Socrates MacSporran

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

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Bert McCann's Death Deserves Better Recognition - He Was A Great Player

BERT McCann's funeral was held this afternoon. Bert Who? Some might say. The former Motherwell and Scotland left-half's death was scandalously ignored by the mainstream media, indeed, today, nine days after his passing and on the day of his funeral, Motherwell, the team he served so well, the club he captained, the club in whose Hall of Fame he is placed, and, who named him at left-half in their Greatest All-Time Motherwell team has still to acknowledge his demise in its website.

Bert McCann,Andy Weir and Ian St John at Hampden in May 1959

A club which does not recognise its history, is in a bad way in my view. McCann deserves to be recognised, because, he was different, and, the trouble with Scottish football is – we don't pay enough attention to the guys who are different. For a start, to paraphrase the great Willie Shankly – the trouble with Bert McCann was, his brains were in his heid. Bert went to a rugby-playing school, Harris Academy in Dundee, where he played hockey and golf as well as football. He was also a highly-promising young wicket-keeper on the cricket pitch.

He left school and went into banking, prior to National Service in the Royal Air Force. He went through the normal football apprenticeship of these times, the early 1950s, by playing for junior side Dundee North End, from where he went to Dundee United – playing as an amateur.

He won an Amateur Scotland cap while with United, where he mainly played inside-right. This saw him join Queen's Park – urged to go there by Jock Crichton, a colleague as a teacher at George Heriot's School. McCann, of course, was not the first practising teacher to play senior football – one thinks of Rangers' George Brown, the great Rangers and Scotland captain of the 1930s, or McCann's near-contemporary Jim McFadzean of Hearts and Kilmarnock, or Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown. But, such players are unusual.

He graduated MA in Geography and Spanish from Edinburgh University, while his teaching experience took him from Heriot's into teacher training at Jordanhill College, then, for many years to Moray House College of Education – but, that's for the future.

 Willie Hunter - another capped "Ancell Babe"

In 1956, McCann turned professional, joining Motherwell. The attraction was perhaps the fact, Motherwell manager Bobby Ancell had coached the young McCann in Dundee. He – McCann - saw the Queen's Parker as a key element in the new young team he wanted to build at Fir Park. And build it Ancell did. Today, more than 50-years on the “Ancell Babes” represent a golden post-war age for the club. The names ring down the years – John Martis, McCann, Willie Hunter, Pat Quinn, Ian St John and Andy Weir all won full Scotland caps as, in 1958-59, Motherwell finished third in the old First Division, their highest finish since the title-winning glory days of the 1930s, 25-years before. When, long after he had retired, the Motherwell fans named McCann at number 6 in their all-time Motherwell team, it reflected the effect that group of players had on the supporters. The six named above all played for Scotland, Charlie Aitken, who formed a terrific half-back line with Martis and McCann was very unfortunate not to also be capped.

Charlie Aitken - unlucky not to be capped

When Scotland faced West Germany, at Hampden, in May, 1959, McCann, St John and Weir, along with John White, were the new caps in a side which won 3-2. It was the first of five full caps for Bert, who also represented the Scottish League five times. And, in those ten internationals, he was only twice on the losing side – a reflection of the strength of Scottish football at the time.

One of these losses was for the Scottish League, against the English League, the other – we will come to later.

In March 1961, Motherwell held Rangers to a 2-2 draw at Fir Park in a Scottish Cup tie. The replay at Ibrox was supposed to be a formality for Rangers, who didn't lose cup replays back then. Only, in one of the great results in Motherwell history, the Steelmen, driven-on by Aitken's and McCann's and midfield dominance,won 5-2. The press lauded the close-passing of the Motherwell midfielders in that game; years later, McCann said: “Aye, we were playing tiki-taki 50-years before Barcelona”.

Performances like that got McCann into the Scottish league XI, which beat the English League 3-2, with the Motherwell man scoring. More-significantly, he did a thorough man-marking job on Jimmy Greaves and, in spite of competition from Hearts'John Cumming and Jim Baxter, he was named at left-half for the bi-annual trip to Wembley, on 15 April, 1961. And here, we come to the dismal bit. On the Friday night, McCann suffered a terrible nose bleed, there was blood everywhere and he had to be hospitalised. It took all night to staunch the flow properly.

