The end of the World Cup

Today is the World Cup final of what has been a very good World Cup. It isn’t up to Spain 82 or Mexico 86 in terms of a classic mix of great football and entertainment, but it’s better than Italy 90 (strip away World in Motion and actually talk about the football, you’ll find most who can remember a poor competition) or the averageness of the last few competitions.

Today sees France play Croatia. France should win but Croatia could easily pull off a shock which isn’t bad for a country¬† that hasn’t even existed for 30 years yet. But what of the next World Cup in Qatar?

The next World Cup isn’t going to be held in the middle of winter for northern hemisphere teams, and also in the middle of league and cup seasons. It’s also going to be held in stadia built on the blood of thousands of dead workers in a country where holding hands in public could be problematic. Imagine the fan parks in punishing heat or players growing tired quickly because they’re playing in a desert in a country run by strict authoritarians who care nothing for human rights.

Sod that.

So I’ll be back for the World Cup in 2026 in Canada, Mexico and the US who by then, will have purged themselves of Trumpism.

Hopefully today’s final is a classic because I think quite a few fans will be boycotting Qatar, but for now lets celebrate today’s final and personally, I’d love Croatia to win it, but France will likely win it. We’ll see…

Why most Scots won’t support England

Another World Cup is nearly over which means for Scots (as well as the Welsh and Northern Irish) don’t have to put up with being told by people (who all seem to only pay attention to football every major tournament) who elect themselves arbiters who what people should do in relation to supporting football teams. This time though it has been totally unbearable in Scotland as media commentators trip over themselves to display how glorious they are by saying they’ll support England. Take this nonsense from Stephen Daisley as an example of this.

This is of course an example of the cringe; but before the Anyone But England argument comes from England fans hurt that not everyone will support England, especially people from the three countries of the UK used to be downgraded, insulted and ignored (If you’ve you’ve ever called the UK ‘England’ then you’re a dick) but this isn’t about hating the English, but the bullying, sometimes patronisingly smug attitude that places England at the centre of the galaxy.

It boils down to not supporting your biggest, and oldest rivals (Scotland/England is the oldest rivalry in football) so Celtic fans won’t support ‘Rangers’, Spurs won’t support Arsenal, Man City won’t support Man Utd, and on. If you then say ‘ah, but we’d support our nearest neighbours’ then I ask you how many English folk will be supporting France tomorrow in the World Cup Final?

But really it’s the entitlement and the way that England transforms into a place where if you’re not from England, it becomes deeply unwelcoming and in the case of this week, dismissive and insultingly so of opposition. Roy Keane hit the nail on the head.

Yet this year England had a likeable, decent man as manager and players who never seemed as arrogant or entitled as previous teams. Gareth Southgate represents the more civic side of England you rarely see these days, especially since Brexit, and England’s ethnically and culturally diverse team is a step in the right direction. Imagine had Sam Allardyce dragged a team to this World Cup. It’d be like Nigel Farage’s wet dream.

So good luck to England in the third place playoff. You’re learning but you need to remember it isn’t always about you so come on Belgium!

A World Cup favour…

Please Croatia, can you beat England.

Because if I hear cries of ‘It’s coming home’ every time I turn on the TV, or see that in the UK media I think I may lose whatever mind I’ve got left. I also can’t bear the jingoism that’ll come if England play either Belgium or France. It’ll be unbearable, so please our Croatian cousins, go out there and do small counties like yourselves proud!

A World Cup lull

After just over a fortnight of the World Cup and unrelenting blood-pounding, arse-ripping, shorts-tightening football, there is a lull and it is weird. I can’t even troll England fans. There is a empty void.

I’m remembering there’s things like Channel4 News, or Netflix, or the PS4, or books or indeed, anything that isn’t football. It feels so terribly wrong…

A World Cup dilemma

Apart from a pretty dismal game between France and Denmark this has been a fantastic World Cup so far, but those of us in the UK have to put up with some terrible commentary, especially from the likes of Mark Lawrenson who sounds as if he doesn’t give a fuck about the game, or the position he’s in.

