Thursday, October 15, 2009

Choose your own Topping

Scottish Football Blog, SPL predictionsThat's international week over with and fans of Scotland are scratching their heads as to what the point of our Japanese adventure was. All we really know is that George Burley is not scared to play replacement replacements if required. Probably didn't have to go all that way to find that out.

In SPL world we are being buffeted by winds of change from across the border and over the north Atlantic. Are we any further forward on that issue? You tell me.

One definite change before we get down to business is in the SPL chairmanship where Lex Gold has stepped down and William Hill's Ralph Topping has stepped into the most coveted role in world football. Or not.

William Hill? First prediction of the week: if Ralph has granted Chick Young an interview (no doubt erroneously described as a global exclusive) and one of them uses the phrase “if I was a betting man” then I will most probably shoot one or both of them. Or myself.

Ralph says the job combines his three passions: business, football and Scotland. Poor old Mrs Topping.

It's game week eight and here's the runners and riders.

Aberdeen v Hearts

Anglo-Scots hybrid Andrew Driver has been the talk of the country this week giving Csaba Lazlo another unwanted distraction as Hearts try to kick start their season. Mark McGhee's budget tinkering at Pittodrie will have continued apace during the international holiday. Goals are not coming easily for either side and another low scoring match seems likely. I'm tempted by the draw but I'll go for the home win.

Celtic v Motherwell

I'm not sure if a lay off after an Old Firm defeat is good or bad. Apparently Tony Mowbray has spent his time working on new partnerships at the centre of defence so we can probably expect to seen Maloney and Samaras starting at the back. Jim Gannon keeps Motherwell plugging away and will have relished the extra few days with them. I'm saying a home win but I don't rule out a shock.

Dundee United v Hamilton

United's away draw with Hibs last time out seems to confirm the view that those two will be in at the business end of the third place battle. Hamilton won't be involved in that but will probably have a battle of their own to fight come next spring. If Ralph Topping was to give me a free bet I'd put at least £1.99 on a home win.

Falkirk v St Mirren

At some point Falkirk are going to need to start winning games like this at home. St Mirren are not opponents that you relish but revivals need to start somewhere. That's if revivals are possible. If they're not then you'd probably scrape a draw in a game like this. So I'll back a low scoring share of the points.

Hibs v Kilmarnock

Apparently John Hughes is worried that Benjelloun and Zemmama will have hangovers after the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup with Morocco. Derek Riordan's influence clearly knows no bounds if two Muslims are the worse for drink. On a serious note Hibs had a few players away and Kilmarnock will be up for this one. The kind of game that Hibs need to win to prove they are a class above the Kilmarnock's of this world this season. They should win.

St Johnstone v Rangers

No money, no players and an Old Firm win. Funny old game etc etc. Rangers should be too strong for the Saints and probably will be. But such is the Ibrox madness this season I'm sticking my neck on the line and going for a Perthshire party. Well, maybe not a party. But a resounding share of the spoils.

By the way, I've gone alphabetical this week. St Johnstone entertain Rangers in front of the TV cameras and it kicks off at 12.30 on Saturday.

Tale of the tape to date: 13(!) out of 36 (I missed a week)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

England expects, Scotland rejects

England's World Cup hopes
And so it begins.

A minor hiccup away to Ukraine apart (doesn't really count - nobody saw it), England have successfully negotiated their way to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup.

Scotland, as we are so painfully aware, will not be joining them.

So what can we look forward to now? Wall to wall coverage in the "British" media? Pundits predicting the first real chance at glory in over 40 years? John Terry's "feeling" that this England side can do something great getting stronger and stronger?

All of the above and more. The jingoistic nonsense of the tabloids and some supporters (conveniently ignoring the Italian gaffer and the European influence at every one of the player's clubs), the never ending references to 1966 and all that, the obsessive stalking of the Wags.

