Scottish Daily Mail


Just 31,277 supporters were there to see Oli Burke’s late winner against Cyprus four years ago. ANDY ROBERTSON admits he can’t believe the change under boss Clarke


ONLY a few years ago, the prospect of a home qualifier against Cyprus would have been met with a collective shrug of the shoulders from the Tartan Army.

Had the game been taking place in their own back garden, not many supporters would have felt any great urge to open the curtains.

Such was the crippling sense of apathy that had set in around the national team, Hampden was half empty on a regular basis.

For games against minnows such as San Marino and Kazakhstan in 2019, Scotland struggled to get more than 20,000 punters through the door.

Andy Robertson won’t forget those dark days. He accepts that fans had simply fallen out of love with the national team.

In the words of the Scotland captain, the relationsh­ip between players and fans was ‘broken’.

It has since been healed by Steve Clarke. Perhaps the greatest success of his era has been the fact he has got the Tartan Army back onside.

If Hampden had become a morgue, it now has a beating heart once again thanks to the continued progress made under Clarke’s stewardshi­p.

A sold-out crowd of over 50,000 will hope to roar the home side to victory as the qualifiers for Euro 2024 get under way against the Cypriots this afternoon.

With Clarke having signed a new contract, Robertson (right) was asked to reflect on the journey since the manager’s first game, which, incidental­ly, was a 2-1 win over Cyprus in 2019.

Asked if he feared there was a time when fans had given up on Scotland, Robertson said: ‘Yeah, of course. I think the fans would be first to admit that.

‘Certainly around 2018, when we were lucky to be getting 20,000 at Hampden.

‘When Hampden was built, that wasn’t the aim because we know how faithful the Tartan Army are. It was down to us. The performanc­es weren’t good enough and we were to blame.

‘It certainly wasn’t the fans’ fault that we weren’t getting results or competing to even qualify for tournament­s. We weren’t giving them anything to be excited about.

‘I think we’ve changed that. I think the crowd numbers over the last campaign and this campaign will prove that.

‘It’s up to us to keep that going, it’s up to us to keep that feelgood factor going by winning games, being competitiv­e and trying to qualify for tournament­s.

‘We know that fans deserve to be at the tournament­s, we know they love going to these tournament­s.

‘We obviously had a feel for it during Covid and it was a wee bit different, and we have aims to go to this next Euros and we want the Tartan Army to be with us.’

Scotland’s transforma­tion in Clarke’s four years in charge has been huge, as evidenced by his first teamsheet for that game against Cyprus in 2019.

Eamonn Brophy started up front, with Oliver Burke coming off the bench to score a late winner.

Asked if he could pinpoint a specific moment or result when he felt like the atmosphere changed, Robertson replied: ‘To be honest, the gaffer’s first game was one of them.

‘We scored in the last minute (to win 2-1). The fans were already singing his name and things like that. That gives you belief.

‘I don’t know what the attendance was that night. But that gives you the belief that whoever was in there believes in the manager. From then, we have kicked on.’

Having taken the job in 2019, Clarke has now extended his contract until 2026. If he sees it out, he’ll be Scotland’s longestser­ving manager since Craig Brown.

Robertson sees value in continuity and stability. It’s something he’s had at club level with Liverpool under the guidance of Jurgen Klopp. Scotland will be looking to reach their second successive Euros, having narrowly missed out on the World Cup via a play-off defeat to Ukraine. ‘I think that he (Clarke) has brought stability,’ added Robertson. ‘He is engaged with the Scotland fans. ‘He’s set us up in a way that the players and the fans can have a relationsh­ip again. Before he came in, the

We weren’t competing. We weren’t giving them a reason to get excited

relationsh­ip was broken. I don’t think there were many people excited to come to Hampden. I played here with 10,000 or 12,000 fans for qualifying games.

‘But the next two games, and hopefully the whole campaign, will show you that (fans are excited again). Saturday we’re expecting a full house and the same against Spain on Tuesday.

‘As a player, that makes a huge difference. Playing in front of a full Scotland crowd, knowing the pubs up and down the country will be full with people excited to watch us again, it just shows the feelgood factor is back.

‘It’s up to us to repay that. It brings a bit more pressure, but it’s a pressure so far the players have fed off. It’s important we carry that on because the gaffer has done a great job and all the lads are now bouncing into camp.

‘I think you can see that with the consistenc­y. There’s not many call-offs and the squad is a lot more stable now.

‘That’s down to the manager and the coaches. We all want to come, we can’t wait to come and we’re proving that on the pitch.

‘The fact he’s staying is great news for the country. He believes he can take us even further and make more improvemen­ts still — and we believe that, too.’

Scotland will be strong favourites against a Cypriot team who are ranked 110 in the world, 68 places below the Scots.

They will be looking to win their opening game in a Euros qualifying campaign for the first time since 2006 — and Robertson admits a fast start is imperative.

In a group which includes Spain as well as Erling Haaland’s Norway, Robertson believes Scotland are in the toughest section of all.

‘I think the gaffer mentioned it as well (making a fast start),’ said the Liverpool left-back. ‘Historical­ly, we’ve not been great in the first games of a campaign. That sets the tone for it — and it’s so important we get off to a positive start in front of our own fans.

‘It’s important you get off to a good start in any qualifying campaign. Any campaign I’ve been involved in, there’s always been one frustratin­g result that has set us back.

‘I look back and I think of the game we drew with Lithuania here at Hampden.

‘We lost away to Georgia and we lost to Slovenia. In different campaigns there’s always been one result that’s been frustratin­g.

‘These are the games that can cost you in qualifying.’

Steve believes he can take us further — we believe that, too

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