The SFA put a news black-out on the incident – they had already had to make a last-minute change to the goalkeeper, Frank Haffey replacing Lawrie Leslie. The selectors and manager Ian McColl considered withdrawing McCann, but, McColl felt “A 70% Bert McCann is better than the alternatives”, so, not having slept all night, and weakened by blood loss – he played. At least, Bert McCann had a legitimate excuse for his part in the debacle of 9-3. He had to wear gloves – an apparent breach of protocol at the time – to shake hands with HM the Queen, to counteract possible cross-contamination, and because, his hands were still blood-stained. He swapped shirts with Bobby Robson at the end, but, his Scotland career was over.

Fall-guys McCann and Haffey fail to stop Jimmy Greaves in the 9-3 game

The selectors' reaction to such a defeat was typical – they dropped the goalkeeper, the unfortunate and much-maligned Haffey; they dropped the Anglo-Scots – Dave Mackay, Ian St John and Denis Law, and, they dropped the guy from the provincial club – McCann. The others served their sentences and were reinstated in time – but, for McCann, there was no way back. However, as he could point out, Jim Baxter, the man who replaced him, wasn't a bad choice.

Jim Baxter - not a bad replacement for McCann in the national team

He played on for Motherwell. There were no medals, a Scottish Cup semi-final in 1962 the closest he came. He gave Motherwell a decade of service, over 300 games, then played out his career with Hamilton Academical.

But, he never forgot Motherwell. He was a member of the club's Former Players Association – and a member of the Well Foundation, which aims to facilitate fan ownership of the club. He always liked reunions with his old team mates, and had many hilarious tales from the dressing room, training field and pitch.

McCann was ahead of his time. He believed the Scottish clubs were “amateurish” in their preparations. He advocated a gym culture, better nutrition for players and greater consideration for life after football for players – today, some Scottish clubs are still not on-board on these issues.

In retirement, he became a pioneer in the use of television for educational purposes and, for many years, he ran the Television Education Department at Moray House.

He had sporting interests beyond football – he golfed well, he played a mean game of snooker and he was a keen fan of baseball's Toronto Blue Jays, making an annual trip to Canada to watch them play.

His later years, following his retirement from lecturing in 1995 were beset by health problems. When, in 2001, he received a kidney transplant, he was, at 69, the oldest person ever to have the operation. He managed his failing health well, but, earlier this month, his heart finally gave out. He is survived by wife Viv, whom he married in 1959, son Simon, a GP in the Borders and daughter Julie, a teacher in Edinburgh.

Bert McCann is best-remembered perhaps, for his part in 9-3, but, there was much-more to this footballing gentleman than that, We should honour his memory.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Is Chris Sutton A Muck-Raker Or A Shit Stirrer?

IT USED to be said, when the good old “News of the Screws” was regularly exposing the foibles and frailties of the nation's leaders and “betters”, that there would always be a place in society for the muck-raker. There might be something in that. Given the allegations of improprieties such as “kiddie fiddling” among the great and the good these days. Is it just me, or, have these alleged practices increased since the threat of having your face splashed across the front page of the “Screws” vanished?

Shock (non)-Jock Chris Sutton

In Scottish football, we now have our very own muck-raker, in the shape of pundit Chris Sutton, who has got himself into more scrapes and hot water than even the notoriously wild SAS adjutant and former British Lion Blair Mayne – who alternated between picking-up four Distinguished Service Orders (DSOs) for heroism, and being reduced to the ranks for insubordination. Sutton shoots from the hip, and is unconcerned at the amount of incoming counter-fire he has to soak-up. The tabloids and the television companies love him, as he attracts controversy and subscribers.

This week, he's been upsetting one of his regular targets – Celtic and Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon, a player whom Sutton has repeatedly criticised. As a fully-paid-up member of Goalkeeper's Lodge Number One, in football freemasonry, I will always support Gordon. He might not, thanks to injury and maybe going to the wrong club in England, have totally fulfilled the promise he showed when first getting into the Hearts and Scotland teams, but, he has, at the time of writing, won 45-more international caps than Sutton, won an award for the Best Save In The History Of The English Premiership, and was, for a time, the World's Most-Expensive Goalkeeper. He will surely, before he hangs-up his gloves, enter the coveted SFA Hall of Heroes by winning more than 50 caps.

