Saturday, 11 November 2017

A matter of respect

A matter of respect

Fans of Scottish football have had to live with arrogance and condescension from many of our southern neighbours since the very beginning of organised football in these islands. Never mind that fact that the Scots invented the passing game which we see today. Indeed the first 16 matches between Scotland and England saw the Scots win 10, draw 4 and lose just 2. The plodding English sides then relied on launching the ball and chasing it and were simply passed off the field by the quick thinking Scots. In one sequence of five games Scotland scored 7, 4, 5, 6 & 5 goals against England and the powers that be in English FA finally ditched their primitive methods and adopted the ‘Scotch style’ of play.

In the 120 years since those far off days, Scottish fans have endured patronising insults from people mostly without any idea at all of what goes on in Scottish football. The latest in a long line of detractors of our game have been Joey Barton and Tony Cascarino.  In the case of Barton he has in fairness made the most of limited talents in his career but was, despite some misconceived arrogance about Scottish football, found to be totally hopeless in the SPFL. To watch him being nutmegged by a Hamilton Accies player or totally dominated by Scott Brown as Celtic swept him and his team aside during a 5-1 drubbing, was infinitely satisfying. If you talk the talk, you’d best be able to walk the walk. Alas Joey’s mouth talked a better game than his feet could play.

Cascarino’s outburst on the rather low grade Talk-Sport Radio was interesting in that it was littered with inaccuracies and the sort of casual prejudice you’d think professional ‘pundits’ would avoid.  He said…

“Domestically, they are so far ahead, they’re miles ahead. “But they’ve lost to Astana, who are from Kazakhstan, in the Champions League. They’ve been bashed up 5-0 by PSG. Okay, PSG are capable of beating any team. Been beaten by Bayern Munich home and away this season, also. They’ve drawn with Rosenborg in the European qualifying campaign. So it is clear that they are on a completely different level from everyone domestically but are still not a great side. Just look at the point total last year, you know? It’s just so ridiculous that we can’t give Celtic too much credit. So to justify this great run that they’ve been on, well, who have they actually beat? You know, beating Ross County, beating St Johnstone, when this team is clearly miles ahead of the rest. I think, what was the record before, it was 100 years ago wasn’t it? So we’re talking 100 years ago of this record, it just feels like it means nothing.”

Celtic’s 4-3 defeat to Astana of course followed a 5-0 win at Celtic Park which rounded off a comprehensive 8-3 aggregate win. As for drawing with Rosenborg, the Norwegians have defeated teams such as Real Madrid, PSG and Valencia in Europe. Celtic beat them in the qualifying tie without losing a goal to them. As for Bayern Munich beating Celtic, the hoops gave the Germans a real fight in Glasgow and were unlucky to lose 2-1. Arsenal, on the other hand, lost ten goals to Bayern in 2 matches last season! Celtic’s huge points tally last season was earned the hard way; Juventus had 102 points in Serie A in 2014, is that league rubbish?

You’d also have to ask Cascarino this; if it’s so easy for Celtic in Scotland why did it take 100 years to break the record?

Cascarino’s experience of Scottish football was limited to his disastrous time in Celtic’s struggling team of 1991-92. He arrived with a £1.1m price tag, a lot of money then, and found scoring in Scotland pretty tough. His first goal when it did arrive was down to the unselfishness of Tommy Coyne who squared the ball to him when he could easily have scored himself. Even then Cascarino almost fluffed it, miscuing the ball badly but still it found its way into the net. Two minutes later he punched Craig Levein as Hearts prepared to take a corner and was sent off. Hearts missed the resultant penalty. He did manage to convert a slack back pass at Ibrox but generally his play was pretty poor as 4 goals in 30 appearances suggests. Indeed my main memory of him is clattering into a Policewoman at Airdrie’s old Broomfield stadium with such force that he sadly knocked her out and left her with injuries which ended her police career.

