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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 March 2007, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Tartan Army beat retreat
By Will McLeish
BBC Sport and much-travelled Scotland fan

So Scotland have still only ever scored once against Italy away from home.

I'm very disappointed we didn't have a real go at them.

But, perhaps if we had been more attacking, they would have ripped us apart.

And it's no disgrace to lose 2-0 to last year's World Cup winners on their own patch.

The San Nicola Stadium is very impressive and the atmosphere at the game was terrific.

As usual, the Tartan Army gave wonderful backing to the side, but the Azzurri fans were also vocal.

Italy and Scotland supporters make friends at Wednesday's match
The two sets of fans mingled well at the San Nicola Stadium
I have a photograph of me with two young Italian lads, who were running about daft near me.

It seemed like they were supporting Scotland as much as their own nation, screaming "Scozia" with all their might and collecting as much memorabilia from the Tartan Army as they could.

Certainly, some Italians did well from me. I gave away my Saltire, Glengarrie, Argentina 1978 World Cup replica top, 2004 strip and a Scotland t-shirt.

It is a shame their team were not feeling as generous.

I had arrived in southern Italy with some trepidation.

A friend and I were jumped by neo-Nazis in Kiev last October after the Scotland match there, suffering broken bones, cuts and bruising.

I must stress that the vast majority of Ukranians we encountered were great fun, generous and gentle, but that incident understandably soured the trip.

And I had been warned that we were flying into a mean city.

But there wasn't even an angry voice to be heard in Bari, let alone any unsavoury street brawl.

In the main square close to the port, where most of the Scots were drinking, I noticed a large group of tough-looking Italian Ultras circling and eyeing up the Scots.

It was an ominous sight, because these guys have a fearsome reputation for violence.

But, within half an hour, they were hugging, partying and asking for photos from us.

Scotland fans under the watchful eye of the Italian police
Scotland fans were on their best behaviour while in Bari

As usual, the Tartan Army disarmed the locals with laughter and bonhomie.

In my opinion, the Italians are the only other nation in Europe that match the Scots for their passion and love of football.

They were tremendous fun and I know I will be returning to Italy soon.

After the game, at around five in the morning, the Italians and Scots were bouncing around singing each other's songs so fervently that the floor of the bar I was in was visibly shaking.

Everyone was loving every minute of it. That is what travelling with Scotland is all about.

Yes, we were gutted at losing the match, but our hosts helped make up for it by being so warm and gracious.

I've made many friends here and the people of Bari won't forget us.

The next qualifier is on 6 June, away to the Faroe Islands on the 63rd anniversary of the Normandy landings in France.

The Tartan Army have their own D-Day. Plenty of time to buy a few more Scotland shirts, a Saltire and a Glengarrie.

No doubt I will be leaving them in that small island in the North Atlantic. Because, as the song goes, "we are the famous Tartan Army and we're going to save your whales".



SEE ALSO
McLeish positive after Scots loss
28 Mar 07 |  Internationals
Italy 2-0 Scotland
28 Mar 07 |  Internationals
Tartan Army in Bari
27 Mar 07 |  Internationals
Tartan Army on march
27 Mar 07 |  Internationals


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