 Craig Gordon

Regardless of the obscene transfer fees which each has attracted, I would say Gordon has had the better career – he has also done the TV pundit bit, a bit better than “Shock Jock” (or should that be non-Jock?) Sutton has managed.

In this instance, I would say Gordon's only mistake has been to bite back at Sutton – a withering: “His comments are unworthy of reply”, would have put Sutton, the lesser half of the SAS strike partnership with that other paragon of TV punditry – Alan “Wooden Top” Shearer, right in his place.

Truth is, Sutton's stream of controversial utterings are probably his way of saying: “Notice me, here I am”. He's a figure on the periphery of football when he wants to be front and centre, but, sorry Chris it aint gonna happen – you lack one basic ingredient – talent.

MAYBE THIS IS “Stairheid Rammy Week”, because, on the Kilmarnock Fans facebook page, a full-scale row broke-out on Tuesday, over the media activities of Kris Boyd. One Rugby Park stalwart wants Kris sacked, immediately, by Killie, because, in the fan's eyes: Boydie is more-interested in talking about Rangers, and is actively trying to engineer a move back there, than he is in playing for Killie.

It is to the credit of the other Kilmarnock fans on the site, that the complainant was given short shrift, but, I don't think he quite grasped the concept of comments by still-active players being generated by journalists's questions rather than the opinions of the commentator.

Kris Boyd filing his latest exclusive column

Whatever you think of Boydie the media pundit – and I think he does a very good job – one thing was clear this week. With an at-his-peak Boyd or McCoist playing on Tuesday night, Rangers would have beaten Partick Thistle inside 90 minutes rather than needing extra time. Several of the chances, from low balls across the six-yard box, which Rangers scorned at Firhill – sorry the Energy Check Stadium at Firhill – were meat and drink to both Boydie and Ally.

BRENDAN RODGERS came up with a quote this week, which will go straight into “Big” Kenny MacDonald's next edition of his Book of Scottish Football Quotes. The Blessed Brendan, master of all he surveys at Lennoxtown, said: “Lots of young footballers have the Louis Vuitton soap bag – but, they don't work hard or play games.” Very true, but, 'twas ever thus; the most-arrogant wee shite I encountered in around a decade of daily coverage of one of our senior clubs, was a Rangers reject, who felt, because he had once sat on the bench for a European game – Walter didn't trust him enough to put him on – he had made it.

 Brendan Rodgers spies his new Louis Vuitton soap bag

There he was, one year on and one league down from Rangers, telling everyone how good he was – well, in his own imagination anyway. A fair player, I'll give him that, but, an unfulfilled talent – and there are literally hundreds such players, guys who went through the system at Auchenhowie, Lennoxtown, Currie, Ormiston or Aberdeen, got to the verge of the first team, but, failed to make the break-through and establish themselves.

The sting in that Rodgers quote is in the tail, the bit with the but: “they don't work hard or play games.” Getting picked-up by a top club is one thing – one of my fellow coffin dodgers is struggling this week with the conundrum, does he advise his son-in-law, a former Scottish age group cap who never quite justified his talent, to allow his NINE YEAR OLD to go into the Celtic Academy, or, does he keep him closer to home.

That kid just might make it with Celtic, but, he might well also make it by staying with his boys club and going into the local, lower division club's academy system. But, once a kid is in that system, there is always the chance, he puts all his eggs in the football basket – academic achievement and ambition lowers, then, if he doesn't convert his academy contract into a full-time deal, collapse.

Even if he gets a full-time deal, while the kid might think he has arrived, the reality is – he's only on the first rung of the ladder, and it's a bloody long one to the stratosphere of regular first-team games and international caps. The fall-out rate is sky-high – the truth is, the pubs of Scotland are full of talented young footballers who could have been contenders, but didn't want it enough, or work hard enough to make it.

Football does not have a great record in looking after the wannabes, who turn into not quite good enoughs. A fading Louis Vuitton soap bag isn't much of a memento of what might have been – and well done Brendan Rodgers for pointing this out.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Scottish Rugby Is In Union - While Football Doesn't Always Associate Completely

YESTERDAY, the Scottish Rugby Union – SRU – announced plans for a tournament featuring the best of their young players from across Scotland, to be played next month at Oriam, the Scottish National Sports Performance Centre, on the Heriot Watt University Campus at Currie. The tournament will be played under trial revised laws, designed to get the young players involved used to playing a higher-tempo, more-pressurised form of rugby, with the games played at greater intensity.

