The pain of supporting Scotland

Last night Scotland’s national football side lost 3-0 to Slovakia, a decent side, but beatable. Our best player was David Marshall, our goalkeeper which shows how rubbish our defence was. I mean, I’m recovering from a stroke and I’d do better in central defence than either of the men picked by manager Gordon Strachan last night.

I grew up admiring Strachan as a player, and as a pundit and manager I’ve always liked him, especially after scoring this goal in the Mexico World Cup in 1986.

It is however now 18 years since we qualified for a tournament. The World Cup in Russia in two years look as distant as the nearest star in terms of qualifying now, and barring a small miracle, I can’t see Strachan leading a Scotland side to qualification so by the time we have another chance I’ll be in my early 50’s, and running out of tournaments to root for as I refuse to have anything to do with Qatar in 2022 for obvious reasons.

What do we do though? We’ve got a decent group of players and if teams with less resources and talent than Scotland like Iceland or Northern Ireland can do well internationally then surely we can?

Demanding Strachan go is an easy demand but who replaces him? Who’s willing to not just pick players on form, but take on the dinosaurs of the SFA? I can’t think of anyone who’d do that. So, it’s this endless pain of being a Scotland supporter. Unless of course, you want to get behind Scotland’s ladies side, see them qualify for tournaments and work out how the men’s side could learn from them. A question being asked by not just myself.

Maybe there will be a miracle, I dunno, I just would like to see Scotland not be a joke in terms of international football. Men’s football that is…

49 years ago World Champions England played Scotland and this happened…

50 years ago today England won the World Cup. You may have heard it mentioned several million times over the decades.

Now, I’m not one of those bitter Scots who moans about anniversaries like this, I’ve no problem with the 50th anniversary because it’s a genuine landmark. It’s the other 49 years of constantly mentioning it all the time not to mention the seemingly endless bullshit of comparing every England side since to that side which isn’t putting an unrealistic pressure on players at all, honest….

But let people enjoy this 50th anniversary. This is about 1967, when Scotland played England at Wembley and this happened….

Scotland played England off the pitch and from here was launched the utterly ludicrous but fun, Unofficial World Cup Champions, a title currently held by Chile. If there’s one thing we Scots are good at its turning Pyrrhic victories into glorious ones, and turning failure into fabulous pisstaking success.

20 years after Euro 96

Imagine this is you will, 20 years ago in England Euro 96 happened and the country changed once and for all.I know it feels like at best a decade ago, but nope, it’s two decades and the effects of it last to today.

The fact it’s a two decade anniversary was driven home by this excellent article over at the Quietus which places the decline of in particular England, at this point. I can see the argument and there’s much to it as this was the end days of the Major government and unbroken Tory rule going back to 1979 with Tony Blair’s shiny new Labour sitting there waiting to be given the chance to hammer a broken, bitter, useless Tory Party that’d ran out of steam, ideas and popularity.

Yet I disagree with this..

Seen via the rear view mirror, the mid-90s are a bit of an embarrassment. They feel like an era of complacency – an aimless interregnum between the fall of the Berlin Wall apparently ending history and 9/11 revving it up again with a vengeance. The resulting mainstream cultural totems constituted slim pickings; Blur v Oasis, the Spice Girls, Tony Blair. And then there’s Euro 96 which, in terms of national identity, feels like an illuminating metaphorical staging post; ostensibly just a football tournament but in a wider sense, embodying something sad and portentous that remains unresolved to this day. Like many milestones of that era, it was a wild ride. But it didn’t really take us anywhere.

The mid 90’s felt like a wonderful place to be at the time, especially if you were on the right side of 30. There was a sense of adventure that doesn’t exist in the streamlined, divided 2010’s, and Euro 96 was closure of the old days of football and the opening of the modern age. At the time we never knew that as hindsight is a glorious thing. We were just having fun and Euro 96 was huge fun until right at the end when the worst aspect of English blood and soil nationalism reared its head, yet til then it looked fantastic then Gareth Southgate walked up one balmy summer night to take a penalty and it was over for many..

