Scotland national team

The Trouble with Scotland is That It’s Full of Scots

in Opinion

Yes, it’s an inflammatory title, but I stole it from a movie so it’s probably fine.

The international break is all about pretence. For English people who don’t like football, it’s a chance to impress your mates who do by pretending you like Harry Kane and for English people who do like football, it’s a time when you’re forced to pretend you like Harry Kane.

The whole thing is untrustworthy by its very nature, as are the people who look forward to it, and I have as much time for either as I do for people who hang their toilet roll with the loose end next to the wall.

Maybe I feel this way because I see the international break as a rude disruption to the recently returned flow of club football that I’ve desperately pined for over the last three months. Maybe it’s because I’m cross that all the games during the international break are played in the evening, forcing me to actually do something with my weekend during the day.

Maybe it’s because the international break acts as a constant reminder that Haris Seferović is still out there nicking a living somewhere. Whilst all of these things are indeed true, my main issue with the international break is that it means that at some point I know I’ll have to sit through at least 90 minutes of Scotland attempting to play association football.

Thankfully though, the international break is now two weeks in the past. That’s a long time in football. In that time, Manchester United have gone from being quite good, to not good, to fairly shambolic, to not entirely horrific… and they’re still only one inevitable Mason Greenwood brace against Arsenal away from being quite good again.

However, two weeks is apparently not enough time to stop the deficiencies of the Scottish national team continuing to be in the news. The other day, Jamie Redknapp bravely stuck his neck out to opine that the reason Andy Robertson plays better for Liverpool than he does for Scotland is because Liverpool have better players than Scotland.

It’s an absolutely scorching take and certainly not one my 85-year-old granny could have made. However, it did force me to once again painfully mull over the shortcomings of the Scottish national team and why they are so apparent.
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Supporting Scotland is an arduous task that never fails to fill you with contempt, but this is mostly fine because Scottish people are pretty good at contempt. They hate voice recognition technology, they hate children singing Cher Lloyd, they probably hate being generalized and they’ve got such an issue with anything remotely right wing that they’ve decided their two best footballers should play left back, which is a level of spite other liberal countries around the world can only aspire to.

You could even argue that much of Scotland’s love of football stems from the fact that going to games serves as an excuse for fans to be horrible to each other. Then again, you could probably make that exact same case for football fans from anywhere, except the ones who support Southampton because they are far too nice and probably need to grow up a bit.

The Old Firm is a bit of a special case though. In it, Scotland boasts possibly the fiercest rivalry in club football. I’m not going to try to convince you if you think otherwise, just know that literally all the hardest blokes Glasgow has to offer are on my side of the argument, and they’ll hoof you if you say I’m wrong.

Gary Lineker once wrote about matches between Celtic and Rangers that “there is nothing to compare with them in terms of their intensity and ferocity, not to mention the sheer noise”, but the jury is still out as to whether or not he was actually talking about Walkers Spicy Siracha.

It is a big deal though: both Ibrox and Celtic Park are filled to capacity whenever the two teams meet. That’s a minimum of 50,000 fans, which is simply too many people to all be looking for a fight at the same time. Fans go because they are fans and want to watch football, as it transpires that quite a lot of people in Scotland care about the sport.

So, since there is clearly such a vested interest in football at a domestic level, why are Scotland so deficient internationally? Aside from England, whom I have been forced to accept will always be better than us, they should be the best home nation.

Yet at the most recent European Championships in 2016, not only were all of the other home nations present, they also all went past the group stages. The last major international tournament Scotland took part in was the 1998 World Cup – a tournament so long ago it’s now considered cool to wear football shirts from it.

Welsh fans, who probably care more about sheep rugby, are rewarded for their lack of interest with Gareth Bale and a European semi-final. So why is it that Scotland fans are forced to work out how to watch a Thursday 4pm kick off in Central Asia, and then deal with their team being 2-0 down before ten-past?

The Old Firm, and the Scottish Premiership along with it, stand as definitive proof of Scotland’s passion for football. I am by no means saying this passion doesn’t exist in Wales, but it is certainly much more diluted.

And maybe that is actually Scotland’s problem. Whilst the standard of club football in Scotland is much higher to that of the domestic leagues in Wales, it unfortunately is not as competitive as those in England.

Only one member of the current Welsh squad came through the youth system of a Welsh team that played outside of the English system, and he is rather ironically the only one of that squad who plays his club football in Scotland. Better players tend to be produced in better league systems, and virtually all of the Scottish players (who actually come from Scotland) came through the Scottish system.

A very good friend of mine once summed up the Scottish Premiership as “Mate, it’s a 30-year-old Graham Dorrans panenka-ing a penalty on his Rangers debut whilst wearing the number 10 on his back.”

I do believe it amounts to much more than that and think it’s important to relay that the friend’s opinion was formed before I took them to go see a very fun Ayr United side lose 1-0 at home to Inverness Caledonian Thistle. However, let’s not forget that the Graham Dorrans incident did actually happen and, whilst also being very funny, it probably gives a pretty good indication that the English system is at the very least quite a lot better than the Scottish one.

As it always seems to do in football nowadays, this argument comes down to money. Since the investment in the Scottish Premiership is vastly unproportionate to the level of interest it garners across Scotland, in terms of talent production, the league will never be able to properly compete with the international success that is the Premier League.

Are there other factors as to why Scotland regularly get disembowelled by the likes of Artem Dzyuba? Absolutely, but this seems to be the most prevalent to me. It’s sad and it’s depressing and now I’m cross again because I’ve remembered about Artem Dzyuba. So, I’m going to stop writing now and watch Kevin de Bruyne ruthlessly smash in Belgium’s fourth goal against us for some catharsis.

by Xavier Bird

Twitter: @XaviBird