Socrates MacSporran

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

Friday, 17 November 2017

A trenchant Defence Of Hampden Park

HUGH BARROW, Scottish athletics legend, sports historian, stalwart of Glasgow Hawks RFC and one of the few Glasgow Academicals who can and will communicate with scruff like me, sent me an interesting link this morning. It was to “Blog 38” of Queens Park President Alan S Hutchison's entertaining blog on the old club's website. The link is:

Queens Park President Alan S Hutchison - a persuasive advocate for Hampden

The blog post is entitled: “The Case for Hampden”; it does very-impressively, exactly what is says on the tin.

I have made my thoughts on the vexatious issue of Hampden's future known in the past. In an ideal world, Scotland would have its own truly “National Stadium”, at which our national football and rugby teams' internationals and our major cup finals would be played. This would be a purpose-built, 100,000-capcity, roofed stadium, built somewhere in the central belt, with first-class rail and road links.

 Wembley - it would cost £2 billion to build a Scottish version

That's the Utopian vision, but, for as long as REAL political power in Scotland rests at Westminster, it isn't going to happen. It is estimated, the cost of building the new Wembley Stadium today would be £1.09 billion. I would want Hampden to be bigger – Scotland v England, a European Cup Final or an Old Firm Scottish Cup Final could still, I am convinced, if the stadium was right, attract a 100,000-plus attendance. I would want Hampden to be more-modern, and have a roof, while, with a green-field site and transport links fit for purpose, costs would escalate towards I would suggest, at least £2 billion.

So, we can dream. Such a stadium will never be built until Scotland is an independent nation again, and, even then, it will be well down any independent Scottish government's “to-do” list. Meanwhile, we are stuck with Hampden, or one of the alternatives – BT Murrayfield, or taking the big games round club grounds.

At the weekend, for the Scotland v Samoa rugby match, the SRU mounted a charm offensive – I know, as someone who also covers rugby I found the idea of the Murrayfield “suits” being charming funny, but, we move on. They invited some of the more-senior members of the Scottish Football Writer Association along as guests, all were apparently impressed.

Murrayfield - the locals will not fancy regular football there

Yes, Murrayfield can fit-in an additional 15,000 spectators over Hampden, and it is a more-modern stadium, but, there are draw-backs to Murrayfield, as there are at Hampden and at the alternatives.

At the moment, Murrayfield is only full to capacity on six days of the year – the three Autumn Internationals and, every second year, when Scotland has three home matches in the Six Nations. Already, at this very-early stage of: “it might happen three years hence”, some of the well-heeled citizens of West Edinburgh are none-too-happy, expect resistance. Moving football internationals and cup finals to there would add a further ten matches at last per year. Also, within the game of football, there is bound to be resistance to hard-earned money going out of the game to a rival game, through the rental the SRU would seek to extract for hosting games.

There is an immediate draw-back to the nomadic option – the dominance of two clubs in Scotland. It is not impossible, or unheard of, but, it is still rare to have a Scottish trophy final in which one or other of Rangers or Celtic is not involved. So, with their huge following to accommodate, if Rangers are in the final, it would have to go to Celtic Park, and vice versa, while, if both were in a final, what happens to neutrality?

Mr Hutchison, in his blog, makes a couple of points which are nearly always glossed over or ignored. Hampden, uniquely, offers secure entry and egress for the clubs and VIPs, through it's underground “garage”, while, only it and Ibrox hold “Elite” level status – the Celtic Park dressing rooms are too-small, so, though it is the biggest ground in football, it does not meet Elite level status.

 Hampden's greatest game? Puskas scores for Real Madrid n 1960

Then there is Hampden's history, going back over 100-years. The Hampden Roar – allegedly first set-off by Alec Cheyne's last-minute goal, direct from a corner in 1929; the still-standing European attendance records set 80-years ago in 1937; the Real Madrid v Eintracht European Cup Final in 1960; the Celtic v Leeds “Battle of Britain” in 1971; the Czechoslovakia game in 1973; Dalglish's goal against Spain; Zidane's goal; the 2014 Commonwealth Games – that's a lot of history to simply discard.

