This week Craig Borland dons his tartan scarf and See You Jimmy hat and looks forward to watching Scotland’s men’s football team compete in the European Championships...

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I’VE never written about football in my Advertiser column before – largely because I know it’s a classic ‘love it or hate it’ subject. So this column should probably start with an apology to those whose feet are firmly in the ‘hate it’ camp.

But it’s been 23 years since Scotland’s men reached the finals of a major tournament. And I don’t want to think about when I might get another chance to write about that. So, with only a day to go until Scotland face the Czech Republic at Hampden, I’m going to seize the chance while I can, thank you.

Elsewhere on this website, Ruth Wishart writes far more eloquently than me about her years following Scotland to major tournaments. But Ruth has me at a disadvantage, because – confession time – I’ve never actually seen our men’s national football team play in the flesh.

The deep psychological scars of Argentina ’78 happened before I was born. But I do vividly remember the humiliation of Costa Rica at Italia ’90 (we were let out of school early to watch that one on the telly, which makes me distinctly uneasy about the idea of giving kids time away from their books to watch Monday afternoon's game).

And I remember crying myself to sleep after the worst Brazil team in decades knocked us out two games later, too. And the fleeting moment of hope, and then the crushing despair, delivered by Gary McAllister, David Seaman and Paul Gascoigne in the course of two traumatic minutes at Wembley in 1996. And Berti Vogts and the Faroe Islands in 2002. And needing a last-gasp goal to beat the mighty Liechtenstein in 2010. And 4-6-0 in the Czech Republic a month later. And every other kick to the stomach of the Scottish football fan there’s been over the years.

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There are other things besides the action on the pitch that have made me wary of following Scotland too closely, though: the main one being that national football teams in general don’t always bring out the best in nations and their people.

Thankfully that has never really meant hooliganism in Scotland, unlike some other European nations. But the thing about supporting Scotland that doesn't sit entirely comfortably with me is the reputation of Tartan Army footsoldiers for enjoying a good time regardless of the result.

Now, I suspect that reputation is a wee bit unfair. A media cliche, even. Perhaps it was even something of a front, put on for the cameras to show that as the "supporters" - a word I deliberately place in inverted commas – of some other clubs and countries spent much of the 1980s and beyond on a violent rampage across Europe, we Scots were made of different, better, stuff.

I love my football, although its rapid transformation, at the top level at least, into just another branch of the showbusiness juggernaut means I probably love it slightly less than I used to. But if you’re going to invest so much time, money and effort into following a sports team – any team – then surely watching them lose should comprehensively ruin the rest of your day, no matter how spectacular the sights or how good the beer in the city you might be visiting to support that team.

Then there’s the thoroughly dispiriting sight of politicians and celebrities, having never shown the slightest interest in sport before, hitching themselves to the bandwagon of a successful team until defeat bursts the bubble and the next 15-minute wonder hoves into view.

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And yet there’s always hope. (Though I've heard it said that the phrase "it's not the despair, it's the hope I can't stand" was first coined by someone who had spent too many years and too much money following Scotland around the world.)

Now, I should probably say at this point that I am not signing up to the dream that we might upset all the odds and actually win the thing. I'd like to dream the dream, but I can't. Nor can I quite bring myself to predict that we'll make it beyond the group stage. I'm afraid my starting point, shaped by Costa Rica and all the other traumatic experiences I describe above, is this: expect the worst, then you won't be disappointed, and anything that happens that is better than that is a bonus. I wish my outlook was a bit more optimistic, but there you have it – at least I'm being honest.

No, the hope that I have is quite simple, and it's this: that Scotland’s players will do themselves credit, play to the very best of their ability, and give themselves, and the country that will be putting 23 years of pent-up enthusiasm into supporting them over the next couple of weeks, something to cheer.

So go on, lads. You’ve earned your place on the stage. Now it’s your time to make yourselves, and us, proud.

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