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For myself as a Scotland fan living in Leicester at the time it meant vicariously living the dream that we’d maybe for once do well enough in a major tournament to get into the second round. Plus with Scotland games being based in Nottingham and Birmingham I could soak up some of the atmosphere even though I couldn’t get a ticket, and it’s also worth noting that we drew against an excellent Dutch side, beat a decent Swiss side and pushed England for around 50 minutes and were only put to the sword by a still stunning Paul Gascoigne goal that came after a penalty saved by David Seaman which saw Scotland yet again suffer failure.

It’s also forgotten now that England in the early games were soundly criticised until their final group game against the Netherlands where they came up against the same side we’d held to a more than respectable draw and battered to a inch of their lives. To this day I don’t think I’ve seen an English side play as well as they did that evening.

After that something did click in England. People reclaimed the St George’s flag from the far right, people seemed more open and a genuine surge of openness. Indeed, by the time England played Spain in the next round there was a sense of belief that maybe all the wrongs of the last decades could be washed away like you’d hose vomit off a pavement outside a nightclub after a student night.

I spent the day of the England V Spain game working at one of the last Westminster comic marts. Afterwards I ended up having to walk up from Westminster in search of a pub that had a TV (as amazing as it sounds, not every pub had a telly in those days) and wasn’t rammed to the door. Eventually I settled on the McDonalds in Piccadilly where with some confused tourists and a load of English fans I watched a tense set of penalties which saw England through to the semi finals against Germany.

And we know what happened then.

I was working in a nightclub in Leicester that night. We opened early at 8pm in the hope if attracting people, but nobody turned up so we sat around in the DJ booth drinking beer and watching the game. At the moment Southgate missed the last English penalty I turned round to one of my colleagues and said something along the lines of ”this is not going to be a good night”. It wasn’t. The first three lads through the door proved themselves to be trouble from the off and were quickly removed as were many other angry, bitter English fans who’d seen what they saw as a personal slight.  By the end of the night I never wanted to see another England flag or supporter in my life and so did friends and colleagues I worked with.

When the dust settled the anger for some didn’t stop. It still seethes today and here is where I verge back into agreeing with the Quietus article. The roots of today are rooted in 1996 as it was a transformational year. 1997 saw Blair elected and some of us quickly saw we’d been conned and I walked from the Labour Party by the start of 1998 which was a World Cup year which yet again saw England attempt to burn away what some called ‘hurt’ but was really entitlement but things (barring one or two blips) did change. English football became a product and a lifestyle choice rather than something you’d follow because you stuck by your local side. Hooliganism faded. Then it blew up again this week.

I loved Euro 96. It was a time when the people of England finally embraced a civic nationalism, reclaimed the St. George’s Cross from the far right, and genuinely thought about their own culture and identity going into the future rather than constantly dwelling on the past. It didn’t last, but for a time it showed what England, as a country and as a football team, could achieve. Now people settle for fighting people on European streets singing about a war they were never involved in and a team built on spectacular failure. Perhaps one day it may become a forward looking country again, but I fear not at least for a generation.

A quick word about Leicester City winning the league (hopefully).

I’m a supporter of Partick Thistle, Glasgow’s non Old Firm team. It’d have been stupidly easy for me to support either Celtic or ‘Rangers’ but I decided to support my local side because they had the mighty Alan Rough!

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I lived in Leicester from 1988 to 2000 with some time off for good behaviour in London, Bristol and Nottingham in there too, but I occasionally ventured down to Filbert Street to see a Leicester City side sometimes win. but mainly whenever I was there it was grinding 0-0 draws.

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For those out there that have supported Manchester Utd since ‘‘that glorious night in Barcelona’‘, or Arsenal since they won things, or Chelsea or Man City since the money tap was turned on, clubs like Leicester are the sort of places they turn up to for a few seasons before they end up being relegated. They’re places where these fans turn up and wonder why fans of a club like Leicester stick with them and they don’t rush down the nearest J.D Sports to buy a replica Chelsea top ASAP as after all, in the modern age of football these sort of clubs win nothing at the top level so what’s the point of sticking by them?

