The European Championship – our continent’s greatest football tournament is back. Wall charts are being pinned with pride. Fantasy teams are being picked. Tiny slithers of paper are being drawn in the office sweepstake. Did you get Albania? That doesn’t matter because supermarket beer is the cheapest it will be for another two years.
Sadly, with another dreadful qualifying campaign in the can for Scotland, you’ll forgive me if my priority this summer when it comes to football is avoiding that Paddy Power advert with Michelle McManus in it.
Yes, we’re all scratching our heads north of the border about how we didn’t qualify for the tournament it was almost impossible to not qualify for.
We’re good at this though, we’re used to it. We can draw interest from the tiniest morsel at these tournaments. This is how we cope.
With that in mind here’s my guide to EURO 2016, ready to be consumed with a wee dram and a nod to glories past.
With a population half the size of Scotland and sitting just one place ahead of us in the world rankings, expect lots of fuming Twitter rants about the state of Scottish football when people realise that Albania are actually at this thing and Jim in accounts didn’t just get the office sweepstake wrong.
That said Group A gives us a great chance to relive ghosts of Scottish football past. When France are beating Romania 3-0, expect to see lots of GIFs from desperate supporters of James McFadden’s goal in Paris. We beat France twice, remember that? That’s what Group A is all about for us. We’re coming down the road and all that.
I’m not going to lie here. Outside of an Andy Murray win at Wimbledon, Group B offers Scotland its best chance at sporting glory this summer. You don’t have to be Nicola Sturgeon to want to see England get absolutely thumped by Slovakia. You better believe I’ve already put together a folder of the best Vladimir Putin photos of all time for the Russia game.
It’s nothing personal, we just can’t stand Alan Shearer and nobody liked Gary Lineker either before Claudio Ranieri went to Leicester. There’s also always the lingering fear that England’s young team is actually quite good and might actually go on and win the whole thing.
If you’re English and reading this, hopefully you still see us as pals on the other side win, lose or draw because yes, we will still be obsessed with the English Premier League next season.
This group gives us Scots the answer to an eternal question – what happens when a Scottish Premiership select plays the world champions?
I jest but the Northern Ireland squad really is a who’s who of past and present in Scotland’s top flight. Niall McGinn, Lee Hodson, Josh Magennis, Alan Mannus; all players we’ve seen on freezing nights in January.
To say we are jealous is a massive understatement, so you know we are going to undermine them at every opportunity.
There’s no real stand out in this group for us, apart from Spain.
We all know that one guy who lisps his Spanish words and supports Barcelona or Real Madrid. There’ll be plenty of bandwagon jumpers here too because Spain play football like your Red Bull fuelled wee cousin plays FIFA.
Even though there’s nothing to hang your hat on here, this is EURO 2016 so phone in sick to work with pride knowing that there’s a game on at 2 o’clock on a Monday.
If you’re Scottish and planning on drowning your sorrows because we’re rubbish then this is the group to do it in.
Ireland pipped us to third place in qualifying and it’s them who are living the dream at our expense this summer.
It’ll be about this deep into proceedings, under the influence of a few tins of Tennent’s, that Scottish people realise that referee Willie Collum is our sole representative at the tournament. When that happens expect to see a flood of bets on red cards and penalties in the games he is officiating. That’s not even a joke – get a bank loan or something. Seriously.
Outside of preparing for the deluge of one billion Archduke Franz Ferdinand jokes during the Austria – Hungary match up then Group F is all about seeing how Cristiano Ronaldo is tuning up to knock out England in the next stage, nothing else.
That’s how seriously we take the matter.
There you have it then. My Scottish guide to EURO 2016. If you think I sound bitter and jealous, it’s only because I am. When we finally make it back to one of these tournaments then perhaps I can take a more reasoned approach to matters.
While I might be looking through the window a little glumly, the tournament will be no less exciting. It’s going to be a rollercoaster from start to finish for us all and I can’t wait for the action to start.
Whether your country has a stake in proceedings or not, enjoy yourselves!