Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bye George?

Once more, with a little less feeling.

That probably sums up another abject Scottish performance as well as anything could.

This was bad, bad, bad. Scotland were humiliated again by Wales.

The question remains: how many of these performances can we endure before a change is made?

Before the game George Burley justified his selection of a full back, Danny Fox, because "he'd worked ever so hard" filling in the paperwork to get clearance to play for Scotland.

Football according to bureaucracy.

Burley went on to say that Fox deserved his chance because he "knows what Lee Wallace can do." So, on the back of one cap, the manager has the measure of the Hearts full back.

That's fair enough but seems to be contradicted by the selection of Kenny Miller. We all know what Kenny can do. Miss chances. He duly delivered early on with a miss that the manager pointed to as a turning point.

It's unfair to point to a newly tartanised full back or a striker who fails to strike as the catalyst for failure.

There were other failures and few successes. But the buck has to stop somewhere.

Burley might not use the tactics you or I would use. He might not pick the players you or I would choose. But then, if I met you in the pub, we'd probably disagree on the starting 11 and the formation.

That's football. And it's forgivable if the results are good. They haven't been good for far too long.

Even a defeat can offer glimpses of hope. Not today.

After Wales scored Scotland capitulated. No fighting spirit, no coherence, no backbone. Nothing.

Each and everyone of the players should be asking themselves if they gave of their best today. If the answer is no then let's hope they have professional pride to make sure that never happens again.

The manager should ask himself why he has consistently failed to build a team with any kind of spirit. The players don't look like they want to go out and play for him. That's bad but it is not insurmountable.

Today they looked like they didn't want to play for themselves. That's the end of the road for the manager.

A small nation, a small talent pool. True, but today a smaller nation with a smaller talent pool kippered us. That has to mean curtains for somebody.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Brought To Book

You might have noticed that I often link to books that are listed on the Scottish Football Blog Bookshop.

This is my own Amazon aStore. It doesn't make much money but I'd like it to be useful as a library of decent football books.

So feel free to let me know of any books that you think I might have missed.

There are hundreds of books on football available now. What are your favourites? From Nick Hornby to reformed casuals making money out of their idiotic youths to ex-players, managers and journalists. A bewildering choice of the good, bad and indifferent.

I'll do my best to read all your recommendations and I'll let you know what I think through reviews on this site.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

We shall remember them

As football remembered the fallen over the weekend, one of the most poignant acts of remembrance came at Tynecastle.

13 Hearts players volunteered to fight in 1914. The McCrae's Battalion website takes up the story:

In August 1914 Great Britain went to war with Germany. As eager young men flocked to join Lord Kitchener’s volunteer army, professional football became the target of a vitriolic campaign of unfounded abuse. Footballers, said the critics, were shirkers and cowards, content to hide at home while better men risked their lives at the front. The game was on the point of being ‘stopped’ by the government, until its reputation was saved by the enlistment of thirteen Heart of Midlothian players in a new battalion being promoted in Edinburgh by Lieutenant-Colonel Sir George McCrae.

The 'Football Sensation' captured the country’s imagination: McCrae’s Battalion (the 16th Royal Scots) was raised in record time. The example of the Tynecastle men was followed at once by around 500 of their supporters and ticket-holders – along with 150 followers of Hibernian. Other professionals volunteered from Raith Rovers, Falkirk and Dunfermline. In total, around 75 local clubs (of all levels) were represented – along with rugby players, hockey players, strongmen, golfers, bowlers and athletes of all persuasions.

Many would never return and, down the years, their sacrifice has become an integral part of Tynecastle's emotional history.

The author Jack Alexander published the definitive history of a quite remarkable story in McCrae's Battalion: The Story of the 16th Royal Scots.

It is a vivid and moving account of ordinary men required to adapt to the most extraordinary circumstances.

They are remembered at this time every year and with permanent memorials in Edinburgh (currently in storage) and in Contalmaison in France.

