Scotland have the chance to qualify for a first major tournament in 22 years when they travel to Serbia for a Euro 2020 playoff final on Thursday.
Not since the World Cup in 1998 when the Tartan Army descended on France have Scottish fans had the chance to see their nation on the biggest stage.
“I’ve never experienced Scotland qualifying for a tournament so every single campaign that comes around I dream of that feeling when it’s finally clinched,” said Laura Brannan a self-confessed “proud but tortured” member of the Tartan Army. “It would mean everything to get over the line and be invited to the party for once.”
A huge hurdle remains in Belgrade against a Serbia side ranked 15 places above Scotland in the FIFA rankings and boasting a side containing the likes of Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Ajax’s Dusan Tadic.
However, an eight-game unbeaten run over the past year has restored hope among Scotland fans that a talented squad, filled with proven Premier League performers such as Liverpool’s Andy Robertson, Arsenal defender Kieran Tierney and Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn, can end the long wait.
“That dream is always there when you start out a campaign, you think this is going to be the one,” said Scotland manager Steve Clarke.
Clarke’s often dour demeanour in public belies a spirit of belief he has harnessed since taking charge after the wreckage of a 3-0 defeat in Kazakhstan in March 2019.
“Maybe before we were looking after ourselves,” said Ryan Fraser, who will miss Thursday’s clash through injury, after scoring the winner against the Czech Republic in the Nations League last month.
“Now we’ve got that morale and togetherness that if someone makes a mistake you bail them out because they will bail you out next time.
“There’s no cliques or little groups. Everyone is smiling again and everyone wants to come away and play for Scotland.”
‘Just our luck’
There have been brief moments to saviour amid Scotland’s largely torturous two decades of failure.
Famous victories home and away against France were still not enough to reach Euro 2008 with world champions Italy also in a devilishly difficult group.
England and the Netherlands were also beaten in playoffs for Euro 2000 and 2004 but Scotland were defeated over two legs.
Yet embarrassing defeats were more common. Twice in Tbilisi to Georgia, in Macedonia and the debacle of Kazakhstan, plus draws in Moldova and the Faroe Islands.
Of UEFA’s 55 nations, only 19 have failed to reach a major tournament since Scotland last did.
“There is a whole generation who have just never experienced a major tournament and what it’s like,” said Anthony Joseph, Sky Sports journalist and member of the Portlethen Tartan Army.
The carrot for qualification is even greater as Scotland would host two of their three group games at Hampden should they reach Euro 2020 and the tournament proceed as planned in 12 countries across the continent.
Yet, there is also regret that for one of the biggest matches in decades, no travelling fans will be able to go to Belgrade, while at home fans cannot even gather to watch in pubs and homes due to coronavirus restrictions.
“We can’t share this experience with our friends and family, in the pubs and in the street, celebrating the way a 22-year-end merits,” added Brannan.
There is even doubt over whether supporters will be allowed to attend in their usual numbers come the finals in June and July.
“It would just be our luck that we qualify and two of our games are at Hampden and we cannot go,” said Joseph.
“It’s going to be a real shame if fans can’t go because the Tartan Army would bring so much to a major tournament. It would mean the world.”