Also, the SFA offices are there, Hampden is Scottish Football's home. Leaving home is always traumatic. No, going will be a big step.

Of course, the ground, as it presently sits, is flawed. The site lines are terrible, when it was re-developed, it was a piece-meal job. The then Westminster politicians who would fall over themselves to fund the new Wembley this century, that rebuilding, never forget, because it was a "National" stadium, being partly-funded by Scottish taxpayers; last century wanted nothing to do with rebuilding Hampden. With the “Sweaties” seemingly hell-bent on leaving, they will be even less-keen to take a stake in putting Hampden right, and, as I have already said – while the Scottish Government might be sympathetic to Hampden's draw-backs, and putting them right, they have more-serious matters to put right first.

Ideally, those vast open spaces behind each goal would vanish, the crowd would be brought closer, the stands would be steeper. The fact is, putting the flaws right in the present Hampden might well be more-expensive than building anew.

Then there is the fact, Queens Park, a small, down-league amateur club in a professional league has maintained a big interest in the company which owns and operates Hampden. I have long argued, Lesser Hampden ought to have been re-developed as a home for the Spiders – as Cardiff Arms Park was developed for Cardiff RFC when the Principality Stadium was built. This could still happen.

Hampden when it held 150,000 fans

The sad thing is, in 1903, Queens Park was also an amateur club, but, back then it could fund and build Hampden – why is it not possible today for the same private entity to fund modernisation and rebuilding – where have we gone wrong in the intervening 100-years-plus.

Mind you, at the end of the day, Scottish football being Scottish football, there will be a lot of sound and fury, a lot of horse-trading, but, the SFA and Scotland will stay at Hampden.

I say this for two reasons – the first is, in Scottish football, as in Scottish Rugby: it's aye been. The second, of the three main entities in this squabble – the SFA, Queens Park and the SRU – the SFA might appear to be the mightiest, but, they are the stupidest. And in this fight, it is brains which will win. But, do have a read at President's Blog 38.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Is It Michael O'Neill Or Ethan Hawke We Need?

APPARENTLY, Michael O'Neill is the Chosen One, he will get first dibs on the poisoned chalice which is the Scottish National Team Manager's job. Good luck Michael – you will need it, should you choose to apply your inner Ethan Hawke and accept this Impossible Mission.

Michael O'Neill - the Chosen One

As I posted last time, O'Neill for Ibrox was never really on – the Neanderthals in the Rangers following would never have stood for the appointment, going to Hampden is a better fit for the Northern Irishman who has been over here so long, he qualifies via residency.

But, as I have said ad nauseum, it's not a new manager we need, it's someone from Assassin's Creed, to infiltrate Hampden and rid us of the suits. Mind you, like the Borg, they would probably assimilate their successors into the same aye beenism mindset which has held us back for years.

FOR ME, THE big news of this week was sort-of tucked-away down the page in the various reports of the Celtic AGM. Love him or loath him, Peter Lawwell has managed to work his way into a position of influence in European football.

 Peter Lawwell

We Scots do not currently have anyone at the top table in FIFA, it's not our turn to provide the Home Nations' automatic vice-president of FIFA, so wee Peter is, as far as we are concerned, Da Man in football's real corridors of power.

He sits on the European Clubs Association's executive, a body, which, in years to come, will I feel become more-influential as the club game gradually overtakes international football.

So, when he says the Europa League offers genuine opportunities to advance Scottish football, we would do well to listen. I do not know Mr Lawwell, I have no idea about what has been, or will be discussed at future meetings of the ECA executive, but, I have a gut feeling, the changes at international level, which kick-in after net summer's World Cup and which will see Scotland playing regularly in the Europa Nations League, might well be tweaked into the club game.

Thus, we might see Scottish clubs playing in the second or third division of an expanded Europa League, but, pitted against clubs whose leagues are of a similar standard. Thus, if our clubs can get their act together in Europe, we might, in time, see Scottish clubs advancing to the top division of this expanded Europa League.

