Socrates MacSporran

Socrates MacSporran
No I am not Chick Young, but I can remember when Scottish football was good

Friday, 26 May 2017

On A May Day, Every 50-Years, Celtic Do Something Remarkable

THE 50th anniversary of the Lisbon Lions was given its due coverage this week – and why not. Winning the European Cup all these years ago remains, and will remain I feel for a long time, the geatest achievement by a Scottish football team. We do right to celebrate it.

No caption necessary - we all know who they are

One hundred years hence, assuming we are still playing fitba in Scotland, and there continues to be a club called Celtic, they will still be celebrating Lisbon.

The 25th of May 1967. would be an obvious date to celebrate. Perhaps, 27 May, 2017 will also be celebrated – possibly as the day when Celtic completed an unbeaten domestic season, by winning the Scottish Cup. But, 26th May, should also be seen as significant in Celtic history?

Why? Well, on 26 May, 1917, Celtic had romped to the Scottish League title, in racing terms, “a distance”, a whole ten points (remember, two points only for a win back then) ahead of their challengers as they won the Division One title for the fourth year in a row. Then, as now, Rangers were third, but, there was one change a century ago. Back then, it was Morton who finished second, while Aberdeen finished at the foot of the 18-club Division 1.

A century ago, Scotland and the United Kingdom were engaged in “The war to end all wars”. That conflict still had 18 months to run and Scottish football was doing its bit for the war effort. In 2017, “Brexit” has ensured, we are again engaged in conflict in Europe.

On Saturday, 26 May, 1917, 30,000 fans turned up at Hampden to see a War Fund charity match, as champions Celtic took on a Rest of the Scottish League XI. The match raised the not inconsiderable sum for the time of £885.

Celtic were below full-strength, without defender Willie McStay, forward Andy McAtee and play-maker Patsy Gallagher. They still fielded one or two future club legends, including a newcomer, playing just his third game on a loan deal from Sunderland, future club and national captain Willie Cringan.

The Rest XI contained some household names. Their line-up was the first occasion in which a future Rangers combination -Tommy Cairns and Alan Morton – then still with Queen's Park – formed the left-wing pairing. There was a first representative honour too for young Motherwell centre forward Hughie Ferguson, picked on the back of a first season 24 goals for the club, but who would go on to greater fame as an FA Cup winner with Cardiff City.

 Jimmy McColl

The Rest XI won 2-1, Rangers' Jimmy Bowie getting both of their goals, before, in a spirited Celtic fight-back centre forward Jimmy McColl pulled one back. “Sniper McColl”, is one of the forgotten men of Celtic and Scotland, somewhat overlooked, sandwiched as his career was between those of Jimmy Quinn and Jimmy McGrory. McColl, however, scored 123 goals for Celtic in 169 games, which is top-quality striking by any standards. He then joined Hibs, scoring a further 140 goals in 320 games, and, as trainer with the Leith club he played his part in bringing through the legendary “Famous Five”.

The teams that afternoon a century ago were: Celtic: Shaw; McNair, Dodds, Wilson, Cringan, Brown; O'Kane, McMenemy, McColl, Browning and McLean.
Rest of Scottish League: Brownlie (Third Lanark), Manderson and Blair (both Rangers); McIntosh (Dundee) Mercer and Nellies (both Hearts); Simpson (Falkirk), Bowie (Rangers), Ferguson (Motherwell) Cairns (Rangers) and AL Morton (Queen's Park).

Celtic has always prided itself on the club's work for charity – they certainly did their bit for the war effort in 1917, when, as in 1967, and today in 2017, they ruled the roost in Scotland.

Monday, 22 May 2017

These Invincibles Deserve To Be Lauded

LET there be no ifs, buts, maybes or even whitabootery around it. By any standards, for any club to go through an entire domestic league season unbeaten is a phenomenal achievement.

