In May 1990 I gave up my job to travel around the world. But before I even started, I put on my kilt, strapped on my backpack, bought a Eurorail ticket and went to the World Cup.
I spent three weeks traveling about Italy, watching games, eating and drinking well, and meeting people from all over the world. I had an absolute ball.
When I got to Genoa for Scotland’s first game against Costa Rica the city was quieter than I imagined. But as I got closer to the city centre, the noise level gradually increased until I turned a corner into the main square and the singing hit me. Hundreds of Scots were in the fountain (and thousands more were in the bars round about it). I got right in there.
(See some great pics from Fraser Pettigrew here at his flickr account.)
The atmosphere was a bit more subdued after we lost 1-0 but we cheered up a few days later. Scotland played Sweden and fans from both countries got together in the main square before the game and marched to the ground, led by a few jokers playing pipes and drums. The atmosphere was unbelievable. Anyone who equates football with hooliganism would not have believed their eyes at the friendship between the two groups of fans. (And I’ve seen it many times since.)
We won 2-1 that day and although I had a late train to catch, I wanted to celebrate. (You don’t get many chances to celebrate Scotland winning in the World Cup.) I remember spending the night in the train station, a little bit drunk, but very happy). The boom box playing Rod Stewart’s Greatest Hits never let up all night.
I’ll never forget Scotland breaking our hearts again, losing a late goal on a cold and rainy night in Turin to go down 1-0 to Brazil and get knocked out. Once again, we were so close and yet so far.
I got about a bit between Scotland games. I was there in Naples when Rene Higuita lost the ball to Roger Milla and the Cameroonian pensioner danced with the corner flag. It was so hot the chap stick inside my sporran melted.
I spent an afternoon with The Scotsman hack Aidan Smith and we patiently explained to Napoli fans on a tram that Hibs put five past them when Dino Zoff was their goalie. I juggled oranges outside the Estadio Sao Paolo and made enough to buy pizza and wine.
I bumped into Brazil captain Branco as he went to lay a wreath at Superga, the hill where the Torino team perished in 1949 after their plane crashed into the hillside.
I saw Ireland beat Romania on penalties and played keepie uppie with Brazilians in the main square in Turin. I taught them a thing or two that day.
Most of all, I realised that if you don’t worry too much about the football, you can have a rare good time at the World Cup. It was a realisation that has served me well in the years since.