Since those days he admits he hasn’t watched any Scottish football but still feels able to pontificate on the game up here. Neil Lennon let him have both barrels when he read Cascarino’s comments. The former Celtic Boss said…

“It is disrespectful. How much Scottish football does Tony watch?” said Lennon. To go 63 games at any level is remarkable. Celtic are an excellent side and they proved that with a few games in the Champions League. We’re not getting the money the English clubs can get but the Scottish game is improving. It’s getting healthier. You only have to look at the calibre of manager working up here. I find the competition and the quality of the games really refreshing. We don’t need people from down south lecturing us on how the game is up here. There is still that rawness here. There is still that passion. It’s still a working-class sport up here. You don’t have too many prawn sandwich brigades, who kill the soul of the game. I’ve been to a lot of grounds in England where the atmosphere is awful. I’ve seen some absolute rubbish in England. Rubbish. I watch some games in the Championship and the football is eye-bleeding, whereas I have seen some really good games up here.”

Comparing Scottish football to the game in a country with ten times the population is of course pointless. The rise of satellite TV and the billions it gives to the English game has witnessed an influx of foreign players chasing the money. When Celtic played Leeds United in the European Cup in 1970, all 22 players on the field were from the British Isles. When they played Manchester City last season, City had one English player in their side (Sterling) while Celtic had 4 Scots (Gordon, Tierney, Brown & Forrest) with 3 more on the bench. (Griffiths, McGregor & Armstrong) Money buys quality players and offers a big advantage to rich clubs but nonetheless Celtic matched Manchester City in both those games.
Scotland has a similar population to Norway but has historically punched above its weight, Scottish teams have played in 10 European finals and Scotland currently holds the following European crowd records:

  • ·        European Cup: Celtic v Leeds Utd 136,505 (1970)
  • ·        Scottish Cup: Celtic v Aberdeen 146,433 (1937)
  • ·        League Cup : Celtic v Rangers 107,609 (1965)
  • ·        League Match: Rangers v Celtic 118,567 (1939)
  • ·        International: Scotland v England 149,415 (1937)

Today Scottish football is watched by a higher percentage of the population than any major league in Europe. It is often criticised as being uncompetitive but a look around Europe shows that Leagues all over are being dominated by fewer sides. Juventus are currently chasing 7 in a row. Bayern have won the last 5 German titles while Barcelona and Real Madrid have won 14 of the last 17 La Liga titles. Even the much vaunted EPL saw Leicester City become just the fifth side to win the title since 1995.

We’ve all dealt with the ‘my Nan would be top scorer in Scotland’ types on holiday or online. Dig a little deeper and they’re usually clueless about Scottish football. The game here undoubtedly took a dip in the modern era due to bad strategic planning by an amateurish SFA, dreadful stadiums which herded fans in and out like cattle, disgraceful facilities to develop our young players and the sort of changes in society which saw youngsters playing football on computers rather than on the field. It was also damaged by the collapse of Rangers and the bitterness and rancour that produced.

That being said there is much to be optimistic about; stadiums are better, training facilities far superior for players of all ages. Crowds are on the up as the following averages for 2017-18 season show:

  • ·        Celtic: 58,474
  • ·        Rangers: 49,346
  • ·        Hearts: 22,995
  • ·        Hibernian: 17,957
  • ·        Aberdeen: 15,862

Our game is far from perfect but it isn’t the ‘non-league’ standard some commentators in England suggest it is. It has a way to go to recapture the great days of the past but for a nation of 5 million we do OK. I enjoy the rawness and passion of Scottish football, the tribalism and petty rivalries but also the humour and knowledge of the average fan who is far more clued up than the ‘my Nan’ brigade.

At the end of the day it’s best to just smile at the rank arrogance and ignorance of those who have such a pathological downer on Scottish football. Folk who are paid to pontificate on the game like Cascarino are just too lazy to actually come and look at the reality of our game and rely on tired old clich├ęs. His opinion, like his career at Celtic, is best forgotten. 

As the old saying  goes; 'Never allow yourself to be defined by someone else's opinion of you.' 

1 comment:

  1. Tony Cascarino? Now there is a name Celtic fans wish could be erased from our minds completely!