Alex Massie

The Tyranny of Hope

The Tyranny of Hope
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Two questions: oh god, will it never end? And, how can winning be more fraught with terror than losing?

I write, as you will have guessed, of Scottish football. Today's remarkable, nay logic-defying, triumph in Paris - our first on French soil in, oh, 57 years - was unbearable stuff. I can cope with despair; it's hope I can't stand.

Here's the thing then. With three games left in our murderous Euro 2008 qualifying group, Scotland are - astonishingly - top of the table, ahead of France and Italy (last year's World Cup finalists) and Ukraine (who reached the last eight in Germany). This is not the way the world is supposed to work. Find me the man who predicted the Scots would defeat the French home and away and I'll show you the papers committing him to an asylum. Since 1994, France have played 47 World Cup and European Championship qualifiers: they have been beaten three times. Twice by Scotland. Incroyable ain't the half of it. The best  victory of my life, I think.

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So now it just gets worse. People are going to start expecting good things from this plucky, but limited, side. As any student of Scottish football history knows, that's making an appointment Disaster always keeps. At some point it's all going to go horribly, fatally wrong. It's enough to persuade you it'd be best to get the embarrassment out the way early. That way we could watch the games with a spirit of benign disinterest, confident that win, lose or draw the sun would still rise tomorrow. Hope's a bitch, you know.

But no, they've decided to toy with us instead. Right now we live in a world which makes no sense at all. Today's match was unendurable. It required real determination just to keep watching after James McFadden's hysterically implausible, yet inspired, goal had given us a quasi-larcenous lead. Even when French attacks were being repulsed with some ease, you felt convinced to the core that doom lay around the corner. Those minutes seemed stretched to three times their normal length. It was grim, bloody stuff I can tell you. And they call this fun?

Aye, it was almost (but not quite) enough to have one pining for the hapless, shameful days of Berti Vogts. Almost, but not quite. Onwards then, to home tussles with the Italians and Ukraine, plus a trip to Georgia that has catastrophe written all over it. The hope still lives, the dream cannot - or will not - die. Jesus, who knew success could shred your nerves this much? Gloomy defeat is so much easier to swallow.

Right now, however, victory feels pretty damn sweet. It's a strange, unfamiliar sensation. What would it be like to feel this way more often? Not Scottish, that's for sure.

God, grant me relief from this. Just not yet.Mcfadden

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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