Why cannot the SFA be similarly-ambitious? Well you might ask. The thing is, the “suits” at BT Murrayfield: (I use “suits” by the way, after one of their High Heid Yins pulled me up for referring to the decision-makers as “blazers”; pointing-out, they ditched the blazers in favour of a corporate suits deal some years ago), while revelling in the impression that in Scottish rugby, things: “Hae aye been and aye will be”, but, the reality is, the Murrayfield “suits” are a lot sharper than their counterparts across at Hampden.

The thing is, in Scottish rugby, THE NATIONAL TEAM COMES FIRST: everything is geared to putting the best-possible SCOTLAND team on the field. In football, SCOTLAND comes a poor third to a couple of permanently-warring Glasgow clubs. And, as for the rest, if push comes to shove between the requirements of the individual club, or the national team – the club comes first. You don't believe me? Well, just take a look at the Scotland squad, as listed on the official SRU website.

This squad list contains 42 players, who attended a start-of-season training camp in St Andrew's. Of these 2 players, 34 are with out two domestic full-time professional sides; Glasgow supply 20 players, Edinburgh 14, while the other 8 are with clubs outside Scotland. But, Edinburgh and Glasgow are wholly-owned subsidiaries of the SRU, so, in reality, the SRU controls 80% of the national squad. The governing body can impose limits on how many games each player plays, can make certain they are properly rested and their needs are catered-to – all the player has to do is stay fit, prepare and train properly and be ready to do his best for Scotland.

These two are "national assets"

He gets the best care the Union can provide, and is treated as a valued asset. You would expect top club footballers to receive the same treatment, but, the difference is, the likes of Finn Russell or Stuart Hogg and Jonny Gray are seen as “national” assets – Kieran Tierney, Craig Gordon and Stuart Armstrong, who you might say are their football equivalents, are “club” assets. Because they control the players, the SRU can insist, no player plays more than five games in a row, without a break, or that there is a maximum number of games he can play in a season – the SFA cannot extend that duty of care to their international squad, since, they are controlled by their clubs.

But these two are "club assets"

Gregor Townsend, as Glasgow coach, evolved a high-tempo, high-pressure, off-loading game plan for his club. That plan was extended to the national side, and now, while it is perhaps anathema to everything he has ever done before in rugby, Richard Cockerill, a Leicester Tiger and therefore a disciple of: “Stick it up your jumper and grind the opposition down with forward power” Leicester rugby, has bought-into the Townsend/SRU vision in his new role as Edinburgh Head Coach. Ditto, New Zealander Dave Rennie, Townsend's successor at Glasgow – although, to be fair to Rennie, that was very similar to the style he operated as Honcho of the Chiefs back in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Thus, the main players in top-flight Scottish rugby are all singing from the same hymn sheet. The line-out and attacking calls might change for the national side, but, the basic pattern is the same, the players all know it, are comfortable with it and know how to play it.

In football, Celtic play one formation, Rangers another, various other clubs play different formations as well. Then, you have a look at the last Scotland squad which Gordon Strachan announced, the original one for the World Cup qualifying double-header against Lithuania and Malta. WGS named 27 players – 9 Home Scots and 18 Anglo-Scots. They were drawn from 17 different clubs – three, Celtic, Hearts and Hibs in Scotland, and 14 in England.

That is a lot more different formations and cultures to incorporate into one Scotland set-up, but, to give WGS credit, he built his team around a Celtic core, since the Hoops had provided six players, the most of any single club.

Gregor Townsend doesn't have many of the problems

However, I believe, it is easier for Townsend to put together a formation and tactical system with which the players are comfortable and familiar than it is for WGS.

