Socrates MacSporran

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

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Hampden Is Saved But Don't Expect Immediate Action On An Upgrade: These Things Take Time

HAMPDEN is saved, hallelujah! Praise the Lord and pass the screw top Shuggie. So, what next? The £60 million question (at least).

 For how much longer will Hampden look like this?

Old traditionalist that I am, and notwithstanding I have an affinity with and affection for Rugby Union, having shed blood in a few scrums in my time; I am pleased the SFA spurned the advances of the SRU, fitba at Murrayfield just didn't seem right somehow.

I am also happy the deal will allow Queen's Park to make the short move to Lesser Hampden, which I trust they will redevelop as a twenty-first century home for the club without which, there would not be international, far less Scottish football.

I only ever covered one Queen's Park game, at Hampden, more than a decade ago – Queen's Park v Gretna, at the time that shooting star from the borders were on their way up. I can honestly say, those Queen's Park members and their ladies whom I encountered in the tea room at half-time (the best half-time spread I have ever had by the way), were the nicest people I have met in football.

They deserve the chance to enjoy a spruced-up McAlpine Pavilion and a 21st century Lesser Hampden. Of course, we can never put a preservation order on the Spiders, but, I hope they continue to do their idiosyncratic thing in our game for a long, long time to come.

But, to the deal which has offered hope for Hampden. Am I alone in thinking – there was maybe a kind of: “Up yours Celtic,” about Willie Haughey's brilliant gesture in stepping-in with the wee cash boost which sealed the deal.

Willie is currently perhaps out of favour with the ruling regime at Celtic Park; and I still feel Celtic were maybe hoping to profit from the doubts over Hampden – so Willie's incursion into events was perhaps opportune. Or am I seeing conspiracy theories where none exist?

Sir Tom Hunter - forget saving Hampden Tom, the Glen and Loch Park should be your fitba priority

I am less-sure about Sir Tom Hunter's reported involvement in securing the funding. Hampden is all very well Tom, but, your first fitba priority has to remain Glenafton Athletic and Loch Park – never forget that.

We will not, of course, regardless of the hysterical: “We want to see some action now,” pieces from the usual suspects – aye you Tom English - see the Caterpillars and JCBs moving-in next week. Re-modelling Hampden into a 21st century sporting centre of excellence will be a lengthy job. Any work done between now and 2020 will be purely cosmetic, but, having seen the last refurbishment badly botched, the SFA will want to get it right this time. I fervently hope they succeed. Let's just step back and give them space.



MEANWHILE, on the park, things are looking up following our 2-0 win over Albania on Monday night. Let's hope this is the first of our two steps forward, while acknowledging, the backward step will not be too-far up the road. This is how it has always been with the national side.

I admit, I haven't quite got my head round all the regulations between the Europa Nations League and the next European Championships, but, I do know, if we win Group 1 of League C, it more or less guarantees us our seat at the big show in 2020, while it definitely gets us promoted into League B and back among the top 24 nations in Europe.

Right now, we are a Third Division side among the nations of this continent – at least getting back to the Second Division has to be the first priority. At the moment, after the first round of matches, Scotland, Finland in Group Two, Bulgaria in Group Three and Montenegro in Group Four, are the four nations in the promotion places in League C. But, while a lot can change over the other rounds of fixtures, let's hope we stay in contention. We ought to.



SOME TIME ago, I was writing a piece about the original Wembley Wizards, the 1928 vintage. This got me a couple of days trying to stay focussed while trawling through the wonderful microfiche newspaper files in the Mitchell Library in Glasgow – a marvellous national treasure trove, not least because one of my daughters earns her daily crust there.

The Daily Record of 2 April, 928, which printed the Monday morning post-match reaction yielded one nugget – of how a huge cheer rang round Ibrox when the score from Wembley was announced.

The Wembley Wizards: while they were thrashing England, it was business as usual back up the road

You see, while Alan Morton was playing his part in that great 5-1 win in London, Tom Hamilton, Dougie Gray, Davie Meiklejohn, Sandy Archibald, Andy Cunningham, Jimmy Fleming and Bob McPhail – the other stars of the Rangers team of the time were, in front of 18,000 fans, beating Clyde 3-1 in a league game.