As I say, I have no evidence to support this, other than a gut feeling. But, if it happens, it does indeed, offer us a chance to be competitive and a major force in Europe again. Let's wait and see what transpires.

CELTIC (and Rangers') annual meetings are seldom without their moment of head-shaking bewilderment; you know, you hear what was said and you immediately think: “Did that clown really say that?”

 A Parks of Hamilton coach - they're the best in Scotland, why settle for less

At the Celtic meeting, that moment came when a shareholder questioned, in all seriousness, the club's continued use of Parks of Hamilton as supplier of their team coach. Considering they are the premier purveyors of such vehicles, have the best, most-up-to-date fleet, and clearly know what they are doing – why would Celtic wish to go elsewhere?

These super coaches represent a major investment for any firm, and, not every coach-hire company in Scotland could afford to buy and run such a fleet. The fact that the Park family are investors in Rangers, and, in fact are represented on the board might be seen by some of the Celtic family as a no-no, but, their firm is still the best one for the job.

No, the questioner was surely taking Old Firm “Whitabootery” to a new level, and proves, in spite of all the claims to the contrary from within the Celtic family, all the shouts of “You're deid – your club died in 2012”, they still see Rangers today as a continuation of the hated enemy, and, they still feat the day when, as they surely will, Rangers rise again.

'Twas ever thus, those Rangers fans who laughed at the old easily-beaten Celtic of the Four Families days, gradually stopped laughing once the wee man in the bunnet and his successors turned things around and made Celtic the dominant force in Scottish football.

YOUNGEST daughter and her son – the Big Yin – both work at Lochside House Hotel, the local four-star hotel and spa. On Tuesday night, some of the staff took-over one of the lodges on the site for a staff party, at which I dumped Mother and Son, before going back to collect them on the wrong side of midnight for an Auld Yin like me.

I had to give Grandson's pal and his girl friend a lift home, and this boy, one of the leading lights of the legendary Glenafton Party Army, insisted I write a scathing piece about Livingston FC.

Almondvale Stadium - £20 to watch a junior team?

James, for that is his name, is not a happy bunny, at the prospect of having to pay £20 to get into whatever Almondvale is called this season, to witness the Livingston v Glenafton Scottish Cup tie on Saturday.

Daylight fucking robbery, to watch a shite Championship team facing the mighty Glen” was the basis of his tirade. Given it costs £6 to get into Loch Park to see the Glen take on the likes of Talbot or Pollok, I suppose you can understand his sense of shock. But, you know, maybe we are over-pricing Scottish football.

For me, £20 is a bit much, even for Livingston v St Mirren or Dundee United in the league, but, it is definitely way too-much to charge to see the Lions playing a Junior side, albeit a very good one.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Gorilla Would Be A Lot Bigger If Rangers Went For O'Neill

SOMEBODY has to say it, and, it might as well be me. If there was a 10,000 lb gorilla in the room back when Rangers were imploding and being sold, that gorilla's bigger, older brother just stepped in – following the speculation that Michael O'Neill is a candidate for the Ibrox poisoned chalice of being the club manager.

 Michael O'Neill

That “gorilla” is the fact, O'Neill is a Roman Catholic from Northern Ireland. Certainly, Rangers, the arch-Protestant club, has had Roman Catholic managers before, but, neither Paul Le Guen or Pedro the Portuguese of recent memory lasted very long in the hot seat. Yes, they were RC, but, they were foreign, from Roman Catholic countries on the continent of Europe.

O'Neill for all his well-deserved Membership of the most excellent Order of the British Empire, is, to many of those Rangers fans who make the weekly crossing from Northern Ireland, to support the club: “A Taig”, one of the still-oppressed Roman Catholic community in that part of Ireland.

As it happens, I believe he would be a good manager of the club, as would Derek McInnes, the other candidate being supported by another section of Scottish Football's Lap Top Loyal in the press. But, the question for both to ponder is: “Do I want the aggro?”

