As we approach Scotland’s opening Euro 2020 match with the Czech Republic, there was always going to be a depressing subplot concerning a leading Rangers star.
And not through any fault of his own, mind you.
Whereas Rangers players and Rangers fans have had their issues with the Tartan Army any tinge of bitterness will surely be left behind in support of Gers midfielder Glen Kamara.
An unassuming character thrust into the limelight by the ignominy of being racially abused by a fellow professional on the pitch, for Glen the focus will remain on his own international duties with Finland.
But for Scotland – and many Rangers fans – there feels a particularly incentivised edge to getting one over an admittedly talented Czech side when Scotland kicks off its campaign on Monday afternoon.
That’s despite the fact the player in question, Slavia Prague defender Ondrej Kudela, won’t actually be playing; the defender’s 10-game UEFA ban for racially abusing Kamara in the Europa League has kept him out of the tournament.
Instead – and as Kamara and teammate Kemar Roofe, who was red-carded for an accidental horror challenge on Czech goalie Ondrej Kolar, continue to suffer abuse – the Czech team have once again been out defending the defender.
That’s despite the testimony of two players in Kamara and Gers teammate Bongani Zungu, the unsettling videos of Kudela aggressively approaching Kamara and hissing in his ear, and the fact UEFA – yes, UEFA – found the player guilty of racist abuse.
There is something deeply unsettling about the reaction from within the Czech Republic and as such, any pettiness between bluenoses and the rest of Scotland will surely be put to one side come 2pm on the 13th of June.
But there is something to be said about the edge which surrounds the game from followers of football from both countries.
Routinely defended by teammates, the latest to come out and fight Kudela’s corner is West Ham Premier League Player of the Year nominee and ex-Slavia player Tomas Soucek.
“Of course, everyone was asking me how it went, what words were uttered,” said Soucek [iDNES].
“I fight for Ondra [Kudela] all the time. I believe that he did not tell him anything racist, there was no evidence, but a lot of people on the islands [The UK] condemned him and he received a severe sentence from the disciplinary committee for ten matches.
“I find it absurd. I know him so well and I can’t imagine him saying anything racist. I also tried to convince the boys in the locker room about that.”
This is basically the same as all his teammates are saying – Romania star Nicolae Stanciu refused to take the knee in support Kudela – and it is part of the problem.
For racism to be properly challenged in our society there needs to be a route to heal old wounds and educate those who have previously been proponents of it.
This attitude from within the Czech camp and towards Kudela – nice man they claim he is 99% of the time – does little to acknowledge the pain caused by the kinds of insults hurled by the defender.
Nor does the witch hunt – of which even I have been guilty in the emotional aftermath of one of our players being so vulnerably attacked like this – do anything to properly challenge the issue.
Instead, what we’ve seen is the irresponsible enabling of continuing racist abuse online aimed at Kamara by an uber defensive Czech Republic who, in part, feel unfair stereotypes are being leveraged against them.
I can never truly understand the gravity of the insults hurled at Kamara, but from where I sit, before anything could be properly mended, Kudela had to acknowledge the gravity of his comments and the impact they had on the Rangers midfielder.
This is the true justice – bans by UEFA are all well and good, and a welcome step forward, but they have inflamed the situation further as Kudela’s denial continues.
Comments about the fine character of the defender do not remotely stack up so long as he fails to have the courage to acknowledge his moment of fury and the insidious reasons why this came to the fore in a football match.
Until this happens – in perhaps a microcosm of a wider issue in the society in which we live – then the comments of Connor Goldson regarding racism “never” being eradicated are something of an ominous premonition rather than an emotional outpouring.
As Scotland prepare for Euro 2020, can the match against the Czech Republic act as a catalyst for Gers fans healing old wounds with Scotland supporters?