Friday, June 04, 2010

Scotland v France: 1958 World Cup

More on our experiences in 1958 later. For now here's some footage of our 2-1 loss to Just Fontaine's French side.

Sammy Baird got Scotland's goal.

Another brave failure? Not quite. We were already out so this was a meaningless game.

If you tolerate this then your children will be next

Grateful thanks to @Marrsio and others on Twitter for bringing this to my attention. A fantastic feature on "How A Soccer Star Is Made" by Michael Sokolove in the New York Times.

As Rob points out on Left Back In The Changing Room:
Proving, once again, that the Americans kick our ass when it comes to extended journalistic pieces. Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
In fact I'm not even sure where Sokolove would find an outlet for this kind of thing in Scotland.

Coincidentally we had John Collins wading into the debate today:
It starts at grassroots level, at five, six or seven years of age. The sessions I give help develop skill, create two-footed players, improve their balance and co-ordination, while enabling players to master the ball. And once you’ve given the kids that, you take it to the next stage and put them into game situations where tactics come into it. But that has to come after the foundations are laid.

I see too many big players playing at the back in under-10 games because they can kick it the furthest and are the strongest. That’s not what football’s about. We’ve got to develop skill and technique. It’s not about winning. Every kid wants to win when they go on the pitch so we don’t have to talk about ‘the will to win’. That’s in the Scottish blood. But the will to prepare for victory is vital and that comes on the training pitch. (The Herald)
Collins was launching a training scheme with The Platinum Scheme. Leaving aside the rumours that JC's attitude to teaching the young players in his first team squad was to remove his top and challenge them to sit-up duels, he is speaking some sense. Nothing new, but some sense.

But it's another scheme in a country of countless such schemes. Most are never heard of again.

Collins would probably find a lot to agree with in the New York Times article. The depressing thing is, in comparing the US system unfavourably to the Dutch system, Sokolove might just have highlighted how far Scotland is behind both.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Scotland in 1954: A dismal debut

Blazered buffoonery at the SFA had denied Scotland of their place at the 1950 World Cup but, just four years later, we were ready to unleash our best on the world's best.

In fact we only qualified courtesy of finishing second in the Home Nations Championship. Regular readers will realise that this was also the case in 1950 when the SFA refused to let us travel. All that seemed to have been forgotten when Switzerland 1954 rolled round. Maybe the blazers liked cuckoo clocks.

1954 was slap bang in the middle of something of a purple patch for competitiveness in Scottish football. Rangers were the dominant side but Hibs, Celtic, Aberdeen and Hearts would all weigh in with league titles before the decade was out.

Motherwell and Clyde had joined Celtic and Rangers in winning the Scottish Cup in the early fifties and Hibs were a season or so away from the semi-finals of the European Cup.

So you would expect competition for places to be fierce. And, with Rangers on tour in America and refusing to release their players and Celtic only allowing Bobby Evans, Neil Mochan and Willie Fernie to travel, this was one of the least Old Firm-centric squads Scotland have ever named.

Predictably, however, the SFA bigwigs still had a couple of cards up their sleeves in their apparently tireless quest to make Scotland look like idiots.

In a nod to modernity they appointed Andy Beattie as Scotland's first manager. They then informed him that only 13 of the original 22 man squad could travel to Switzerland. A cash motivated restriction that the players noted did not extend to SFA committee men.

Having had the carpet pulled from under him, Beattie felt he had no option to resign after the first game leaving a selection committee in charge of team affairs.

All things considered Scotland's opener against Austria, essentially our competitive debut outside the British Isles, could have been a lot worse than the eventual 1-0 defeat.

We know it could have been worse because we then promptly lost 7-0 to Uruguay in our second and final group match. We might well have struggled against the South Americans even if we hadn't been wearing kit that left the players better equipped for a North Pole expedition than a sunny Swiss day.

Partick Thistle's John Mackenzie who played that day recalled:

"Did I play in that game? I certainly didn't touch the ball very often. It was so hot and our kit was unbearable. I lost about half a stone in weight."

And so that was that. Debut over. Two games played, eight goals conceded, no goals scored.

In an interview after Scotland's exit Tommy Docherty was asked if, having played in an FA Cup Final, captained his country and played in a World Cup, he felt as if his ship had come in.

"Aye," replied The Doc, "just my luck I was at the airport."

A decent group of players handicapped by bad organisation and incompetents in charge. A familiar refrain.

Still, we'd made our debut. Things could only get better...

Scotland's 1954 Squad

(Amazingly, given the resources at our disposal in the early fifties, only Evans and Brown had more than 10 caps going into the World Cup. Our 13 players combined had only one more cap than England's Billy Wright had amassed on his own.)