Derek McInnes, the other newspaper favourite for the Ibrox gig

McInnes, being a former player, might think it a risk worth taking, to leave the stability of Pittodrie for the uncertainty of a debt-ridden club, without a credit line to a bank, with a stadium in sore need of a bit of money spending on it, a fractured squad – many of whom are, to be brutally frank: “not Rangers class”, and a “Glib and Shameless Liar” as a Chairman. It would a leap of faith of Indiana Jones proportions to go for that particular Holy Grail of re-establishing Rangers as the Kings of Scottish Football.

All these minus points also apply to Michael O'Neill, with the added aggravation of his religion. There is an unstable, you might say “aff their heids” element in the Rangers support, whom sadly the current upper management, and the one before them, have pandered to. They have this sense of entitlement, that Rangers should be the leading side in Scotland, that they win every match. “We are the People” is their battle cry. They roar out their Protestant anthems defiantly.

Ian "Dan" Archer - his description of Rangers' fans still holds true

They truly still are: “A Permanent Embarrassment and an Occasional Disgrace”. And, it is over 30-years since the late, great Ian “Dan” Archer coined that phrase. Imagine that section of the club's following's reaction to a Northern Irish Roman Catholic manager presiding over a Rangers team which was hammered by Celtic.

Michael O'Neill has lived in Scotland since his playing days. He knows the territory. He is a gifted manager and an intelligent human being. As things stand, he and his family live a quiet, untroubled life here. All that would change if he took the Rangers job. Does he want that aggravation?

He and Neil Lennon - another gifted manager and intelligent human being who has swapped the life of a Roman Catholic in Northern Ireland for Scottish football, and prospered. I do not know Neil Lennon – or Michael O'Neill for that matter – but, football-writing friends who do, tell me, at social functions or, when given peace to go about his personal business in the West End of Glasgow, Neil Lennon is a delight to be with.

But, he occasionally gets aggravation from the lunatic element within the Rangers following. I would suggest, were O'Neill to become Rangers manager, he would risk the same bother. For all the big salary, and the kudos of success. Would Michael O'Neill want the downside of the job. Remember, Alex Ferguson, like McInnes a Rangers fan and former player, well-established at Aberdeen, turned down the chance to manager Rangers because he didn't fancy the aggro which would accrue due to his wife being a Roman Catholic

What a state we are in, that, in this year of 2017, the fall-out from a glorified skirmish on the banks of some wee river in Ireland 327 years ago still casts a long and dark shadow over Scottish football. Aye, we really are a sad, wee backward football nation in some ways.

I WAS speaking to a couple of the saner elements in the Scottish Football Writers' Association this week; two guys who would not join the Lap Top Loyal, even if asked. They told me, they ha rather enjoyed their day-out at the Scotland v Samoa rugby international at BT Murrayfield.

 Dominic McKay of the SRU

Clearly, the SRU are determined, if they can to attract big football games to their national stadium, so, they invited a group of the leading fitba writers along as corporate guests. The ever-so-sharp Dominic McKay did the honours and, it is fair to say, the scribes enjoyed the scoff, the occasion and being treated like important people, after the abuse they get from some of the Hampden suits.

As I have said, I could live with football's big games at Murrayfield – but, I caution the fitba writers, remember that old joke about the Devil showing some potential inhabitants a Hell which was all verdant golf courses and sun shine. They signed-up, then discovered, Hell really was a Hell of fire and brimstone. On complaining, Auld Nick replied: “When I showed you round, I was recruiting.”

TWO words for all those moaning about Scotland not going to Russia next year: “Shut Up.”

Next year's jamboree in Russia will only be the fifth successive tournament we have missed. Northern Ireland were screwed by a terrible penalty decision, and thus miss-out on their eighth successive final tournament, while Italy did not qualify, for the first time since 1958, and they've WON the bloody thing four times.

AND FINALLY – the draw for the semi-finals of the Irn-Bru Cup is made later today.

