NOW’S the day and now’s the hour. Well, not quite, as it all kicks off for Scotland at 2pm tomorrow but the sense of being involved in a major football finals has grown over the past few days and surely justifies a reference to Scots Wha Hae as well as Yes Sir I Can Boogie.

The Scotland players who walk out at Hampden tomorrow to play the Czech Republic Euro 2020 will simply proceed to kicking a ball but their exploits will have a political, economic and cultural impact on the nation.

The matter of emotion will, of course, supercede all of this during the 90 minutes and the matches against England and Croatia and, hopefully, ­beyond but the significance of Euro 2020 will extend beyond what happens on the playing field.

Scotland’s exile from the top table has stretched back in the men’s game to 1998. It means a generation and more of Scots have had to accept that the national game has been on the periphery of the world of football.

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The Tartan Army shrunk in size, if not fervour, with capacity crowds at ­Hampden a rarity. The demonstrations of a full-hearted, good-natured ­nationalism became a way to deal with ­disappointment rather than aspiration. It was a long, sustained replay of of the failure in ­Argentina in 1978 that had such a ­political impact on the devolution ­referendum a year later.

No more. Scotland are there. We are part of a larger community through choice and effort. An international ­tournament again offers the nation a chance to celebrate its footballers and the game it brought to the world.

The political ramifications could be highly significant and profound. The stumble over the Scotland team taking the knee in a gesture against racism has shown just how participation in a ­major impact tournament brings ­scrutiny, ­judgment and criticism on issues far ­removed from 3-5-2.

The economic impact, too, even in a time of Covid where attendances are ­restricted, is considerable. The Scottish Football Association, under whose flag the national team sails, has been slowly and dreadfully squeezed for cash over the years. Its workforce has been reduced, its efforts to grow the game impacted by its banishment from major tournaments.

It can now rub its hands at the ­prospect of a cut of large broadcasting revenues, anticipate a growth in ­merchandising revenue, particularly from replica shorts, and, most importantly, see a new ­customer base emerge in the shape of a generation of youngsters who have never watched Scotland’s men compete in a ­major tournament.

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The petition to allow children to watch tomorrow’s 2pm kick-off is sweet but it is important. Once advocating that ­children should watch Scotland live would have demanded the intervention of social workers. The anticipation of June 2021 is perhaps the sincerest tribute to the ­importance of the national team.

Sidelined by its own underachievement and the rising profile of club football, the national team has the stage to itself. The drama is seen to unfold. There is a backstory, though, it must be investigated to discover the importance of football to many in our country and most of the world.

IT is coming home. The cultural appropriation of Baddiel and Skinner and their jolly ditty should be vigorously resisted. The claim that England invented football holds as much accuracy as the assertion that the man who invented the wheel subsequently created the Ferrari Testarossa. The English game was codified in the late 19th century but it resembled mere daubs on the wall of a cave and needed the Impressionists Of Caledonia to bring passing, technique, strategy and colour to the sport.

The influence of the Scottish game was universally applied. England felt its force. Scottish players were shipped in as some sort of exotic contraband. The first ­Liverpool side, for example, was called “the team of the Macs”. Players in the then amateur game in Scotland were given lucrative employment in ­England in a trend that continues to this day when such as Kieran Tierney and Andy ­Robertson earn millions annually in the Premiership.

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But Scotland’s claim to football’s ­birthright is extensive. It springs up in small paragraphs as well as booming headlines. An announcement over a ­certain Thomas Donohue was drowned out by speculation over the precise composition of Steve Clarke’s side.

However, there is a statue of Thomas in Rio de Janeiro and there is soon to be one in Busby, East Renfrewshire. ­Thomas travelled from the latter to the former to introduce football to the Brazilians in 1894. They have done rather well since.

The Scottish football missionaries did not just make introductions between football and nations but they constantly modified the game. This applies, most pertinently, to our opponents tomorrow.

The Czech game found a hero in ­Johnny Madden. Born in Dumbarton in 1865, the Celtic forward became the Father of Czech football. In the 1920s and 1930s, he coached Slavia Prague to ­conspicuous success with innovative strategies and a heavy emphasis on ­conditioning and ­fitness. His fundamentals survived to energise the country’s teams down the years.

In 1962, Czechoslovakia, the ­inheritors of the Madden legacy, faced Brazil, the beneficiaries of Donohue’s gift, in the ­final of the World Cup. It is an ­obvious sign of the influence of Scots on the world’s most popular game. Yet ­Scotland has never achieved such heights as a ­national team.

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It has never progressed beyond the group stage of an international tournament and the 23-year exile from the top table is not unprecedented. From 1958 to 1974, Scotland did not trouble the organisers of the finals of major tournaments despite having talents that graced the best club sides in Europe.

