Over the top

By The Drum, Administrator

September 24, 2004 | 9 min read

The typical image

Not that very long ago people would have thought you seriously delusional if you were overheard eulogising the Tartan Army outside the privacy of your own home. Recall the reaction to the Tartan Army’s destruction of Wembley in 1977 after Scotland’s great victory. It was not complimentary. Glasgow’s Lord Provost went on record as saying, “You wouldn’t let these people into your front garden, let alone your front room.” The Tartan Army was vilified north and south of the border.

Yet by the 1990s the Tartan Army’s reputation was transformed. UEFA created a Fair Play Award for the Scottish supporters – applauded for their exemplary conduct and inspiration to other countries during the 1992 European Championships in Sweden.

Praise even came from the “auld enemy”. During Euro 96, Birmingham City Council and the Birmingham Marketing Partnership appointed the Tartan Army “Friends of the Brummies” to mark their “outstanding conduct and friendliness”.

Further recognition has been forthcoming from the International Association for Non-Violence in Sport, the Belgium Olympic and Interfederal Committee and even the Scottish Tourist Board.

Before the World Cup in France, Scotland’s First Minister talked about the fans’ “great sense of what is in their own interests as individuals and of the way people view Scotland.”

In short, the Tartan Army has amassed a list of awards that would swell the chest of any self-respecting marketing agency.

Brand Anatomy

The transition in image and reputation has been remarkable: successful re-branding par excellence. So, what lies behind the Tartan Army’s new-found FAME?

FAME is a Citigate SMARTS’s branding tool. It is made up of four related elements:

Flag – is what a brand stands for and sets it apart from the competition, its place in the world.

Attachment – relates to the feelings that draw its people together, its sense of itself and internal culture.

Methods – are how a brand delivers and communicates with its audiences.

Experience – is how audiences think, feel and react when they experience the brand.


What does the brand stand for? On one level, the Tartan Army is a friendly, funny and boisterous experience perpetrated by people who use following Scotland abroad as an excuse for madcap antics, to have a right good time and to make sure everyone else in the vicinity has the same.

On another level, it is a way of taking an aspect of Scotland to the world and a way of bringing the rest of the world that bit closer to Scotland. The Scottish Executive is currently investing a lot in promoting Scotland abroad. The Tartan Army has been doing it for years.

Some fans stayed in the small medieval town of St Galmier during the 98 World Cup. The local people have since established a formal Franco-Ecossaise alliance, an annual Scottish festival and their own branch of the Tartan Army. This May, the St Galmier Tartan Army’s support for Scotland was reciprocated with a visit to Glasgow and a civic reception from the Lord Provost. Not the same Lord Provost who said he “wouldn’t have the Tartan Army in his front garden!”


Attachment to the Tartan Army gives a real sense that you are representing something special: “Although we are an ‘army’, the highest rank that one can aspire to is that of a foot soldier. Everyone has a voice and everyone counts equally. There are no rules but there are a couple of guidelines. Leave club colours at home and remember that you are an ambassador for your country. I can’t say enough about how proud I am to be part of a support that can regularly bring its families, and one that is welcomed worldwide.” (Scott Patterson, Toronto Tartan Army.)

This might bring a tear to a glass eye, but there are politics here – an inclusive fraternity, egalitarian and international in its outlook.

Internal communications are built up around fanzines, newsletters, a Tartan Army home page on the internet and a growing number of informal Tartan Army associations. You find these groups all over the place – the Far East Tartan Army, the New York Tartan Army – the list goes on. And these are not all Scots abroad. Some, like the Sarajevo Tartan Army, are locals who have become fans of Scotland.


The Tartan Army is a peaceful army. Invasions are trouble-free. Some put this down to informal self-policing, others to taking a perverse delight that exemplary behaviour makes the English look even worse.

But it’s also about a sense of ourselves, and how we relate to our hosts. Reading recent media coverage about going to a “war zone” in Moldova, one fan suggested (tentatively and only half-seriously) that we should perhaps make our visit as brief as possible.

Long-serving foot soldier Paddy McLaughlin’s response was immediate and illuminating: “The Tartan Army do not go in and out like ‘thieves in the night’. We’ll drink with the Moldavians for a few days. They will know there’s a new Army in town.”

There is a sense, an obligation even, that it’s important to conduct ourselves in a way that will leave something good behind: a sense of Scotland.

Manifestations of the brand’s methods are highly visible and often hilarious. Advice to new recruits would include:

ï Get the polis on your side. Swapping hats, offering beer and asking for shots on their horses creates the relaxed and tolerant climate required for the onset of madcap antics.

ï Demonstrate proper use of public facilities, like statues and fountains. Every self-respecting fountain needs to contain some foot soldiers.

ï Be seen “singing in the rain”. Parisians were bemused as several thousand belted out the song as the heavens opened up in mourning after Scotland’s narrow defeat by Brazil in 98.

ï Seize every opportunity for farce. As Scotland lined up against an Estonian team “completely lacking in substance” (the Baltic hosts failed to turn up for a World Cup qualifying game) the Tartan Army sang “There’s only one team in Tallinn” and “Get intae them”, and then did with a game against the locals.

ï Win the affection and trust of publicans. One establishment in Gothenburg was still jumping at 6 a.m. when the owner handed over the keys and requested that we lock up if, by any chance, we were to leave before the cleaners arrived.


There may be madness in the method, but there is method in the madness. The Tartan Army expects to leave its mark on the outside world.

Few businesses could afford to buy the PR-generated in front-page headlines and complimentary TV documentaries. The headline in the French paper La Tribune after we played (loose description) against Morocco exclaimed, “Yesterday, St Etienne was in Scotland”.

Local communities benefit from charitable good works like the distribution of medicines, gifts and sports gear. In Sarajevo, fans found a family shattered by the war in Bosnia: a granny and a 10-year-old child, Kemal Karic. The boy had lost a leg in the mortar attack that had killed both his parents. Cash was raised and Kemal was fitted with a high-tech artificial leg.

This leaves its mark on how other countries think, feel and behave towards the Scots. After France 98, the Daily Record received a call from the Mayor’s Office in Bordeaux wanting to take out a full-page ad to thank the Scottish fans. The Mayor, the Regional Council, the Economic Development Body and the Chamber of Commerce wanted to say: “We will never forget your ‘joie de vivre’, the way you know how to have a good time and your sense of fair play. Come back soon. We miss you already.” Scots who have since visited Bordeaux report a warm welcome that links back to the positive impact created by the Tartan Army’s visit in 1998.

The Tartan Army’s FAME

So are we any closer to knowing the Tartan Army brand, to establishing its FAME?

It flies the Flag of being the “The Best Supporters in the World” who, using football as the medium, are also “Citizens of the World”. Attachment is strongly bound up with being part of a fraternity that is egalitarian and international, rather than narrowly national, in outlook. Its methods are high-profile, unmissable, boisterous behaviour, yet respectful and caring to the host culture. The host experience is initial bewilderment growing quickly into a warm welcome. Some locals join the ranks of the Tartan Army and, for many more, closer ties with Scotland are established.

If the Tartan Army was to come up with a customer proposition for itself, for what customers can expect to experience, it could be “Make Scotland your Second Home”.

In one life, Andy McArthur is the strategic planning director of the Citigate Smarts Group. In another, he dons kilt and joins the ranks of the foot soldiers of the Tartan Army. He has published a book on his experiences, Over the Top by the Tartan Army, published by Luath Press.

Andy McArthur will be speaking at The Dream Economy Revisited Conference on 1 October at The Carlton, Edinburgh. www.mrs.org.uk


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