The Wizards XI, of course, was choc-a-bloc with Anglo-Scots, but, the fact Scotland was playing in London did not mean, as happens today, a blanket shut-down of the league programme. It was business as usual for the clubs, with Dr James “Doc” Marshall filling-in for the Wee Blue Devil at outside left for Rangers against Clyde – one of just six first-team appearances: which yielded six goals, that the good doctor – then combining football with his medical studies at Glasgow University - made that season.

I must admit, I cannot get my head round this current fashion for cancelling everything for internationals, particularly when, as was the case at the weekend – the international match in question was a Friday night friendly.

If our clubs have to have their bloated squads, why should they not have to play some of the lesser lights, when the big boys are on international duty. You, ideally, want to build momentum at the start of a new season. What help in this therefore is it when, after two or three games, you shut down for a week so the top guys can go off on international duty?

In rugby, Glasgow Warriors, even with 20 players on international duty, are still expected to fulfil league fixtures, why should the same not apply to Celtic and Rangers? You have squads – utilise them and play the bread and butter games.


Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Gaun Yersel Lassies

I WILL freely admit, it has been difficult to blog about Scottish football of late. Sure, a new season has kicked-off since I last put down my thoughts on the beautiful game, but, in Scotland, the big kick-off has been somewhat muted – a case of same old, same old.

 

 Shelley Kerr - She and her Lassies did us proud


It's all about the Bigot Brothers, as far as the increasingly shrunken mainstream media is concerned – a not very good Celtic team staying ahead of an even less good Rangers team, managed by a big name tyro boss. Which is why, yesterday's tremendous win in Albania for our Women's team gave me such a lift.

Hard-bitten old hack that I am, I suffered agonies in the final minutes as I watched the BBC Alba broadcast of the game. How, I wondered, would the lassies do the Scottish thing and blow it:

  • Might they concede a daft goal and let the Albanians back into it?

  • Might the Polish girls have a collective brain fart and concede to the Swiss?

  • Being Scotland, I could not discount the double whammy of both of the above events happening simultaneously.

But, somehow, in a totally un-Scottish display of grit, determination and professionalism, the lassies held their nerve and got their reward – bloody fantastic, then the tears flowed – it was 1973 all over again.

One would like to think, but, long experience has me doubt this will happen, that, perhaps after yesterday, someone, somewhere along that sixth-floor corridor at Hampden will stop and think: “hey, see what happens when you prioritise the national team over a couple of club sides; maybe we should try that in the men's game.”

Of course, that will not happen, we will continue to see third-rate foreign players and fourth-rate English imports being preferred to home-grown talent. It will be a while, indeed, I would reckon it is more likely that we never see the day when, as with our top girls, male Scottish players are being recruited by the top, well-funded English and continental clubs.

Twenty years ago, I was giving column inches to local girls teams in the sports pages I was putting together. I wrote stories of Scottish girls going off to college in the USA, never thinking we would see our domestic game grow to the extent it has.

The women's game in Scotland still has some ways to travel, but, results such as yesterday's should be celebrated as stops along the way. Shelley Kerr and her girls have given tired auld Scottish fitba a real boost. There is only one adequate Scottish response, that is – gaun yersel' hen.

 Kim Little - The Lawman would have been proud to claim that goal

A final word on the subject – that Kim Little goal which opened the scoring yesterday, that was Law(wo)man-like in its execution. I bet Kim screamed: “Leave it,” as she ran forward to launch her volley.


I FIND myself seriously conflicted this morning. I kind of agree with the Blessed Ruth Davidson MSP, aka “Ruth the Mooth”, “Colonel Yadaftie”, “Buffalo Girl” and several other disparaging nicknames. The North British branch office manager for the Conservative and Unionist Party came out this week in favour of football staying at Hampden, rather than decamping to Murrayfield.

Of course, there is probably a degree of “Nimbyism” in her opposition. The last thing the acceptable face of Unionism wants is the full panoply of the most-extreme form of this, as displayed by the WATP battalions on match days, laid-out in front of her constituents.

I should say, while the C&UP was quite happy to assist the FA to rebuild Wembley, which is after all a stadium of “national” importance, I fear, should the SFA look to the C&UP's UK government for similar largesse in a similar project to bring Hampden into the 21st century, the likely response would be: “Back in your box Sweaties,” and the suggestion they speak to Holyrood.

