Socrates MacSporran

Socrates MacSporran
No I am not Chick Young, but I can remember when Scottish football was good

Friday, 20 October 2017

Hampden Minus The SFA - Well, It Would Smell Better

WHEN it comes to today's media, although you re reading this on “social media”, in a “blog”, the guy who is writing it, me – I am a dinosaur, an “old hot metal man”. I go back to the days of old 'Imperial' typewriters, of having a “black” of every piece I wrote, of sub-editors with a blue pencil, of compositors, Linotype operators, type-setters, paste-up and the days when “new technology” was looked on with suspicion which begat Luddite practices.

Hampden Park

Those were simpler, purer times. My creed was: “How many words do you want, and when do you want them.” “Spin” was something you put on a cricket ball. If I was writing a match report, it was written from my perspective – from how I interpreted what I saw, not to suit a particular paper's agenda. Maybe that's why I never got to be a member of the Lap Top Loyal.

As for public relations, spin doctoring, news management or agenda setting – count me out, I wouldn't know where to begin. However, I do know when I see frantic spinning, agenda setting and news management going on, and it is, I believe, all kicking-off around Hampden Park.

Queen's Park Football Club was honoured at last weekend's Scottish Football Hall of Fame induction dinner, when the club was, rightly if somewhat belatedly, if truth be told, inducted into the body. Now, less than a week later, there are suggestions the SFA might be about to pull out of the deal whereby Hampden is our national stadium.

Let's be honest here, for all the history, all the memories – Hampden is no longer a great stadium, its age and the piecemeal manner in which it has been modified from the 150,000 capacity greatest stadium in Europe of the 1930s to an obsolete large stadium of the 2010s has done it no favours.

Some question if we actually need: “a national stadium”, far less one within the boundaries of our largest city. Indeed, I would venture there is at least one Hampden “suit” who would fancy having Scotland's internationals played at his club's larger home ground.

For me, I would have no complaints if Scotland's football internationals were, like its rugby ones, played at the larger, more-modern Murrayfield. But, actually, what I would like to see is a purpose-built, 100,000 capacity truly national stadium, built somewhere within that triangle which has the M8 as the base and the M80 and M9 as the other two sides.

Sure, it would cost millions, but, if done properly, with great road and rail access, it would be a winner. Maybe when we are Independent and thriving.

 Lesser Hampden, in the foreground, an ideal home for Queen's Park if the National Stadium was made fit for purpose

As far as I am aware, Queen's Park has maintained a controlling interest in Hampden – well, their committee way back there in the Victorian-Edwardian era, did have the vision to built it. But, it would have been far-better, I feel, if, like Cardiff Rugby Club with the Arms Park, Queen's Park had moved their club games to an upgraded Lesser Hampden and allowed the main ground to be properly modernised.

Of course, back when it was upgraded, in the 1980s, there was no way a Tory government, led by Maggie Thatcher, was ever going to fund a new national stadium for those subsidy junkie “Sweaties”.

At the end of the day, what happens over Hampden will be down to the suits in the SFA, so, I dare say we will bumble along as we are, with an inadequate, out-dated stadium, which mirrors the body running Scottish football.

But, that's news management for you. If we are speaking about Hampden, the ground, we are not looking as hard as the product served-up inside it.

THIS BLOG has long held the view, Wullie Collum is a far-better referee in Europe, than he is in the domestic Scottish game. Perhaps because, having been attending UEFA and FIFA refereeing seminars since he was barely out of short trousers, Oor Wullie is more au-fait with European practices than Scottish ones.

Wullie Collum, had an easy night in Barcelona

His standing within UEFA and FIFA was demonstrated this week, when he got the plumb Champions League gig of Barcelona v Olympiacos, in Barcelona. If I was being cynical and facetious, I might ask what the beleaguered people of Catalunya did to deserve him – bad enough to be up to their armpits in an independence campaign, and being threatened on all sides by the forces of a near-Fascist Spanish government, then they get Wullie Collum as a ref.

Because this Tory Toerag was copping all the flak

Wullie sent-off Gerard Pique, apparently correctly, and, in all he had an easy night, because he had a great diversion, in having Douglas Ross MP as his second assistant. The Hon. Member for Moray is, apparently, a rising star in the Scottish Conservative party – which I think means he can tie his shoe laces unsupervised, stands for GSTQ and knows the words to the Sash.

He was assisting Wullie at the same time as his colleagues back at his Westminster day job were abstaining on a motion against the Tories imposition of Universal Credit. I see Mr Ross going far in the refereeing world – he seems a right charmer.