 Which Gordon Strachan has to try to overcome

That said, it would be nice to think the SFA could get their act together and, like the SRU, tinker with the Laws of the Game and find ways of getting our young players to play at a higher tempo, and under greater pressure. And that;s another difference between the two football codes. In rugby, while it must be admitted, some of the clubs do not like it, the high performance side of the game is administered and run by professionals – in Scottish football, it's the unpaid amateurs the “suits”, sent from the clubs, who call the shots. All the professionals are there to do is accept the blame when things, as invariably happens – don't work out for Scotland.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Meadowbank Will Be Missed - We Should Build More Of These Not Demolish What We Have

OCCASIONALLY, I like to indulge myself, by blogging on an issue other than football. This particular post, while it does touch football to an extent, should be considered such a post, so, please bear with me, should you decide to read-on.

Doug Gillon - hard at work

This week-end, the great Doug Gillon, an excellent sports writer who takes his status as: “semi-retired” even more-seriously than I take mine, made one of his sadly too-infrequent appearances in The Herald's sports section. It was well worth reading, as Dougie paid tribute to Meadowbank Stadium, which will, apparently, be demolished in December.

I have fond memories of Meadowbank, having worked there covering various sports – athletics, basketball, football and rugby, to name but a few. I have always thought it a wonderful facility, but, like so many in Scotland, probably badly managed.

Meadowbank is one of those multi-sport, multi-use sports facilities of which there are too-few. I have never been comfortable with the way sports in this country operate in splendid isolation. If the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona and AC Milan can successfully operate over several different sports – why not Celtic, Rangers, Hearts or Hibs? After all, these football clubs used to brand themselves “football and athletic clubs”, and the annual Rangers Sports, for instance, was for many years one of the top athletics meets in the UK, with Olympic Champions regularly taking to the Ibrox track.

I have been to Meadowbank to cover local basketball and athletics teams winning national titles; I have been there to cover football; and I was there when it was a regular stop-off on the world athletics circuit. It was a great place for sport, and what short-sightedness and lack of ambition that it should be on the verge of demolition, for what purpose – we hear to feed the Edinburgh housing bubble.

My top Meadowbank memory. Well, nothing quite gets me welling-up like a wonderful Scottish athletics moment. Take your pick from:

The two Ians, Stewart and McCafferty - one-two in 1970

  • Ian Stewart and Ian McCafferty going for gold in the 1970 Commonwealth Games 5000 metres
  • Lachie Stewart charging away from Ron Clarke to win the 10,000 metres at the same games
  • Liz Lynch, as she then was, blitzing the rest of the Commonwealth to win her 10,000 metres gold at the 1986 Commonwealth Games
  • The reception the scandalously overlooked Allan Wells received as he brought the Commonwealth baton into the stadium in 1986.

    Allan Wells - got a fantastic reception in 1986

There were a couple of others from the athletics stadium which have lived long in my memory:

  • A kilted Sir Yehudi Menuhin walking on to join the fiddle orchestra at the 1986 Games opening
  • The young and virtually unknown Michael Johnson bursting clear to win the 200 metres by a huge margin at one of the athletics grand prix there. His sub-20-seconds time still stands as a Scottish all-comers record. I had never heard of him before, but, boy did he make me sit up and pay attention. More than 25-years later, I still find his performance remarkable.

    Michael Johnson - a quite remarkable run at Meadowbank

In the Games Halls, I covered a lot of Scottish Cup wins for Cumnock Academy, Cumnock Curries Basketball Club and St Mirren Basketball Club. I remember one night, when Cumnock Academy went through to contest the Scottish Schools Under-13 and Under-18 finals. The Under-13s was a given, because no other school took it as seriously as Cumnock. But, there was a slight concern over the Under-18 final. On paper, the two teams, Cumnock and a school from Dunfermline, seemed fairly evenly-matched. However, Cumnock had six-foot eight inch centre Alan McBeth, who played in the National League for Cumnock Curries. He was the key, except, he had been off school with chicken pox and was doubtful for the final.

The doctors at Cumnock Surgery assured the school, Alan was no longer infectious, so, while off-school, he could play, but, he would not last long. So, Tommy Campbell the coach and I, as the local paper who would cover the final, hatched a plan. I would collect Alan from his home and drive him to Meadowbank. There, he would be kept out of sight of the opposition, and enter the hall at the very last minute, wearing, rather than his school basketball uniform, his Cumnock Curries' track-suit.