Scotland’s triumphs in terms of international trophies won has been restricted to club sides such as Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen. Celtic, for example, a team comprised entirely of Scots, were one of the best teams in Europe in the late 1960s yet Scotland did not qualify for the World Cup in 1966 or 1970. Why?

THE seductive, exciting lure of Hampden tomorrow should not disguise the pain of paradises lost. Indeed, the satisfaction bordering on incontinent joy of reaching a finals is piqued by the years of missed opportunities.

Failure, as always, offers the best ­lessons. It even has some relevance to wider national matters. The drought of the 1960s was a result of ­incompetent ­administration, the reality of tough draws, and an increasing reluctance from some to regard international duty as a ­priority. Scotland was becalmed, even in a state of stagnation, as a national side.

There were occasional flurries – the victory over England, then World Cup holders, at Wembley in 1967 – but it was a case of the national cliche of ­snatching ­defeat from the jaws of victory. This was in ­contrast to the very same ­players ­winning trophies at club level. The ­national ­psyche thus jibbed with the ­personal psyche.

Ian St John was one of the pillars of the creation of Liverpool as one of the top teams in the world. He never played in the finals of an international competition. Denis Law won the Ballon d’Or as best footballer in the world. His finals ­experience was restricted to the World Cup in 1974 when his appearances in the dusk of a brilliant career could be ­described as some sort of honorary ­football Oscar for lifetime achievement.

Could we kick it? Yes, we could but just not as a nation.

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The 21st century has not been ­sprinkled with such talents. The underachievements since 1998 have their roots in the lack of genuine, world-class players, ­erratic management and a malaise that is induced by repeated failure. There was almost a ­systemic lack of faith in Scottish squads over the prospects of qualification.

Scotland came up short against teams such as Georgia, Faroe Islands, Kazakhstan and Lithuania.

Some players did not believe we would qualify. The fans, deep in their souls, feared the worst. The press increasingly found the national team an irritation. This has been blown away, in one energising gust, by qualification for Euro 2020.

Dramatics of the penalty shoot-out that paved the way to the finals disguise the reality that qualification was achieved by sneaking through the back door. But it also obscured another truth. David ­Marshall’s save remains in the memory. But Scotland’s largely assured and ­technically adept performance in ­Belgrade against a nominally superior side has been mostly forgotten.

There are reasons to believe in ­Scotland. Steve Clarke is simply one of the best coaches at the tournament. This may be viewed as a subjective judgment but he has been chosen by such as Jose Mourinho, Kenny Dalglish, Rudd Gullit, Gianfranco Zola and Glenn Hoddle as a partner in coaching teams.

The team, too, has players who have thrived at the top end of European ­football. Scott McTominay and Andy Robertson have played in European ­finals, the latter winning a Champions League. Kieron Tierney is a Champions League veteran as is Callum McGregor. Che Adams is a Premier League striker. Billy Gilmour is an extraordinary talent awaiting proper opportunity.

Yes, there are questions. Are we strong enough at centre back and right back? Can we score enough goals?

We will find out soon enough. But does it matter?

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THE importance of football to Scotland oscillates between two extremes. There is the Shankly dictum of it being more important than life or death. There is the haughty view that it is the focus of hooliganism and a tawdry pastime best left to the benighted proletariat. Editorial conferences in the late 20th century in quality newspapers would simply not mention the game. My obsession with it, as a chief sub-editor, was regarded with mild disdain or polite indulgence.

Yet Scotland, despite the regular misfortunes of the national side, has retained a love of the game. The nation regularly tops the charts of per capita attendance at football matches. Mainstream and ­modern media are both obsessed by it.

It is also taken as a measure of well-being. The Scottish cringe is never more raucously referenced as when Scotland are, say, drawing with a mountain top called San Marino.

It is used, erroneously, as shorthand for how good we are at sport. This is daft. Scotand has a population of just more than five million. It has an abundance of world class sports men and women. The women’s football team qualified when the men could not. Andy and Jamie ­Murray have won grand slams and been world number ones in their respective disciplines in tennis. Josh Taylor is one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the world. Scottish cyclists, from Chris Hoy to Katie Archibald, have an appetite ­bordering on gluttony for medals.

Our swimmers seek glory in Tokyo. Jemma Reekie and Laura Muir will seek to join them in glory on the athletics track. Our snooker players, from Stephen Hendry to John Higgins, are the best of all time. Our rugby players may provide the spine of the British Lions in South Africa this summer. Our cricket team, incredibly but wondrously, beat England.

Yet our test of sporting competency is largely taken by assessing the temperature of the national men’s football team. It is this anomaly that makes the events of tomorrow so exciting, so influential on the state of the nation.

We know that Scotland can stand tall on the international stage in a variety of disciplines from sport, to art, to literature, to industry.

It is oddly but undeniably important that a bunch of footballers should do the same.