A wee heads-up to the Green Brigade – Douglas Ross is on-duty for your Betfred Cup semi-final with Hibs this weekend. With your social conscience, give him a warm welcome boys.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Shown-Up Again, When Will Our Soccer Suits Sort Something

I COULD describe Celtic's performance in Munich last night as “shite”, except, it wasn't that solid – being more “Jackie Baillie” if the truth be told. Like every other Scot who cares about our fitba, I wanted them to do well, but, yet again, on the big stage, our representatives were shown-up.

 Hummels humbles Celtic last night

It's all very well being half the length of London Road better than every other club in Scotland, but, if that degree of domestic excellence doesn't even allow you to hold out for a draw in Europe, why bother? What's to be done about it? Well, here, Socrates MacSporran, being one of the foremost thinkers on Scottish football, might have the solution.

Post the 2018 World Cup Finals, UEFA will introduce the Europa Nations League, a means whereby the national sides of their member associations will stop playing largely meaningless friendlies, and instead will play competitive games, against countries of roughly equal stature.

So, instead of in all probability being hammered by the likes of England, Germany, France, Italy and Spain – and yes, I am aware the Italians, at least, did not set the heather on fire in the World Cup qualifiers – we will struggle to beat the likes of Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland.

Well, why don't we push for UEFA to modify the Champions League and the Europa League (clubs version) in a similar fashion. Then, the big clubs from the big leagues – Real Madrid and Barcelona from Spain, the Milan clubs from Italy, the Manchester twins from England, Bayern and so forth, could play each other in the top club league, while Celtic and Aberdeen (or Rangers if they ever get their act together again) would go in against clubs from a league of a roughly-similar standard to Scotland.

As with the Europa Nations League, there would be promotion and relegation and, who knows, maybe someday, a Scottish club would battle its way back to the top-flight.

This is a “broad brush” suggestion – the devil would be in the detail of how it was organised, but, the reality is, money talks, and, in European football it shouts, so, poor, wee, impoverished Scotland would have a chance of winning something, even if it was only the Europa League, Third Division crown.

AS FOR last night's game itself, you could argue, Celtic got off lightly; take that early goal, incorrectly chalked-off when the officials ruled Lewandowski had let the entire ball cross the bye-line before he crossed. And, by the way, that decision was yet another example of how utterly useless those additional assistant referees behind the goal-line have proved to be.

Add that penalty which wasn't given, and that other goal chalked-off for offside, and it begins to look like the skelping it was. Bayern then, definitely took their foot off the pedal in the second half, or, who knows what might have happened. Sure, Celtic had one or two chances late-on, but, I got the impression, had they scored, Bayern were capable of going up a gear and cancelling-out any goal they scored.

OK, the German market is far-bigger than the Scottish one. I accept Bayern can afford to pay their players more, but, do we really have to accept that their players are better than Celtic technically? I am old enough to remember that old, classic Avis Car Hire advertisement in which Avis admitted: “Yes, Hertz are bigger, OK, we are only the Number Two car hire firm – so, we try harder;” perhaps, Celtic should aim to become the Avis of the Champions League.

Received wisdom used to be, the European teams played prettier football than British ones did, but, the additional power, pace and physicality which the British teams brought to the table could often overcome their skills deficit.

Jimmy Hill - foresaw what would happen when the continentals got physical

Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the likes of Jimmy Hill were warning, once the continentals can match the British teams for physicality, power and pace, we are in trouble. That day has arrived folks, in fact, it arrived a year or two back. So far, we have waited in vain for our response – what, if it ever comes, will that be?

CHANGE is afoot in Scottish rugby. The Murrayfield “suits” are hell-bent on introducing something called Agenda 3. This will see the current ten “Premiership” sides – the level below our only two full-time professional clubs: Glasgow and Edinburgh – reduced to six “semi-professional” clubs, under-pinned by a purely amateur club game.

The SRU being the SRU, however, their plans are not being agreed to unanimously by the clubs, indeed, there is a body of opinion that this is a naked power grab by the unelected suits, who want to run things unhindered by such things as democracy.

This football blog is no place for rugby arguments – except, flawed though Murrayfield's plans may be (they may also be good for the game), at least, the men inside Murrayfield who are paid to think about the governance of the game, are coming up with ideas for moving their game forward.

Henry McLeish - his plans were watered-down to deck-chair realignment

We have had one or two attempts at reorganising and revitalising Scottish fitba, the Rinus Michaels and Henry McLeish think-tanks come to mind. But, always, the club representatives have found a way of either parking the plans in some cupboard, and losing the key, or restricting change to a re-arrangement of the deck-chairs on the Titanic. Maybe we should find that key and have another look inside the cupboard.

One thing the rugby plans are looking to do, and on this point the clubs are right behind the suits, is make the game below a certain level, 100% amateur – nobody gets paid for playing. My notion of what might happen if Scottish football brought in its own version of Agenda 3 is – we would end up with a certain number of professional or semi-professional clubs – maybe ten full-time and perhaps another 16 or so semi-professional, below that, no player would get anything more than expenses.

