Do you feel an unfamiliar sensation sweeping over you, Scotland fans?
It’s a little bit like ‘nervous’, but definitely has overtones of ‘trepidation’ floating in the upper reaches of the emotional bouquet.
Swirl the sensation around your palette, and you’ll uncover hints of an unusual inverted angst and somewhere, lurking in the sedimentary bass notes of the flavour, an inkling of what it’s like to consider future possibilities, yet curiously shorn of the tension and nausea supporters of Scotland would normally associate with that activity.
I have commissioned a crack group of scientists to poke and prod at this entirely new phenomenon. An impressively large computer whirred for some hours then produced its report, and I can exclusively reveal that what you’re feeling is a recently discovered mental state called ‘optimism’.
Please, do not be alarmed.
Perhaps you first began to experience alien emotion following Celtic’s stirringly robust and direct display on the synthetic fibres of the Luzhniki pitch, as they earned a deserved victory against Spartak Moscow on Tuesday evening.
This was the first time that Celtic had tasted victory in the main stages of Europe’s top tournament since it morphed into the eternally flowing cash-geyser of the Champions League without the sound of a Parkhead crowd ringing the ears and rattling the fillings of the less dentally-attentive players.
That this victory came against a very decent team – and at a venue that travel-distance, weather conditions and absent turf have conspired to make a difficult arena to get a result ever since Napoleon’s ill-fated away fixture of 1812 – made Celtic’s excellent win all the sweeter.
More likely though, Celtic’s revelation that Scottish teams are actually capable of playing a respectable game of football once in a while was simply the icing on the optimistic cake that Chef Pâtissier Levein baked at his press conference earlier that day, when he announced Scotland’s imminent Dual-Fletcher Deployment.
Given that Craig Levein’s previous intransigence on the Stephen Fletcher issue suggested that he was as likely to hand the former Hibs striker a cap as he was fill his trousers with custard and insist on being called Craigy Squishy-Breeks in all SFA correspondence from that moment on, Tuesday’s squad announcement certainly had the Tartan Army shifting several mental gears in one clutch-shredding movement.
I’ve argued in these pages before that, with the players at Scotland’s disposal, we might be best suited long-term to working on making a striker-less system part of our footballing identity, and I still stand by that, even if it is a rather lonely position to take.
However, if you’re looking for a short-term boost to the Scottish journey to Brazil 2014, then having our crack squadron of wide midfielders rain crosses onto the pointy head of the English Premier League’s second top scorer isn’t a bad tube of nitrous oxide to have strapped to the engine.
Although the unexpected nature of his restoration to the squad, coupled with the glaring lack of goals in recent Scotland outings have made Stephen Fletcher’s comeback the headline grabber, it is Darren Fletcher’s return that should be causing the warmest and fuzziest sensations in Tartan Army breasts.
To have any sort of capable central midfielder in the international fold – after two matches where our central midfield consisted of Gary Caldwell working as hard as humanly possible to achieve basic competence, coupled with the last gasps of Charlie Adam’s fifteen minutes of fame – is an occasion that should be marked by a new national holiday. I know I’d celebrate National Calm Distribution, Astute Positioning and Energetic Running Day with far more zeal than Burns’ Night ever got out of my un-poetic bones.
The fact that Darren Fletcher is regarded as the potential saviour of Manchester United’s midfield should tell you all you need to know about the revolutionary effect he could have at the heart of the Scotland team. And we haven’t even mentioned the fact that Scott Brown will be back from injury to help Fletcher with the harrying and driving too. So here goes: Scott Brown will be back from injury to help Fletcher with the harrying and driving too.
Generally speaking, Scotland fans haven’t had a great track record with optimism. Ever since Ally MacLeod set out for the 1978 World Cup promising to return with enough trophies for everyone, only to collect a humiliating defeat, an embarrassing draw and patented rousing but ultimately meaningless victory against a vastly superior opponent instead, no Scotsman has ever looked forward to any event. It’s just easier this way.
Optimism simply invites pain. Hope is the fertile ground where disappointment flourishes. Confidence is the first step towards failure.
And yet... just close your eyes and imagine... Darren Fletcher wins the ball and charges forward, he plays the ball to the wing... the cross arcs beautifully to the penalty box... Stephen Fletcher slips his marker... GOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLL...
And Scotland finish third on goal-difference.
After all, if we’re going to revive optimism, we might as well bring back all the old favourites.
Nicol Hay is a writer, film maker and football blogger. You can follow him on Twitter @nicolhay.