How Call of Duty almost did for Scotland

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June 6, 2021
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    Ryan Christie, Stuart Armstrong & Kieran TierneyRyan Christie, left, and Kieran Tierney, right, had to self-isolate after Stuart Armstrong's positive test

    It used to be drifting rowing boats on the Firth of Clyde or tear ups in European nightclubs that threatened to undermine Scotland's chances of glory.

    But not any more. Almost 50 years on from Jimmy Johnstone's night time sail and the Copenhagen contretemps that ended the international career of Billy Bremmer, among others, it was a sober session on the Playstation that almost did for Scotland's Euro 2020 ambitions.

    It was early October of last year. Steve Clarke's side were 180 minutes away from a first major men's finals in 23 years. Israel would be the opposition at Hampden the following day in the play-off semi-final. Then the news broke.

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    Midfielder Stuart Armstrong had returned a positive Covid-19 test and was required to self-isolate for 10 days. A blow, sure, but manageable given his was the sole case.

    But the Scottish FA statement continued: "The Lothian Health Protection Team have identified two players and two backroom staff as close contacts. As a consequence, Kieran Tierney and Ryan Christie – along with one physiotherapist and one masseur – will require to self-isolate for 14 days, and will miss the forthcoming matches."

    'I followed every protocol'

    Three influential players – two of whom would certainly have started – missing. Add in the disruption, plus the importance of the occasion, and suddenly bedlam ensued.

    What started as whispers at the time were confirmed by Christie a few weeks later.

    The trio had been socially distanced while playing Call of Duty. One was on one side of the room, the other in the middle facing one way, and the third facing a different direction.

    The former Celtic team-mates were even rigged up with headsets, so weren't even looking at each other to goad or encourage while in combat.

    Playmaker Christie explained a member of the squad's staff had even measured the distance between the seats as 3.8m – a gap that had been previously approved by the SFA doctor but fell foul of the uncommonly stringent local authority.

    "I was following every single protocol," he said. "We've done it since June at club level, so it's not as if we go away for internationals and throw all that in the bin. It is frustrating when you do that and it still comes back to bite you.

    "It opened my eyes to it, in terms of not doing anything wrong and still being liable and being punished. You know you need to be very wary. Even if you are following the guidelines, you maybe need to go that extra step further."

    Lessons learned for Euros

    With Christie, Tierney and Armstrong nowhere to be seen, Scotland of course went on to squeak past Israel on penalties, before travelling to Serbia. You might have heard about what happened there.

    Now, all three players are in the squad for the Euros in the next few weeks. The spectre of Covid has not yet left the party, though, with midfielder John Fleck the unfortunate victim while at the training camp in Spain.

    This time, no close contacts were identified by the Spanish authorities, with the national association opting to leave behind six players for the midweek friendly draw with Netherlands merely as a precaution.

    Indeed, that decision was bolstered by Uefa reiterating their stance that only 17 members of the 26-strong squad could take to the pitch. Furthermore, several backroom staff members also stayed behind in Spain to ensure further social distancing during the trip to Portugal.

    It's safe to say, the squad and all involved with them, have learned a lesson since the events of last October.

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