megan
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