Fred Martin (Aberdeen)
Willie Cunninghan (Preston North End)
Jock Aird (Burnley)
Bobby Evans (Celtic)
Tommy Docherty (Preston North End)
Jimmy Davidson (Partick Thistle)
Doug Cowie (Dundee)
John Mackenzie (Partick Thistle)
George Hamilton (Aberdeen)
Allan Brown (Blackpool)
Neil Mochan (Celtic)
Willie Fernie (Celtic)
Willie Ormond (Hibs)

How much did the players receive for their role in the World Cup? Either £15 or their shirts to keep as souvenirs. Many just kept the shirts.

No doubt they were worried the SFA cheques would bounce.

Book review: Martin O'Neill - The Biography

By Simon Moss (John Blake Publishing)

It's a tricky thing, writing an unauthorised biography. How do you pitch it? Do you go for the muckraking reportage of rumour and innuendo like Kitty Kelley or Albert Goldman? Or just use existing sources to build a portrait of the subject.

In Martin O'Neill: The Biography, Simon Moss takes the latter approach in a workman-like book that ultimately fails to satisfy.

Partly this is the fault of O'Neill himself. A complex, intense character he deserves more than a life illustrated by old cuttings.

Even here though you feel Moss could have done better. O'Neill's relationship with Brian Clough obviously shaped both his playing career and his subsequent attitude to the role of manager. Moss refers to it a lot but fails to properly examine it.

Similarly the way events in Northern Ireland affected O'Neill as a young Northern Irish Catholic living in England are alluded to but not really analysed. That might be excusable in a football book but they must have played some part in shaping O'Neill and certainly influenced his relationship with Neil Lennon when he joined him at Celtic.

And brevity is not always the author's friend. I feel that a sentence like "O'Neill...may have been immune to the troubles taking place in his homeland, but Forest had their own problems on the pitch" veers towards the offensive when the year in question is 1972.

So we are left with a chronological tour through O'Neill's career. And there's nothing wrong with that, especially for Celtic fans as the Parkhead period is given the lion's share of the book.

Personally I'd have like to hear more about the playing years. I know a little about that strained relationship with Clough but I was unaware, for example, that O'Neill scored for Irish club Distillery in the Nou Camp as a teenager.

Still, that's a minor quibble in a book that is clearly geared towards those interested in O'Neill the manager - an approach that might yet have Liverpool fans snapping it up in the weeks ahead.

Less easy to overlook are the errors that litter the pages. The Manchester United of one sentence become the Untied of the next. It becomes laughable when "former O'Neill charge Emily Heskey" gets what must surely have been a memorable equaliser. It is perhaps unfair to judge Moss' work on the failings of his editor - Lord knows this blog is not without errors - but when "Nemanja Vidi?" is making an appearance on the second last page this reader's patience was sorely tried.

An editor with a knowledge of Scottish football would probably have also realised that Celtic were unlikely to be playing "Livingstone" (Doctor, I presume). Similarly The Herald is suddenly transformed into Sydney's Morning Herald.

There are numerous examples of this: O'Neill is quoted as saying that John Clark told him the Celtic team of 1976 never got booed. Why Clark would pick a season five years after he left Celtic is unclear. Unless, of course, he was talking about 1967. A big mistake that as far as Celtic are concerned.

When, on page 213, "O'Nell was forced to blood nineteen-year-old David Youngster" in goals at the Nou Camp, these errors had me snorting my tea. Still, for a marshall, Youngster did very well.

And that's all a shame, because the book deserves better. It's not a classic, it's not the definitive O'Neill story, but it's a worthwhile look at a man who has been involved in senior British football for almost forty years.

It's certainly readable - I particularly enjoyed having my memory jogged about Celtic's run to the UEFA Cup final - and remains so despite some of the more glaring errors.

But you can't help picture O'Neill's demented leaping at so many missed opportunities if Moss was playing for one of his teams. In the end this book leaves you wanting more. For that we might have to wait for Martin O'Neill: The Autobiography.

If he can ever sit down long enough to write it.

You can buy Martin O'Neill: The Biography and loads of other stuff at The Scottish Football Bookshop. Mercy me, I need the cash.


I've been getting inundated with emails asking me to promote various England related World Cup products on the site.

No, I wouldn't. And check the name of the site before getting in touch.

Nice then to find a World Cup campaign celebrating Scotland. And Brazil.

Irn-Bru have created Bruzil:

Who cares about not qualifying in 2010, when we can win in 2034? The plan is to make babies with Brazil to create a Samba McFootball team that will gub the world.

Away From The Numbers reports that:

Barr's Martin Steele visited Rio de Janeiro last week in order to place the lonely heart ads on billboards and in the dating sections of the Brazilian press. One, placed in the O Globo newspaper, reads: "Scots lass seeks Brazilian man with good sense of humour to make Scottish football magic".

I'd volunteer to get involved but the DNA test on Irn-Bru's website suggests that while my "swerviness" is unrivalled my "impressive tackle" rating leaves a lot to be desired. It was ever thus.