Am I alone in hoping Crusaders from Northern Ireland and the New Saints from Wales are kept apart, and, that they reach the final. Maybe if that happens, we will finally see the over-long tail on the dog that is Scottish senior football “docked” and change implemented.

We have too-many senior teams, most of whom are unworthy of that label.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Shearer Definitely Scored With This Programme

ALAN SHEARER gets a lot of stick for his “wooden” performances as a talking head on Match of the Day. A lot of that criticism is perhaps justified, he is rather good at stating the bleeding obvious in a somewhat pedantic and boring manner.

 Alan Shearer - a very good programme

But, if the splendid documentary which he fronted on BBC1 last night does anything to bring peace and help to those many footballers whose later years – and their loved ones' daily lives – have been blighted by dementia and associated diseases, then he has mitigated some of his less-than-enlightening comments on television.

I have written quite a few obituaries on footballers, famous and journeymen, and, increasingly, using the standard template whereby the cause of death is mentioned right at the start, I find myself typing: “after a lengthy battle against dementia”, or, “his later years were blighted by Alzheimer's”.

These diseases are no respecters of persons, such absolute Scotland legends as Gordon Smith, Dave Mackay and Ally MacLeod fell foul of them, while I have - on the stocks, obituaries on at least two other great former Scotland captains who are in the final throes of lengthy battles with dementia. I am in no hurry to see these in print, but, it is only a matter of time before they are.

Shearer's tale, which was scripted by another sporting icon, former Wales Rugby Union skipper Eddie Butler, focussed to some extent on the battle which Dawn Astle, daughter of former England and West Bromwich Albion striker Jeff Astle, has fought to get the link between heading a football and dementia recognised. The toll this has taken on Dawn was obvious.

 Jeff Astle - perhaps the best-known footballing dementia sufferer

But, the insurance industry and the football one want more-definitive scientific proof of the link. At the end of the day, when the link is definitely proved, it will be the insurance industry which will be required to pay out, and given past evidence, on other diseases, they will use their considerable trillions in accrued wealth to fight it. The big insurance firms did not grow rich by paying out if they could avoid it.

The football industry too will take a lot of persuading before they will start to compensate those who, perhaps, had their later lives ruined by head injuries which were caused by the simple act of heading the ball.

Football does not have a good record in looking after its most-important sector – the common fans – or its next most-important sector – the players. Sure, today's big names are paid often obscene sums of money for their talents, of-course they have power to, either personally or through their agents, to agree contracts which sometimes mean, when they hang-up their boots, often in their early thirties, they need never do a “proper job” for the remainder of what is a normal working lifespan.

But, just as, too-many star-struck young kids, who put everything into the chance of a big-money career in football, are cast onto the scrap heap by 20 or 23, without qualifications or training in anything other than how to kick a ball well, too-many average players leave the game, further down the line, with the ticking time bomb of later-years health problems ticking away.

The sheiks and oligarchs who increasingly own and run our clubs are not too-bothered about this, while governing the game is increasingly being left to a football “civil service” who are neither civil, or if serving anyone it is themselves.

Shearer touched briefly on the position in the USA, where the owners of the NFL clubs in American football were forced into putting aside billions of their hard-earned dollars to offset claims of similar “industrial injuries” through head trauma suffered in their game. These guys are not known for their altruism, but they had to do it. I can see the same thing happening here and across the world.

It will be interesting to see what transpires from this excellent documentary. The fight for compensation is only beginning and well done Alan Shearer.

I PASSED on the other big football programme on Sunday night television, the BBC2 Scotland documentary on Bill Shankly.

As a distant relative of Wullie Shankly – although in the Ayrshire coalfields, second cousins twice-removed makes us family – I have to declare an interest. I have seen the trailer and know several of the locals who appeared. I always planned, however, to watch it on catch-up during the week, I had other things on on Sunday night.

Shankly - how would be have coped with modern football?

So, obviously I will leave any comments on the actual programme until after I have watched it. What I will say at this time is – I wonder what Wullie Shankly would make of 2017 football.