Immediately, this would free-up cash for better facilities, for youth development, and, with fewer players able to top-up their Monday to Friday “day job” income with what they earn on a Saturday, those who wanted to make money from football would have to work a damned sight harder at their personal skill levels and fitness – which would surely, in time, lead to Scottish teams being better-equipped to take on the continentals, which is where this blog came in some 1000 words ago.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Thanks, But No Thanks Alex, And, While They Are At It - Sort Out The Job Description

NOTHING against big Alex McLeish, who I have always found a charming chap, great to be around, even in a professional capacity – but, I hope Stewart Regan, on behalf of the SFA sends him a: “Dear Alex, thanks but no thanks”, letter in response to his very public canvassing to be given a second crack at the Scotland job.

Alex McLeish, for me he blew a second chance by his speedy departure first time round as Scotland boss

I accept, the big man made a more than decent fist of his last go at being Scotland boss. But for one bad night in Georgia, he might well have taken us to the finals of a major championship, but, the fact is – he was Scotland boss, the Main Man, the custodian of the Holy Grail, and, when a mid-ranking, in truth not particularly good English club, dangled a lucrative salary in his direction, we didn't see him for stoor.

OK, he was a younger manager then, he still had ambition. Maybe he was not readyfor the Elder Statesman status of being an international boss. But, now he has been out of the front-line for a wee while, and while admitting, yes, he is now of an age where he could wear the Elder Statesman cloak easily, why should Scotland offer him a second chance?

MAYBE the job description is wrong. Perhaps, instead of seeking an International Team Manager (or Head Coach), we ought to be seeking a Director (or Head of) of International Football – charged with overseeing all of our teams, the A squad, the age group teams and so on.

The holder of this post ought to be able to say: “We are Scotland, we will play this formation, in each of our teams; we will establish an international performance pathway whereby players can move smoothly through the age group teams to the A team, and where we no longer suddenly cap guys with Scottish grannies who we discover playing in the second tier in England.”

We need to positively discriminate on behalf of native Scottish talent. I would establish a “bridging” team between the Under-21 side and the A side – call it what you will: an Under-23 side, a B side, a Futures side, but, we need to get more Scottish players used to playing outwith Scotland, against the more technically-gifted Europeans.

Why not at least try to re-establish the old “League Internationals” against the Irish, League of Ireland, Welsh Leagues and even the (English) Football League – who look after the teams in the Championship, and Leagues One and Two.

Even if England does not want to get involved, surely a British Isles Championship, but with the teams selected to be “development” ones, would have traction.

History Lesson: Scotland's first B team played against France, in Toulouse, on 11 November, 1952. That team was: Tommy Ledgerwood (Partick Thistle); Bobby Parker (Hearts, capt), Willie Cunningham, Tommy Docherty (Preston North End), Jimmy Davidson (Partick Thistle), Hugh Kelly (Blackpool); Jimmy Buchanan (Clyde), Willie Moir (Bolton Wanderers), Ian Gardiner (East Fife), Tommy Gemmell (St Mirren) and Willie Ormond (Hibernian).

Tommy Docherty, left, was already a full cap when he won his first B cap

Of that team, Docherty, Kelly and Moir had already won full caps – one each. Of the other eight players, only Ledgerwood, Parker and Buchanan would fail to go on and win full caps.

Later that season, they played England at Easter Road – the first of four games between the nations in the next five years. Docherty, Kelly and Moir were chosen again, along with the already capped Ian McMillan. Five of the remaining seven players – Ronnie Simpson, Jock Aird, John Hewie, Doug Cowie and Jackie Henderson would win full caps – although Ronnie had to wait 14-years for his.

Henderson, by then capped, and Aird, were the only survivors for the third B international, a 1-1 draw at Sunderland. Of the other nine players, six – goalkeeper Jock Anderson of Leicester City, right-back Mike Haughney of Celtic, Left-half John Cumming of Hearts, Celtic's Willie Fernie and Neil Mochan and West Ham's John Dick would all later win full caps.

The third game in the series, at Dens Park, in February, 1956 was another 2-2 draw. Scotland fielded four players who had already been capped: Andy Kerr of Partick Thistle, skipper Archie Glen of Aberdeen, his Dons team mate Harry Yorston and Hibs' Eddie Turnbull. Only two others from that team, goalkeeper Bill Brown, then of Dundee, and Mike Cullen of Luton Town would go on to win full caps.

Ronnie Simpson, an Olympian in 1948, a B cap in 1953,  but had to wait till 1967 for his full cap

The fourth and final B game against the English was played, at Villa Park, on February, 1957, with England winning 4-1. This game was televised nationwide, and made unhappy viewing for the Scots. Cumming, Rangers' Alex Scott and Hearts' Jimmy Wardhaugh were the three capped men; Ian Gardiner, by now with Motherwell was back for a second B cap, but, of the then uncapped players on display, only he and Ronnie Simpson would take the final step to a full cap.

