Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Have ye got a pair of boots?

The first paid football players were Scottish. They emerged out of the mists on the rain soaked border to show the English how it was done. I like that. I like it a lot. It might reinforce myths concerning the Scot’s financial shrewdness, maybe not those working for the Bank of Scotland right enough, but I like to think it was because they were so skilled or at least skilled enough to warrant payment. I’m not ruling out the combination option, but the point stands – at least once in the history of the beautiful game, the Scots were considered to be very good, maybe even the best.

Since then, before you say it… things have changed a little. A helluva lot, actually. Yes, sadly it seems we’ve been getting progressively worse since those glorious halcyon days. The lowest point, worse than Ally McLeod’s late 70s combover and nationwide humiliation, came under the stewardship of a horrible wee German - no the other one - Berti Vogts. He steered us into some serious trouble. Enough to arouse suspicions about his real motives.

Even before that though, things had taken a turn for the worst. The stalwarts all retired, Goram gave up gambling and didn’t need the cash, Wee Baz wouldn’t play with Lambie and cheeky chappy Coisty got too heavy to lace his own boots. We’d also unhappily started on the Jackie Charlton management plan. Surprisingly, handing a pair of badly polished Umbro boots to any player who’d been near a plate o’ haggis, tatties ’n neeps, an empty Irn Bru bottle or had been seen waiting outside their local chip shop for a battered mars bar supper, is still proving to be as stable a proposition as making an investment in a US bank.

Recruitment aside, our world ranking unceremoniously dropped to 254th. One place above Burkina Faso. It prompted a Scottish national daily newspaper to pose the following question…
What’s the difference between Scotland and Burkina Faso? One’s a football backwater the other is a small country in Africa.
Now obviously thesimplestgame don’t want to be knocking an entire African nation or their footballing prowess. Professional players in Burkina get paid less than 30 pound a week apparently - less than it would cost to rap one of Wayne Rooney’s ears in brown paper. Burkina Faso is not a culturally impoverished country. It hosts one of the world’s most celebrated film festivals and, importantly, football is the favourite national pastime of the "men of integrity". Their poorly financed professional game is in 'development'. It’s not even 50 years old yet. It’s a different story for Scotland. To go from the very origins of professional football to not even being in the top 250 rankings was a blow even the most tartan spectacled fans couldn’t help making light of. Today, things are on the up, we were even in the world's top ten for a couple of weeks, yet we've failed to qualify for a major tournament in over a decade.

Now this is a site dedicated to football fiction, so it is with a mixture of pride and dismay that we discovered of the earliest examples of football fiction, including Tom Brown’s Days at Oxford in 1861 and PG Wodehouse’s Psmith and Mike in 1910, only Arnold Bennett’s The Card in 1911 features professional footballers, not much of a stretch considering the advent of the sport's professionalism only occurred a couple of years earlier. From an academic point of view this is what makes us happy. The dismay comes in that so few of the players in his work were Scottish (none - I think I need to check). Is it a legimate criticism to hold against the Yorkshireman? Some would say it is. Still we feel there’s a definitely place for his work on the football shelf before any of his pioneering peers.

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