Well, today Leicester play Manchester United at Old Trafford and if they win then Leicester win the top flight of English football for the first time in their history.For a fan of Leicester this is going to mean something more than a fan of a wealthy club jaded on success moaning that they didn’t win something that they think they’re entitled to. Sticking by a club like Leicester takes commitment because you see the bad times, and the club will have seen some awful times but the hope is always that your club bounces back and that maybe you’ll end up in a comfortable place in the top flight.

Yet today Leicester could win the league. As a Partick Thistle fan who last won anything three years ago and looks at the trophy cabinet moths with as much pride as our scant few trophies. But you stick by your team. You’ll be slagged off, laughed at, mocked and when relegated, crushed, but you can come back. You might even win the league as may happen today.

Leicester City is the closest I’ve got to an English team I’ll be interested in looking at their results first, but they’re not my team but for fans of clubs that will never do anything major, we can live vicariously through them. Yes they’re a relatively well off club, but in the modern era having a club like Leicester stand on the cusp of winning the biggest prize in English football is an astonishing achievement.

So at 4pm today, people like me and most importantly, the thousands of fans who’ve stuck by Leicester for years are hopefully going to see the club prove the impossible can happen. Whatever happens in the future these fans will remember this for as long as they live.

All Leicester have to do today is win….

It’s shite being Scottish

Last night Scotland’s national football team were beaten by world champions Germany 3-2 at Hampden in Glasgow. This is of course par for the course for Scotland to fail heroically and as a Scot living in England this means that you’re told constantly that ‘it wasn’t to be‘ by smirking arseholes.

But it’s a task to support Scotland even back in the day when qualifying for international tournaments was something we’d do more easily than breathing, now qualifying is like   shaving a balloon after you’ve drunk a bottle of cheap gin. You know you can do it if only you could stop shitting yourself every five minutes. That’s Scotland.

There’s also been all the same tedious keyboard supporters crying for manager Gordon Strachan’s job, but do people forget the halcyon days of Craig Levein or George Burley where we’d struggle against a wet fart on our day? Strachan isn’t perfect but he’s right to say we’re still in it, but we need to beat Poland and hope Germany do us a favour by beating Ireland, then it’s all on for the final game as we play the titans of Gibraltar and Ireland go away to Poland, which is tough.

Even if we get into the playoffs I’ll be happy, but before I die I’d like for my country to qualify for at least one more tournament, and I hope we’re in the playoffs. Though last time we reached the playoffs in 2003 we played the Dutch who we beat 1-0 at Hampden and four days later we were utterly drubbed by the Dutch in a display which was awesome if you’re Dutch, deeply embarrassing if you’re Scottish.Sadly for the second leg I watched the game in a gigantic pub in the centre of Stockholm thinking ‘ach, there’s not going to be too many Dutch fans here‘ before quickly realising I was in this pub in Stockholm with around 100 Dutch fans as there’s a large Dutch community there. I did however manage to find a few fellow Scots to despair with, which was nice.

So don’t give me any shite about suffering for your team. If you’re Scottish and of a certain age, you’ve seen highs, lows, and positively subterranean depths our country has fallen to in the game of associated football over the last 40 years.There’s still hope. There’s always hope.

But sometimes it’s shite being Scottish.

Sepp Blatter is gone, everyone celebrates.

Everyone’s least favourite tyrannical football megalomaniac Sepp Blatter is leaving FIFA after far, far too long.seppblatterfucksoff

 

Anyone that isn’t a corrupt bloated fuckpump like Blatter and his cronies will tonight be celebrating that the man is clearing off hopefully never, ever to return and that football can return to sanity. Hopefully the nonsensical idea of holding a World Cup in Qatar, a desert country run by psychopaths, is scrapped and almost any other country bar Antarctica get it.