By then, the emphasis had switched to Under-23 games and the B team went into cold storage, for over 30-years, before another spell out of favour, being briefly restored at the start of the 21st century. Maybe it would be worth trying this level out again.

Forty-six players were used in those five B internationals in the 1950s, of these, 11 had previously been capped, leaving 35 new players being given a chance. Of these, 17, just under 50% went on to win full caps – and that is a higher percentage of graduates than either the Under-23 or Under-21 teams have managed.

AND FINALLY – there was, naturally, much comment in the papers yesterday about the Lisbon Lions being inducted into the Scottish Football Hall of Fame.

As is inevitable where issues surrounding either one of the Bigot Brothers is concerned, the btl (below the line) readers' comments included more than a degree of “whitabootery”. I did, however, have to laugh at the many Celtic fans who commented: “this was 50-years too-late in coming”.

This overlooks the fact, we didn't have a Scottish Football Hall of Fame 50-years ago. The SFHoF was not established until 2004 – so quite how they could have inducted a team 37-years before the thing was set-up is beyond me.

The 1928 Wembley Wizards - if the Lisbon Lions are in the Hall of Fame, why not them?

I have been suggesting to the SFoH staff for years – they ought to have inducted the Lisbon Lions, the Barcelona Bears, the Gothenburg Giants, the Wembley Wizards (1928) and the Wembley Wizards (1967) before now. However, I was told, the general idea was to recognize individuals rather than teams, although, the induction of McCrae's Batallion in 2014, to mark the centenary of World War I gave them the precedent to induct the Lions as a team, as well as individually.

My argument remains – football is a team game, so, if you are recognising someone and part of that recognition stems from a particular team performance, then the whole team should go in.

Monday, 16 October 2017

An Omission Sorted, An Overlooked Talent Recognised - But, A What The F*** As Well

HALLS OF FAME are a North American creation; began, I have always reckoned, because Canada and the USA don't have lengthy-enough histories that they don't require to create some.

 New SFHoF inudctees Jim Craig and John Clark - about time too

Any way, the Scottish Football Hall of Fame held its fourteenth induction dinner at Hampden last night, at which the latest eight inductees were ushered in. These newcomers were: John Clark, Jim Craig and Willie Wallace, Allan McGraw, John McGovern, Archie Macpherson, the Lisbon Lions and the Queen's Park XI of 1883-84.

I have been running for a year or two, an almost one-man campaign to have Clark, Craig and Wallace, the three Lisbon Lions not previously inducted, introduced into the Hall of Fame, so, I am chuffed that the induction committee has finally seen sense. Mind you, a double induction, since they also went in as members of the Lions, seems a bit excessive for one year, even the 50th anniversary.

To go off on a tangent, next year is the 90th anniversary of the original Wembley Wizards, maybe I should be pushing harder in my still-running campaign to have the presently uninducted Wizards inducted – plus the team as a whole.

No complaints about the wonderful Allan McGraw, one of nature's true gentlemen, inducted, thoroughly deserved, as is the induction of wee John McGovern, Brian Clough's captain in the glory days of Nottingham Forest – but, the Queen's Park team of 1883-84, what the Hell is all that about?

 John McGovern - an often-overlooked talent

Inventing Sevens got Melrose RFC into World Rugby's Hall of Fame, by similar credentials, Queen's Park FC ought to have been founder inductees of the Scottish Football Hall of Fame, because, without Queen's Park, there wouldn't be Scottish Football. By all means, however belatedly, induct Queen's Park, but, why this particular team?

They didn't even win the Scottish Cup that season, they were awarded it, because opponents Vale of Leven didn't turn up for the final. No, that one has me baffled.

But, there again, sadly, since it was first mooted, the induction process has to me been a case of certain well-known journalists on the panel pushing favourites and friends. And, I can think of no other reason for Archie Macpherson's induction other than the old pals act.

Sorry, but, I have never “got” Archie. I never rated him as a commentator or analyst – he was never in David Francey's or Bob Crampsey's class. And there, straight away, you have all that's wrong with the old pals act which is so-much part of the induction process.

Archie Macpherson is IN, Arthur Montford ISN'T, and, even-more scandalously, Bob Crampsey IS NOT A MEMBER!!

Archie Macpherson inducted before Bob Crampsey - shakes head sadly

There are other scandalous omissions – where is Alex Jackson, hat-trick hero of the Wembley Wizards, or his skipper that day, Jimmy McMullan. Sir George Graham ran Scottish football for years, he deserves to be in. There are no representatives of Junior football, the heart beat of the game in Scotland – where is the legend that is Willie Knox? What does Andy Roxburgh need to do to get in?

