Foos yer doo's? Aye peckin!

  • 2000-09-07
  • Jorgen Johansson
How are you? I'm fine!

Latvia's capital Riga was yet again invaded by a foreign army, except this army didn't arrive with any other intention but enjoying themselves and watching some football.

This year's first World Cup qualifying game for Latvia was played Sept. 2 against Scotland on Latvian soil. About 2,000 Scottish supporters, a small part of the Tartan Army, turned up a few days before the match to have a good time.

Riga's Old Town was full of cheers, bagpipes and singing. Most restaurants, bars and nightclubs were filled to the brim with men in skirts, or kilts, like the Scots want them to be called.

"We're here to enjoy ourselves and pay our respect to the local customs," Scottish supporter, Sandy Morrison, said.

Then he turned to a waitress and expressed his love for her in broken Latvian.

Another Scottish supporter, with the Scottish flag painted on his face, said that he really enjoyed it in Latvia.

"We've been photographed 23 times today only," Reggie Boy said. "People have walked up to us, handed us their babies and taken pictures of us."

Other Scottish supporters were more keen on talking about their costumes and traditions.

"The kilts are basically trademarks of different clans or tribes. This is a really old system. Today it's been very commercialized and almost every football team have their own colors," Scotsman Andy Deagal said.

However, there's more to the Scots than kilts. Most supporters also wore the sporran, which is a traditional pouch, usually made of fur, to be worn in front of the kilt hanging from a belt.

Malcolm Macgregor, Scottish supporter, said that the skendhus, a special kind of knife stuck in the right-hand sock, were left at home.

"They are worn on, for instance, funerals and other big occasions, but not on football games," Macgregor said.

In the streets around Old Town in Riga it was very difficult not to notice the Scottish football fans. They crowded almost every bar, restaurant and nightclub. The local beers were flowing.

Derek Skea said he only missed having a proper haggis in Latvia. Haggis is like a pudding made of the heart, liver and other entrails of a sheep or a cow, minced with suet and oatmeal, seasoned and then boiled in the stomach of the animal.

"It tastes like nothing else," Skea said. "I don't know what to compare it to, really."

In the late 1980s, Scottish fans were infamous hooligans, and one Canadian Scotsman said hooliganism was practically invented in Scotland.

"Then Scottish fans made a complete turn and started behaving instead," he said. "The situation is much worse in England and Germany today."

In 1992 Scottish fans were called the best supporters, and they were given permission to wear a band around their arms saying so.

Many Scottish supporters found it hard to believe what happened in Lithuania not long ago. Last time the Scottish national team went to Lithuania there were no problems.

Several Scottish supporters told of a Lithuanian young man, wearing a Union Jack T-shirt, who was walking around trying to get people to fight with him.

"Well, the police came and picked him up after a little while, and that was it," one Scottish supporter said. "I haven't heard anything about any trouble with Scottish supporters in Lithuania, and I had a lot of my friends there."

The day of the game, Sept. 2, turned out to be a beautiful day for football. There was a clear tension among the Latvian and Scottish fans in Old Town.

Imants Kalnins, Latvian supporter, said he didn't think Latvia would win against Scotland, and that Latvia will have a hard time getting into the World Cup.

"Latvia has too few really good players to make a difference," Kalnins said. "Of course, I hope Latvia will win."

Kalnins said that, if he has time, he will go and see all Latvian games played on home ground, but the away games he can't afford.

"If we make it to Japan, I will watch the games on my TV," Kalnins said. "It will be good because then I can drink Latvian beer with my friends."

Boy thought it would be a tough game to win, and he said he wouldn't mind a draw in the first game.

"We'll take them when they come to Scotland anyway," Boy said.

Latvian fans were shouting their standard cheers: 'Get it together, Latvia' and 'ole… …victory Latvia.'

Scottish fans were singing a song from the musical "Sound of Music" and seemed a bit worn out from previous nights. Still, the Latvian cheers drowned rapidly.

Kalnins said he didn't mind the Scottish fans singing, and that he had taught Scottish fans the Latvian cheers.

"They wanted to know what the words meant so I told them," Kalnins said.

Very few were informed that one game had already been played between Latvia and Scotland the day before. Latvia's team U21, under 21 years of age, lost to Scotland's U21 team by 3 - 1.

Boy said that all the floodlights went out at one point, and the game stopped for 20 minutes.

"Then they all got on but after a little while two of them died again, and one side of the field was in the darkness," Boy said.

On the big night, however, there were no technical incidents in Skonto Stadium. The Scottish supporters had all been seated in one section of the arena, and dozens of police officers were watching them.

One police officer said he did not know why there were more police officers watching the Scottish crowd, compared to the amount of officers making sure the Latvians kept their cool.

"I am here to prevent trouble," the police officer said.

Latvia fans imitated their continental counterparts and threw toilet rolls on the field, and in the second half of the game, toward the end, a smoke grenade went off behind the Latvian goalkeeper. There were virtually no police officers on the scene. They were too busy making sure the Scottish fans remained calm.

Denis Moschenko, Latvian football supporter, said after the game that the Latvian team played better, and that they deserved to win.

"Still, if Latvia makes it to Japan, I will go," Moschenko said.

The game itself had very little to offer. Both teams had few chances and blew them. The Latvians were playing very offensively in the first half and rounded up a few chances which should have been goals, except fate had different plans in mind.

Apart from Scotland, Latvia will have to play, and preferably beat, Belgium, Croatia and San Marino to reach the World Cup 2002 to be hosted by Japan and South Korea.

The second half was more even. Scottish strikers played a much more aggressive game in the front, and their defenders made sure Latvian strikers had little to gain from holding on to the ball for too long. With less than two minutes left to play of ordinary match time, a marking mistake in the Latvian defense paved the way for Scottish strikers to score the only goal of the game, winning it one to nil.