The voice is recovering, the head clearing, the cat is back from under the bed. And we’re left confronting the damned obvious, but often overlooked. A final league table never lies.
The relegated team always remembers the dreadful goal conceded in the last game that condemned them to lower-league football – the one where the midfield gave it away, the opposition forward ran unchallenged, and smacked it in the net off the backside of the goalie.
They’ll bemoan the bad luck, try to tell themselves they were unlucky and just too good to go down, and forget the wet Wednesday night back in February when the team just couldn’t be bothered to turn up, and relegation seemed a remote possibility. After all, they were too good to go down then too.
All this I know from following Swindon Town. But Scotland weren’t, of course, getting relegated. Indeed, at least by previous measures they massively over-performed. But the real damage was done during the disastrous Berti Vogts era, when Scotland’s world ranking fell so low our seeding vanished, and – even after he’d gone – as a consequence we were lumped in a European Qualifying group with both World Cup finalists.
That we could compete in that group was a remarkable turnaround. That we arrived for our last game still with hope even more so. But, even then, that unlikely ticket to Austria and Switzerland wasn’t really lost yesterday at Hampden.
My old mucker Shaun Milne hits the nail squarely on the head when he writes:
“No, it was thrown away against Georgia on October 17 when a lackluster performance away from home resulted in a 2-0 defeat. Our worst performance of the campaign.”
There you are; this morning’s nagging disappointment – it’ll be around a while, and dug up again next summer – had its seeds sown between 2002 and 2004, during Berti’s disastrous reign, and was reaped in dreich Tbilisi.
The moral of the story? Every moment counts, and for longer than you might expect.