Here's the first of six videos.

All the best

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


We often hear that Alex Salmond is the supreme political mind in the Scottish Parliament. As compliments go this is much like telling me that I'm a world class footballer after watching me play five-and-in with Stephen Hawking.

Still, if Salmond had the guile he's credited with surely we'd preparing for a vote on independence during the World Cup. Before the tournament is out there will be more than a few Scots wondering if we couldn't rebuild Hadrian's Wall to keep the English media out.

I've already stated that this blog will be neither a cheerleader for the England team nor a supporter of the "Anyone But England" squad.

That's not going to stop me joining the "Anyone But England's Media" campaign.

It's almost tempting to think that yesterday was a nadir for English football hackery. But you know it's going to get much, much worse.

England don't play until the 12th of June. The hysteria they generated yesterday suggests some of the press won't last the distance.

The reason for them screeching like recalcitrant toddlers was the announcement of the England squad.

As I see it Fabio Capello and the FA stayed silent until the loose ends - including the satisfactory completion of Gareth Barry's fitness test and informing the unlucky seven that they were staying at home - were tied up.

Amazingly enough they were under no obligation to tell the media anything until they were completely satisfied that everything else had been taken care of.

Not good enough apparently. In a increasingly unhinged series of updates that gave Twitter the high pitched wail of the front row of a Take That concert circa 1994, the FA were accused of presiding over yet another messy PR disaster and Capello's own judgement was being called into question.

Suddenly journalists were bemoaning that there was too much speculation flying around. This complaint was sandwiched between the very same journalists tweeting, well, speculation. It seemed at about 2pm yesterday that the English football press corps was about to eat itself before a ball had even been kicked.

That, of course, is not the only hypocrisy. Had, say, Tom Huddlestone found out from Sky Sports that he had not been included then Sky would have led the pack in crucifying Capello for not having the decency to tell him himself.

What other option did Theo Walcott have but to wish his erstwhile colleagues well? Had he said nothing or shown a hint of anger the very journalists lauding his class would have been haranguing his lack of patriotism.

And they wonder why football clubs and footballers are guarded and distant with the press?

This hysteria will only grow. Wrapping themselves in the flag of St George the English press will slip ever further into this illusion of their own creation, this idea that they are somehow helping the team tapping away at their laptops as part of the great national effort to bring the trophy home.

In reality they are a hindrance, cranking up such pressure that any result but victory will be the ultimate failure. Such pressure that their very presence in South Africa will only be a distraction to the players and manager.

Time for them to calm down and grow up. There's more chance of New Zealand winning the World Cup than that happening.

If, whatever happens in South Africa, Capello walks after the tournament the English press will have the scatter guns out looking for people to blame. Might I suggest they start by looking in the mirror.

In the meantime the English media, far more than the players or manager, offer that increasingly tiresome Anyone But England nonsense its most powerful recruitment advert.

King Dennis II

An email earlier today from Craig Anderson - blogger at The Last Ditch Tackle and currently editing Scotzine as Andy Muirhead takes a honeymoon shaped holiday - calling for some World Cup memories.

So many. But for my favourite goal I go back to 1998. Dennis Bergkamp v Argentina, Quarter Final. Genius.

I was in Holland at the time - and for Germany's capitulation to Croatia. They're a nation that knows how to celebrate.

So, here's mine. What's yours?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Scotland in 1950: The World Cup that wisnae

We begin our look at Scotland in the World Cup in 1950. Obviously the fact that we didn't actually play in the 1950 World Cup might make this a strange place to start.

But 1950 does provide some valuable insights into some of the self imposed handicaps that have so hampered Scottish football down the years. Well one, anyway. Our unerring ability to give pompous incompetents positions of power within the game.

Prior to World War II the Home Nations had shunned FIFA, withdrawing in 1920 over a row about amateur status in the game that I suspect is too dull for me to even research let alone write about. And also, one must imagine, because they had little doubt that Johnny Foreigner couldn't tell them much about the game they had invented.

So Scotland pretty much ignored the first three World Cups.

But after 1945 FIFA were desperate to remedy the situation. They wanted the Home Nations back in the fold and they were prepared to prostrate themselves at their feet to achieve it.

So Scotland got a FIFA vice-presidency, England, Wales and Northern Ireland got representation on the FIFA executive. And as a final deal sweetener FIFA essentially ignored their own qualification processes to give the Home Nations Championship two qualifying places.

Finishing in second place in a four team competition was enough to reach Brazil. And it wasn't even a home and away format. Three games to qualify for the World Cup. Easy.

Unfortunately the SFA supremo of the day, George Graham, believed in the purity of sport. Scotland could only go to the World Cup if they went as champions. Second place was not good enough.

Even the least fatalistic of Scots - a rare breed indeed - could guess at what would happen next.

