Saturday, August 24, 2013

Scotland: Kenny Miller retires

There we are then.

12 years, 69 caps, 18 goals and a final memory of a goal to savour at Wembley.

Farewell Kenny Miller, Scotland striker.

If the announcement of Miller's international retirement saw many of the old criticisms of his ability resurface, there was also a strong swell of appreciation for the service he's given.

His timing is impeccable. With no 2014 World Cup for Scotland he leaves on the personal high of scoring in his solitary appearance against England.

And he forces Gordon Strachan to face the remaining qualifiers without trusted experience up front. The manager might not have been ready for the immediate future without Kenny Miller. With no choice, he has to build for the next qualifying tournament. To the end, we could say, Miller has served the greater good of the Scotland cause.

The greater good. Servant.

Running themes of the tributes to Miller. The willing servant who'd turn up - in an era when not turning up is common - and give his all whatever the circumstances.

Often those circumstances involved him playing as a lone striker. Lacking service, chasing, running, waiting for the support of midfielders who often failed to arrive.

He did all that time and again. For seven different managers. Decent managers, bad managers, befuddled managers. All trusted Miller at different times.

Miller repaid them by getting on with the job, perhaps coming close to a public strop only when dropped for an empty space when Craig Levein chose 4-6-0 in Prague.

He saw off managerial changes as surely as he survived recurring episodes of public clamour when a new rival appeared on the goalscoring charts.

For a decade Miller outlasted Scotland managers and outlasted so many of those rivals for his shirt.

He never escaped the brickbats though.

His thoroughly modern club career maybe didn't help. An apparent 'have bank account, will travel' attitude might make the most of football's new opportunities but it doesn't create folk heroes.

Rangers-Celtic-Rangers swapsies also have the power to alienate large constituencies, often at the same time.

Then there is the simpler reason. That Kenny Miller just wasn't "Scotland quality."

He frustrated this writer often enough. He should have more than 18 goals, should be higher than sixth on the all time scoring list.

Profligate Kenny Miller, caught in two minds and choosing the third option. Kenny Miller, the non-scoring lone striker, enduring long dry spells.

We could never pretend that he was among the greats of the past. But he wasn't playing with great players either.

His decade as a regular choice coincided with Scotland's decade in the wilderness.

No major tournaments, some embarrassing performances, more than a few dire results.

Miller was part of all of that but successive managers saw him as the best of what they had as Scotland tried to get to grips with their reduced standing.

He could hardly be blamed for getting picked so regularly. And we couldn't accuse him of not giving his all when he was picked.

A decent player giving of his best. That sounds unspectacular but it's been an unspectacular decade.

Some good memories, some bad memories and very often little to show in games when hard graft just wasn't enough.

Kenny Miller's story has been the Scotland story for the last decade.

If the players he's now stepped aside for can harness their potential with Miller's commitment then the next decade might just offer more reward.

So thanks for the effort, Kenny. And thanks for calling it quits at the right time.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Brazil win 2013 Homeless World Cup

Brazil won their second Homeless World Cup trophy after a penalty shootout win over Mexico in Poznan.

Financial pressure meant the 2010 champions arrived in Poland with just four players but they held their nerve to consign Mexico to their third consecutive final defeat.

Travelling with a squad cut back to the minimum number of players allowed failed to dent Brazil's recent consistency in their tournament with two wins and three third place finishes in the last five Homeless World Cups.

The Women's Homeless World Cup again offered consolation for Mexico as they ran out 4-1 winners over Chile to retain the title they won at home in 2012.

Scotland, who lost their Polish President's Cup semi final to Austria yesterday, lost 8-4 to Ireland today to finish the event in 12th place overall.

On a mixed day for the home nations Northern Ireland beat Greece 12-1 in their Ministry of Labour Cup play off match while Wales lost 7-3 to Cambodia in The Cup of Tolerance.

England's men lost 6-4 to the United State in The INSP Trophy but the English women's team beat Wales on penalties after a 4-4 draw to lift The Equality Cup.

So the 2013 Homeless World Cup ends with Brazil crowned champions. But the beauty of this tournament are the hundreds of other winners it produces as players from across the world travel home with a new determination to change their lives.

As Homeless World Cup president and co-founder Mel Young said in Poznan today:

"There are one hundred million homeless people in the world today and one homeless person is one too many.

"Football has the power to transform lives and the best result this week was not on the pitch, but how the players took the next step to move forward in their lives and inspire other homeless people to do the same."

Homeless World Cup on the Scottish Football Blog
Brazil lift the Homeless World Cup trophy
Homeless World Cup 2013 finals:
  • The Homeless World Cup: Brazil beat Mexico on penalties
  • The Polish President's Cup: Netherlands beat Austria 6-5
  • The Poznan City Cup: Bulgaria beat Costa Rica 8-4
  • The Ministry of Labour Cup: Belgium beat Slovenia 8-4 
  • The Cup of Tolerance: Germany beat Norway 3-1
  • The INSP Trophy: Finland beat Sweden on penalties
  • The Women's Homeless World Cup: Mexico beat Chile 4-1
  • The Equality Cup: England beat Wales on penalties
Why are so many games played on Homeless World Cup finals day?

Mel Young explains:

"During the week, the teams have been playing in a series of qualifying sections and knock out stages. In the men’s competition, teams compete for the Homeless World Cup but there are also five other plate competitions to be won. Unlike other cups, teams do not go home if they lose but they stay in the competition to play for a place. Each team will play at least once to decide their final position.

"The Women’s Homeless World Cup works in exactly the same way except there are fewer plate competitions because there are fewer women’s teams taking part.

"Each team will receive a trophy for their position and every player will receive the same medal. Because the teams are all now at the same level each game will be very close.

"I always love Finals Day at the Homeless World Cup because there is high drama in every game. Then the medal ceremonies are a fabulous show of friendship and solidarity as the players each receive their awards with a big smile on their face in front of a cheering crowd."

Visit the Homeless World Cup website for all this year's news and results

Andrew Watson: Scotland's first black international footballer

Twitter recently led me to a fantastic post by Andy Mitchell on his Scottish Sports History blog.

Before the England v Scotland he sought out the modest grave of Andrew Watson, a footballer whose significance in the game has often been overlooked:

"I placed a Scottish saltire flag and a few flowers on the grave to commemorate his place in Scottish football history. But I have a strong feeling that Andrew Watson deserves more, a prominent and permanent memorial that truly recognises his place in sporting history as the first black international footballer, the first black administrator (he was secretary of Queen's Park) and possibly the first black professional player (at Bootle)."

I couldn't agree more.

Watson's progress in the game - and the acceptance of that progress - still seems hugely relevant today, even in what we like to consider our more enlightened age.

Andrew Watson also captained Scotland and, in his three games for his country, we beat England twice (6-1 away, 5-1 at home) and Wales once (5-1).

To his list of "firsts" we could possibly add:

  • First black captain of an International team (v England 1881)
  • First black player to win a major competition (Scottish Cup 1881)
  • First black player to play in the English FA Cup (London Swifts 1882)

The SFA annual of 1880-81 described Watson as:

"One of the very best backs we have; since joining Queen's Park has made rapid strides to the front as a player; has great speed and tackles splendidly; powerful and sure kick; well worthy of a place in any representative team." (Football Unites, Racism Divides)

A remarkable story. A story that, as Andy Mitchell points out, deserves more recognition than a neglected grave in a Richmond cemetery.