For those struggling as to why people are cheering the exit of a small bald man that looks like he should be sitting on a pub’s Death Row, I shall draw your attention to this fantastic clip from comedian John Oliver who explains in 13 or so minutes why Blatter needs to go, and indeed, now has.

So bye Sepp you corrupt auld bastard. Don’t let the door knock you out as you leave football forever…

 

Football Manager owns me

I first played Football Manager (or Championship Manager as it was then) since sometime in the late 90’s. I’m not sure when as all you know when you start playing Football Manager is whether you’ve signed that midfielder or whether Partick Thistle have managed to survive another season. This isn’t a game like Call of Duty but the sort of game where statistic geeks like myself look at screens like this and wonder how the player’s stamina is.

Last weekend the game of Football Manager 2013 that I’d been playing for around two years crashed. I’d started as I normally do as manager of Partick Thistle before taking then up to the top flight and then into Europe where I ended up taking Thistle to the quarter finals of the Europa League where we were beaten by Porto. I’d then accepted a job offer from Spurs and took them to their first top flight title in over 50 years and a Europa League trophy. I then stayed with them until 2022 when Manchester City offered me the managers job and I accepted, which really is entering cheat mode for the game as you have unlimited transfer resources. By the time the game crashed it was 2027 City had won three league titles, a European Cup and three FA Cups and a League Cup.I’d also become manager of Scotland and was guiding them to qualification to the 2028 World Cup.

Then last Sunday it all ended. Countless hours lost, well I say ‘countless’ but in reality Stem tells you how long you’ve been playing but it’s best not to look as being told how much of your life you’ve spent in an alternative reality of football where a team like Partick Thistle can get to a European quarter final.It felt like a lost for after all, I’d invested so much time and effort into the game and it owned me like a bitch by then.

It’s impossible to go back and play an older version of the game as after all, who really wants to live in the past in an alternative reality so I bought the 2014 version from Amazon and now I’m about to dive into it. I fully expect to lose hours, even days to this latest version but until you’ve dived into Football Manager you really have no idea what I’m on about. As a game it really shouldn’t be successful. It’s about patience, tactics and endless screens of stats and figures but it’s fantastic.

There is now a documentary about the game and those utter losers like me who obsess about it. It is surprisingly good and I’d recommend it for an evening’s viewing. As for me, I’m about see if Nuno Gomes fancies one last season playing for Partick Thistle.

Another Year At the Top

I’m recovering from this year’s Bristol Comics Expo and was planning to do a blog about it or UKIP being wankers today, but seeing as I’ve decided that hard work isn’t for today, Today is wallowing in the joy that The Mighty Partick Thistle have managed to get through our first season back in the Scottish Premier League and we’ve survived.

For the sort of plastic fan who leaps onboard supporting a team like Manchester United or Chelsea because they’re rich and successful, it must be hard for them to look at a wee club and their fans in Glasgow celebrating scraping survival and think it doesn’t matter compared to the billions in pounds spent promoting these clubs now so far removed from the communities that made them. They must see us as ants, but it’s fans of clubs like Thistle, or Bristol Rovers, or Crewe, or Mansfield, or Motherwell, or Hartlepool, and on and on that make up the lifeblood of football in the UK. This isn’t to say good fans of the big clubs don’t exist and it’d be a hard, hard heart that would deny Manchester City fans some joy after so many stood by the club when they were in the third tier of English football struggling to get out but it’s the arrogant assumption of people like Greg Dyke that it’s only the bigger clubs which matter.

That is frankly, bollocks.

So we live to fight another day. We celebrate the end of a long season and look forward to the World Cup and then, possibly, I’ll start worrying about relegation but I’m not bailing from supporting my club because it means something, even from all these miles away.

Remember the 96

On the 15th of April it’s the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, which is a polite way of describing a massive failure of the police to keep people safe, and it’s subsequent cover up by the establishment and much of the media who firmly swallowed the establishment line. Of course a few people like David Conn and publications like Private Eye helped keep hope alive for the families that we’d actually get to the point where we are now that the government has apologised (especially surprising as it came from a Tory PM) , and a new inquest has been opened. It’s important that one of the greatest slanders against a group of victims and the people of Liverpool is corrected.

