The importance of Champions League football

THE importance of Champions League football to Celtic and even Scottish football cannot be underestimated, Calum McClurkin looks at how fans and clubs alike need European football. Progress in Europe’s elite club competition is essential for the club’s finances, stature, ability to attract players and gives the supporters an extra special feeling when the famous Champions League anthem rings out.

Once it plays, it gives you a sense of fulfilment. An early taste of what it is like to be amongst the best. Beat Swedish champions Malmo over the two legs of their play-off clash and Celtic fans can hear that jingle at least six more times. Recurring trips to the likes of Inverness and Dingwall could be sandwiched between journeys to Barcelona or Munich. The wide array of places fans can visit provides its own thrill. Ranging from 800-mile round trips to Kazakhstan or Armenia (remember, Aberdeen and St Johnstone fans) or a relatively short journey down south if you draw one of the English giants.

The Champions League also hands out the opportunity to make history. As Celtic will be fully aware of special European nights such as the 2-1 when Tony Watt’s strike downed the mighty Barcelona. A full Celtic Park under the lights and a classic, possibly unrivalled, European atmosphere. Celtic crave Champions League football. It is understandable why. The domestic scene can be a boring one. Probability of Celtic winning the league is high and they strive to be tested by the best, so they can become the best and make qualifying for this tournament less taxing than it should be.

Progression for Celtic will be good for Scottish football. It enhances our stock to have a representative in the Champions League group stage. It improves the co-efficient which would help other Scottish teams have one less tie to play, one more place to fill and possibly easier opposition.

Celtic will gain enormously from returning to the group stage. It can be worth up to £30 million including TV money. This would allow Celtic, in theory, to improve their team. By qualifying they can attract better players to the club and would have the money available to land more of their targets. They can offer better contacts to their most key players. Possibly, hand improved terms to the likes of Nir Bitton and Virgil van Dijk.

The club’s stature hardly needs promotion but qualifying with regularity would make others take notice and show that Celtic are here to stay at Europe’s top table. That is the long-term goal for the Scottish champions — to establish themselves as a Champions League club. In the short term, it is as simple as beating Malmo over the two legs. Nothing else matters.

Finally! Football is back

FOOTBALL is back! The source of emptiness in our weekends is now long gone thanks to the standard 90 minutes of roller-coaster emotions spread out over the next 10 months in our stadiums and on our screens, described by Calum McClurkin.

Of course, league football in Scotland started two weekends ago for the top-flight sides, but for supporters of the clubs in the lower leagues, last weekend saw our sides’ league campaigns begin. Now everyone can be happy well, depending on how your own side have started.

Nothing beats the sense of anticipation when opening day finally arrives. The excitement level gradually mounting until the first whistle blows to indicate the start of the domestic season. It is only with that sharp sounding shrill that all the season previews and talk end.

It is the sporting equivalent of Christmas. Everyone starts afresh. Clubs who have struggled last season have a chance for redemption. Clubs who were successful last season looking to do like wise again? Clubs who settled for mid-table mediocrity looking for a more eventful season? On opening day, every club starts with a fresh slate. Fans can hope for anything ranging from the domestic quadruple to first-round cup exits and relegation. On the first day anything can happen to your team.

Pre-season optimism can be fulfilled or crushed. Pre-season worries can be true or surprisingly not. Which did your team experience on opening day?

The sort of optimism that Aberdeen fans had being fulfilled early on with an excellent win at Dundee United, the sort of optimism that East Fife fans has before East Stirling gave them a brutal reality check, the doubts expressed about Kilmarnock and Brechin City coming true but the doubts surrounding Albion Rovers and East Stirling becoming completely unfounded.

Of course, it is early days but the importance of getting off to the good start cannot be underestimated. It gives the club a positive vibe and fans of Dundee, Raith Rovers, Dunfermline and Elgin City to screenshot the Scottish League tables to capture the success of day one. For some smaller clubs, it is the little modicums of success that opening day offers and thrives on.

My own experience fell into the cruellest form. Pre-season optimism crushed. I ventured to Coatbridge with an expectant 375 other ‘Honest Men’ only to lose 3-0 to Albion Rovers. Suspensions led me to be cautious about our chances, but we were 1-0 down after just two minutes! A shock defeat against the Wee Rovers who thoroughly deserved their win to accompany their League Two Championship flag day was not the best of starts to the season. I hope your team fared better!

My opening day roller-coaster ride did not even get off the ground last week. But I am not bothered too much because football is back, and I am sure there will be a few twists and turns for everyone this season.

League Two preview

The SPFL finally kicked off after it’s summer break and there have already been some huge results in the League. Calum McClurkin looks at the final division of our season preview feature and gives his opinions as to who he thinks will do best this season in League Two.