Take a moment to think about them today.

You can help the veterans of conflicts past and present at Poppyscotland

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


You may have noticed that some of our footballers have been sporting moustaches recently.

This is not some bizarre tribute to the perfectly groomed Graeme Souness but part of Movember, an annual campaign to raise awareness and funds for prostate cancer.

Danny Fox, Gary Caldwell, Paddy McCourt, Kris Boyd and Allan McGreggor have already signed up. So to, with the backing of the Scottish Sun, have Billy McNeill and Souness himself.

All 22 players in Morton's clash with Partick Thistle on Saturday were in various states of hirsuteness. And, to prove anyone can get involved, legendary 'tache wearer Jocky Scott has gone clean shaven.

Visit the Movember website for more information or to get involved.

Monday, November 09, 2009

An age old problem

I remember when I was young.

I remember it always being sunny with quick witted street urchins running happily on the car free streets, performing footballing miracles with tennis balls.

Actually, I don't.

I do, however, remember our old sage Craig Brown. How he would puff his chest out with pride when talking about the sudden availability of "young Alistair" or "young Paul." He looked just like the fastest pigeon in the loft.

Ironic as little Craig might have intended to be when referring to the thirtysomething McCoist or McCstay there was always an underlying message. The veterans were preferable to the youngsters.

It's a trait of Scottish sport. Young Scottish golfers are great prospects when Tiger is going for the Grand Slam. Andy Murray has Slam winning potential as Rafael Nadal wins major after major.

Surely, for all that's wrong with our diet, we don't mature later than other countries. Do we lose four years from child prodigal to failing adult? Are we spending the critical years drinking cheap cider behind the bike sheds with the school glamour girls?

Glenn Gibbons summed it up perfectly in Saturday's Scotsman:
EXPANDING on the players included in the Scotland squad to play Wales next week, George Burley touched on a modern tendency that is no less irritating for being so widespread. By describing the Rangers midfielder, Kevin Thomson, as "a young player with potential", the national team manager betrayed a failure to distinguish between potential and lack of fulfilment. Thomson, below, is 25, precisely the average age of the ten outfield players who won the European Cup with Celtic in 1967.

He is three years older than Jimmy Johnstone and Bobby Murdoch, two older than Tommy Gemmell and Bobby Lennox and one older than Jim Craig.

There is a similar perception of Aiden McGeady, who, at 23 and in his sixth year as a first-team squad member, shows few visible signs of improvement, but is viewed as a novice with much to learn.

Ally McCoist, too, seems to be a beneficiary of this inverted ageism, frequently described in the media as a young coach, almost ready to make his way in management. He is 47, an age at which Alex Ferguson had been in management for 15 years, had won ten major trophies with Aberdeen and been appointed manager of Manchester United.

McCoist is also nine years older than Jock Stein was when he won his first Scottish Cup with Dunfermline in 1961 and three years older than the great Celtic manager was when he won the European Cup.

Some of today's "apprentices" are actually closer to greybeards.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Another day of pride

They hate being lumped together. Which is as good a reason as any for writing about them together.

And, yet again, it's an article that I don't really want to write. Another article about how the sections of idiots that both Rangers and Celtic have in their support are making numpties of us all.

On Wednesday night Rangers fans got involved with police in Romania. The club are walking a tightrope of condemnation for the fans and also for the authorities. Ally McCoist has, again, had to speak about his concerns of the club being tainted by a minority.

Sorry, Ally, it's gone beyond that now. The club maybe can't afford to alienate fans at the moment. But what level of provocation is needed to rip a seat off its stand and fling it at a policeman?

Rangers now run a very real risk of either playing behind closed doors or being banned from Europe. Rangers will not be able to guarantee a trouble free trip to Seville. UEFA will act. The bank are going to love that!

And then today a number of Celtic supporters, allegedly, chose to remain outside the stadium and sing their Republican ditties during the minute's silence for Remembrance Sunday.