The 2017 Invincibles celebrate

The accolade: 'The Invincibles” has descended on few sides - “Proud Preston”, the Scots-laden original 'Invincibles' who completed the first English league and cup double in 1888-89; the Rangers side which won the Scottish League by going unbeaten through the 18-match 1898-99 Scottish League season. More recently, there was the Arsenal “Invincibles” squad of 2003-04 – Vieira, Bergkamp, Henry. Pires & so on. Now, the 2016-17 Celts have joined that elite group, and, they deserved all the praise which will come their way.

As I wrote above, we must keep whitabootery out of it – the fact remains, they have beaten their contemporaries in Scotland, to borrow a phrase from across Glasgow - they are: “Simply the best”. Argument over.

To use an expression being freely bandied about in political discourse, their current situation of having 56 of the 59 Scottish seats at Westminster held by their MPs could be “peak SNP”. An unbeaten league season, a probable domestic Treble, this might well be “peak Celtic”. Surely, even before Saturday's cup final, the other Scottish clubs know what they must do:–

  1. Bridge that 30-point gap between Celtic and second-placed Aberdeen, or, at the least, cut it back considerably.

  2. Try to have a club name other than Celtic inscribed on the two knock-out trophies.
  1. At least make the league race a bit less of a one-horse one.

For Celtic, the aim has to be to build on this domestic success and do better than of late in the Champions League, at the very least, advancing to the knock-out stages has to their next goal.

One thing is certain, the 2017 Celts have marked the 50th anniversary of the Lisbon Lions in great style.

SPEAKING of winners – this wee, neglected former mining village in East Ayrshire, wherein I reside, has wakened-up this morning with a collective hangover. For, Glenafton Athletic, on Saturday, clinched the West of Scotland Premier Division title in style, via a 2-0 win over Rob Roy, at Guy's Meadow, Cumbernauld.

New Cumnock exiles were appearing out of the woodwork at the game. We out-numbered the Rabs fans, and, by the way, kudos to the guys from Kirintilloch who have made the trip across to Cumbernauld to follow their team since they were decanted from their ancestral home of Adamslie Park.

It takes commitment, and, they are following a good side. If the Rabs had taken their first-half chances, the game might well have been over by the break. But, and how often do we see this in football, they didn't score when they were on top and paid the price as the Glen roared back.

Once the Glen went up 1-0, there was only going to be on outcome. Now, the boys can relax and prepare for the even-greater challenge of beating the Talbot in the Junior Cup Final, at Rugby Park, on Sunday, 4 June.

Talbot lost 3-0 at Beith on Saturday, to end their league title hopes. As my old school friend, the Sudentenland branch of the Tabot Supporters Club, after his near half-century living in Brighton, mournfully wrote on Sunday: “I think we are on the slide”.

Maybe so, but, you can never discount the 'Bot in a cup final, particularly a Scottish Junior Cup final. Anybody in New Cumnock who speaks confidently of a league and Scottish Cup double, is quickly slapped-down. We don't count chickens, particularly when the Talbot fox is still loose.

Mind you, some of the boys were looking forward to next season and the Glen's first tilt at the big (senior) Scottish Cup.

Who do we want to draw, boys”? Was one question posed as the league win was celebrated.

The guy who suggested: “Rangers”, was soon slapped-down. We want a tougher test than that.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Big Corky Was Scotland's Top Cat As Captain

George Young - Scotland's greatest captain

SIXTY years ago today, on 19 May, 1957, George Young, one of the greatest – I would say THE greatest Scottish football captains played his last game of football. He went out at the top, captaining Scotland to a 2-1 victory over Switzerland, in Basle's Sankt Jakob Stadion, in a qualifying game for the 1958 World Cup finals. This win left Scotland on the cusp of qualifying for those finals.

The game was Young's 54th for his country, his 48th as captain, and it saw his Scotland career come full circle – it had been against the Swiss, at Hampden, back in 1946, that he had began his official Scotland career.

TODAY, 60-years after that final match as a player, 20-years after his death, Young, the first Scot onto the SFA's Roll of Honour of players who had played in 50 internationals, who is still Scotland's most-experienced captain – having led-out the national side a record 48 times, and who was during his career Scotland team manager in all but name, is almost forgotten in Scottish football..

