by Jen Blackwood
Who would have thought that a German schoolboy and a banana could cause an international incident?
In a post-match TV interview, Brazilian footballer Neymar accused the Scots of being racist after a banana was thrown on the pitch during a friendly between Brazil and Scotland at the Emirates Stadium in London last month. His allegations created a worldwide media frenzy – potentially damaging the reputation of both Scotland and the Tartan Army.
The Scots were swiftly cleared of any involvement. Everyone knows the idea of a Scotsman possessing a piece of fruit at any time, let alone at a football match, is highly unlikely.
Joking aside, for many years now, the Tartan Army has had a reputation for being among best fans in the world. This is a reputation that’s prized highly among the fans and across Scotland – so much so the Scottish Football Authority are demanding an apology from the Brazilian Football Authority. Alex Salmond has written to the Brazilian FA and there’s even talk of a legal action for defamation.
But there was another event in London that weekend involving the Tartan Army which didn’t grab so many headlines. The Tartan Army Sunshine Appeal (TASA) donated £1000 to TASK Brazil, a London-based charity which helps street children living in Brazil.
For many Tartan Army footsoldiers, the journey with Scotland is not just about the football but about making friends wherever they go. A friendship formed when Scotland played in Bosnia in 1999 has benefitted thousands of children around the world.
During the trip in 1999, a number of footsoldiers met a local man called Mirza. He told them about a boy called Kemal Karic who had been injured and orphaned in the civil war in that country. Moved by the boys plight, fundraising efforts began among the Scottish fans and enough money was raised to convert Kemal’s grandmother’s house so that they could cope with Kemal’s needs.
Such was the success of the fundraising that the Tartan Army Sunshine Appeal was established to ‘spread a little sunshine’ everywhere Scotland plays.
Whether it’s a children’s cancer ward in Kiev, an orphanage for disabled children in Moldova, or a centre for abused kids in Japan, as soon as a Scotland game is announced TASA finds a local children’s charity and works with them to provide funding for whatever they need.
Funds raised by Scotland fans have paid for go-karts at holiday camps for terminally ill children in Prague, a sterile room for the treatment of patients at a children’s cancer ward in Milan, TVs and CD players for an orphanage in Vilnius and a children’s entertainment programme in a hospital in Oslo.
And what became of the Bosnian man, Mirza, who kicked off this train of events? He now goes by the nickname of MacMirza and is regularly seen at Scotland games – home and away – proudly sporting his very own kilt!
Last year, TASA became a formally registered charity and continues to provide donations in every country that Scotland plays. For the Celtic Cup being held in Dublin this year, TASA has joined forces with fans from Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to give donations to children’s charities in all the participating countries.
So the longest established Scotland fans’ charity marches on, bringing a little bit of sunshine into the lives of children – Everywhere We Go!
Jen Blackwood is Vice-Chairman of the Tartan Army Sunshine Appeal fund.