Socrates MacSporran

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

Thursday, 11 July 2019

We Are MerelyPaying Lip Service To Youth Development

THERE IS something not quite right about the new fitba season getting underway before the Open Champion has posed with the Claret Jug. It goes against the order of seasons.

But, here we are, the Bigot Brothers have already played their opening games in the Champions and Europa Leagues qualifiers, with Aberdeen and Kilmarnock due to kick-off their European adventures tonight – and we are still only midway through the second week of Wimbledon.

I wish the BBs and the two “diddy” Scottish teams all the best in Europe, and wonder, just when the SFA and the SPFL will adjust their season to give our clubs a fighting chance of just maybe, still being in Europe past Christmas.

It does grate with me that most of the close season transfer activity appears to revolve round importing non-Scots. The first and most-important part of the SFA's reason for existing is supposedly to promote and develop Scottish football.

Just how allowing the top clubs to bring-in non-Scots willy-nilly squares with this, well, it has me beaten.

Unless we gain Independence, and a speedy re-admission to the European Union for an independent Scotland, I fear our top clubs are going to get a bit of a shock, once Westminster's hard presumption against immigration starts to kick-in, and it becomes very difficult to import foreign players. The days of free-for-all importing will soon be over.

I was reading yesterday about the rules in French Rugby Union, where the clubs are supposedly awash with imports – to the detriment of French young players. Well, except, France has won the last two Under-20 Rugby World Cup competitions.

In France, the clubs MUST include a specific number of France-qualified players in each match-day squad. The same rule applies in English rugby, where each match-day squad has to have at least 70% (16/23 players) “England-qualified.

If that rule was introduced into Scottish football, the Big Two would surely struggle. In Sarajevo, the Celtic starting XI contained six Scots, which equates to 61.1% “Scotland-qualified,” while the full 18-man match-day squad saw 11 of the 18 – 54.5% being “Scotland-qualified.”

The Rangers squad was even-less Scottish: just two of the starting XI, Allan McGregor and Ryan Jack were “Scotland-qualified,” that's 18.2%, while only three of the seven on the bench: Andy Halliday, Greg Stewart and Greg Docherty were “Scotland-qualified,” giving a squad figure of 27.8%.

That's a long way off the 11 players, born within a 40-mile radius of Celtic Park, the immortal Lisbon Lions, and also a long way off the 11 Scots, known as “The Barcelona Bears” after they pulled-off their club's greatest win in the 1972 Cup-Winners Cup final.

And don't give me the old: “These days are past” line. It could happen again, with a wee bit of hard work and ambition – oh yes, and if the SFA weren't scared of the big two and got them, and the other big clubs telt – start pushing young Scottish players.

Bringing-on young players, I will admit, in an inexact science. Scottish football first became involved in age group football in 1955, with the first Under-23 team, from which emerged four internationalists: Alex Parker, Eric Caldow, Dave Mackay and Graham Leggatt, all of whom were in the full Scotland squad for the 1958 World Cup Finals, just over three years later, and two of whom, Caldow and Mackay are in any all-time Scotland squad named since.

In all, in 43 Under-23 internationals between 1955 and 1976, we tried-out 209 young players, of whom 116, or 55.5%, went on to become full caps.

Then we switched to Under-21 football, and in the first decade, we capped 104 players at this level, of whom 50, or 48.1% went on to win full caps.

Then, in 1986 David Holmes recruited Graeme Souness as Rangers' manager and everything changed. David Murray bought the club and introduced the import-heavy recruiting system he had used with his MIM basketball club, and, everyone else followed suit.

I am still updating my data base of Under-21 caps, but, can tell you, between 1986 and 2006, the percentage of Under-21 caps “training-on” to become full internationalists fell from 48.1% to 33.2%.

In fact, there are several instances of Under-21 caps from the Big Two, who played more age group internationals for Scotland than first-team games for their club. Sorry, but, that aint right.

