Socrates MacSporran

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

Monday, 17 July 2017

Too much Fitba - Not Enough Football, That's Maybe Scotland's Problem

IT IS perhaps a sign of my great age, but, I find the idea of a new football season kicking-off even before the Glasgow Fair is, wrong, wrong, wrong. However, that's professional sport for you – fighting an eternal battle for more income, more media exposure, a clear case of never mind the quality – feel the width, if ever there was one.

I had two heroes when I was at primary school. One was Jock Fraser, the seemingly eternal and ageless goalkeeper for my local heroes, Lugar Boswell Thistle. As a young wannabe 'keeper myself, I stood behind Jock's goal, and watched him. He barely, if ever, had to dive, long experience had taught him where the next shot at goal was likely to come from, and be aimed.

My other hero was “Bouncing” Bernard Briggs in the Wizard comic. We Baby Boomers did not have much TV to become addicted to, we also didn't have comic strips. The DC Thomson comics of the 1950s: The Rover, Wizard and Adventure had pages of text, telling the stories of our heroes – Sergeant Matt Braddock VC and bar; Alf Tupper – the tough of the track; Nick Smith and Arnold Tabbs, for whom it was “Goals that Count” and of course, Briggs.

Bernard Briggs - he only let-in one goal

He had started as a secondary character to his club captain, Limp-Along Leslie Tomson. Leslie had one leg shorter than the other, (hence the nickname) he was a sheep farmer, who also captained Darbury Rangers, a club playing in the old pre-Premiership English First Division.

Bernard Briggs, who was a scrap metal dealer and travelled everywhere on his motor-cycle, with an old bath as the sidecar, was the Rangers' goalkeeper. He famously: “only lost one goal” - sneezing and letting a shot go past him while warming-up for the FA Cup Final at Wembley. Briggs also played County Cricket as a leg-break bowler and got into the England team.

Now, that's what you call a hero – a goalkeeper who didn't even let his own players score against him at shooty-in.

But, Bernard Briggs, like Leslie Tomson, was not besotted by football. It was not the all-encompassing obsession it is today. Both had lives outside the game; OK, fictional, far-fetched, but there guys didn't just earn obscene sums of money for kicking a ball about – they had real (fictional) lives.

And, that is maybe what present-day Scottish football needs – a few guys who can combine on-field excellence with a life off it.

Let's leave aside the fictional 1950s stars – Tomson and Briggs. Let's look at reality back then – when Rangers' players relaxed in the close season by playing charity cricket matches; when the likes of Johnny Hubbard, when not converting penalties for Rangers, was taking wickets for Prestwick Cricket Club and playing tennis to a high level in Scotland.

(To digress here, I am pleased to see wee Johnny, now heading towards his century, is out of hospital after a recent heart scare and out and about in Prestwick again)

Johnny Hubbard doing what he did best - beating Jimmy Brown of Kilmarnock from the penalty spot; although, to be fair, Jimmy did save one Hubbard penalty-kick.

There are four Scottish dual-internationalists: capped at both cricket and football. They are: Dr John MacDonald (Edinburgh University) back in the 1880s, Rangers' managerial legend Scot Symon, Hearts' legend Donald Ford and “The Goalie” Andy Goram, but, back in the day, there were other less-exalted players who had the time and inclination to play both games.

Of course, Walter put a stop to The Goalie playing internaitonal cricket, fearing injury, so it will be a long time, if ever, before we see anothr dual-international. The last player I can think of to win representative honours while playing both games was former Morton, Stranraer and Ayr United defender Dougie Johnstone – who won a Scotland B cap at cricket and was in Scotland age group football teams as a defender.

Andy Goram playing his other game
Memory not being what it was, there was a St Mirren player who played in the famous match at Mannofield, in 1948, when the soon to be Sir Don Bradman scored a century on his final appearance in the UK. Alas, the name of the Buddie escapes me.

Yes, there is something to be said for having the time and opportunity to play more than one sport – if the seasons were to be re-aligned to allow this. Maybe, if our players had the chance to step off the ten months playing, two months training treadmill which is present-day football, they would have the mental freshness to try a few things, the quality of our game might improve an we might win a few things.

After all, look at the great solo sports – golf, athletics, tennis. Yes, they have year-round seasons across the globe, but, the absolute top performers don't turn-out week-in, week-out to strut their stuff. They manage their seasons and their bodies to be fresh for the big occasions.

Just yesterday, we watched Roger Federer win his eighth Gentlemen's Singles title at Wimbledon, having opted-out of the clay court season to be ready for this challenge. He also took six months off last year, a rest period which surely helped his resurgence this.

Look at the formidable New Zealand All Blacks. Their legendary former captain Richie McCaw was given a sabbatical in the run-up to the 2015 World Cup. Now, in the wake of the Lions series, his successor as skipper, Kieran Reid, is being given time off to recover.

Kieran Reid - given recovery time off

Maybe, if we gave a few of our top Scottish players a chance to stop and smell the roses, we would see a rise in the quality level in Scottish football.

Also, since Scottish football in Europe is now down at the same level as leagues we once dismissed as: “diddy competitions” - Luxembourg League anyone – maybe we should, like these leagues, go part-time and hopefully see out standards rise.

In Scotland, we are playing too-much fitba, and not enough football.

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