My further objections to taking football to Murrayfield are based round one fact, I would not trust either The Fat Controller – as SRU Chief Executive Officer Mark Dodson, or The Thin Controller – as Chief Operating Officer Dominic McKay are known to the rugby writers, as far as I could throw either one.

Murrayfield on international match days is a joyous place. OK, some of the more Hooray Henry, Barbour-wearing England fans are best avoided, but, generally, in the several bars around the ground, the fans mix freely and happily, there is great banter and everyone is enjoying themselves.

I can never see this being replicated for say an Old Firm cup final.


WHO I wonder, were the three experienced former referees, who decided Allan McGregor should face no further action for his petulant wee dig at Kristoffer Ajer on Sunday?

McGregor, Ajer and Oor Wullie - after the "afters"

I've heard of three wise monkeys, but, never of three deaf, dumb and blind monkeys. Wee Liam - the “Token Tim” in our otherwise 100% staunch Protestant, Rangers-supporting East Ayrshire village, where, according to legend, the most Union Flags per head of population in Scotland fly – is incandescent with rage at the decision.

They fun an Orangeman, a Mason and a high heid yin in the Blacks (The Royal Black Preceptory) tae make that decision,” was Liam's crie de coeur when the announcement of: “no action” was made.

I might have to offer my services to Steven Gerrard as a specialist goalkeeping coach, to teach McGregor some of the darker arts of our profession, which, at 36, he really ought to be aware of. We goalies can freely “do” opponents in so-many discreet ways, all hidden in plain sight.

One of my cousins, a Springburn boy, playing in goals in an English League game, many years ago, flattened Bobby Gould, fierce centre forward intimidator and clogger of goalkeepers, future Welsh national team manager and father of future Scotland goalkeeper Jonathan, during a game.

Bobby hit him late twice or three time in the first half, and, at half-time, my cousin asked the referee what he was going to do about Gould. On being told: “nothing,” my cousin informed the official: “If he hits me once more, I will deal with him then.”

Sure enough, as he rose for a cross, Gould dug him in the ribs. My cousin landed, tucker the ball under one arm, then laid Gould out with one punch. He then took off his goalkeeper's top and accepted the red card - telling the official: “I told you, if you didn't deal with him, I would.”

He asked for a personal hearing of the disciplinary panel, called the referee in, got him to agree – “Yes, I was told if I didn't deal with Mr Gould, he would deal with him himself,” and was admonished, with nothing worse than the red card staying on his record. The disciplinary committee clearly agreed – Bobby Gould had it coming.



Saturday, 28 July 2018

The Egg Chasers Don't Get Everything Right

THE Right Worthy Master of the Lap Top Loyal was in full flow in the Herald this morning.

 

The big question - Hampden


This paragon of Presbyterian prose producing was waxing lyrical about what the SRU could teach the SFA about marketing, and how much better things might be if the Sixth Floor Corridor think tank was to ditch Hampden for the joys of life in Edinburgh's EH12 postcode. Aye Right.

As anyone connected with CLUB, rather than performance rugby will happily tell you – if you shake hands with the current SRU 'Blazerhood,' better count your fingers afterwards. Some of the rugby-writing brotherhood – the ones who don't have brown noses, will tell you - they have good cause to dub CEO (Chief Executive Officer) Mark Dodson and COE (Chief Operating Executive) Dominic McKay, the Fat and Thin Controllers respectively. While the SRU Counsel and Company Secretary, Robert Howat is known as: “The Consigliore” - the Mafia lawyer. These guys drive a hard bargain.

or Murrayfield for Scotland home games

Scotland's rugby team is doing well, that cannot be denied. But, to equate the success the SRU is enjoying in filling Murrayfield to watch them with similarly filling the stadium to watch the Scotland football team is akin to comparing apples and pears.

Scottish society is tribal, in politics, in football and also in rugby. Go and watch a Hawick v Gala game, and you will witness the same terracing passion as at an Old Firm game, an Edinburgh Ayrshire, Renfrewshire or Fife “Derby” or Cumnock v Auchinleck Talbot. The difference between football and rugby is – in rugby, they limit the fighting to on the field.

