Socrates MacSporran

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

Sunday, 10 December 2017

We In Scotland Need To Get Inside Players' Heads More

I REMEMBER watching the 1954 World Cup, even after Scotland's dismal and early dismissal. I was, like so-many young Scots, mesmerised by the Magical Magyars, as the Puskas-led Hungarians were dubbed. Their goalkeeper, the wonderful Gyula Grosics: "the Black Panther," had a profound effect on me, as I set-out as a 'keeper.

Gyula Grosics - a wonderful goalkeeper

However, by the time of the 1958 World Cup, I was 11, and playing regularly in our school team, so, I was a lot more interested in what was going-on. It was around that time, I decided I wanted to be, if I wasn't good enough to play the game professionally, a football writer.

I read everything about that tournament in Sweden, which, naturally, included another massively-disappointing Scottish performance – just how did we manage to get it so wrong against the Paraguayans? Well, the usual selectorial incompetence, that's how. But, I digress.

Pele in his World Cup debut against Wales in 1958

One of the things I enjoyed about that tournament, as it unfolded, was the coverage of the Brazilian effort. Even before they revealed the 17-year-old Pele against Wales in the quarter-finals, we were aware, they did things differently down Rio and Sao Paolo way. There was the iconic “trainer," Mario Americo, balding, with the accoutrements of his trade worn round his waist, and, amazingly, their back-room team included a psychologist – the first time we had heard of a football team trying to improve the most important six inches of a footballer – the space inside his head and between his ears.

Brazil trainer Mario Americo

The Brazilians had imploded three times in Europe, in 193, again in 1938, and yet again in 1954; this time, they would get it right, and had realised mental strength would be required to compliment their skills. Well, they won, so, having a psychologist on-board worked, and the Brazilians, have, even though there have been subsequent malfunctions, continued to appoint what we now know as a Sports Psychologist.

Such scientists have never been trusted in Scottish football, and, I have long felt, by ignoring the mental side of the game, we have let ourselves down badly. But, this is nothing new – in the land of Aye Beenism, it has aye been that sports psychologists are not to be trusted.

I accept, it might take an almighty leap of faith, but, just perhaps, if one of the “diddy” clubs could appoint a sports psychologist, and make the appointment work – we would see a far-more level “playing field” in Scotland, i.e., it would not be a case of the same two clubs always in command.

There is a case too, for the other clubs working harder. I feel, if our footballers put-in half the effort our professional rugby players do, Scotland's football clubs would do as well as Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh are doing.

Let's be clear here: Rangers are a total mess, a pale imitation of what a Rangers' team is expected to be. They are vulnerable every time they step onto the park. Celtic, unbeaten in 68 domestic games, appear to be out on their own, but, in all honesty, I this a great Celtic team? Let's put it this way – how many of the current team would get close to the all-time Greatest Celtic XI?

In my view, and I've been watching Celtic since the days of Bertie Peacock, Bobby Collins and Willie Fernie, none of the present lot would get anywhere near the Celtic Dream Team, yes not even Kieran Tierney.

This is not a good Celtic team, and, the pressure of extending that magnificent 68-game run is, I believe,beginning to show. I can even see Rangers beating them on 30 December, yes, even at Celtic Park. I also, honestly believe, if the other clubs had the cojones to have a go at them, somebody may beat them before then. Maybe a sports psychologist could fix this for one of the clubs.

I AM into my seventh decade of following Kilmarnock. The first Killie team I saw in the flesh: Jimmy Brown; Jim Richmond and Matt Watson; Frank Beattie, Willie Toner, Bobby Kennedy; Vernon Wentzel, Jackie McInally, Andy Kerr, Bertie Black and Billy Muir.

 Andy Kerr - a better goal-scorer than Boydie

Now, for me, that was a better team than the Immortals who won the League in 1965, and, to this day, they are the players against whom I measure all subsequent Killie men. That team, in 1960, finished second in the league to Hearts, lost to Rangers in the Scottish Cup final, then lost in the final of the New York International Tournament. They established Kilmarnock as the second-best team in Scotland in the half decade before Jock Stein returned to Celtic and changed everything.

But, in that 1959-60 season, they only posted one five-goal win, thrashing Partick Thistle 5-1 at Rugby Park. Indeed, scoring five goals is not a very Kilmarnock habit. So, will the rest of you please forgive us, if we here in God's County, go slightly over the top at yesterday's win over poor old Partick Thistle – we don't get many such chances.

I think Kilmarnock won a watch when they persuaded Stevie Clarke to come back home. His might only be a temporary stop at Rugby Park, but, we believe, it might prove to be an enjoyable one.

 Stevie Clarke - Killie won a watch when they recruited him

THERE are some classic (i.e. old) jokes around Junior Football – and I am not referring here to some reinstated ex-seniors. I refer to such chestnuts as Chic Young's one-liner: “The Junior close season this year is on a Tuesday.”

Another hardy annual is the assertion, that Junior Football does have a winter shut-down, the problem is, nobody is ever sure, until the first snow falls, when it will be. I am suggesting, real fitba is in mid-season recess right now, as the cold snap hits home.

There were but a handful of games played on Saturday and all 17 still-unplayed third round Scottish Junior Cup ties were called off. Why, even Cumnock were unable to play Arthurlie, on the all-weather pitch at Townhead Park, which could not cope with the sprinkling of the white stuff we had here in Hole in the Wall.

But, hopefully, some will get played this coming Saturday. For instance, the thrice-postponed Kirkintilloch Rob Roy v Glenafton Athletic match, has been re-scheduled for this coming Saturday, on the all-weather pitch at Petershill Park. That should be worth seeing.

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