“Right, we’re closing - you need to drink up.”
We’ve all heard that enough in our lives to know what it means. You’ve got about five minutes, 10 minutes - max. Sup a bit, neck a lot. Plastics if need be for the dregs, but there are usually more than dregs left. You ordered extra because you knew this time was coming. The time when the party wasn’t done, but it wasn’t going to be here anymore.
This was different though. This is 10pm in Glasgow. Moreover - 10pm in Glasgow when Scotland have not just held England, but held them in a major tournament. Not just that either - held them when, perhaps, they could have taken more. That more now being Tuesday in this same city against Croatia when there is a chance to take more than Scotland could have dreamed. Knock-out stages? Drink up.
Covid-19 has no European Championship clause. No “first international competition in 23 years” exemption. And after more than a year of trying to find social loopholes, there is an understanding that just having this moment right now will have to be enough. A boogie woogie that did not need to be all night long, at least not tonight.
It was at the end of May when Glasgow’s restaurant and pub operators sighed after confirmation the 10pm curfew was to be indefinitely continued as part of the Level 3 Covid-19 restrictions. But Scotland is a country that cracks on, and turning up on Friday morning was to know the country’s largest city cracks on most.
The domestic terminal at Glasgow Airport, accommodating departures and arrivals from the same gate, was cluttered with empty bottles and Tennents pint glasses still bearing the fingerprints of those who gripped them tight and tilted them for a last swig of home before rushing to London.
Most of those who remained seemed to be queuing up for the boozers as early as 12pm. The general rule across the central establishments was a walk-in policy. “We’ve got a plan,” said Sam (not her real name), queuing up outside a pub on George Street. She’d done her shopping and would be stopping for lunch, before passing on the table to a family friend who would handover a couple of hours later. A baton passing right the way through to the 8pm kick-off for a table of six.
Who knows how successful they were. The smart money suggests not very. Police presence in Glasgow in the hours before kick-off at Wembley Stadium were more for compliance rather than violence. Beyond the heavily governed UEFA fan park on Glasgow Green, pubs and bars ensured they adhered as strictly as possible when eyes on them would be most fierce.
It was at the Drygate Brewery where this reporter was able to take in England-Scotland after hot-footing it from Hampden Park at the conclusion of the 1-1 draw in the other Group D fixture between Croatia and Czech Republic. Despite the size of the venue, capacity had been cut by 100 due to the difficulties to ensure football’s emotions could carry within the enforced restrictions.
“If Scotland score - or even if England do,” came the warning, “try not to jump around and celebrate with anyone you’re not with.” As one of three England fans in the joint, it was never a problem. The match certainly ensured there was nothing to cheer from an English perspective. A brief call to arms for Scotland in the second half at a nearby table was suppressed by a waitress who reminded the party of the issues around singing and air particle transmission. The message and subsequent confusion was all too familiar.
Upon the final whistle, walking out into the city felt disjointed. The streets were quiet beyond the odd cluster of fans near Glasgow’s many stations that send its revellers out to the rest of Scotland.
Argyle Street, which cuts through a block above the River Clyde, was vacant beyond those passing through or just passing out. To a man and woman, the ecstasy of a result to be cherished was coming to an all too brisk end. The comedown had started before the headiness had passed.
It was only as you got to the western edge of the Merchant City district that you heard it. The party that was still going on. A right up Queen Street towards the increasing volume and cars blaring stereos and horns took you to where good times were being had in George Square. Homeless patrons of Scottish football finding each other in lieu of anywhere else.
Celebration for what, you might ask? Scotland only have one point after two matches, and no goals scored. They remain bottom of Group D, and need to beat Croatia to make any of this effort worthwhile. But they are still alive with a game to go, and that’s as good as they could have hoped after that opening defeat.
Glasgow, and more broadly Scotland, finds itself in a conundrum for the next few days. An unenviable emotional wave carried by individuals without a clear idea of how to sustain it or where exactly to enjoy it. Or even if it will be forthcoming.
But they will no doubt be here, at George Square at least, come Tuesday evening In greater numbers, that is for sure. Even if there might not be anything at all to celebrate. When they spill out from Hampden Park, for better or worse, they will do so indefinitely.
This indefinite emotional vibing will represent a good thing in Scotland’s first international tournament since 1998. Each botched night this summer means a day that was worth celebrating. Even if that celebration feels too little.
“It is s*** now,” said one punter before the England match at the prospect of the 10pm cut-off. “And it will probably be s*** on Tuesday even if we get through.” And yet the impression was that “s***” is so much better than the 23 years of nothing at all.