Annan Athletic: Lost 16 players and only brought in four and two of those are goalkeepers. It sounds like an imbalance, but like many League Two sides there will be more emphasis on quality than quantity. Jim Chapman’s men have acquitted themselves nicely since admission into League Two in 2008. Smart Osadolor looks a bright midfield talent from Tiffin University Athletics. Josh Todd scored an excellent hat-trick to knock out Airdrieonians and this may be the year he produces his excellent attacking potential. Alongside experienced club man Peter Weatherson, Annan should not find scoring goals difficult. Lack of depth is a worry, but the Galabankies should be thereabouts at the top end.

Arbroath: Looked shoe-ins for the title for long periods but a sensational collapse towards the end saw the Red Lichties blow it in the play-offs. Lost goalkeeper David Crawford to Alloa and the loan spell of their main man Simon Murray has ended, he is back to Dundee United. But if forwards Lewis Coult and Martin Grehan can get over their recent injury woes then they can provide Arbroath with goals. Lured a few young players from Dundee but have almost lost their entire defence. Time needed to settle in, but if they find their feet quickly enough, Arbroath should be near the sharp end again.

Berwick Rangers: One of the few teams who have brought in more than they have released. It appears that Colin Cameron is finally moulding his Wee Rangers together for a big push. Ian Black featured in pre-season but it looks like the former Rangers man has his eye on a return to the Championship. Berwick have signed many players (16 in and seven out) and that should see them have a deeper squad than most but in terms of quality there is not much that stands out. Ewan McNeil will shore up the defence from Brechin, but the loss of goalkeeper Michael Andrews, Paul Willis to Albion and David Gold to Arbroath are significant losses that may see Berwick come up a bit short this season.

Clyde: Barry Ferguson’s arrival to management made Clyde heavy favourites to win League Two but they flopped, and fell way short of the title and outside the play-offs. With a year under his belt, Ferguson is expected to make serious improvement. And he believes his mistake was quantity over quality. Clyde have a decent budget for this league, and his recruitment this year suggests the Bully Wee should step up on last year’s disappointing effort. John Gibson is an upgrade in the goalkeeping department. David Gormley is more than ready to return to senior football from junior champions Auchinleck and when supplemented by Archie Campbell and Sean Higgins up front, Clyde could terrorise opponents. Scott McLaughlin can also chip in with goals from the midfield. The squad is capable but it is up to Ferguson to step up.

East Fife: Another with high expectations but underachieved. Still made the play-offs but underwhelmed for much of the season under Gary Naysmith. A new season brings new optimism. The loss of defender, Julen Etxabeguren and Sean Dickson are major losses but Naysmith looks to have also recruited better than before and is settling in to management. He has taken chances on four Dunfermline players; Jonathan Page (defender), Ryan Goodfellow (goalkeeper), Scott Mercer (midfielder) and Declan O’Kane (midfielder). Craig Murray is a promising full-back at Aberdeen and that may be an inspired piece of business. Look really strong in defence but slightly weaker upfront. Success for Naysmith will be built on a defensive foundation, the question is do they have the fire power to gain promotion?

East Stirling: Whipping boys of the division once upon a time but have significantly improved in recent seasons. Reece Donaldson (defender) and Kris Faulds (midfielder) are two good solid additions from Peterhead this summer. However, they have lost a lot of players. A key figure in East Stirling’s radical improvement has been Michael Bolochoweckyj but he has joined Clyde, as has midfielder Steven Brisbane. An improving squad has been thinned out and that will see them struggle when the fixtures mount up. Loanees Alistair Roy and Jonny Court from Hearts and Raith respectively will need to hit the ground running up front. Tough ask to resume their drastic improvement this season.

Elgin City: Signs that they have turned a corner when Jim Weir took over in the middle of last season, helping steer Elgin to safety, and almost clinched the final play-off spot in that incredible bunched finish last season. Weir has given the club some much needed structure and discipline. However, the loss of a critical player in Shane Sutherland is a monumental blow to Elgin and will severely hamper their attacking pedigree. Marc McKenzie comes in upfront from Albion Rovers and along with consistent striker Craig Gunn, they could share the burden in attack. McKenzie is the only permanent signing at Borough Briggs, others are in on loan (three from St Johnstone) but Weir will have to work wonders to get Elgin in the play-off mix this season.

Montrose: A season of overhaul at Links Park with 18 players of last season’s rock bottom outfit leaving the club. Paul Hegarty has brought in Greg Cameron from Brechin City in an attempt to bolster the team and in a bid to avoid the dreaded play-off which they narrowly won last season. The loss of Leighton McIntosh to Peterhead is a blow whilst David Banjo put in a stellar performance in the League Cup for Berwick against Alloa, so there may be regrets in letting him go. Squad is still thin in numbers and lack of fitness told in a valiant defeat at Easter Road on League Cup duty. This team should offer more fight for Hegarty but they may still find themselves near the bottom of the table.

Queen’s Park: It has been a tale of so close yet so far for the Spiders. They have suffered so much play-off agony in their recent bids to get back into the third tier. Gus McPherson’s side should be involved at the top end again this year, even though there has been a number of exits from Hampden Park. A chance has been taken on Cammy Marlow in midfield who plied his trade in the USA with LA Wolves for a while. Jordan Moore has returned to parent club Dundee United and the Glasgow side have released a clutch of defenders without replacing them. Strong in midfield but suspect in other departments. Percentage call is more play-off woe.