George Lewis Young was born in Grangemouth in October, 1922. He was always a big lad, winning Scotland schoolboy honours in 1937. Leaving school, he went to work in a local ship repair yard, playing football for a local Juvenile side, then for Kirkintilloch Rob Roy. Even as a teenager Rangers were watching him, encouraging him to join “the Rabs” before, in 1941, signing the 18-year-old.

Willie Woodburn, was on active service, Young was in a reserved occupation in the ship yard. At six foot two inches and over 14-stones, he was already a giant and within weeks of signing he made his first-team debut, in a war-time Southern League match, against Hamilton Academical, on 8 November, 1941, in a 3-2 Rangers' win at Douglas Park.

Young managed `28 games that season, helping Rangers win the Southern League, the Southern League Cup, the Glasgow Merchants Charity Cup and the Summer Cup (on the toss of the coin after they and Hibs had finished the final tied 0-0 on goals and 2-2 on corners). The following season, and for the remainder of the war years, he was first-choice centre-half, although, significantly, when Woodburn was available, he and not Young played at centre-half. After Woodburn was demobbed, Young was switched to right-back, where he would play until Woodburn's controversial sine die suspension in late 1954, whereupon he moved back to play-out his career at centre-half.

Willie Woodburn

In April, 1943 the 20-year-old Young made his debut in the Scotland side for a war-time international against England, at Hampden. England's won that Hampden match, 4-0; but the young Ranger was described by one Scottish football writer as: “the only one of the three Scottish debutants to look the part”, and he was retained at centre-half for the next game, at Maine Road, in October, 1943, which England won 8-0.

Tommy Lawton gave his young opponent a torrid time, scoring four of England's goals and Young was not called on again for another war-time international.

He continued to learn with Rangers, and, when Scotland faced Switzerland, at Hampden,on 15 May, 1946, Young made history as the first Scotland substitute, coming on at half-time for Morton's Billy Campbell, in a 3-1 win. This was the first of his 54 games for his country, although, he would be long retired before the SFA gave the match official international status.

When the Home Internationals resumed in the autumn of 1946, Young wasn't selected for the opener, a 3-1 loss to Wales in Wrexham, but, Scotland captain Jimmy Stephen of Bradford Park Avenue was dropped after that disaster and Young replaced him at right back.

Young played five straight games, before injury kept him out of the team to play Wales, at Hampden, on 12 November, 1947. But, in April, for Scotland's next international, the Hampden clash with England, Woodburn was carrying an injury, and Young was switched from right back to centre-half. He was also named as captain for the first time and would not miss another Scotland game for nearly seven years, putting together a record run of 34 straight internationals, before injury kept him out of the game against England, in April, 1954.

Back in the 1950s, football was different. This was before the era of the all-powerful track-suited manager. The international selection committee picked the squads. In Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and most-certainly with Scotland, the national captain – Young, was more akin to a cricket captain in the managerial powers he held.

Walter Winterbottom was England team manager, although the selectors still picked the side. The SFA's selection committee picked the Scotland team, but, they were less willing than their English counterparts to cede control of the chosen team to a professional manager. So, when he became Scotland captain, Young had a big say in tactics and training. Indeed, when Scottish football writers raised the possibility of Scotland appointing a team manager, Sir George Graham, the martinet Secretary of the SFA replied: “We don't need one – we've got George Young”.

George Young and old friend Billy Wright lead out the teams in 1956

Eric Caldow, who succeeded Young as Rangers' right back when Young moved to centre-half to replace Woodburn, when he was banned from the game in 1954, is in no doubts about Young's quality as a manager.

With both Rangers and Scotland,” says Caldow, whose 40-cap Scotland career overlapped Young's and who was himself a distinguished national captain. “'Big Corky'” could come in at half-time and give a terrific in-depth critique of how each player had played. He had the authority to change things on the park while he laid down the tactics we would adopt – he was, for both club and country, but more-so for Scotland once Scot Symon took over at Rangers, a player-manager”.