It is after all, 43-years since he quit the famous Anfield boot room for those final seven years of rudderless life. Football has changed an awful lot since then – not least because, when Shankly left the game, Scotland was the ninth-best team in the world.

I often wonder how Wullie an the other two-thirds of the “Holy Trinity” of Scottish managers of the time: Matt Busby and Jock Stein, or their English equivalent – Bill Nicholson, Brian Clough and Alf Ramsey – would cope with today's game.

When they were managing, while Jimmy Hill had seen to it that players were better rewarded than ever, things were still a long way off the riches they accrue today. Jean Marc Bosman had yet to make his game-changing stance and the clubs rather than the players held the whip hand.

Sure, club chairmen and directors could still sack managers as they pleased, but, the men in the suits were fellow Brits, to use the stock phrase: “butchers, bakers and candle-stick makers”, not American media moguls, Middle-East potentates, Russian oligarchs or Far-Eastern “business-men”.

The directors of Celtic, Manchester United or Liverpool back then, would accept being second, today, it seems, if a manager is not a winner, increasingly, he is a former manager. The rewards are greater, but, so too are the risks.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Let's Not Put Pressure On Kieran Tierney - He's Still Just A Boy

I NEVER made it to the A-Team of Scottish football writers, that band of gilded youth who still get expenses, business-class air travel, first-class rail travel, and only have to report on the Bigot Brothers and Scotland.

I should have called him mister

They get a free finger buffet at half-time, a bottomless coffee cup and a wee hauf in the media room, post-match – and, so-long as they remember their place, they even get to speak with the Glib and Shameless Liar and the Tax-Dodger, provided they address these gentlemen as: “Mr”.

I remember, a couple of decades ago, the sharp intake of breath, when, at a Rangers press event, I addressed the then Mr Murray, Owner of Rangers, as: “David”. I thought the Chief Football Writer of a scurrilous and now deid Sunday red top was going to have a seizure at my lack of respect. My explanation: “I kent his faither and I've been calling him 'David' for years,” cut little ice – I had committed the sin of over-familiarity.

Any way, while the stringers are out covering what little real senior football there will be in Scotland, I dare say one or two of the A-Team, those who have convinced their Sports Editors they are 'Sports Writers' rather than 'Football Writers', will be getting tore into the lavish hospitality which the SRU provides for those verm, sorry, gentlemen of the Fourth Estate, who have not cast aspersions on Mr Dodson's thought processes, or maligned the SRU's Director of Rugby - “The Lesser-Spotted Johnson” in philosophical blogs we do not mention in polite company.

They are in holiday mode – having covered Scotland v Netherlands, at Pittodrie on Thursday, before looking up: 'Football-Writing By Numbers' for ideas for their pieces for today.

Come on guys, there are better, more-worthy subjects to discuss than the likelihood of Kieran Tierney reaching 100 caps. Of course, Craig Gordon is targetting Alan Rough's caps haul – two more games and he is past the great “Scruffy”, but, is that news. And as for the Record's storm in a Bovril cup about Celtic allegedly cropping a picture of Kieran Tierney to remove the poppy – PLLEEAASSEE!!! Even in the land of Old Firm Whitabootery, that's a non story.

Kieran's poppy arm band - first you see it

Then you don't - talk about a non-story

Scotland has, since the modern routine of a World Cup or European Championships every two years – with the time between finals spent in qualifying, averaged eight internationals per season. Thus, if young Kieran can maintain his form and fitness, and become an ever-present for Scotland, between now and the end of the 2029-2030 season, he will win his 100th cap around that time. Of course, if we suddenly re-discover our tournament mojo, he will get there sooner.

Kenny Dalglish - it took him 131 games to reach his century of caps

Kenny Dalglish, the only Scot to have played over 100 games for his country, won his first cap, off the bench, against Belgium, at Pittodrie, on 10 November, 1971. He won his 100th cap, against Romania, at Hampden, on 26 March, 1986 – 14 years, 4 months and 16 days later. Kenny missed a few caps, because Liverpool were in European finals, but, he had a remarkable tolerance for the abuse he took at the feet of 1970s and 1980s defenders, didn't miss many games, but, it still took him a total of 131 international to reach his century.

