Laughter The Best Remedy

KIEV, Ukraine -- The exhilaration from defeating France at Hampden in the Euro 2008 qualifier was still coursing through the veins of Tartan Army members as they pressed kilts, dusted down the Glengarries and headed to Kiev.

A Scotland soccer fan stands in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine

It was the first time Scotland had played in Ukraine, so the denizens of their capital city had never seen anything like it.

Ukranians were certainly bemused by our regalia but there were smiles all round as the Tartan Army congregated on Independence Square.

It was the scene of a peaceful demonstration less than two years ago, dubbed the 'Orange Revolution', which resulted in the democratically elected President, Viktor Yushchenko, belatedly being sworn into office.

Unfortunately, on Tuesday evening, the night before the game, a group of around 30-40 youths elected to alter the ambience by charging the Scots who had hitherto been playing football with the locals and sampling the brewery products.

I had left the square by this time but was informed by members of the Tartan Army that four or five of the lads had been hospitalised by thugs determined to fight rather than frolic.

Fortunately, the Scots defused the situation by not reacting aggressively, understanding that it was the actions of a handful of unenlightened people.

The game in the Olympic Stadium was a disappointment, with Scotland losing 2-0

However, Ukraine were better than us on the night and deserved the points.

After play ended, we were left inside the ground for over an hour, supposedly waiting for the Ukrainians to disperse.

It later dawned on me that the hoards of Ukrainian police and army were more worried about protecting us than in preventing us from causing trouble.

However, as we were escorted away from the ground into the city, hundreds of Ukrainians waited on the streets to clap, shake hands and be photographed with us.

Once the police had left, a few Ukrainians insisted on us sharing the obligatory - in this part of the world - vodkas.

Five of Kiev's citizens took us to their favourite bar, and for a few hours, myself and a friend enjoyed wonderful hospitality and swapped tales on the game's great atmosphere.

They were humourous, friendly and generous companions. This is a big part of travelling with Scotland: meeting people and having a good laugh.

Sadly, it was not the only thing we were to take on the chin.

Returning to our hotel in the wee hours of the morning, my friend and I were jumped from behind by five thugs, intent on giving us a very different welcome.

We both received kicks and punches to the face and body, and were forced to defend ourselves in a bid to escape the cordon that had enveloped us.

The attack probably only lasted two or three minutes but it seemed an awful lot longer before the police arrived on the scene, checked our documents and sent us in the direction of our hotel.

Broken metatarsals

It was an uncomfortable flight the following day. I arrived at the Western Royal Infirmary in the small hours of Friday to have several parts of my body x-rayed.

The doctors and nurses delivered some mixed news: the discolouration and swelling at the back of my head, cheek bones and ribs were all just bruising, but metatarsals in my left hand were broken.

The next time I will stay in larger groups of Tartan Army members, but these things can happen anywhere, including Scotland.

The vast majority of Ukrainians were hospitable. There are good and bad people in every nation and I won't be allowing a small handful of mindless idiots to deter me from following my nation's football team in the rest of the qualifiers.

Apart from the flogging, it was an enjoyable experience.

A friend has already suggested ordering me a T-shirt emblazoned with the words 'I got a kicking in Kiev'.

Laughter is the best remedy.

Source: BBC News