The induction committee's knowledge of the Victorian era, when Scotland was the best team in the, admittedly a lot-smaller football world shames them. My own bette noirs from that era is the failure to recognise the great Rangers captain Tom Vallance and Dr John Smith, from Mauchline, prolific goal scorer and then, a member of the first British Lions rugby team to tour, or, from the Edwardian era, those magnificent Scottish captains, Charlie Thomson of Hearts and Alec Raisbeck of Liverpool.

An induction committee that can induct Archie Macpherson before any of these giants – well, that just sums up the lack of intelligence around Hampden Park and the ranks of the SFWA.

MEANWHILE, I am delighted to see Stevie Clarke installed as the new Kilmarnock boss. He brings great experience to the role, superb coaching credentials and great contacts in England.

 Stevie Clarke - I'm so excited with anticipation

Stevie is an Ayrshire boy, his brother was a great Kilmarnock servant, what's not to like for us poor benighted Killie fans. Dare we to dream that this is maybe another Willie Waddell arriving at Rugby Park? No, let's not burden Stevie with over-arching expectations. He faces an arduous task in turning the team round, however, Paul McDonald handed him the perfect foundation with that win on Saturday – now, hopefully, it is onwards and upwards.

Let's hope too, the crowds will go up, and the fans, who for two long, and not without some justification, have been over-critical, start to really support Killie.

THE NEW FIFA rankings were released this morning, and what do you know – Scotland, the nation which sacked its team manager, because the governing body's governors thought the team required new impetus, has risen 14 places in the table.

Scotland is now ranked 29th in the world, and 19th in Europe – our highest placings for some time. What a legacy WGS has left his successor, whoever that is. But, doesn't the fact the wee man has been sacked, just as we are finally, starting to go in the right direction, sum-up how stupid the suits inside Hampden are?

You've got to laugh, otherwise, you would burst into tears.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Over Here, Look At Us, Notice Us - We Matter

THOSE serial attention-seekers, the dark underbelly of the Celtic Family – the Green Brigade – were at it again yesterday, with their huge banner and their all-too-obvious demonstration against OBFA – the Offensive Behaviour At Football Act.

The Green Brigade's latest: "Look at us" banner, on Saturday

This blog's position on OBFA has been stated often – it is bad law, hurriedly introduced, hastily-drafted and basically flawed. That said, taking it off the statute book is not an option. I repeat what I have often said: don't bin it, amend it, because, it is needed.

From some of the stunts they have pulled over recent seasons, it is obvious, there is intelligent life among the Green Brigade, indeed, compared to the Neanderthals, content to fight 317-year-old battles and be permanently up to their knees in religiously-discriminated against blood, the GB come out rather well.

However, the weakness in their argument for their right to keep on signing is this – the notion: “We sing songs celebration the struggle for freedom – they celebrate bigotry” does not wash.

Be it 'The Fields of Athenry' or 'The Sash' there are good, rabble-rousing songs on both sides – they just have nothing to do with Scottish football and should be got rid of. That said, singing either song at a folk club – indeed, believe it or not, I have heard both sung live on TV in folk music shows – is fine. The best part of 50,000 people roaring either one out, in an effort to wind-up opposition fans in the same ground – you bet, I find that offensive.

OBFA could be rendered unnecessary within a season, if the suits along Hampden's sixth-floor corridor possessed a pair of cojones between them. All they have to do is decide: songs celebrating religious intolerance or the political and social history of the island of Ireland have no place in Scottish football; such songs are banned and, if the fans of any club sing them, then that club will be deducted points.

Bring-in zero tolerance, make the clubs responsible for their fans' behaviour and in short order, OBFA would cease. It would cease because, the clubs would have to, instead of, as at present, treating them like dirt, the clubs would have to engage with the fans, involve them, treat them with a wee bit of respect and either force or bribe them to behave.

I know, even Maggie Thatcher baulked at this, but, bring in some sort of membership scheme, with rules to be followed, and punishments for those who refuse to follow those rules, and OBFA would be a thing of the past.

The lady said: "No", but, why not club memberships?

That is the road Scottish football should go down. Trouble is, doing this would be too-much trouble for the suits. But, they cannot bury their heads in the sand for ever, perhaps better they endorse and implement change, than have it forced on them.

HOWEVER, the suits will not be, in the unlikely event they ever do, putting their minds to sorting-out OBFA for some time; they have a more-urgent and to them, important, job to do.

They have to find a buffer from fans' criticism to hide behind – a new Scotland boss to replace Wee Gordon Strachan. They have, as I suspected they would, in the short-term, handed managerial duties to big Malky Mackay, while they conduct a leisurely search for a long-term replacement for WGS. This saves them some money and buys them time.

And, whoever gets the job, though he will never be told this is the case, must not forget, his primary role is to soak-up any supporters' criticism, not rock the boat, and give the SFA Board and the club representatives no cause for alarm.

