A momentous week for football, and the subsequent bans for Rangers players Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor surely demonstrate, if any more evidence was necessary, the desperate state of the game in Scotland.
And the catalogue of events proved again that the central belt media, rather than concentrating on the malaise of the national team on the field, have an irresistable tendency to help ignite the touch paper regarding matters away from the action.
All this could have been handled so much better by almost everybody concerned, but the main point, inconceivably missed by all bar former player Andy Walker, is that the enfolding saga has induced an over-reaction of titanic proportions.
Manager George Burley, on arriving back from Holland at the team hotel at 4am, gave the players permission to have a few drinks. Nothing wrong with that, and hardly a return to some “drinking culture” of the past. But for some reason Burley neglected to leave someone in charge, or better still, order the night porter or whoever to stop serving a couple of hours later.
Footballers may be different from the ordinary punter. They are identified as being talented from an early age, pampered and idolised at every turn and grossly overpaid. But they have one common denominator with the fans who pay to watch them“ a certain percentage will undoubtedly have brains equivalent to that of plankton.
Scottish assistant coach Steven Pressley, after being summoned to the bar at around noon and finding Ferguson and McGregor still quaffing, a full eight hours after their first tipple, probably felt he had no option but to inform the manager. The guilty parties were initially told to go home, but after subsequent apologies and the discovery that four or five other players had only left the bar less than an hour earlier, Burley decided to reinstate them.
That appeared to be a sensible move, and one which had the backing of Scottish Football Association chief executive Gordon Smith. Ferguson and McGregor would remain with the squad but be left out of the starting 11 for the forthcoming match with Iceland.
We all know what happened next. A couple of childish v-signs to the photographers at Hampden Park and an issue, which should have been consigned to history, is back on the front page. A hard-won Scottish victory becomes marred by yet more over-reaction, SFA president George Peat completely undermines Burley’s authority by ordering a full inquiry into a moment of immature madness and the players are banned by their country for life.
Next Rangers, by all accounts a club currently desperate for cash, decide to impose their own punishment, suspending Ferguson and McGregor for two weeks and apparently ending their careers at Ibrox.
This smacks of a panic measure by Rangers. Having already tried to sell these two prized assets and others in January and finding no buyers, it now looks likely both will depart for pastures new in the summer.
As Walker says, it would have been very difficult to see this happening during manager Walter Smith’s original spell at the club. That was the era when captain Richard Gough famously said “the team that drinks together wins together”, as they captured nine league titles in a row, and Smith defended Paul Gascoigne after whatever predicament he found himself in.
The consequence of this may not necessarily be all that damaging to the Scotland team, however. Ferguson is a shadow of the player who did so well in the victory over England in 1999, the last away match I witnessed prior to that in Amsterdam, and is struggling now to justify inclusion. McGregor is a capable goalkeeper, as good a back-up as is currently around, but has nowhere near the ability of a fit Craig Gordon.
As for the prospects of getting to next year’s World Cup in South Africa, they are exactly the same as prior to the defeat against Holland and victory over Iceland“ hanging on a knife edge! Seven points out of the remaining nine available, which would have to include either a win in Norway or a home victory over the Dutch, may just about take us to a play-off against another second-placed team. But as the groups currently stand, that could mean doing battle with Portugal, Croatia, France, Russia or the Czech Republic. Doesn’t look good does it?
Scottish rugby coach Frank Hadden has, not unexpectedly, stood down from his position after failing to take the team forward to any great degree during his four years in charge.
The search is now on for a replacement with names in the frame including Englishman Andy Robinson, currently coach at Edinburgh, New Zealand-born former Scottish internationalist Sean Lineen, presently at the helm of Glasgow, and even South Africans Jake White and Nick Mallett or Argentinian Marcelo Loffreda.
Jim Telfer, who managed both the Scots and British Lions with great distinction in the past, has voiced his opinion on the matter, saying there should be no rush to appoint Hadden’s successor.
If it’s a Scot they’re looking for the possibilities are few, with the country’s only two professional teams both coached by foreigners. There is just no-one available with the right credentials, unless of course Telfer is willing to swap his pipe and slippers for a tracksuit once again, perhaps in tandem with old partner Ian McGeechan once his own Lions commitment is over. Sadly they may be just about the best around.
Interestingly, one of the people recently calling for Hadden to stand down was a well-known football manager, who said his rugby counterpart’s results had just not been up to scratch.
Who was this, you might ask. Some giant of the round ball game such as Alex Ferguson, Gus Hiddink or Franz Beckenbauer perhaps? Think again. It was none other than Aberdeen boss Jimmy Calderwood. Pots and kettles spring to mind!
I note with interest that Shetland Football Association’s reserve league has been re-named the “Shetland Chiropractic Reserve League”. Should be a few bad backs on display then!