Jim Leighton, who with 91 caps lies second to Kenny in the most-capped list, made his debut against East Germany, at Hampden, on 13 October, 1982, and made his final appearance, against Estonia, at Pittodrie, on 10 November, 1998 – 16 years and 28 days later. Leighton's Scotland career therefore spanned 142 internationals, and included a three years and five months spell in the international wilderness, between June 1990 and November, 1993, during which he missed 30 internationals.

 Jim Leighton - over 16 years in the international arena, but fell short of 100 caps

To win 100 caps, you have to be – very good, very consistent, and very lucky. Dalglish was picked by six Scotland managers – Tommy Docherty, Willie Ormond, Ally MacLeod, Jock Stein, Alex Ferguson and Andy Roxburgh. Leighton had the confidence of Stein, Ferguson (well, up until 1990), Roxburgh and Craig Brown – who brought him back from the wilderness. He also, unlike Dalglish, had to fight-off the challenge of another two very good exponents of the goalkeeping arts, Roughie as a young player, then Andy Goram later in his career.

Kieran Tierney, we all know is good, he has performed consistently since breaking into the Celtic and Scotland teams, and, to a degree he has been lucky. Will these factors hold for the decade and more they will need to, if he is to become a cap centurion. Now, there's the rub.

Our most-capped current internationalist, Darren Fletcher, won his 80th cap against Slovenia, earlier this season. He has taken 14 years, one month and 18 days to get to that stage, and, at 34, and with a new national team manager due to be installed, you have to feel, time is running-out on his Scotland career and he is unlikely to reach a century of caps.

Darren Fletcher - after 14 yars and 80 caps, time is against him reaching his caps century

And these men I have mentioned had it comparatively easy. Given we now average eight internationals per season, think how difficult it was to accumulate caps back in the day. Denis Law, Scotland's most-capped player before Dalglish won his first cap, in Cardiff, on 18 October, 1958. He celebrated, aged 18, by scoring against Wales. He made his final Scotland appearance, indeed, his final appearance as a player, in the opening World Cup match, against Zaire, in Dortmund, on 14 June, 1974 – 15 years, 7 months and 27 days after his debut. In that period, Scotland played 120 internationals, and Denis featured in 55 of them.

Denis Law scored 30 goals for Scotland, but injury, selectorial whims and club calls restricted him to 55 caps, spread over 15 years and 120 Scotland games

He was, throughout that spell, by a mile our top striker, yet, he had spells when the selectors, who picked the team for most of his Scotland career, didn't fancy him. There were occasions when his clubs would not release him to Scotland. I even remember, although, to their credit, the selectors ignored the call, one of the leading football writers of the time demanding he be dropped, after we lost 4-3 to Norway in Bergen – Denis had scored all three Scotland goals.

As I said, winning 100 caps for Scotland is not easy, so, let's not burden Kieran Tierney with expectations.

Friday, 10 November 2017

You Have Two Minutes On Captains Of The Scotland Football Team 1872 - 2017

IF I ever take a notion to appear on Mastermind, I might well take Captains of the Scotland Football Team 1872-2017 as my subject. It is something of a hobby of mine.

Captain Kieran Tierney does his thing (pic by Craig Williamson SNS)

I was pleased to see young Kieran Tierney handed the armband at Pittodrie last night. I do not see him getting it on a permanent basis just yet, but, I am sure, some day, not too far down the line, he will join the illustrious ranks of regular Scottish captains.

Mind you, old stickler for recognising achievement that I am, I am sorry the protocol, introduced by Andy Roxburgh, whereby any player winning 50 caps, gets to captain the side, if not on the actual milestone occasion, then at the first available subsequent opportunity, appears to have been ditched. Thursday night was the perfect occasion to hand Craig Gordon the armband.

Certainly Willie Miller turned-up to present big Craig with his gold medal, the SFA reward for 50 caps, but, what harm would there have been in giving him the armband on the night?