Now the BBC do offer a commentary free track on their digital services, but some people don’t have access to this so they’re stuck with the wrist-slitting joy of Lawrenson. So would you rather the BBC employ a jaded old pro who treats viewers with contempt or a drunk who’s pissed himself and is desperately slurring words in the hope it makes sense so he can get paid?

Now, nobody say they’re both the same thing…

The World Cup moral dilemma

It’s less than a week til the World Cup starts. Normally I’m dripping with schoolboyish glee in anticipation but the World Cup this year is in Russia; a state deeply corrupt, racist, homophobic and is supporting multiple dodgy regimes around the world.

But it is the World Cup.

Do I want to watch something that’ll help boost Putin’s ego?

It’s the World Cup.

As a lefty type do I sit there with gritted teeth?

It’s the World Cup.

So I’m going to bite my tongue, grit my teeth and watch the events of Russia’s World Cup because there’s few countries who can claim complete innocence, and yes, I’m a weak hypocrite.

But it is the World Cup.

 

Scrapping the OBFA plays into the hands of sectarian bigots

The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012 (OBFA) was an act designed to deal with the very real problem of sectarianism in Scottish football. It has always been an act born out of knee-jerk politics and has been flawed since the start, but as the only piece of legislation that specifically targets sectarianism. It sent out a message that as a society, Scotland was done with supporting sectarianism or looking the other way to let things happen.

This week the first step to repeal the act in a private members bill from Labour MSP James Kelly was passed to repeal it. Now as said the act is flawed; it curtailed political expression as well as crack down on the offensive bigotry we see so often in Scottish football but nobody in favour of repeal has suggested an alternative. Actually, that isn’t true; the standard line is ‘education’ along with ‘use existing laws correctly’ but the problem with this is we know fine well this isn’t going to work because hate crimes need specific punitive legislation to deal with it.

Now the argument against it ranges from the hard left argument that it now gives the working class a voice which is astonishingly offensive as it assumes the working class are a mass of barely literate bigots who can only find release by chanting hate at each other. Then there’s the illiberal argument which is true but all hate crime legislation is illiberal so do we allow complete free speech which means anti-Semitism, racism, and all the stuff we don’t want in society to pass unchallenged. So do we single out hate speech or do we tell vulnerable minorities to deal with it as to crack down on it is illiberal? Then there’s the folk who are political opportunists and of course, the people who want the act gone so they can throw out vile bigotry at football matches unchallenged.

And this is the problem. When the act was passed an informed discussion never really happened, and now, on the verge of repeal, an informed discussion isn’t happening even though the majority of the public supports the act, and is clearly tired of sectarianism.

I’ll tell you what happens in the future. The act is repealed. An ‘incident’ will happen. Someone, or a few people, will be abused, hurt, even worse. Scotland’s politicians and media will demand ‘something’ must be done and nothing will end up getting done because Scotland’s politicians and media (on the whole) want to prolong the life of sectarianism, and don’t even expect the SFA or the clubs themselves to do anything serious because they don’t want to lose support. So we have a section of the left arguing themselves into a corner over this while a section of the left are drooling with the prospect of social division.

What would I do? I’m no expert but I’d engage an open debate on what sectarianism is. Define it. Engage with people and point out to them what they do causes offense and harm to people. Show them the effects of their bigotry. Give them support to change but if they don’t and carry on then have a punitive law to crack down on them. I’d give the SFA a kick up the arse so they work towards making Scotland better. I’d not glibly sit back and let things go unchallenged as Labour, Tories and a chunk of the establishment would like.

Most of all I find it repulsive that with everything going on right now, there’s a number of people who put as their number one priority fighting for the chance for people to chant about being up to their knees in ‘fenian blood’. When the worse does happen I don’t want to see these people demand ‘action’, I want to see them accepting responsibility for what they’ve done and maybe, just maybe, actually suggest a way to make things better.

Genetics are not a reason Scotland doesn’t qualify for football tournaments

Scotland failed yet again to qualify for a major international tournament. Manager Gordon Strachan has said something utterly extraordinary.

“Genetically, we are behind,”

Strachan’s idea is that we Scots are too small and we need big blokes to make ourselves effective on the world stage of football. This is bollocks.This is that Scottish habit of failing to accept your own faults and failures so rather than working with what you have, Strachan comes up with bullshit.