I know they were outside the stadium. The suggestion that this was some kind of pre-planned protest will forever remain debated. Yet seconds after the event the commentators seemed to know. But they'll be anti-Celtic idiots. Their opinion won't count. How can it if they're not Celtic minded?

Were that heartily voiced band unaware that there would be a minute's silence? Are they alone in Scotland in not knowing that this happens every year?

Did no soldiers from Ireland, north and south, die in the battlefields of France? Did no Celtic fans die in the Libyan desert or the Western Front? Are no Celtic supporters risking the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan?

Is it, in any way, a legitimate protest to embarrass their memory, their sacrifice?

Different teams, different circumstances. But these are the two biggest teams in Scotland. It is Celtic and Rangers that, rightly or wrongly, present to the world the public face of our football.

And, time and again, thanks to a minority on both sides that is an ugly, snarling face full of misdirected hate, labouring under the grotesque misinterpretation of history that is the comfort zone of the extremist.

On Thursday night in Hamburg the home supporters greeted Celtic with Union Jacks and No Surrender banners. After everything that Scotland has given the world we are now exporting hatred.

"Wha's like us?" Damn few – and maybe that's a good thing.

Over on Scotzine they've tackled the minute's silence issue. The "Celtic minded" fans have come out in force to decry the writer as a "hun." He's not. He also never fails to decry the idiotic Rangers fans. When he does that he's a "Tim."

He can't win. But he's right when he chases any of the idiots that shame their club and shame Scotland.

A lifelong hatred

Reading Leo McKinstry's excellent biography of Sir Alf Ramsey (of which more later) I've been struck by Ramsey's long standing loathing of the Scots.

It's not unusual to hear ex-Scottish internationals talk about how much beating the Auld Enemy meant to them, with Denis Law and Pat Crerand both lingering on this in their autobiographies.

And England players often talk about how much the annual clash at Wembley or Hampden meant to them with Bobby Charlton among those ex-players who has called for the match to be resurrected.

It is less normal to read about a life long loathing of an entire nation, one which surely ran beyond the confines of sport.

Quite what the "strange little men" north of the border ever did to Sir Alf is not clear but his hatred extended to refusing to wear Paisley pattern pyjamas. Take that Paisley!

"Not since the Duke of Cumberland" writes McKinstry, "has any Englishman had a more visceral dislike of the Scots."

Ramsey used to say "I'd sooner anybody beat us than the bloody Scots" and his normal team talks became more demonstrative when the opposition was in dark blue. Roy McFarland remembers a match in the 1970s and Sir Alf sending the team out with the words: "Come on boys, let's get into these Scots fuckers."

It's not surprising to learn that Alan Ball was one player who shared Ramsey's hatred and with stunning originality referred to "skirt wearing tossers." Indeed Ramsey, the great upholder of fair play and decorum, tacitly condoned Ball when he wiped his nose on a Saltire at Hampden.

A pre-tan Jimmy Calderwood later played briefly for Ramsey at Birmingham City and remembers a meeting attended by all the Anglo-Scots in the squad:
Sir Alf said: "Now I know you lot fucking hate me. Well, I have news for you. I fucking hate you lot even more." But, you know, I never missed a game for him. He really was a fantastic manager.
Only in the 1980s did Ramsey soften his stance when he offered Alex Ferguson advice before the Mexico World Cup. It says much for his loathing of Bobby Robson that Sir Alf saw helping the Scots as the lesser of two evils.

Does any of this matter? Not really. The attitude might be better seen as a product of Ramsey's time. George Orwell had a similar view of the "Jocks" until he fought next to a Glaswegian in the Spanish Civil War.

It was simply one of the many quirks of a man who achieved much but whose complex brittleness made him very difficult to love.

And does it not add a certain sweetness to those pictures of Jim Baxter toying with England in the Wembley sunshine of 1967?