Ally's wise words on directors still apply

I have said this before and will say it again – these are the wise words of the late, great, Alistair MacLeod: “A manager is safe from the sack, only for as long as he is the focus of fan unrest; as long as they are having a go at the manager, he's safe. Once they start having a go at the board, and asking them what they are going to do about the manager – he's toast.”

In the final days of Strachan, it was all about his perceived failings – the “genetics” quote, the failure to go gung-ho at Slovenia at 1-1, the other dredged-up mistakes of the failed qualification campaign.

Nobody mentioned the fact Scottish fitba is shite and has been since at least the Souness Revolution. The fact it is easier to be capped if you're playing in the second tier in England and you qualify through a Scottish granny. The Grand Canyon-sized gap between the Under-21 team and the A team. The fact we have too-many teams of a similarly-poor standard claiming to be “senior” “professional” football clubs, when they are anything but. These are subjects never to be raised in football society.

The SFA and Scottish football is not fit for purpose. The men at the top of the game will not change things, there is nothing in it for them if they do. The fans are powerless to change it, unless there is a total boycott, and that will not happen.

We are in a mess, which nobody seems prepared to sort-out, so, best we enjoy the speculation around the next sap to take up the challenge of mission impossible, and pick-up the poisoned chalice of the Scottish team manager's job.

I think I'll change the title of this blog to “Moses”, since I feel I am a voice, crying in the wilderness.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

What A Shower Of Arrogant Arseholes

ONE THING the SFA's handling of Gordon Strachan's departure has clearly demonstrated is, the breath-taking arrogance of the suits who stalk Hampden's sixth-floor corridor knows no bounds.

Stewart Regan, a useful idiot who covers for the suits

It was ever thus, as young journalists, in bars, winding-down after our paper had been put to bed, we would listen as our elders and betters, the legendary: “fans with typewriters” regaled us with tales of misbehaviour on foreign trips with Scotland – back in the days before the red-top Rottweilers were sent with the team – when: “what goes-on on-tour, stays on-tour.”

Sure, we knew of the night Hughie Gallacher tried to drink Paris dry, but we also knew of the SFA councillors being forced to dive through a hedge to safety, to escape a spray of machine-gun fire - after they decided a dictatorship's curfew did not refer to them, and they could saunter along to enjoy the delights of the best bordello in that Latin American capital city. Never forget, both combatants were “steamin'” the night wee Billy Bremner and big Hamish MacDonald had their exchange of opinions in what became known as 'The Copenhagen Affair'.

No normal rules of behaviour do not apply when it comes to the Hampden “suits”, it has “ayebeen” thus, and, until this changes, we are going nowhere fast.

Stewart Regan, the “useful idiot”, who makes the statements and acts as a firewall between the stenographers who cover football for the mainstream Scottish media and the “suits” who make the big, and not-so-big decisions affecting the game here, was wheeled-out yesterday to put a gloss on WGS's departure.

Now, I don't think he had to try too hard to get the stenographers to follow the Hampden party line. After all, it is no secret, WGS had few friends among the Lap Top Loyal, or even the Fans with Lap Tops. Therefore, selling the notion: “We needed new impetus, a fresh perspective and so on” was an easy sell for Mr Regan.

What did make me laugh was, the announcement that the absolute minimum expected of the next sap is – we qualify for the finals of Euro' 2020. I should fucking coco. The way the finals of these big events, the Euros and the World Cup are expanding, it seems to me it will soon be harder NOT to qualify than to get in, but, never mind, given our record, I still fancy us to do this. Not qualify I mean.

Scotland has had a long, admittedly turbulent, but mainly loving relationship with the World Cup. We embrace the idea of taking-on Brazil, Argentina and so on, far more than we do the notion of facing Iceland, Portugal or Greece. Perhaps this reflects the long-held view of the Scots: the world's our oyster and, anywhere is better than here.

The Euros began in 1960, but, Scotland was the last of the Home Nations to embrace this upstart, not deigning to enter until the 1968 tournament. That time, we beat reigning World Champions England, at Wembley, then allowed George Best to do a one-man demolition job on us in Belfast, failed to beat a poor England team at Hampden and failed to qualify – thus setting a pattern.

Wembley 1967 - a great start to the European Championships, since when it's been all down-hill

We bombed again – badly – in 1972, then came off half-decent World Cup qualifying performances in 1974, 1978, 1982 and 1986 with poor European Championship qualifying campaigns in 1976, 1980, 1984 and 1988.

Then, finally, in 1992, we qualified for the finals, in Sweden, finishing fifth – our highest-ever ranking in European or world football. Since then, we've been on the downward spiral - 12th in 1996, our second and to date last appearance in the final tournament; 19th, beaten by England in a qualifying play-off, in 2000; 20th, again beaten in a play-off – no, make that thrashed, by the Netherlands, in 2004.