But, in rugby the national side tops everything else – you will not find a Scottish rugby fan supporting England, or Ireland, the way some numpties on either side of the Glasgow divide do. If a Scotsman turns up at the annual Calcutta Cup game in a replica England shirt, it's for a bet.

And that's another reason why Murrayfield is selling-out so regularly. The Scotland team is winning, and playing great rugby. But, it wasn't that long ago, in the days of Australian coach Matt Williams, when the SRU might have struggled to give away tickets to watch Scotland.

Also, Scotland's rugby team is ranked seventh in the world. If Scotland's football team was that highly-ranked, filling a stadium would not be a problem. And, they play in the annual 6 Nations tournament, against some of the best nations in the world.

Last season's international visitors to Murrayfield, with their world rankings, were: Samoa (16), New Zealand (1), Australia (5), England (4) and France (8). Just supposing England, France – now the World Cup holders and Argentina, Germany and Portugal were coming to Hampden – would the Tartan Army stay away? Imagine too, an annual European Championships which pitted Scotland against say: England, Germany, France, Spain and Italy – the Hampden games (or Murrayfield for that matter) would be guaranteed sell-outs, if we were competitive.

Guarantee us this sort of action every year and selling Scotland games would be easy

Yes, the SRU puts on a good show. Certainly they are in a better stadium than Hampden. No question the spectator facilities – on-site bars and plenty of them, good fast-food outlets, a great spectator experience to be sure. But, if the team was not producing on the park, the fans would still turn-up, but not in such terrific numbers.

The fact is too, attendance at Murrayfield internationals is something of a social occasion. Home internationals there have been described as: “The biggest old school reunions on the planet.” The Welsh invasion every second year is as much a rite of passage in the valleys as the bi-annual Wembley trip used to be up here.

There are long-standing inter-club relationships. For instance Ayr and Llanishen have been playing each other on the Friday before the international for over 40-years. The citizens of Hawick and Glynneath (home of the great Max Boyce) have been exchanging visits and playing since 1956 while, in the amateur era, Heriot's and Cardiff played each other, a club match which would be like Rangers or Celtic and Arsenal meeting every Friday before a Scotland v England clash at Hampden or Wembley.

The rugby battalions of the Tartan Army, unlike their football cousins, know they are going to get five home internationals one year, six the next. They know a year ahead who their team will be playing, on which particular date. They can plan ahead. That makes it easier to sell international season ticket books, and to adjust prices where necessary.

Both stadiums were redeveloped in the 1990s with the help of fund-raising debenture schemes, Hampden only sold a little over 5000 of these, The SRU sold 18,000 debentures – probably because, they could more-easily tell the buyers what they would get for their money.

Also, the SRU has a terrific ticket allocation scheme, through the clubs. Now, I will admit, they are tinkering with this at the moment, and some in the clubs are questioning the motivation and the manner in which the new scheme is being implemented, but, for now, it works.

It also helps that nearly all of Scotland's 250-odd rugby clubs is that, a club of individual members – many football clubs are limited companies. It is easier for an ordinary rugby fan to get into the ballot for international rugby tickets than it is for the ordinary football fan to get hold of an international football brief.

So, to say the SRU could teach the SFA a trick or two, might well be correct, but, I am told by rugby-writing journalist pals, Mark Dodson, the CEO of the SRU gets just as much, if not more abuse from the rugby community than Stewart Regan got from the Tartan Army. (I use Regan, because, Ian Maxwell his successor, is still “on-honeymoon” with the fans).

That is one thing which the two games definitely have in-common – nobody likes the “Blazerhood” at the top.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Losing Davie McParland Was Not A Firhill Thrill

THE LOSS of Davie McParland, just one day after they announced, the club's new training ground would be named McParland Park, was a hard blow to even those resilient souls at Partick Thistle.

 

Davie McParland: 1935 - 2018


Coming as it did after the earlier blow of the loss of John Lambie, this means the Jags have lost arguably their two finest managers inside a year. Add relegation and 2017-18 has not been a great season. However, and as ever, the Jags will bounce back.

In penning Davie's obituary, I did what I always do when writing about a Firhill man – I spoke to “Mr Partick Thistle”, as Robert Reid is known, and he did not let me down with some stories of McParland.