The teams came out for the warm-up, the opposition saw the big boy was not there, and their confidence lifted. Then, with a couple of minutes left of the warm-up, I went and got bit Alan in. He did two lay-ups, then a slam dunk, and, as he dunked, you could feel the confidence fizzle out of the opposition. Even then, Tommy Campbell didn't start him. In fact, Alan didn't get on until, in the second half, the opposition mounted a fight-back.

On he went, to slap away two shots, then block a third, before venturing up-court to dunk one shot. Job done, the opposition collapsed and Alan retired to the bench, before collecting his winner's medal.

Highlight of that night, however, was when one of the security staff entered the hall, huckling in front of him, a couple of Academy first years, wearing that year's unofficial school uniform (this was in the 1980s) – 13-hold Doc Martens, skin-tight jeans and donkey jackets.

Who's responsible for Seb Coe and Steve Ovett here?” He asked. Apparently, bored with the basketball, our two heroes had found their way out onto the track, completed a quick lap, then tried-out the long jump pit. They had a very painful interview with Academy Head of PE Bill Baillie the following morning.

Then there was the Boroughmuir tournament, sponsored by Edinburgh Ford dealers Alexanders, which came down to a final between David Murray's MIM and Sunderland, the English champions. Sunderland had this big, black American forward who had terrorised every player in England. He was a dirty big so-and-so, I say was, because he elbowed one of the Murray guys on the nose – never a tactic you should employ against a Paisley Buddie.

There was a top-of-the-range white Ford Granada behind the goal at one end of Hall One, which, a few seconds after the elbowing had a nice red blob in the middle of the bonnet – that was blood from the American's nose, after our friendly Paisley Buddie re-arranged it for him. Not perhaps basketball's non-contact, family-friendly image.

Football at Meadowbank, however, meant Meadowbank Thistle. I only ever covered one football match there, a St Mirren game which they lost to their hosts, who might by then have switched identity from Meadowbank Thistle to Livingston. That defeat precipitated a full and frank exchange of views between manager Jimmy Bone and one of the St Mirren defenders.

 Jimmy Bone - had a full and frank exchange of views with one of his defenders

St Mirren managed to put an almost-total news black-out on the disagreement, so, while there were plenty of rumours circulating around Paisley, it took some weeks to establish that the pair had indeed come to blows – by which time, peace had broken out – another front-page “splash” missed.

Truth is, being designed primarily as an athletics venue, Meadowbank was not the best stadium at which to report football. The press box, for instance, is lined-up alongside the start-finish line, which makes sense for athletics, but, is hopeless for football. The same problem, by the way, applies to covering Glasgow's rugby matches at Scotstoun.

But, as we are all aware, the press are too-often seen in Britain as a barely-necessary nuisance, to be tolerated rather than encouraged. I will not miss Meadowbank from a work point of view, but, from a purely-sporting viewpoint, the old place will be sadly missed.

The normal fitba rubbish will be back tomorrow.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

The Promised Land Is Still Far Away For Ra Peepul

I WATCHED Partick Thistle v Rangers on Friday night. “Firhill for Thrills” it most-certainly was not. I appreciate, Rangers are a work-in-progress, but, on the evidence of Friday night, it's going to be a long job. Sure, they put together some good passages of passing football, however, this was done in areas where they were never going to hurt Thistle – who are nothing more than an average Premiership team. If they cannot hurt Thistle, they will never hurt Aberdeen or Celtic, far less any reasonably-good continental team, and, European football is, after all, where Rangers want to be.

Playing passing, possession football, is all about patience. Time and again, Rangers would play the ball around in their own half, Thistle didn't really press them there, preferring to operate what in basketball terms is: “a half-court press” - pressing high up the park is: “a full-court press”. Therefore, Rangers had time and space in which to play the ball around, but, rather than passing their way up the park, somebody, even a Portugese-trained player who you would think would know better, would lump the ball up the park – meat and drink to the Thistle defence.

 Niko Kranjcar - missed by Rangers

OK, Niko Kranjcar was missing, but, they had NOBODY who could play the “killer” ball through the Thistle rearguard, for a forward to run onto. No, for me, on that form, Rangers will struggle to even be top-three this season. Mind you, they still appear to have the referees in their pockets, from some of Willie Collum's decisions; and that will help.