In 2008, we didn't even make the play-offs, well, a new format meant they didn't have play-offs that tournament, we didn't get out of our qualifying group, but were 18th. Then came the slump, we were 29th in 2012 and managed to cling-on to that standing in 2016.

Reflect on that for a moment. That means Scotland, the nation which invented the passing game and taught it to the world, is now 29th of 55 member associations within UEFA. We are decidedly lower league. UEFA has introduced the Europa Nations League from next season, in that, we are in League C – a third tier team. We are the international equivalent of Albion Rovers, Forfar Athletic, or, perhaps most-fittingly Queen's Park, while the SFA suits think we should be somewhat better.

As I said further up this post, the Euros has been expanded, as all big tournaments appear to be, and this has not been for the benefit of football. It is now almost harder NOT to qualify for the European Championship finals than it is to actually get there. “You must qualify” isn't that great an objective to place before whoever replaces WGS.

That said, however: “You must qualify using Scottish-qualified players and working within the SFA system” - that's a challenge Ethan Hawke and the IMF would baulk at.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to get Scotland to the Euro 2020 finals

Whoever gets the job, his mission might be possible, if the SFA would itself self-destruct within five seconds of him getting the job – then he could rebuild something which did work, as the SFA clearly has not for years.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Gordon's Gone, But, Will His Successor Fare Any Better?

YESTERDAY'S sacking of Gordon Strachan, however it is dressed-up: “mutual consent”, “parting of the ways”, whatever, has to go down as yet another example of the suits who have mismanaged Scottish football for generations hiding behind a good man, who did his best, being sacrificed so they can avoid having that mismanagement discussed.

WGS - Has gone, but, will his successor do any better? Pic: courtesy of Jeff Holmes SNS

It has to be admitted, in things such as his ill-judged “genetics” comment, Wee Gordon Strachan did himself no favours. In other matters, such as his sometimes tetchy relationship with the stenographers of the Scottish Football Writers Association, again, the wee man didn't help himself. However, received wisdom tells us: “Football is a results-driven business”. The SFA Board members, who dispensed with his services yesterday, decided the results under WGS were unacceptable, so, he was let go.

Fair enough, except:

  • In pure results terms, Scotland IMPROVED under WGS.

You do not believe me, well here it is:

  • 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, Scotland finished fourth in Group 1 - 34th in the European qualifying zone.
  • 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign, Scotland finished third in Group F, 20th in Europe. Therefore – we finished 14 places higher than we had four years previously.

I appreciate we have this romantic vision of Scotland being the keepers of the flame when it comes to football; we invented the passing game and took it around the world, so, we still have some right to be considered good at it. The reality is somewhat different.

We clambered, however reluctantly, onto the world stage in 1949, when we accepted the 1949-50 Home Internationals would be used as a qualifying group for the 1950 World Cup in Brazil.

England won that group, but, we were then offered, and refused, a “wild-card” entry. In all, only six European nations travelled to Brazil, so, we can say, Scotland was ranked seventh in Europe in 1950.

Uruguay 7 Scotland 0 - the low point of the 195 World Cup campaign

Four years later, we did qualify and travel, to Switzerland. The final tournament was a total disaster for us, and we finished 12th of the 12 European nations which had participated. Another four years passed, and again we managed to qualify for the finals, in Sweden. This tournament was not the disaster of four years previously, but, we still, by our reckoning, under-performed – finishing 11th of the 12 European contenders – an improvement of one place from our 1954 performance.

For the 1962 World Cup, in Chile, we failed to qualify, losing out, after extra time, in a play-off with Czechoslovakia, who would go on to finish as runners-up to Brazil. Ten European nations qualified, in effect, we were 11th in Europe, exactly the same spot we had filled four years previously.

The 1966 World Cup in England saw us drop down the rankings, finishing 17th in Europe after a roller-coaster of a qualifying campaign. But, as what we can now see as a golden age for Scottish international football post-World War II began to dawn, for the 1970 Finals, we clambered up to 12th in Europe as we lost out in qualifying to a late West German goal in Hamburg.

That rise continued in 1974, when, after a 16-year absence, during which we missed three final tournaments, we were back in the big show in West Germany, where, in typically-Scottish fashion, we were the only unbeaten team, but didn't qualify for the knock-out stages, finishing 9th of the 16 competing teams, our highest-ever placing in the World Cup, and 7th in Europe.

1974 - 7th in Europe, 9th in the world, but, this Bremner miss is the great: "What if?"

We qualified again for the 1978 finals in Argentina, one of ten European nations to travel. Argentina '78 will forever go down as an unmitigated disaster, which is perhaps unfair, but, we finished 11th, two places lower than four years previously, however, we maintained our status as the 7th best nation in Europe.