I had a look at the last Scotland Under-21 team to take the field, losing 2-1 to Sweden in a tournament back in March. That team was:

Robbie McCrorie (Rangers); Sean Mackie (Hibernian), Barrie McGuire (Motherwell), George Johnston (Liverpool), Daniel Harvie (Aberdeen/on-loan Ayr United), Allan Campbell (Motherwell), Michael Andrew Johnston (Celtic), Benjamin Houser (Reading), Jordan Holsgrove (Reading), Ross McCrorie (Rangers), Iain Wilson (Kilmarnock). On the bench were: Jamie Brandon (Heart of Midlothian), Patrick Reading (Middlesbrough), Fraser Hornby (Everton), Jake Hastie (Motherwell), Oliver Shaw (Hibernian), David Turnbull (Motherwell); all of whom got off the bench, plus unused subs: goalkeepers Kieran Wright (Rangers, on-loan to Albion Rovers) and Ross Doohan (Celtic) and defender Calvin Miller (Celtic).

I've never-even heard of at least half a dozen of these guys. Certainly David Turnbull, Michael Johnston and the McCrorie twins have a bit of public name recognition. But, five years or so into their professional careers, these guys are some way off pushing for a place in the full Scotland squad. Indeed, Ross McCrorie, a veteran of over 50 first-team games for Rangers is so far out of Steven Gerrard's plans, he has agreed to a season-long loan with Portsmouth in England's third tier, while his goalkeeping twin brother is also going out on-loan, to Queen of the South.

Given what he has already done at the club, I cannot see the sense of loaning-out Ross McCrorie. Yes, giving Robbie a chance to play regularly, and ditto Kieran Wright, well that allows Rangers' fourth and fifth-choice 'keepers to show what they can do, and I can see nothing wrong with that.

No, it's difficult enough to make it as a professional footballer, but, if you're a young Scottish wannabee, it seems, these days, even your employers like to put additional obstacles in your way.

The talented and determined will always make it, but, I wonder, over the years, just how many marginal boys – who might have made it, got disillusioned and gave-up.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Women's World Cup: I Think A Double Dismissal Would Suit Me

THE ENGLISH BROADCASTING CORPORATION are, as always when there is a major football tournament going on, currently in full-on Ingurlund, Ingurlund, Ingurlund mode – determined to cheer The Lionesses, with their three leopards on their left breast, to global glory.

England v USA, who do you want to win? Both being thrown out of the tournament for some obscure breach of the rules would suit me splendidly, I must confess.

Actually, the fitba has been not bad, about Scottish Championship standard when it comes to tactical naivety, wrongly-weighted passes and wrong options taken. The players' behaviour is generally better, but, you can see the dire effects of professionalism coming-in, diving, dissent and so forth. Still, the games are probably played in a better spirit than men's games.

I actually fancy, whichever side wins between The Netherlands and Sweden will win the competition.

Kim Little - looks to be heading for her second Olympics

However, England reaching the last four has guaranteed Team GB a place in the football competition at the 2020 Olympic Games, in Tokyo. This is already making waves among the Little Scotlanders of the football world – who do not want our world-class talents such as Jenny Beattie, Kim Little, Caroline Weir or Erin Cuthbert to be allowed to augment Phil Neville's already strong England squad.

The thing is, back when football entered the Olympic movement, over 100 years ago, it was the (English) Football Association who joined the British Olympic Association, the body which runs the Olympic Games from a British perspective. OK, you can argue, the SFA with the Northern Irish and Welsh associations should, long ago have insisted, if the game of football was to be represented, it should be on an all-British basis.

There are other sports in which the four UK nations compete separately at international level, but, these sports: hockey, curling, badminton, basketball to name but a few, all initiated “British” or “United Kingdom” bodies, specifically to deal with the Olympics. Football didn't.

In fact, the SFA has never bought-in to the Olympic ideal. Back in the days of amateurism, it was not unknown for Queen's Park to pull players out of Great Britain squads to play in Scottish League games. Maybe if some of our great legislators had had access to the wider and deeper troughs open to the great and good of the Olympic movement, Scotland would have been keener, but, it never happened.

