HOPE AND HEARTBREAK: SCOTLAND’S WORLD CUP QUALIFIER EXPERIENCE


Image credit: pauldoyle70 via pixabay.com

For fans of Scotland’s national team, October was an emotional rollercoaster. From ecstatic highs to crushing lows, they experienced two World Cup Qualifier matches in less than a week, starting with victory against Slovakia on 5th October and ending with a draw with Slovenia on 8th October, dashing their hopes of making it to the World Cup play-offs.

As we have explored in our previous blogs, football in Scotland is a national obsession. Fan conversation on Twitter is passionate and engaged, with club football driving a substantial quantity of debate and discussion, both in national football and on the international stage.

The World Cup Qualifier matches were hugely significant for Scottish fans, with the possibility that Scotland would make it to a major tournament for the first time in twenty years.

We decided to analyse fan conversation about the national team on socials. Did fans express anticipation or resignation? Are fans as passionately supportive of the national team as they are of their clubs? Given Scotland’s failure to reach the play-offs, how did fans react? Who did they blame?

 

THE DATA

In order to answer these questions, we turned to Brandwatch. We searched for key terms associated with Scottish football and the World Cup Qualifiers. Searching over the period of one month from 18th September to 18th October, and looking only for individuals on Twitter, we found a total of 23,197 posts talking about both the national team and Scottish football in general. In order to get the best, most engaged conversation, we filtered out retweets, resulting in 8,075 posts.

The heat map above shows conversation spread across Scotland’s major population centres, with pockets in less populated areas like Lewis, Skye and even the middle of the North Sea. Football truly does motivate conversation across the nation.

 

SCOTLAND VS SLOVAKIA: “LIKE NO OTHER PAIN I’VE KNOWN” OR “GREATEST NIGHT OF MY LIFE”?

In fan conversation about Scotland’s match against Slovakia, excitement and hope were mingled with resignation and the anticipation of heartbreak.

Before the match, fans expressed intense excitement:

  • It’s going to be a LONG working week until Wednesday night waiting for Thursdays MASSIVE game
  • SO EXCITED. Tomorrow cannot come quick enough.

They also posted encouragement for the team with phrases like Come on Scotland! and The nation is behind you. As the Slovakia game wore on, with no sign of a goal from Scotland, this encouragement grew more desperate:

  • Please don’t let me down, Scotland
  • Please Scotland, just one wee goal.

Some fans expressed resignation, assuming that Scotland would eventually fail:

  • Already mentally accepted the inevitable screw over, self inflicted or otherwise
  • The only certainties in life are death, taxes and Scotland being Scotland at football
  • Scotland’s Law: (Hope – luck) x ability = Despair

Others were nervous; watching Scotland play is expressed as an intensely uncomfortable experience. They used language such as nervous wreck, agony, brutal, unpleasant, heartbreaking, unbearable, insufferable, and torture to describe it.

However, none of this dampened their spirits too much, with some fans using humour in relation to events on the pitch:

  • Just our luck, and to everyone’s surprise: Slovakia seems to have produced the greatest goalkeeper in the history of world football
  • I think we have to test whether the Slovak goalie is one of the X-Men
  • That change kit is ridiculous, we look like a bunch of running highlighters

But then, Scotland won at the end of the game with an own goal from Slovakian player Martin Skrtel, which was ecstatically celebrated by fans on Twitter:

  • Watching Scotland play football is absolutely heartbreaki-…YAAAAASSSSSSSS WHAT JUST HAPPENED!!!!!
  • I have goosebumps, this is an amazing, rare feeling
  • I have never felt anything like when that final whistle went, so proud to be Scottish!!

You would think that this would induce greater hope in Scotland’s football fans, but this success was instead seen as a precursor to heartbreak. For some, this feeling is key to the experience of being a Scottish football fan:

  • Key reminder if [sic] the key phrase for every Scottish football fan for the past 20 years. “it’s the hope that kills you”
  • Cautious optimism. The ultimate foe for any Scotland fan
  • Watching Scotland screw it up from this position will be entertaining and soul-destroying

 

SLOVENIA VS SCOTLAND: “HOPE BUILT UP AND SHATTERED AT THE VERY LAST MOMENT”

Fairytale stuff from @ScottishFA after being down and out. A fantastic revival, with hopefully a happy ending: This was one fan’s wish before the Slovenia match. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, as the fairy tale turned into a tragedy with a 2-2 draw with Slovenia denying Scotland a chance in the play-offs.