Knowing he came from Larkhall, and had played for Larkhall Thistle, I asked Robert how Rangers had missed him. His reply was a corker: “Well as Davie explained to me – 'When you're a Catholic from Larkhall, you have to be quick' – and, although not as fast as Johnny MacKenzie, Davie was quick.”

Davie spent over a decade in the Thistle first team, following his signing by the great Davie Meiklejohn, in November, 1953. In that time he played nearly 600 games and scored over a century of goals.

He began, of course, as a fast, raiding winger, being good enough to feature in the very first Scotland Under-23 team, in February, 1955. We will not say too much about the fact, they were gubbed 6-0 by an England team, who turned a half-time 0-0 scoreline around, by the simple expedient of switching the marvellous Duncan Edwards to centre forward, where he gave big Doug Baillie what that great future Sunday Post stalwart admits was: “the roasting of my life.” Unlike four of that team: Alex Parker, Eric Caldow, Dave Mackay and Graham Leggat, Davie did not step-up to full international level.

Juve's John Charles - an opponent on Davie's Scottish League XI debut in Rome

In 1962 he won two Scottish League XI “caps.” The first was earned in Rome, against an Italian League side which included – Swedish winger Kurt Hamrin of Fiorentina, Spain's Luis del Sol, then with Juventus, as was the legendary Welsh centre forward John Charles, while at inside left was the notorious German star Helmut “Hamlet” Haller, forever remembered for getting a boot up the bahookie from Tommy Gemmell.

The Italians won 4-3, the winner coming at the death. McParland, goalkeeper Sandy McLaughlin and half-time substitute Johnny Divers were the only members of the following Scottish League XI not to already be capped or to later win a full cap. That team was: Sandy McLaughlin (Kilmarnock); Alex Hamilton (Dundee) and Jim Kennedy (Celtic); Paddy Crerand (Celtic), Ian Ure (Dundee) and Jim Baxter; Willie Henderson (both Rangers), Willie Hamilton (Hearts), Jimmy Millar (Rangers), Charlie Cooke (Aberdeen) and McParland.

Celtic's Divers replaced Willie Hamilton, after the Hearts man and del Sol had a difference of opinion, following which, the respective team managers decided to keep them both on the bench for the second half. McParland is credited with two assists, for goals by Cooke and Millar, while Divers got the other Scottish goal.

He won a further two Scottish League caps. Two weeks after the Italian job, he helped the League XI thrash the League of Ireland 11-0 at Celtic Park, then, two years later, in Dublin, his final outing for the League XI ended 2-2 against the same opponents.

It could be argued a League “cap” in the 1960s is every bit as good as a full cap in an “international challenge match” is these days. Davie might lack that full cap, but, nobody should doubt – he was international class. And look at the competition he faced – at club level, he was vying with Johnny MacKenzie and Tommy Ewing, both international wingers for a place; Tommy Ring was strutting his stuff on the left flank, Davie Wilson and Bertie Auld were also in contention for caps, not forgetting Andy Weir at Motherwell.

Later in his career, Davie moved back to right-half, then he prepared for the future by stepping down to be a “father figure” in the reserves before hanging-up his boots and switching seamlessly to coaching.

Scot Symon had, after his ridiculous sacking by Rangers, moved across to Firhill and he put McParland in-charge of the reserves, before making him his assistant. Thistle were relegated out of the top flight in 1970, whereupon Symon relinquished team management duties, moving upstairs to be General Manager, with Davie becoming Thistle Team Manager in his stead.

 Davie McParland took a chance on this young goalkeeper

In the Second Division, he began to feed-in some of the youngsters he had had in his charge in the Reserves – the likes of the teenaged Alan Rough, John Hansen, Ale Forsyth and Jimmy Bone – all of whom would go on to win full caps, as would the even-younger Alan Hansen, then too-young to be considered. A young PE student named Frank Coulston was also introduced, as was Denis McQuade, a winger who, in the great Thistle tradition could entertain and infuriate in equal measure, while on the other flank, Bobby Lawrie was lightning quick and had an eye for goals.

