March 31, 2011
I have a football confession to make. I have never loved Brazil. Like Champagne, skiing or The Godfather Trilogy, people telling me how marvellous they are only strengthens my views. Maybe it’s the fact Mexico 86 and Italia 90 were my formative World Cups. In 1986 Maradona’s greatness inspired an ordinary team to the final and victory. In 1990 Maradona’s strength of character dragged an Argentina side, which Cannigia aside couldn’t even be called ordinary, to the final and infamy. Since then I’ve always preferred Argentina’s Stones to Brazil’s Beatles.
The “excitement” of last weekend’s friendly therefore passed me by a little. In the end Scotland avoided a properly bloodied nose but that’s not saying much. I spent too long during the Berti years searching for positives, any positives, from friendly defeats to get overly excited by anything that took place on Sunday. However, what I will say is it did cement the feeling that Craig Levin has grown into the job after a decidedly underwhelming start and the aberration of 4-6-0 in Prague. I had him pinned as a media darling and struggled to understand how someone who couldn’t finish above Jimmy Calderwood’s Aberdeen could end up in charge of the country. The performance against Spain and subsequent friendly victories created a degree of confidence that perhaps we weren’t doomed quite yet. Sunday’s game was I suppose an acceptable part of an ongoing evolution even if was rather uninspiring. The conclusion of the Celtic Nations Cup in May therefore carries a greater significance for Craig Levin’s Scotland than it strictly should. Two victories would surely be the spring board for an assault at securing a play off place in September and October.
Over the course of Levin’s short spell in charge Scotland have slowly but surely begun to find themselves in the slightly curious position of actually having a core of players all turning out for either EPL or Old Firm clubs and mostly within the crucial 22 to 28 age bracket. Whisper it but we’re starting to look like we have some strength in depth.
March 26, 2011
A few years ago Celtic chose to celebrate their first title win in 10 years with a rather classy “smell the glove” t-shirt. Another phrase from Spinal Tap came to mind a few times this week. There is a scene in the film where the band visit Elvis’ grave in a fruitless effort to cheer themselves up. Nigel remarks “It really puts perspective on things, though, doesn't it?” producing David’s legendary response “Too much, there's too much fackin’ perspective now.”
Going out of Europe in late March against a PSV Eindhoven team currently sitting top of the Dutch League is certainly no disgrace. Being honest though they were nothing special and, setting aside two very bad errors by the officials, over the two legs the absence of McCulloch and in particular Naismith hurt us badly. It is perhaps a marker of how weak out current squad is that we failed to see them off.
March 19, 2011
The days before an Old Firm game can be suffocating in Glasgow so let's get a little perspective...
One of the most intense derbies in the world is to be found in Montevideo. There Nacional and Penarol contest the city's very own superclassico. Penarol were founded by English railway workers and in the initial years football in this country was viewed as the immigrants' sport. Nacional, as the name makes clear, were formed to represent the "natives" of Uruguay whilst, as a duoploy emerged in the domestic league, Penarol were defined as the immigrant's team. To this day the intensity of the rival persists despite the decline in the standard of Uruguay's domestic football. One difference is the level of crowd disturbances which far exceed anything you could ever imagine taking place in Glasgow. Have you ever heard this game referred to as Uruguay's shame?
The parallels with the Old Firm are striking. Rangers were founded by a group of amateur rowers. There was no notions of Britishness or Protestantism just a sport for the sake of sport. Later Celtic would be formed as a club for the growing Irish community in Glasgow. The name was carefully chosen to honour the community's roots but to recognise equally that Scotland was now their home. It was in every sense an expression of the development of a significant, and ultimately successful, new community in Glasgow. As Celtic began to win trophies their main rival Rangers began to be seen as the native challenge and so by the end of the First World War the notion the club represented Scottishness, Britishness and the native Protestant religion had become ingrained.