Craig Gordon - what happened to the captain on your 50th cap idea?

Young Kieran is still only 20, but, that makes him something of a veteran among debutant Scotland captains. John Lambie of Queen's Park, was just 17 when he captained Scotland in 1886.

Tierney's appointment seems strange in another way. Malky Mackay, we are told, will NOT be getting the Scotland manager's job on a permanent basis – if there is such a concept as permanency in football management. So, what was that all about.

If it was a one-of appointment, better, as I suggested, to give Gordon the nod, or, to ask a regular Club captain such as Hearts' Christophe Berra to do the honours.

To return to whether or not Mackay gets the job full-time. I can only repeat my assertion, I doubt if we need a full-time National Team Manager, but, we do need a full-time Director of Football, thankless task though that would be – trying to put some direction, planning and organisation into the chaos that his Hampden and Scottish football – either that, or we install the Donald as SFA President and sack Stewart Regan, replacing him with Mother Theresa Mayday – could they be any worse than what we have?

 Malky Mackay - the Lap Top Loyal and the stenographers don't apparently like him - the kiss of death

Even before Mr Regan revealed Malky's managership would be a one-game wonder, I knew he would not be staying-on. I found out, the stenographers of the SFWA don't like him, and as we have seen, a Scottish manager only lasts as long as he has the fans with lap tops on his side.

THE OTHER big news of the week was David Moyes' return to management with West Ham United – or Mission Impossible (insert number). Big Davie has been handed a six-month contract apparently, worth a couple of million quid – nice work if you can get it, or if you want it, with a board which apparently does not have too-many friends, even among themselves.

Moysie getting the Queen Elizabeth Stadium gig strikes me as a real-life version of that old NASA gag – it will be difficult for him to drain the swamp, when he is up to his arse in alligators. But good luck David. Question: is £2 million enough dough to require squireling-away offshore?

LOVERS of Hampden, for all its faults – and I count myself as such, should maybe start readying themselves for a parting of the ways. Because I feel the SFA might be seriously considering pulling out of the old ground.

Hampden - is this the start of the long goodbye

They will couch it in all sorts of remorseful words, but, the sad fact is: as currently set-up, Hampden is not fit for purpose, and it will cost too-much to put it right. In any case, I don't see how it could be done by 2020, so, I fear the long goodbye has begun.

I have no problems with the really big games going to Murrayfield. With its 67,500 capacity and its better infrastructure, it is a much-better bet than Hampden. I was speaking to a couple of Killie fans this week, who had never been inside Murrayfield until going there to watch their cub's game with Hearts – they were in one visit, huge fans: “Way ahead of Hampden,” said one.

 And hello to Murrayfield for regular football

Of course, the SFA pulling-out of Hampden is a clear case of chickens coming home to roost. When the piecemeal conversion from a dilapidated 135,000 capacity super stadium to what we have today began back in the 1970s, the SNP was a small, fringe revolutionary party. The oil was just starting to come on-stream, and Scotland was seen, from London, as a needy basket-case colony of subsidy junkies.

Maggie Thatcher and her gang could, and did, treat Scotland with contempt. I reckon, if we had had a strong and united cohort of SNP MPs inside Westminster back then, threatening the status quo, the Tories and Labour would have got together and, as a sop to Scotland, paid to properly upgrade Hampden.

They would also have insisted, as part of this deal, that Queen's Park relinquish control. We would have had a proper football ground, perhaps with a capacity of 75,000. Sure, it would maybe need upgrading today, but, with the main work done, that would have been a cheaper option than the guys running the stadium, Queen's Park and the SFA are looking at today.

And, I honestly cannot see, given their long history of mismanagement, how the SFA could approach a Scottish Government, which has to carefully consider every penny it spends, for funding for a proper upgrade today. In any list of things we want to improve in Scotland, sorting-out Hampden would be well down anyone's list.

In any case, I can think of at least two SFA member clubs who might consider they could make even-more cash out of the rest, if Hampden wasn't there.