Robert Reid recalls how McParland gave his young team their heads, but, they didn't always click. Reid remembers: “Early on in that season we had a bad run, we lost to Clydebank, Albion Rovers, then Brechin and we on the board were starting to worry. I said this to Davie, who replied: 'They're young Robert – give them time.' We hardly lost a game for the rest of the season and romped to promotion.”

In the top-flight, the Thistle kids went off like a rocket, beating Rangers, then, just over a month later, they became immortals – thrashing Celtic 4-1 to win the League Cup. Legends abound about that match – how, introducing Grandstand on BBC TV that afternoon, Scotsman Sam Leitch mentioned the game, then added: “Thistle have no chance.” The same Leitch, when the score-line came through on the teleprinter, refused to believe it and reversed it, but, the Jags had indeed stung Celtic.

There is an urban myth around Glasgow that the city's taxi drivers made a killing that day, ferrying Rangers's supporters from Ibrox to Hampden – evidently seeing Thistle thump Celtic 4-1 was better fun than watching Rangers put four on Motherwell without reply.

With that result, McParland's place in the Firhill Hall of Legends was assured. That was the high point of a four-year spell as manager, one which ended in disagreement with the board and the severing of his ties with the club.

A dug-out filled with talent - Neil Mochan, Davie McParland, Jock Stein and John Clark

He had a successful spell as Head Coach at Queen's Park, then went to Celtic as assistant to Jock Stein. The Big Man was still a bit fragile after his near-fatal car crash, so McParland took charge of the training and preparation of the team, He did well, Celtic winning the league by an impressive nine points from Rangers (14 points in today's three points for a win system). A Scottish Cup win over the old enemy in what was Kenny Dalglish's final match for the club completed rather a good year.

Back came Rangers the following season and, without Dalglish, Celtic slumped to fifth in the table – the “Families” who ran the club then had their excuse – they eased Stein out, McParland departing with him.

McParland then had a spell as manager at Hamilton, before coaching positions – working with younger players – at Airdrie, Dunfermline and Motherwell. His final position in football was as Director of Football at Dumbarton, before he retired to spend time with his devoted wife Terry, daughters Yvonne, Tracy and Hazel and his grand-children.

As Robert Reid points out: “Thistle win a major trophy about once every 50-years, so by that measure, Davie was a very good Thistle manager, as well as being a really great guy.”

He mended his fences with the club, was naturally enough inducted into their Hall of Fame and, until illness curtailed his activities latterly, he was always a welcome guest when he turned up at Firhill.

The final word has to go to Robert Reid: “I am so pleased Gerry Britton and I were able to visit him in hospital before he passed away and tell him of the club's decision to name our new training ground McParland Park.

You know, he deserves that honour. Davie McParland was one of football's, and nature's gentlemen.




Monday, 16 July 2018

That Was The World Cup That Was

THE Socrates' take on World Cup 2018

 

EH BIEN! Football has indeed come home, given it was a Frenchman, Jules Rimet, who came up with the concept of the World Cup. Fitting then, Les Bleus should end gallant Croatia's gallant pursuit of the trophy.

 

Luka Modric - deservedly won Player of the Tournament


THE player of the tournament was, of course, Luka Modric, the little Croatian captain. We have known for a long time, he is a class act, and he deservedly won the Player of the Tournament call. I could not take my eyes off him during the Croatians' semi-final win over England. The way he drifted off his markers into space, then delivered a stream of perfect passes was pure John White – there can be no higher praise for a midfield general.

GOAL of the Tournament: There were one or two contenders, but, which one to pick. In picking a winner, you are torn between two opposites – individual brilliance and team efficiency. In the latter category, you cannot go past that last-gasp Belgian winner against Japan; one end of the park to the other in under ten seconds. It was brilliantly-constructed, more-so given the point in the match in which they pulled it off, marvellous team work.

That was the easy pick, but, for individual goal, well, I am going for a set-piece. I have long said, football does not pay enough attention to set-pieces. Association Football is the purest, most free-form code of football. But, I have always maintained, only with set-pieces does a coach have a chance to really set his side up to score; and, if they can complete the set piece move successfully, then, a team will or certainly ought to, score more goals.