Four years passed and, when the World Cup went to Spain in 1982, we were again on the biggest stage, one of 14 European nations involved. As in every previous World Cup, we went out after the initial group stage, finishing 14th of the 24 competing nations, and 12th of the 14 European ones on parade.

When they unfurled the flags of the 24 competing nations for the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, the saltire was again flying proudly; Scotland being one of the 13 European nations to have come through the qualifying grind. We maintained our consistent record of not getting out of the group stages, finishing bottom of our group, which included West Germany, Denmark and Uruguay. We finished 20th of the 24 competing nations, but, maintained our ranking of 12th among the European qualifiers.

The World Cup returned to Europe, to Italy, in 1990, and, for the fifth tournament in a row, we qualified, one of 14 European nations involved. True to form, we decided not to reach the knock-out stages, settling for joint 17th place with Austria, joint 11th of the European nations, again with the men from Vienna.

We didn't apparently fancy the 1994 World Cup finals in the USA, failing to qualify from our group. Thirteen European nations went State-side, we finished the qualifying campaign ranked 20th in Europe – not nearly good enough.

But, resilient as ever, we bounced back under Craig Brown to reach the 1998 finals in France. Expansion had taken the number of teams competing in the finals up to 32, split into eight groups of four, with Scotland one of the 13 European nations involved. Again, we failed to set the heather on fire, finishing bottom of our group, 27th of the 32 competing nations and 12th of the 13 European teams in the expanded field.

Craig Burley's red card v Morocco, a sad ending to our last World Cup Finals appearance

Brown tried to get us back to the finals in Korea and Japan in 2002, but, after a stuttering campaign, we finished third in our group, 21st of the 51 European nations which entered, and out in the cold.

Fifty-two European nations entered the 2006 World Cup, the finals of which were to be held in Germany. They were split into nine qualifying groups for the initial phase, and that's where Scotland's interest ended, finishing third in their group, 24th in Europe.

The World Cup broke new ground in 2010. going, for the first time, to Africa, to South Africa, but, as was becoming all-too-familiar, when it kicked-off, the Scots were on the outside looking in, having finished third in their qualifying group, 27th in Europe. The slump was continuing.

That is the sad saga of Scotland and the World Cup. It seems to me pointless to look at our world ranking, since we all-too-often fail to reach the final, global stages, it is our European ranking which matters, and, in the 68-years since we first stepped onto the qualifying stage, we have gone from the seventh-best team in Europe, up to the giddy heights of seventh best, before plunging to 34th best in 2014. Since when, under Gordon Strachan, we have rocketed-up to 20th, our highest standing since we last qualified for the big show, back in 1998.

Aye, sack the manager, he's clearly rubbish.

For the record: Scotland's World Cup progress since 1950:

1950 - 7th in Europe: Qualified for finals on a wild-card, did not travel
1954 - 12th in Europe: Qualified for finals, 15th in the world
1958 - 11th in Europe: Qualified for finals, 14th in the world
1962 - 11th in Europe: Did not qualify for finals
1966 - 17th in Europe: Did not qualify for finals
1970 - 12th in Europe: Did not qualify for finals
1974 - 7th in Europe: Qualified for finals, unbeaten, 9th in the world.
1978 - 7th in Europe: Qualified for finals, 11th in the world
1982 - 12th in Europe: Qualified for finals, 14th in the world
1986 - 12th in Europe: Qualified for finals, 20th in the world
1990 – joint 11th in Europe: Qualified for finals, joint 17th in the world
1994 - 20th in Europe: Did not qualify for the finals
1998 - 12th in Europe: Qualified for finals, 27th in the world
2002 - 21st in Europe: Did not qualify for the finals
2006 - 24th in Europe: Did not qualify for the finals
2010 - 27th in Europe: Did not qualify for the finals
2014 - 34th in Europe: Did not qualify for the finals
2018 - 20th in Europe: Did not qualify for the finals.

We first entered the World Cup as the seventh best team in Europe. The just-ended 2018 qualifying tournament was our 18th shot at the event. When Russia 2018 kicks-off, it will mark 20-years since we last qualified for the event proper, 40-years since we last matched out base-line ranking of seventh in Europe, since our only appearance in the World Cup top ten.

Perhaps only Hungary has had a more-soul-destroying fall from grace than Scotland. That, if it is the case, is their problem and, while I sympathise, I am more-concerned about Scotland. Time may demonstrate, the parting of the ways with Strachan, at this juncture, was the right decision. But, we do not yet know.

What we do know is, for all the mistakes he made, Gordon Strachan presided over the best imrovement in Scotland's World Cup fortunes, ever. The sack seems a wee bit cruel - since: we don't know if his eventual successor will fare any better with our faulty, failing system of running Scottish football at international level.