We will see it all. Fabio Capello would prefer that we didn't see any of it. As a football man he knows that the English press and their incessant desire to stoke English expectation has been as much to blame for their recent failures as any massive technical deficiency.

There are weaknesses in the team, some of them glaring. But there are also outstanding talents and, with Capello jutting his jaw in defiance, unlikely to be the distractions that were allowed under Sven-Goran Eriksson.

And what are we left with here? Bitterness and carping is the default position. Supporting anybody but England and wasting money buying the gaudy shirts of their opponents. Politicians making cack handed attempts to ride popular opinion and succeeding only in embarrassing the nation they claim to represent.

Can it be different next summer. Please. As we look ahead to 2010 can we not just ignore the press and the commentators, the players and the popstar partners?

It's getting tired this obsessive anti Englishness every two or four years. We're supposed to be on the verge of having a mature debate about the very notion of our statehood. Yet when England play Trinidad and Tobago we somehow build it into a bizarre restaging of Culloden. It makes us look a bit silly, a bit simple even.

Some of it is just a laugh and that's fine. Healthy even. But some it is shot through with real bitterness as if the 11 men that Capello puts out on the park are to blame for the poll tax, the Battle of Falkirk and everything in between.

I'm not saying wish them well. I don't actually really care how they do. But, however much we dress it up, our ostentatious displays of not supporting them are as small minded and silly as the headlines in the English tabloids.

We shouldn't be bitter that England are in South Africa. We should be angry that Scotland aren't there. It's been a long time since 1998. Too long. If we want to be pissed off let's be pissed off at that.

There's no point standing flinging bricks at your neighbour's windows if your own walls are crumbling.

Designated Driver?

The shorthand that today's soundbite culture demands insists that it is called the "Andrew Driver Law" but this week's new ruling on international eligibility is about much more than the Hearts winger.

Any holder of a British passport who has spent five years at Scottish schools is now free to play for Scotland.

I have no idea if Andrew Driver wants to play for Scotland or not. He seems to be keeping his options open at the moment issuing a flirtatious 'come and get me' tease to George Burley. Whatever he decides that's not what international should be about.

The rule would also have meant that Joe Baker, as Scottish as they come in all but his international career, would have been able to play for Scotland rather than England.

Many English people spend more than five years at Scottish schools without ever feeling any less English. Many Scots grow up in England but would never consider trading the chance of wearing a navy shirt for the hope of wearing a white one.

How people feel towards their nationality is a complex issue and a personal one. Craig Brown has spoken out against the new rule. The same Craig Brown who took a Who Do You Think You Are? approach to international selection.

Can Craig Brown honestly say that a young guy who has spent his formative years in Scotland is any less Scottish than somebody who has just discovered, courtesy of the SFA, that his grandmother was born in Fife seventy years ago?

The Driver issue and the reactionary meandering of an out of touch old man aside the real benefits of the new rule were shown this week when Islam Feruz was picked for the Scotland Under-17 squad.

Somali born Feruz came to Scotland when he was seven. Now 14, and on Celtic's books, he had this to say on his call up:
I have been very proud to live in Scotland. It's a great country which is now my home and I will be very proud to wear the Scotland jersey.

I would like to thank Celtic for all it has done for me over the last five years.

The club has made sure I have been given great support. I would also like to thank Scotland coach Ross Mathie for giving me this great opportunity.

I will be working hard to do all I can to do my best for Scotland and make the most of this opportunity.
We open our doors to refugees and asylum seekers from across the world. Many of them come as children but we, as an entire society, struggle with issues of assimilation and identity.

Saying to these youngsters that they can play a full and important part in our national game is an incredibly powerful symbol of how modern Scotland can embrace all cultures and welcome people here not with mistrust and racism but with the opportunity to rebuild shattered lives as part of our communities.

As George Burley and Andrew Driver eye each other up like teenagers at the school disco we shouldn't forget that this ruling is about Scotland's continued and welcome move towards becoming a fully functional multicultural society.