Neither am I too bothered if we do get one or two of our girls into the final Team GB squad for Tokyo. I am convinced this will be the last Summer Games at which the UK will enter as a single entity. By the 2024 Games, Scotland will again be an Independent nation, hopefully with full membership of the Olympic Movement and able to send a Team Scotland to the Games.

I CANNOT say I was surprised when St Mirren changed managers last week; and I certainly wish Jim Goodwin well in his new role as boss of the Buddies.

Jim Goodwin - a top six demand is maybe excerss pressure

No harm to the guys who would have to go, but, I have always felt that the best St Mirren teams have a spine of home-bred players. Love Street used to produce a regular load of players good enough for Scotland Under-23 and Under-21 teams, many of whom were sold-on to bigger clubs.

I spent an enjoyable few years on the Sports Desk of the -Paisley aily Express, during which I got to see a lot of young Buddies featuring in Scotland age group teams. During my spell on the PDE: Derek Scrimgour, David McNamee, Martin Baker, Norrie McWhirter, Sergei Baltacha, Jamie Fullarton, Brian Hetherston, Hugh Murray, Barry Lavety, Ricky Gillies and Steven McGarry, plus Simon Lappin and Burton O'Brien, all earned Scotland Under-21 honours; that's a fair array of talent. But, all St Mirren won in my time there was the First Division, now The Championship in 1999-2000 – huge potential was never turned into real success.

They have a good, committed home support, and the opportunity, as Alex Ferguson demonstrated when he was there, the potential to grow that support – if the club is run properly.

I noted Tony Fitzpatrick's statement this week that new boss Goodwin should be targeting a top-six finish for the Buddies. Actually, if I was Goodwin, I'd be looking no further than tenth place – thus avoiding the promotion/relegation play-off this season. That would be progress. Get that out of the way, then look to progress to the top six.

Here are St Mirren's finishing league positions over the past 25-years, beginning with season 1994-95:

1994-95 - 7th in Division One (17th in Scotland)
1995-96 - 6th in Division One (16th in Scotland)
1996-97 - 4th in Division One (14th in Scotland)
1997-98 - 6th in Division One (16th in Scotland)
1998-99 - 5th in Division One (15th in Scotland)
1999-2000 – First in Division, Promoted (11th in Scotland)
2000-01 - 12th in Premier League (12th in Scotland) – Relegated
2001-02 - 8th in Division One (20th in Scotland)
2002-03 - 7th in Division One (19th in Scotland)
2003-04 - 7th in Division One (19th in Scotland)
2004-05 - 2nd in Division One (14th in Scotland)
2005-06 – First in Division One, Promoted (13th in Scotland) also won the Scottish League Challenge Cup
2006-07 - 11th in Premier Division (11th in Scotland)
2007-08 - 10th in Premier Division (10th in Scotland)
2008-09 - 11th in Premier Division (11th in Scotland)
2009-10 - 10th in Premier Division (10th in Scotland) Reached League Cup Final
2010-11 - 11th in Premier Division (11th in Scotland)
2011-12 - 8th in Premier Division (8th in Scotland)
2012-13 - 11th in Premier Division (11th in Scotland) Won League Cup
2013-14 - 8th in Premiership (8th in Scotland)
2014-15 - 12th in Premiership (12th in Scotland) Relegated
2015-16 - 6th in Championship (18th in Scotland)
2016-17 - 7th in Championship (19th in Scotland) Reached final of the League Challenge Cup
2017-18 – First in Championship, Promoted (13th in Scotland)
2018-19 - 11th in Premiership (11th in Scotland)

Taking that record and averaging it out over the 25 years, St Mirren's average final position has been in the top two of the Championship. The last time the Buddies finished in the top six was in season 1984-85, when they finished fifth. So, I would say, asking for a top six finish is putting unnecessary pressure on the new manager.