Young never played in the World Cup finals. The SFA turned down a “wild card” to compete in the 1950 World Cup in Brazil. They did qualify for the next World Cup, in Switzerland in 1954. However, Young knew he would not be going, since Rangers were committed to a tour of North America and would not release him to his country. So, he missed the absolute disaster which the Swiss trip became.

He was restored as Scotland captain for the two autumn 1954 Home Internationals, but he was left out of the team to play the legendary Hungarians of Puskas and Co. in December 1954. This was the only occasion on which Young was ever dropped from the national side since his first start in 1946.

The Scottish team – including Young - which had scraped a 2-2 draw against Northern Ireland in November had been roundly trashed by the critics. Remarkably, the dropping of the national captain and most-capped player attracted very little comment on Scotland's sports pages.

The Hungarians won 4-2. but, since Scotland had scored “a moral victory” - by losing to that great side by fewer goals than England had, the men in possession by and large received a vote of confidence from the selectors, when they sat down to pick the team to face England, at Wembley in April.

A 7-2 defeat showed that confidence had been misplaced, so, when it came to picking the squad for a busy May, 1955, in which Scotland were scheduled to face Portugal at Hampden, before travelling to Europe to face Yugoslavia, Austria and Hungary, Young was back as centre-half and captain.

He was injured in the tour opener against Yugoslavia, Bobby Evans of Celtic switched to centre-half for the next match, in Vienna, with Hibs' Gordon Smith taking-on the captaincy. Young, however, was very much the man in charge and at a pre-game team meeting, in Young's hotel room, in Vienna, the tactics which gave the Scots one of their best-ever wins, a 4-1 defeat of the team which had finished third in the World Cup less than a year previously, were laid down by the injured captain. Fit again, Young would continue as centre-half and captain until his retirement, at the end of the 1956-57 season.

Scotland beat Spain 4-2 at Hampden in their opening qualifier for the 1958 World Cup finals, Young's final game at Scotland national stadium. The Scots then moved on for their second World Cup qualifier, against Switzerland, in Basle. From Basle, the Scots moved on to play World Champions West Germany in a friendly in Stuttgart, with the selectors who travelled with the players, opting to rest the two veterans, Young and Gordon Smith. Evans again moved to centre-half for Young, with Tommy Docherty taking over the captaincy.

Bobby Evans and Young training with Scotland

Scotland won 3-1 and, when they moved on to prepare for the return game with Spain, in the Bernabau, Young suddenly discovered that some of the mundane jobs of captaincy, which he had done since 1948, were being given to Docherty. Then, when the team was announced, Smith was restored to the right wing, the young Dave Mackay was preferred to Young's Rangers team mate – and future Scotland manager – Ian McColl, and there was no place for Young.

This caused a major “stooshie”, because, back in April, Young had announced he would be retiring at the end of the season, and that the game in Spain would be his last. The press was in uproar, that the national captain had had his plans snubbed by the selectors.

There were suggestions that some selectors had felt sidelined by the close relationship between Young and Sir George Graham. They felt the skipper had ignored their suggestions regarding tactics for matches and Young's absence from the Stuttgart game, which had been won well, gave them the opportunity for pay-back, by scuppering Young's wish to dictate his own departure from the Scotland team.

There were whispers that the manner of his being denied his grand finale in football would be raised at the next SFA meeting, but, the matter was quietly dropped. Scotland had, after all been hammered 4-1 in Madrid and nobody wished to reopen still fresh wounds.

George Young was now an ex-footballer. He was already running a successful hotel in the Clyde Valley, near Lanark. He and Rangers goalkeeper George Niven opened one of Glasgow's first coffee bars, in Renfield Street in the city centre, while he immediately popped-up as one of the first football talking heads on BBC Scotland's Sportsreel programme.

He also wrote three well-received football books, before, in December, 1959, he returned to the game as manager of Third Lanark.

At the end of the 1959-60 season the Hi-Hi finished 12th in the 18-club First Division. The following season Thirds finished third, behind Rangers and Kilmarnock, the club's best finish since they had occupied the same spot in 1905, having won their only league title the previous season. In addition, that 1960-61 team's legendary forward line of Jimmy Goodfellow, Dave Hilley, Alec Harley, Matt Grey and Jimmy McInnes had contributed the bulk of the 100 league goals Thirds scored during the campaign.