Phil four Names” keeps insisting, all is not well within the Ibrox dressing room. The local stenographers, of course, don't want to know about this. But, old Phil just might, as he so-often is around Rangers, be on the money here. Look what happened when skipper Lee Wallace went off – he handed the arm band to Kenny Miller. Nothing wrong with that, KM is, after all, a former Scotland captain, who has apparently been playing since the days of below the knees shorts, brown Manfield Hotspur boots with leather nailed-in studs and leather T-balls. No problem with that, it is established practice in sports such as cricket – when the captain isn't available, the “senior professional” takes charge – and professionals don't come more-senior than Kenny.

Later in the game, Kenny was substituted, whereby he handed the arm band to Graham Dorrans. Nothing against Dorrans, he is, after all, a Scotland internationalist, but, he is only just in the door. The expectations were, pre-season, that manager Pedro might appoint the hugely-experienced Bruno Alves as club captain. Bruno has captained Portugal in the absence of CR7, and he is a top-quality defender and inspiration.

The fact Miller went to Dorrans, will add fuel to the conspiracy theorists, such as old Phil Four Names, who insist the dressing room is split into two cliques – Brits and foreigners. IF that is the case, well, it will not make the gossip-mongers and doubters go away.

THE NEXT week will be what I term a “yawn week” in Scottish football, as the churnalists and stenographers focus entirely on one game – Saturday's High Noon Ibrox shoot-out between Rangers and Celtic. Seemingly every former Old Firm star, whose name is in a modern-day football writer's contacts book, will be invited to give his views on what will happen. The old boys in blue will do their best to talk-up their successors, while the grey-hairs in green will try not to appear too-smug as they discuss by how much the Hoops will win. As if their opinions matter, or make a jot of difference.

If concentrating on Old Firm coverage made a difference, fair enough. But, newspaper circulations in Scotland are melting like snaw aff a dyke. Instead of concentrating on the banal and obvious, maybe the desk jockeys should be asking the foot soldiers to come-up with some different stuff, and to curb their Old Firm obsession, for the sake of Scottish football writing.

I SUPPOSE, by the hair-trigger standards of English football, Chesterfield were quite restrained, in giving Gary Caldwell eight months, which included relegation, before sacking the former Scotland captain at the weekend. But, one win in eight games and already anchored in one of the relegation places – which in the Spireites' case would mean losing league status, well, that's sacking form for any manager.

Gary Caldwell - sacked by Chesterfield 

Caldwell has not had the best experience of management. He was perhaps given the job too-soon at Wigan, where his tenure ended in the sack. Now he has “failed” again at Chesterfield. This leads me to believe, British football is a bit over-keen to turn well-known players into managers, without them going through an apprenticeship.

I don't see it happening any time soon, but, maybe if they adopted the North American system whereby, a professional sportsman, who fancies the uncertain world of coaching has to start at the bottom, with a High School team, before rising via assistant coach or specialist coach roles at a college, will get his chance in “the Show”, as the major leagues are known.

Bobby Robson always insisted, you cannot, either as a player or coach, beat, what he called: “time on the grass”. It's like anything else, if you want to succeed, you have to learn your trade, from the bottom up.

Mind you, even when, as in the case of Frank De Boer, you served your time as an assistant, and had a really good grounding in management – you could still find yourself in-charge of an English club which wants success yesterday. English football truly is crazy.

IN THE latest FIFA rankings, Scotland has risen 15 places, from 58 to 43. Big deal. The overall world rankings matter not a jot to Scotland. The important figures is the UEFA confederation rankings, because, when it comes to World Cup and European Championship qualification, where we stand in Europe is the benchmark.

To be fair, our 15-places rise in the overall world rankings, does equate to a one-place rise in the UEFA confederation placings, and, crucially, while we have risen one place, Slovenia have dropped four, which has enabled us to overtake them. We are now ranked third of the nations in our World Cup qualifying group, behind England and Slovakia.

As I have long held, the crucial game for us in what remains of the qualifying campaign, is the away match with Slovenia. It could all come down to that game, IF we take care of Slovakia first. I would never under-estimate the Slovaks – they have spoiled our hopes before – but, you would like to think a full-house Hampden could roar us to victory on 5 October, which, if past history is any guide, will make for a nervous night in Ljubliana three nights later.