In the last ten seasons, the club has twice – in 2012 and again in 2014 finished eighth in the top division, their best performance in the decade, perhaps asking for a repeat of that would be a good target for the new boss.

I like St Mirren, they are a fine club. I also like Fitzy, a St Mirren man to his core and a man I have a lot of respect for. But, come on Tony, you've been where Goodwin now is, lift the pressure a wee bit please. Small steps at first.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Reflections On A Bad Night In Paris

I WAS only seven for the first item on the following list, and I think we gave up at 3-0 that night, but, since the 1954 World Cup Final Tournament, which was broadcast live, thanks to the wonders of the new Eurovision set-up, I have suffered as follows:

  • Losing 7-0 to Uruguay, in 1954

  • Losing to Paraguay – then John Hewie's missed penalty at 0-0 v France in 1958

  • Losing to Czechoslovakia in Brussels in a play-off for the 1962 Finals

  • The absolute disaster of Naples (Ron Yeats wearing number nine after half a dozen call-offs) in the 1966 campaign

  • Tommy Gemmell's red card in Germany in the 1970 campaign

  • Bremner's miss against Brazil in 1974

  • The Peru game, then the Iran game in 1978

  • Hansen and Miller in 1982

  • The Uruguay game in 1986

  • Costa Rica in 1990

  • The night a team died in Portugal in the 1994 campaign

  • Craig Burley's red card in 1998

That's 12 heart-breakers from the days when we had delusions of adequacy on the world stage. I will spare you further pain dear reader by not listing the heart-breaks of the subsequent 21 Wilderness Seasons.

So, lang syne reconciled to accepting, when it comes to Scotland and the football World Cup – shite happens, I am not going to beat myself up about last night's events in the Parc Des Princes.

The Lassies lost, but, hey, this was Scotland on the big stage, apart from the fact it was our women, rather than the men – what was new? They did the auld Scots trick of snatching defeat from the jaws of success.

And, on the basis of always look on the bright side of life, the girls saved the jerseys of the “blazeratti” who inhabit Hampden's sixth-floor corridor, who now will not have to answer the question: How come the girls could qualify for the knock-out stages, first time out, when the men never have in eight Finals appearances?

(Adopting a Norwegian accent): Shelley Kerr, Lee Alexander, Kirsty Smith, Rachel Corsie, Jen Beattie, Nicola Docherty, Leeanne Crichton, Caroline Weir, Lisa Evans, Kim Little, Claire Emslie, Erin Cuthbert, Sophie Howard, Fiona Brown, Nicola Sturgeon, Gemma Fay, Scott Booth, your team was robbed blind, by referee Hyang-Ok Ri and the VAR team.

But, it was a get out of jail free card for the stumble bums who run Men's fitba in Scotland.

Still looking on the bright side of life; we are now into the part of each World Cup which we Scots love:

As we watch the English media pissing themselves in anticipation of INGURLAND, INGURLAND INGURLAND bringing football home; building-up the ludicrously-named “LIONESSES” into world-beaters, when, every Scot knows, it will all end in tears and, in the case of 2019, in calls for Phil Neville's head.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

It's Minnows v Minnows With Delusions Of Being Salmon

I HAVE long believed, for decades now, the High Heid Yins at the Scottish Football Association have got away with murder – of the national game.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, they have managed by and large to: “fool most of the people, most of the time,” into believing that Scotland is only ever a lucky break or two away from being back where we were at the high point of the Victorian British Empire – the masters of world football.

They have also managed to avoid the gift of that ultimate power, perhaps best described by Robert Burns, and “see oorsels as ithers see us.” - which brings us back to the “foolish notion” mentioned in the final five words of the last paragraph.

This ower-guid conceit o' oorsels, common among Scottish football fans was brought home to me last night when looking at a Kilmarnock fans' forum page on Facebook. Some of the sense of entitlement was almost at Old Firm levels as the Rugby Park faithful digested the news – they are going to face one almighty scramble for tickets if they wish to follow Ayrshire's finest to North Wales for their first European competition match in 18 years.

