Aye We Can: Scotland's 'New Norm'
85 minutes on the clock, Scotland are 1-2 down in a match that has shared multiple chances between a solid opponent, Austria. Surely there'll be one more... no one would be surprised. In fact, it would take a lot to surprise the audience of this tense, VAR-less, international encounter which had already seen three goals, a blatant penalty denied, an equally blatant goal disallowed, and Stephen O'Donnell skinning David Alaba... just for good measure.
John McGinn, our oft-times heroic talisman, had been playing quietly as a defensive midfielder all game, as he has done for Aston Villa all season. A humble guy, he has never once bemoaned Dean Smith's decision to move him further back, despite charting attacking returns and performances amongst the Premier League's highest, before injury, in his debut season.
So good was McGinn over this period, for both club and country, that the song 'Super John McGinn' took hold in pre-match pubs and mid-match stands across the border. We all sang because we all saw plainly what was becoming evident; John McGinn is a special player. The type of player who does ridiculously romantic things, often.
It had to be him. That was the only unsurprising thing. He's the only player on the pitch you could imagine would, or could, do what he did in the closing stages at a rainy Hampden Park.
An overhead bicycle kick into the bottom corner from a high-looping header with next to no time to think about it or adjust your body position?
Super John McGinn.
How do we make sense of all this?
Well - in some sense, we don't, we just let it happen. This is wonderful and this is why we love football. It truly was a Roy of the Rovers moment. It hits you at a visceral level that dismantles stats and algorithms and analysis like an open window to a house of cards.
Except, we kind of need to make sense of it, or at least ask the question, because, well... John McGinn is making a habit of doing stuff like this.
This isn't a fluke.
He is that good, and there's growing evidence to suggest so.
What is yet more astounding, is that McGinn was fairly anonymous by his standards until that point. I don't have much to disagree with Steve Clarke about, but my goodness, I can't be alone in thinking we need to play McGinn in an advanced position.
It's becoming almost sacrilegious to play him anywhere else.
He has 8 goals in 30 caps, and this for a Scotland side who didn't score many goals. He dragged us through games by the scruff of the neck - between finding the net, turning his man and winning the ball high up the pitch - he was arguably the spark that ignited a nation, changing a mindset into a belief which won qualification in Belgrade.
It's why Scott McTominay looked almost unsurprised when describing the goal to the gushing reporter. who represented all of us in his disbelieving question, 'what about that goal?' What was at the time, and is still, most striking to me, is the immediacy of McTominay's reply,
'Stuff like that. That's arrogance but in a positive way... That's John McGinn. That's brilliant. For us, moments like that will come [more often].'
Scott McTominay, post-match
Yes, Scott McTominay just swept aside an overhead kick with the focus of a man possessed. But he's possessed by something that we all must now inhale.
You might find this hard as a Scot, but you can practice by reciting the following mantra; 'That's John McGinn. That's brilliant.'
For in this, we admit that we have brilliant players, and therefore, our standards are much, much higher. Kieran Tierney, Arsenal's player of the season so far by some distance, and the arguable MOTM last night (although McT won the award), spoke of this in his post-match; that after twenty minutes or so they suddenly woke up, again, to the fact that they are... well, good. You saw it in the way McTominay brushed his man off when ball-carrying from midfield, telling his man to 'SIT, DOON!' en route; or when Tierney burst past player after player with scintillating pace and control; or when Armstrong dropped the shoulder twice, and once with a Cruyff-turn, to fashion a chance; or when McGinn scored an overhead kick.
See, by KT's admission - this is new, even for the players. They seem to be getting it though, and in McTominay, we have an 8-pack-wielding dominator that demands it from a now central position in midfield.
In other words, this mindset needs to become, to borrow an oft-used zeitgeist phrase, 'the new norm'. It needs to grow.
"When we started to believe, we knew we could hurt them..."
On @PureFitbaw's watch-along @TheTartanScarf founder, Gordon Sheach, summed this 'new norm' up perfectly;
'That switch from Tierney and then O'Donnell burning Alaba was a really good passage of play.... (Gordon became almost giddy here, then quickly sobered up as if accessing a recently discovered fact)... but then... that's us now. Scotland are a good side now. We're a good side now.'
Can you feel it?
Can you see it?
It's why I started Alba\Matter from a hospital bed with a Growth Mindset perspective. Because things can, and often do get better.
It's more than the latest fad, or somehow channelling white-knuckling belief into a positive mental attitude in the midst of depression - this can be almost offensive when the world is crumbling around you.
The fact is; life is really tough sometimes. Personally, I'm going back in for another operation soon. I need to self-isolate from my young family, or they need to self-isolate with me. This is impossibly difficult and something we haven't quite addressed yet. I'm also dropping working days from the next session and need to fill out my contract about that this week, again, not something on the life-plan I had internally mapped out after finishing my Masters. It's quite a drop in salary. It's scary and serious; it's real.
It takes a great deal of faith for me to acknowledge that it's also an opportunity for growth, but that's no less true, and it is liberating and freeing admission.
Bumps in the road are unavoidable. We are all experiencing this to one degree or another at the moment. We are, therefore, united at this moment, albeit by this horrible pandemic - but then that's consistent with suffering and the human experience.
We can become united in the acknowledgement that there are far more important things than what typically divides us.
This is the time for embracing the new. This is the time for parking old habits and/or destructive patterns of behaviour. If this is you - like me - things can get better, they often do get better. So take McGinn's overhead kick and Scotland's 'new norm' as inspiration. Step out, talk to someone, take that first step of belief.
If we're going to learn anything from McGinn's overhead kick and Scotland's growth over the last year or so, if we're going to let it inspire us, even change us, then let's first acknowledge that it exists. It is the 'new norm'.
Because this is true, maybe, just maybe, we need to start saying collectively; 'Aye we can'.