A loss to England at Hampden condemned us to second place. We weren't going anywhere.

The players begged, the public clamoured, England captain Billy Wright pleaded. But George Graham had made his mind up and he was not the sort of man to change his mind in the face of overwhelming public opinion. Better to be called stupid and wrong than do the right thing and be deemed a decent enough old cove.

The expense of mounting an assault on Brazil might have clouded his considerations. But 134,000 fans watched that final game against England at Hampden. What on earth were the SFA doing with the cash?

And so the Brazil World Cup of 1950 went on without us. It would be 1954 before we made our debut, reaching Switzerland by finishing in second place in the Home Nations Championship. You couldn't make it up.

Things change of course. But sixty years on we're sitting out another World Cup. Whose fault is that? Let's not get into the blame game. But do a couple of SFA employees called George not spring to mind?

Monday, May 31, 2010

Money, money, money

A weekend away and little in the way of football to get in the way. I was down south for the England game yesterday but chose not to watch. I played Monopoly instead.

Better a board game celebrating capital excess than 90 minutes of watching some of our least deserving beneficiaries of that excess fail to live up to their own hype.

Do I grudge some of those players their money. Too bloody right I do. Particularly when I hear about Jimmy Calderwood's departure from Kilmarnock and the gaping holes in the Rugby Park accounts.

Jimmy had wanted to stay on as manager. He liked the club, liked the players. He'd even identified players that could be brought in on the cheap to bolster a squad that so very nearly went down last season.

But on the cheap is not cheap enough for Kilmarnock these days. The cupboard is completely bare. Let's hope Poundland starts selling footballers in the next month or two.

They are a club mired in crisis. Whoever succeeds Calderwood will need to turn them into a better team with no resources. Zilch.

The consequences of failing to do that are grim. The level of Kilmarnock's debt is pretty much unsustainable in the SPL. It would be impossible in the First Division.

I think there is very real possibility that Kilmarnock's very existence is going to be under threat at some point in the next few months. I don't want to see that happen but I don't see how their financial problems can be solved when the ground is less than a third full most weeks and they have few real, valuable assets on the pitch.

The SPL champions are £30 million in debt. The sixth placed team are £35 million in debt. The team that finished 11th are £12 in debt.

Depressing, crazy, madness, unsustainable. Something needs to be done. It needs to be done quickly.

Unfortunately I can't see anybody involved with the game who has the ability to bring all the clubs and other interested parties together to work out how to start bringing about the positive change we need.

Scottish football has unerring ability to appoint and promote people who, on realising they're stood in a hole, ask for a shovel and start digging.

See what's happened now. A cracking weekend and a quick glance at the football news and I'm channelling the ghost of John Laurie.

Doomed? We might well be.

Playing for the LostBhoys

Last season was, at best, a frustrating one for the Celtic fans. At worst it was a torment to endure or a good reason for hibernation. You can now relive it thanks to Playing For The LostBhoys, a collection of the season's best writing from the LostBhoys website.

And best of all it's for a really terrific charity.

Dave Harper from LostBhoys has kindly provided some more info:
First of all let me explain that all the profits from this publication will be going to the Good Child Foundation in Thailand which is a charity that is very close to all the LostBhoys teams hearts. The Good Child Foundation which works in conjunction with the Triamsuksa School provides education placements for children of all abilities including those pupils with Down Syndrome.

The charity, headed by Celtic fan Paul Lennon and his wife Pun, has really captured the minds of the Celtic family and along with their year long volunteer; Irishman Chris Joyce, they have done a wonderful job promoting the charity and getting their story out there. The trio have appeared in many YouTube videos with their pupils singing various Celtic/Irish songs that would be bring a smile to the coldest of hearts, they also appeared on LostBhoys podcast number 44.

Playing For The Lostbhoys chronicles the 2009/2010 topsy-turvy season of Glasgow Celtic Football Club through the eyes of the LostBhoys, a group of fans who came together by setting up a website and producing a weekly podcast discussing their beloved Hoops .

Although, ultimately a disappointing season on and off the pitch for the Club, we hope you "enjoy" the good humoured articles and blogs of Chris, Jamie, Casey, Eddie, Harper, Charlie, Gary, Joe & Conall as they discussed all the games and everything else going on in the world of Celtic on a week by week basis.

As results went against the team, passions flowed and arguments raged over the manager's position, team selections, player performances and the direction in which the Club was going. Hope soon turned to despair and optimism transpired to realism as the team limped to a trophyless season.

The LostBhoys hail (hail) from all corners of the globe, this is our story and your story as we laughed, cried, ranted and raved but never gave up on Glasgow Celtic FC, the club we ALL love so much.
The book is available by going direct to and searching 'Playing For The LostBhoys'or click here for the direct link. The publication is available in both paperback & digital download formats.