 Track-suited manager Young takes Third Lanark training

Such success for a small Scottish club always has an immediate effect, the English come calling and in jig time Goodfellow, Hilley, Harley and Grey took the high road south and financially safer but talent poorer Third slumped to 11th in the table in 1961-62.

Worse, a shady businessman named Bill Hiddleston took control of the club and Young, still just 40-years of age, quickly tendered his resignation. It took Hiddleston five years, but, he ran the club into the ground, by which time Young had long gone.

Young concentrated on his businesses, turning his back on football. Then, in the 1970s, when former team mate Willie Waddell became Rangers manager, Young began to be whitewashed out of Rangers' history. This is down to two things – the jealousy of former team mate Waddell and the craven conspiracy of those who failed to hold Wadell to account.

In writing his obituary, following Young's death, aged 74, in 1997. MP Tam Dalyell revealed how Young had become a non-person around Ibrox. Apparently, when both were still playing, Young had expressed his view that Celtic's Jimmy Delaney – later to become a key player in Matt Busby's first great Manchester United team – the 1948 FA Cup winning one – was a better outside right than Waddell.

Ill-health blighted Young's final years. He was reduced to a wheel chair, all but forgotten by Scottish football. Waddell never forgave him for the slight regarding Delaney and, when a Scottish journalist arranged a testimonial dinner for the ailing Young, shortly before he died, in 1979, Rangers took a table, but left it empty on the night.

The slights continued, when the Scottish Football Hall of Fame was inaugurated in 2004, Woodburn was one of the 22 founder members, Young had to wait until the following year for his induction. Lesser Rangers players had been honoured with stands and hospitality rooms named after them at Ibrox, there is no George Young room or stand.

The statistics demonstrate the influence he had on the national team. In Young's 54 internationals, Scotland won 30, drew 11 and lost just 13 – giving them a 56% winning average with him in the side. In all his international career stretched over 68 Scotland games, of which they won 34 – 50%. But, of the 14 games in that period which Young missed – Scotland won a mere four, 29%.

He formed a stellar back-three plus goalkeeper unit with Morton's Jimmy Cowan and his Ibrox team mates Sammy Cox and Woodburn in the 3-4-3 formation Scotland favoured. They played together in 15 internationals, of which Scotland won 11. He also played 22 games for the Scottish League XI, while he captained Scotland on their tour to North America in 1949. He was a regular pick for the long-standing Glasgow v Sheffield games. He was also an accomplished cricketer and golfer.

 Cricket captain George Young with Thirds' players Alex Harley and Dave Hilley

His Rangers record is impressive. He played over 600 games for the club, winning six league championship, four Scottish Cup and two League Cup winner's medals – plus a further eight medals in war-time competition.

At the time he became Rangers captain, manager Bill Struth was in poor health. He had to have a leg amputated and Young would call on the Boss, every day to report on how training went and to discuss how the playing side of the club should be run. Struth was also vice-chairman of the club, so, Young was in effect, with the authority of the board, player-manager at this time.

But, how good was he? The late Sir Tom Finney summed Young up well: “A very difficult opponent, you thought you were past him, then, he would stretch-out one of those long legs of his and take the ball off you – I used to tell him,' you don't have legs, you have octopus tentacles'”, said the legendary Preston plumber.

 Team mates for once - Tom Finney, Tommy Lawton and Young on the pools panel

Young was also the master of the long pass. It was said that the Rangers' tactics were simple – Young would play a long 60-yard pass into the path of either Waddell, or the South African outside left Johnny Hubbard, who would hit the by-line and cross for Willie Thornton or Irishman Billy Simpson to head home.