Hey World - watch this. CR7 prepares to shoot against Spain

For that reason, I am torn between two strikes, the Toni Kroos last-gasp free kick for Germany v Sweden, and CR7's almost as late free-kick goal against Spain. On balance, I am going with Ronaldo's goal. I think the Kroos effort owed something to poor goalkeeping, I'd have been annoyed had I been beaten from there, but, there was absolutely nothing De Gae could have done to keep out Christiano's effort.

Add the timing, and the pressure he was under. Go on, admit, the world was willing the big-headed so-and-so to mess it up, only he didn't.

TEAM of the Tournament: They didn't win it, but, I am going with Croatia. They arrived in Russia, ranked 20th in the world, then, often dragged their by Modric and Rakatic in midfield, they went all the way to the final. Along the way, they fairly boosted another nation not there – Scotland.

Yes, Gareth Southgate grew on us as the tournament went on. Sure, this was a different, an almost humble England. But, and what a shame there has to be a but. There media was the same-old, same-old: “England expects”, “football's coming home”, blah-de-blah-de-blah. Let's hope, by 2022, we are independent, have our own independent media and, whether Scotland is there or not, we get a Scottish slant on things, and are not subjected to the myopia of the English media.

England – we don't hate you, but, we hate your fucking media.

VAR: What can we say about this. As someone who covers a lot of Rugby Union, I am well-used to seeing the TMO – Television Match Official – rugby's version of second-guess technology in operation. Rugby's been using it for far-longer than football and still, occasionally, they get it wrong. This will always happen, because of the human element, and humans make mistakes.

But, by and large, I thought VAR worked. I dare say the system will be reviewed and refined. I do feel, however, as is the case with rugby, the final say always has to go to the man in the middle. We must always uphold Law V (I): “The referee is the sole judge of fact.”

ENGLAND: Yes, I know, why should we bother about another country? Well, quite simply, as in so-much of Scottish life, we pay attention to England. We only started the bloody SFA because the (English) FA looked as if they were going to take responsibility for all football in these islands, and, to quote that great Welsh sage Max Boyce, if you are from Ireland, Scotland or Wales: “It matters not who won or lost – so long as you beat England.” They are the common enemy.

Gareth Southgate - Scotland's favourite Englishman

The soft-spoken, argely undemonstrative Mr Southgate almost made England loveable up here. He was the guy the English media didn't want, but, he is now as impregnable as no England manager has been since Sir Alf Ramsey on 1 August, 1966. Of course, they still, eventually, sacked Sir Alf, and may well do the same to Gareth.

He knew his players from the Under-21 team and he kept the faith. His problem, however, is this – English football is in-thrall to the Premiership, whose clubs are, in turn, in-thrall to Sky TV, BT TV and the billions flung at it.

There is also the fact, the basically thick as mince England fans have been brain-washed by their media into wrongly believing the Premiership is: “The best league in the world”, so, rather as they believe England is the entire UK, they believe, because their league is the “best” (which it isn't), then the England team must be the best.

There were signs during this World Cup, that a lot of England fans had had a reality check, but, England Expecting, and managing these expectations, is still the biggest obstacle in Southgate's way.

WHETHER SCOTLAND? Good question; an furrit tho' Ah canna see – Ah guess and fear. Like England, we seem to delight in putting obstacles in the way of young Scottish talent, although, to be fair, the fiscal realities of Scottish football means, we are perhaps more-ready to give young players a chance to shine. The trouble is, as soon as they make a name for themselves, they are off to the bigger money in England.

That, however, has been a fact of life since the Scotch Professors were enticed south during the reign of Queen Victoria.

We need a plan, a system whereby we develop our young players properly and give them a chance to grow into international players, and, until we get this, we may well continue to be on the outside looking in.

In drawing Albania and Israel in Group 1 Of League C in the new UEFA Nations League, which kicks-off in September, we have got lucky. If we cannot win the group and be promoted into League B, we should just give up. But, we need to plan, execute that plan and work hard, over the next decade or so, if we are to get Scotland back to where we want to be in European and World football.

We need to get more Scottish players playing in our top league, and give these players more-exposure to European football. If we don't, we are going nowhere but down among the easy-beats.

If Croatia, Iceland and Wales, all smaller nations, can reach the finals of the big two tournaments, we have no excuses for our long years of failure continuing.