This is what’s known as the ‘it’s shite being Scottish’ meme. It’s easy to do, and I’ve even done it myself. It is however a mortifying piece of pathetic self-pitying that solves nothing. I like Strachan, he’s funny but for most of this campaign he’s failed to pick players playing in Scotland who are in form with Leigh Griffiths being the best example. It isn’t unrelated that when Strachan starts picking him regularly we start doing well.

That though is not really the point. Wallowing in a ‘och, we can’t do this. we’re Scottish.’ really is crap and what’s worse we nurture this idea, this concept, of glorious failure and take some perverse joy in it. We’ve went from the nation that invented much of the 20th century to whining miseries in a century and you know what? I’m tired of it. We can do better, not because we’re entitled to it but because we’re capable of doing more than we think we can if we work out ways to do just that. Part of achieving that is dropping this attitude of people like Strachan or quite I few people I’ve met since coming back to Scotland.

We shouldn’t be scared of failure but we should learn from it.It seems too many have learned to take failure for granted and accept it as the natural way of things and that isn’t good enough. So Scotland, get up off your knees and do better!

Watching Scotland play in Scotland is more difficult than it should be

Last night I was feeling a bit peaky so went home to watch Scotland play Lithuania in a World Cup qualifier which if lost, meant Scotland had no chance of qualifying, if won then it kept it us with a shout. Turning on STV I found them showing the England game and after slipping into a mild coma listening to Ryan Giggs dazzle us with the fact he’s got the personality of rice paper. No Scotland game to be seen.

Now since moving back to Scotland this is something I’ve encountered before and frankly, it is extraordinary. I’ve been in France and Sweden where their respective national broadcasters broadcast games of this importance, but in Scotland you need to sign up to a subscription package or scour the internet for a stream. It is frankly ludicrous a Scottish based broadcaster doesn’t show Scotland national matches on free-to-air TV, and that isn’t an opinion which is mine alone, but tens of thousands others share. As for STV, their word on this is this Tweet.

So here’s the problem. ITV as a network buy the England rights, but feels it isn’t worth buying Scotland (or indeed Wales and Northern Ireland) rights. The BBC have been priced out the market and the SFA doesn’t give a fuck about fans anyhow. Now Westminster could legislate to ensure Scotland gets their football on free-to-air TV but that ain’t ever going to happen so we endure England playing Malta is a game so turgid and without tension it could be mistaken for a dead bird lying in the gutter.

This isn’t a good situation if we want to get future generations excited about the game. A child may watch this and think ‘I want to do that’, go out and become the best footballer they can, but if you only have Scotland games subscription only then you keep many kids away from the game as after all, kids aren’t going to go to the pub to see the match and if the national broadcasters don’t give a fuck why should they? It’s a crap short sighted, fuckwitted decision that reduces the national sport into an afterthought and it shames the Scottish media that there isn’t more fuss about it. Then again after nearly a year of being back in Scotland I have to say the Scottish media can always be there to let you down.

The past joys of Cup Final Day

Today is cup final day in Scotland and England. These days it’s just a moderately sized game at the end of the season, but in times past when live football was as scarce as a Conservative politicians morals, cup final day was a day when as a boy you’d be glued to the television from early Saturday morning watching the build up. In the 80’s that meant David Coleman on the BBC…

Viewers in Scotland had their own programming which meant the parochial cheapness of BBC Scotland and STV, but live television gave us great moments like this fantastic Jock Wallace interview on STV.

Or Alex Ferguson having a pop at his Aberdeen team after winning the cup final in 1983.

How about Dickie Davies on ITV and his smooth lounge bar ethic?

Now, sadly, the game is another notch in TV companies schedules. Kick-off times are all over the place, fans are secondary to corporate fans and finals are dominated by the massive clubs like Chelsea or Celtic. Basically clubs used to finals and winning things. Shocks are a thing of rarity, but there’s the hope still at every single season that your team may well be standing there on the pitch at Hampden or Wembley holding the trophy.

So good luck to whatever team you support but I do miss the days when today was a day to savour rather than an afterthought.