And that “Corky” nickname. He always carried a lucky champagne cork, allegedly given him by the wine waiter after the first champagne bottle was opened as Scotland celebrated their seminal 3-1 win over England at Wembley in 1949. He truly was, a colossus.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Francey That - David Would Have Had A Word For Rangers' Travails

OH THAT the late, great David Francey was still with us. If ever a situation was crying-out for David's mournful: “Oh Dear! Oh Dear! Oh Dear – tragedy for Rangers,” it is the current clusterfuck (not a word which would ever have passed the erudite Mr Francey's lips) around yon team which wears royal blue and plays its home games at Ibrox Park. Rangers right now are in a constant stramash - another great Franceyism.

I am reliably informed, when Ryan Christie scored Aberdeen's second goal, the seepage of supporters from the pro-Rangers seats began and not even pulling back one goal could prevent this seepage growing in volume as Rangers huffed and puffed to little effect. By the end of the game, we were back to the good-old, bad-old days of John Greig's unfortunate stewardship, 35 or so years ago, when the joke was – the then rebuilt Ibrox had a design fault, the seats faced the pitch.

 John Greig - a supposedly failed Rangers manager who still won trophies

At least Greig led Rangers to four cup wins – two each in the Scottish and League Cups. Can anyone honestly see this current squad doing any better than finishing third in the league?

Rangers are a club in crisis. They do not have a credit line with a bank; they are enduring a hand-to-mouth existence in financial terms; they have a manager who is learning about Scottish football on the hoof, and, who is not impressing; the assumption is, he is being badly advised.

The majority of the club's players are, to put it bluntly, not Rangers class; boys are being asked to do men's jobs and, the whole thing is being overseen by an absentee chairman who repeatedly gives the impression, the South African judge who dubbed him: “A Glib And Shameless Liar” hit the nail on the head.

 Dave King GASL - they seek him here they seek him there

We hear the GLASL has of late been seen East of Eden, West of the Moon, Deep in the Heart of Texas, On the Trail of the Lonesome Pine – anywhere but Ibrox, as he tries to raise finance for a club which he has made ultra-toxic and which requires a huge financial injection, to rebuild a playing squad which is not up to the job, to renovate a crumbling stadium, and simply to survive.

A second liquidation cannot be ruled out and, this time, I cannot see a grubby backstage deal being cobbled together to keep “Rangers” alive. This time, it could be curtains for the club.

At least James Traynor, intergalactic PR guru (well perhaps not), but still, when he puts his mind to it, a damned fine journalist (by Scottish football standards) or Graham Spiers, connoisseur of succulent lamb, will be able to write the definitive book on the club's second Downfall.

Finally, well done Ra Berr who escaped Ibrod last night with the match ball, after it was hoisted into the crowd. He showed better control of the spheroid than did some of the players in blue.

NOW, to real football. On Saturday, there is only one place to be in Scottish football. That is Guy's Meadow, home of junior side Cumbernauld United. But, United will not be playing there, instead, their lodgers, Kirkintilloch Rob Roy, will be entertaining Glenafton Athletic in the West of Scotland Super Premier Division.

The Rabs, having led the division for much of the season, have slipped to second, while the Glen, in enjoying a terrific campaign, have, after beating relegated Troon in midweek, gone top of the table with just two matches left.

For the Glen, victory on Saturday will guarantee them the league championship, with one game left to play. The Rabs have to win to keep the uncertainty going. Victory would take them above the Glen on goal difference, but, the uncertainty would continue until the final whistle in the final game, while, a Rabs win will still keep Auchinleck Talbot in the hunt – provided they can beat Beith, at Bellsdale Park, also on Saturday. Beith – still for another couple of weeks the Scottish Junior Cup holders - were knocked-out of the equation by the Glen's win over Troon, but, can still be kingmakers.

I saw on a newspaper forum this week, Celtic were actually guaranteed the SPFL crown in February, which is when the went above the best points total Aberdeen can now accrue. At least, in the juniors, the uncertainty and interest, is continuing right to the end.

There is, by the way, a suggestion to be debated at the West Region annual meeting in June, which could see the Premier Division re-organised into a 16-club competition. Now, the current 12-club set-up might not be ideal, but, it has certainly, this season, been competitive and very interesting, compelling even, and, isn't that what we expect from our leagues.

I don't think the Premier Division is broke, so, why try to fix it?