During the match, some fans still retained hope that all would be well, although this was mingled with intense nerves and the fear of disappointment:

  • Strange feelings of elation and wanting to be sick at the thought of 52 minutes to go
  • 45 mins to go in a @ScottishFA qualifying campaign…and I’m NOT YET GUTTED. I do not know this. Help me.
  • I’ve never been this stressed since, well, Thursday

Of course, the match did not end successfully for Scotland, with fans expressing resignation when faced with the result:

  • If you’d been asked to write an honest @ScottishFA script before kick-off you’d…have predicted what just happened
  • Not one Scottish person is surprised right now. We’re used to it

Other fans were devastated. Some used strong imagery to describe the depths of their disappointment:

  • Being a Scotland fan is like biting into a chocolate chip cookie only to find it’s a raisin
  • My beer drunk soul is sadder than all the dead Christmas trees of the world

From excitement to devastation, the emotions expressed here provide an authentic snapshot of what it’s like to be a Scotland fan. This language could be used to inform future campaigns and content creation, to really tap into the emotions of fans and engage with them on a deeper level.

 

FAN ANALYSIS: THE PROBLEM

As seen above, fans feel very strongly about Scotland’s matches. One of the most common emotions expressed was the heartbreak created by disappointed hope. There is a feeling of resignation, that Scotland being successful in an international tournament is never going to happen, and that this disappointment is a key part of the experience of a Scotland fan. So, who or what did fans blame for these problems?

Actions from key authority figures in the aftermath of the Slovenia match provided focal points for fan criticism, particularly from Gordon Strachan and the Scottish FA. After drawing with Slovenia, Strachan stated that Scotland was struggling due to unfavourable genetics. Unsurprisingly, Scots were united in their condemnation of this comment:

  • That’s the old-fashioned mentality of Scottish football, if you were too small you were never going to make it
  • Gordon Strachan blaming genetics is hopefully the low point in Scottish fitba

Similarly, fans were unanimous in their dislike of the controversial appointment of Malky Mackay as interim manager of the Scotland team. This led to criticism of the Scottish FA:

  • @ScottishFA pushing the fans away again
  • Absolutely disgusted by the @ScottishFA’s appointment of Malky Mackay. Jobs for the boys.

There was a general feeling that the problems with Scottish football are wider and more endemic than just the manager, with criticism particularly focused on the Scottish FA:

  • Use this time to clear out @ScottishFA who have failed Scotland time & again
  • @ScottishFA have failed the game
  • 40 years of the same manager and ‘inspired’ journalist views and nothing ever changes cause the Scottish football ‘establishment’ remains

The unity of fan opinion on this point indicates a disconnect between fans and the football authorities, with fans feeling that they are not being heard. Fans have a clear, unified voice. Their opinions on key issues are almost unanimous. The audience is large and passionate. They are frustrated at Scotland’s lack of success and the perception that their concerns are not heard. This disappointment and frustration has now become normalised, with fans sick of the “same old” story of heartbreak and not-so-glorious failure told above. They are looking for, and proposing, other solutions.

 

FAN ANALYSIS: THE SOLUTION

Image credit: Markus Spiske via pexels.com

It is clear from the data that fans think Scottish football needs improvement from the ground up. The investment in and development of grassroots football was one of the most frequently presented solutions by fans to the question of how to improve Scottish football:

  • Should defos just start from scratch and invest…hundreds in grassroots, get Scottish football up to a higher quality
  • National teams the end product, not starting point. Improve Scottish football? Massive investment in facilities & coaching + changed mindset
  • We need more kids playing football better facilities, theres less and less kids playing in the street or local parks

There is one of two problems occurring here. On the one hand, there could be a genuine lack of grassroots initiatives in Scotland, in which case clubs, sponsors and other organisations could consider practically supporting more of them. On the other hand, it could be the case that there are plenty of grassroots programmes, but fans don’t know about them. In which case, this is a communications problem…which in turn means that there is a huge communications opportunity.

 

SOCIAL LISTENING: A WAY TO RECONNECT?

Our previous research into Scottish football showed that Twitter is a focal point for a highly engaged football community. This dataset was no exception, with fans expressing a sense of community with each other on Twitter:

  • Where art thou Scottish Football Twitter? Getting lonely out here
  • I kind of love it when my twitter feed just goes full sad Scottish football fan; the resignation is unifying

The striking thing about this dataset is how unanimous fans are in their opinions. Differences of opinion focused on discussion of tactics and play, but when it comes down to the big picture of Scottish football, fans were in total agreement. This is extremely unusual – Twitter can be a focal point for deep divisions in conversation about football, indicating that clubs, sponsors and football organisations should be particularly proactive in listening to the fans’ opinion.

There are compelling reasons for any Scottish football organisation, including clubs and sponsors, to be plugged into football fan conversation on Twitter. As we have previously noted, the audience is passionate and highly engaged, entering into conversation with each other far more frequently than we have seen in datasets relating to other sports. It is also fan-led; social media allows fans to create their own football content, meaning that commentators and pundits are no longer just coming from traditional media sources, but are also average punters. Their conversations can provide a rich seam for organisations, not just to identify and act upon the questions and concerns of fans, but also to discover what it really means to support the national team. An analysis of this data can lead to actionable insights, enabling organisations to connect more meaningfully with fans.

If you are a football club, sponsor or organisation and would be interested in a bespoke analysis of football fan conversation on socials, get in touch @DI_Insights.

This research was powered by our pals at Brandwatch.

© Disruptive Insight 2015.