First let’s get the nostalgia out of the way. We do it well in Scotland. Misty eyed, sepia toned memories of Dave Narey’s toe poke, Archie Gemmell’s mazy run against the Dutch run and Gordon Strachan cocking his leg are peddled to death by myopic “mind-the-time” merchants. Let’s raise a glass to that one again. Yes, Jim Baxter was luminous and uber-cocky with his keepy-uppies, yes players like Bremner, Hansen and Yeats were the very beating heart of many successful English clubs in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties and yes we punched well above our weight internationally for years and years, qualifying for tournaments we had no business being at and handing out shock defeats to big teams. But look at us now. Look at the state we’re in. It’s not pretty. It’s not even plain. It’s very, very ugly.
The facts show we’ve not qualified for a major tournament since France 1998 and have now failed to make Poland and Ukraine in 2012. With a qualifying group for Brazil 2014 that includes Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Wales and Macedonia, an under-par squad lacking real quality or depth and a very limited manger we face an uphill struggle to make that world party too. I look at the current bland Scotland squad and struggle to see a single player who would make the England twenty three. Darren Fletcher? Maybe on a good, good day but no one else. Then I fleetingly and enviously glance sideways at Wales and see Bellamy, Bale and Ramsey, painfully realising that we are actually where we should have been all along. That we are now operating at the International football level we always should have been. Football has come home and it’s a small detached bungalow.
Scotland boasts a population of less than 6 million, on a par with countries such as Slovakia, Finland, Denmark and Norway. Yet we feel an inflated sense of footballing superiority that propels us on a ridiculously high delusional arc, crashing painfully into a disappointed heap time and again as we inevitably fail to cut it amongst even the second tier of football’s elite nations. Our recent history of producing great players has entrenched this delusion and slowly and painfully, year on year, that totem is crumbling.
Look at the state we’re in. It’s not pretty. It’s not even plain. It’s very, very ugly.
Domestically, we boast a sordid two-team league propped up by the global proceeds of a shameful sectarian divide that continues to be both a national disgrace and wobbly crutch that supports the whole distended weight of our current league structure. Without the soiled cash filtering down from the grotesque bigotry of ‘Glasgow’s Ugly Sisters’ there would be a much, much smaller volume of professional and semi-pro teams in Scotland. Hence the clamour to keep Rangers and Celtic from joining the premiership a few years back. Yet as the recession bites and the money flowing through Glasgow splutters more and more clubs face going to the wall. Clubs will fold, teeth will nash and hands will wring with regret. A sorry state indeed but where did it go wrong?
We fiddled whilst Rome burned is the short answer. Seeds of arrogance and failure to invest in youth football during the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties have given bloom to rotten fruits. The romanticism of the dockyards, mines and factories supporting the community football teams that ruled Europe in the Sixties slowly gave way to sprawling council estates, drug problems and crumbling facilities at junior football level. The SFA and councils looked at us competing in major tournaments and our clubs doing well in Europe in the Eighties and Nineties and sat firmly on their fumbling hands and fat wallets. Youth clubs played on unmarked, dog-shit strewn pitches, clubhouses burned by vandals and struggling for playing numbers and funding amidst the needles and burnt out cars. Meanwhile the investment in youth coaches, development of the game at grass roots level and woefully underfunded anti-drug organisations were all passed over for promotion.
Every time I used to see a ‘No Ball Games’ sign on the wall of a housing scheme I would wonder where kids could play with a ball.
Every time I used to see a ‘No Ball Games’ sign on the wall of a housing scheme I would wonder where kids could play with a ball. Thousands of potential players who could have been Dennis Law, Ian St John, Kenny Dalglish or Alan Hansen...hell, even John Collins all failed by lack of opportunity. Lost instead to smack, booze, Playstations and shite options to do otherwise. Football forgotten and underfunded. Failed by pathetically inept and blinkered officials sat in blazers unfittingly bearing the Lion Rampant badge on their lapels.
Now our national team bears the full weight of a nations disappointment. Readjustment to life as a third tier football nation as our clubs embarrassingly crash out of Europe before the end of the Edinburgh Festival. But at least the money is coming through and the development of the game is showing signs of progress and innovation as we seek to arrest the decline. Whilst the previous generation of combative players continue to successfully ply their trade managing and coaching some of England’s top club sides we can only persevere, learn the hard lessons and get used to living within our football means. Hope that the future will yield happier days and grieve for the death of Scottish footballs glory days.
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