by Colin Campbell
INVERNESS city centre had its most raucous Friday night in a very long time as football fans celebrated Scotland’s hugely creditable and stirring draw with England at Wembley with gusto.
Singing and chanting echoed across the river after a result which means Scotland will qualify for the next stage of the Euros if they beat Croatia at Hampden on Tuesday night.
Raucousness in the city centre used to be a weekly occurrence at weekends and sometimes there was an overspill of it, involving police, street pastors, hopelessly drunk revellers and weeping and wailing well into the night.
But the arrival of the coronavirus instantly killed off all of that.
And for more than 15 months, apart from the interlude of a false dawn last year when pubs reopened and it seemed the virus threat was vanishing, it has been as raucous as a morgue.
It was emptied out a year last March when pubs and clubs were ordered to close, and when we went to photograph the Friday night silence and eerie emptiness of the precinct it was the first real indicator of the uniquely strange, challenging and often depressing times to come.
But grim as that was it wouldn’t last forever and as the Friday night din returned to the city centre in increased volume it was a welcome sight to hear.
It also meant a lucrative payday for pubs which have had such a terrible time of it over the past 15 months. Virtually all were full with customers glued to the telly.
Some spent money with gay abandon as well. A group of five customers in one riverside hotel bar decided to indulge in post match celebrations with repeated rounds of double Jack Daniels and Coke, which worked out at £8.90 a drink, or £44.50 a round. That’s a far cry from an off the shelf purchase at Tesco.
Publicans could do with more wildly free spending customers like that, though they probably aren’t likely to get too many, even allowing for the inclination of folk to have a blowout after so long when weekend nights out have been in cold storage.
There was no trouble, just noise, singing and loud banter on every city centre street.
For much of the past 15 months the city centre has been somewhere to very purposely steer clear of, night and day, not only because there was no reason to go there, but because nothing could pile on coronavirus gloom like exposure to the desolation of a place normally teeming with life.
Well, if not fully back in business yet, with licensing hours still restricted, normality is rapidly returning.
The noise from the centre echoing across the riverside might have been construed as a celebration of the return to near normality as much as it was of a fine Scotland performance.
The bleakest days of the coronavirus are well and truly over. That is a certainty.
Publicans, as much as punters, will be praying for a Scotland win on Tuesday and more nights of moneyspinning revelry ahead.
And the upcoming fortunes of the Scottish national football team? While hopes this weekend are riding high, that as always is in the highly unpredictable lap of the gods.