Of course football fans, or at least a huge number of fans at the time knew better. When I’d moved from Scotland to England in 1988 I was astounded by the state of most grounds I went to but then I’d gotten used to Scottish grounds being improved after various disasters and acts of hooliganism. I was also shocked by how the police would shunt fans around like we were criminals and this was just in Leicester, so how much worse it would have been for the bigger clubs fans like Liverpool I couldn’t say, but I can imagine.

The reaction to Hillsborough from football fans is still remarkable, especially to anyone used to the utterly tribalist Sky era where people who’ve never been near a football ground in their life get fanatical about a team they’ve never seen live in a city hundreds, if not thousands of miles away.

For example, the respect from AC Milan fans in the in the 1989 European Cup semi final between Milan and Real Madrid is still amazing.

The minutes silence before the memorial game between Liverpool and Celtic (the first game Liverpool played after the disaster)  is also immensely touching, especially with the memories of the Ibrox disaster still in the minds of many Glaswegians.

There’s also the links between Liverpool and Olympiacos due to both clubs suffering similar tragedies so fans knew better than what they were being told in the press by newspapers who I refuse to mention. Fans knew better. People who informed themselves knew better which is one thing Christopher Eccleston mentions in this fascinating Q & A about the ITV film Hillsborough he starred in back in 1996.

For myself I remember where I was back then. I was living in Leicester and in those days pubs closed at 3pm with live TV coverage being a rare thing indeed so I remember doing a bit of shopping in town, before having a drink or four in The Globe before heading home to listen to the semi finals on the radio. This was before Five Live, so sports coverage on BBC Radio used to be shared on Radio 2 with the great Peter Jones being an authoritative voice of football. The man was a journalist and a football fan and it’s to his commentary that I listened to that day as I was expecting to listen to a thrilling game between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest and got a blow by blow account of the horror unfold as narrated by Peter Jones.

His final report is is one of those things that will live with you if you’ve never heard it before.

So, remember the 96. Think about what it’s taken for the families to get to the stage where they are now as they’ve fought for justice for 25 long, painful years and think about what’s still to come in the search for justice for 96 people who only went to watch a football match one Saturday afternoon.  Support the families regardless of what club you support as it’s about ensuring justice for fellow football fans and human beings so that finally, perhaps some sort of end to this can finally be had.

A Manchester United fan is for life, not just when you’re winning

Please think of Manchester United fans this Christmas. For years and years they’ve come from all over London, Essex and sometimes Manchester, well, Bolton perhaps, to support the team they’ve supported since the moment they saw them being successful. Think of all those office bores who now won’t be telling you in an accent that’s nearer Mars than Manchester that ‘they’ need ‘Fergie’ back and Moyes needs to go as what will save them is a drunk champagne socialist who helped the Glazers buy the club.

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These people need our help. They need us to remind them that for the rest of us supporting clubs mean sticking with them through thick and thin and not when an amazingly expensive group of millionaire man-children stomp around a pitch diving and scaring match officials suddenly get caught out for being the average group they are.

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Think about the children who now have to go to school and replace their Manchester United iPad’s, workbooks and school blazers with that of Chelsea or Arsenal, or whomever wins the Best League in the World (TM Sky and your imagination) this Christmas. think of the hardship this will cause families this Christmas? Won’t anyone think of them?

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Think now of all those people who don’t know the history of their club beyond Becks and That Glorious Night In Barcelona who now have to learn about what Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea have done in the last five years. Think about how it’ll stretch their intellectual capacities to read history beyond the last few years.

So when things get cold this winter think of those poor Manchester United fans and all those local clubs which they might have supported. Think of those local sides who might have needed a few more fans but couldn’t find the millions these fans needed to provide the glory.

Won’t anyone this Christmas think of a club of millionaires doing badly and how it affects these people? Go on, you know it makes sense to think about how badly Manchester United are doing…….