The away leg of their Europea League second qualifying round match against Connah's Quay Nomads will be held at Rhyl's 1500-capacity ground, with Killie, at best, able to take a little over 500 fans with them.

This is, according to many of the Rugby Park faithful, is an insult to the club – how dare these North Walian minnows treat the mighty Killie like this.

Aye, ok, BUT, in this case, the reality is, it is Kilmarnock, rather than CQN who are “the minnows.”

I checked-out the official UEFA Clubs Co-efficient Table. This lists the European record of the continent's top 450 clubs; it does not make good reading from a Scottish perspective. The Scottish clubs' places in the table are:

46= Celtic

191= Aberdeen

206= Rangers

222 Hibernian

223 Heart of Midlothian

224 St Johnstone

225 Inverness Caledonian Thistle

226 Motherwell

Connah's Quay are ranked 352=, and, since they haven't played in Europe for 18 years, Kilmarnock do not as yet have a co-efficient ranking. Against this, 2019-20 will be the fifth-successive season in which the Welsh team have competed in Europe.

OK, I accept that, while Scotland is ranked 20th in UEFA's Countries Co-efficient rankings, while Wales are a lowly 48th, the reality is, Celtic has almost single-handedly maintained us in even that mid-table position.

Another stark reminder of how little presence our clubs have in Europe is to take a look at how Scotland has slid down among the dead men over the 63 years of competitive European club football.

Sure, we have had our successes, ever since Hibs set a high bar by reaching the semi-finals in the first season of European Cup football – 1955-56. But, is one European Cup win, two European Cup-Winners Cup and one European Super Cup win, plus a handful of final appearances a good return on 63 years of effort?

Look at our European match-winning record over these seven decades.

In the 1950s, we won 42.86% of our European games

In the 1960s, we won 63.16%

In the 1970s, we won 53.76%

In the 1980s, we won 57.94%

In the 1990s, we won 40.00%

In the 2000s, we won 44.58%

In the 2010s, we won 34.84%

We haven't won a European trophy since 1983, and we haven't had a club in a European final in over a decade. The reality is, in European terms, we are there to make-up the numbers.

So, it does my fellow Killie fans little good to be: “Disgusted of Onthank” and complain of being somehow insulted by only having the chance of securing one of 530 tickets for the away game in Wales. Given that Killie's average home attendance last season was 6995, and allowing for visiting supporters – the reality is, we Ayrshire fans have a one-in-nine or one-in-ten chance of getting one of the precious briefs.

Since season ticket holders will get priority, it is perhaps more-sensible to wait for the second leg at Rugby Park, then turn up and roar Killie into the next qualifying round, rather than moaning.

But, we Scots love a moan.

I AM writing this blog prior to the kick-off in the Scotland v Argentine Women's World Cup match in Paris's Parc Des Princes. As is so-often the case when a Scottish side faces a “must-win” match on the big stage: “forrit tho' Ah cannae see, Ah guess and fear.”

We've been here before, often, in the past 61 years – needing to win our final group game to stay alive. We have yet to do so. Hopefully, the Lassies will prevail when so-many men have failed, but, hey, this is Scotland. Even if the girls do win, something they are capable of doing, you have to wonder which of the delights in that box which the Football Gods keep at-hand for crucial games: the one labelled: “How can we put the boot into Scotland this time,” they will press into service.

Mind you, if it wasn't for their bad luck, the Scots Lassies would have nae luck. Surely they will get the breaks in this match they haven't had in their two previous ones.

And, if it should all go pear-shaped and the girls are packing for home tomorrow, unlike one or two of the male squads we have sent to World Cups in the past, they will go home with their heads held high, they have not let us down.

Then, we can settle down to the part of EVERY World Cup we really enjoy. That bit when the English Media go into full-on Ingurland, Ingurland, Ingurland – football's coming home” mode, and we Scots can sit back, smiling and eating popcorn, as we await the usual trip-up and the carnage of the post-tournament blame game.

Are you really sure schadenfreude is a German thing?