Stirling Albion: Short-lived return to League One for the Binos, last term. Out of their depth but showed more under Stuart McLaren towards the end of the campaign. The board have fully backed an unconventional appointment and has made some impressive signings. Craig Beattie disappointed at Ayr United last season but still managed to score a few goals, and he should score his fair share at this level. Jon-Paul McGovern was the Honest Men’s captain last term and was inspired in possession and in set-plays from January onwards. He’ll be a key player this season. Sean Dickson is another highly regarded midfielder that has signed. Gordon Smith is a loss upfront for Stirling, after he joined Dumbarton. Should be one of the best in the league in terms of technique this term. However, McLaren will need to address his defence if they want to get back into League One.

 

Predicted table:

  1. East Fife
  2. Stirling Albion
  3. Clyde
  4. Queen’s Park
  5. Annan Athletic
  6. Arbroath
  7. Berwick Rangers
  8. Elgin City
  9. Montrose
  10. East Stirling

League One preview

WE have already looked at the Premiership, so now it is time to preview the other SPFL leagues in Scotland. This time, Calum McClurkin takes a look at League One.

Airdrieonians: Strong late push last season under Gary Bollan saw the Diamonds fall just short of the play-offs. Team towards the end of the season looked primed for a promotion push but the loss of goalkeeper Andy McNeil to Alloa, Paddy Boyle and Ross Docherty to Ayr United and the strong Luca Gasparotto is now back at parent club Rangers are huge losses. Four key members of a promising looking side gone. They have brought in Neil Parry from Albion Rovers as an able goalkeeping replacement whilst David van Zanten and Alan Lithgow have tall orders to fill the void in defence. But the Lanarkshire side do have an able development team that won the West League last season. However, this season might come too early for Airdrie. And another near miss is on the cards.

Albion Rovers: Darren Young’s side won many plaudits on the pitch as League Two champions but have lost more players than they have brought in. The biggest acquisition may be off the park. Experienced Billy Stark comes to Cliftonhill to assist Young, and his knowledge could prove essential for Rovers’ survival bid. It will be a tough ask. Losing Parry (Airdrie) and Mark McGuigan (Stranraer) to League One rivals is a blow considering how key they were last season. Look better equipped in attack than defence, particularly after signing forwards Andy Barrowman and Scott McBride to join the likes of Ally Love and John Gemmell, but on paper this squad will find it tough to survive.

Ayr United: A poor season last year. The Honest Men scraped to safety last term under Ian McCall, who now has an opportunity to build his team after taking over in late January. He recruited early by raiding Brechin and Airdrieonians of their prized duos. Alan Trouten was the Glebe Park’s sides top scorer and Gerry McLauchlan has been a stalwart in their defence. Left-back of the season Boyle and talented holding midfielder Docherty are good steals from Airdrieonians. Ex-Hibs striker Ross Caldwell adds some much needed firepower upfront and Greg Fleming is the good solid goalkeeper that Ayr have been crying out for for some time. United are shaping up for a much-improved season and a possible promotion push.

Brechin City: A club in a heavy transition. Lost manager Ray McKinnon to Raith over the summer and replaced him with Darren Dods from Angus rivals Forfar as player/manager. Dods can still do a job defensively but Brechin have lost talisman Bobby Barr to Morton and seen the spine of the consistent League One side be torn away with the exits of a clutch of reliable first-team players. Dods has brought in former Rangers defender Ross Perry and ex-Alloa full-back Jonathan Tiffoney. They still have Graeme Smith as one of the best goalkeepers in the league. A massive challenge lies ahead for Dods in his first managerial job, and safety may well satisfy Brechin this year.

Cowdenbeath: Another team that have had their fair amount of changes. Relegated from the Championship last season, Jimmy Nicholl left the Blue Brazil and was replaced by Colin Nish as player/manager. They have also lost numerous players. Most notably, Nat Wedderburn to Inverness Caley Thistle. The loan spell of Celtic midfielder John Herron has ended and another key midfielder Jon Robertson has also left (to Stenhousemuir). Cowden have also lost goalkeeper Robbie Thomson to Queen of the South. Nish has brought in Greig Spence who will score goals at this level and the highly regarded defender Bradley Donaldson from Livingston. The concern lies in midfield but they should have enough about them to mount a play-off challenge.

Dunfermline Athletic: Favourites last season but only finished a dismal seventh. Last term was a disaster that simply cannot be repeated. The Pars recruited former Killie boss Allan Johnston as the man to get them out of the third tier who effectively showed how to win this league convincingly with Queen of the South there years ago. Fans’ favourite Joe Cardle is back at East End Park, the defence has been shored up with the additions of Livvy pair Jason Talbot and Callum Fordyce, and pre-season has gone well. With Michael Moffat and Faissal El Bakhtaoui amongst the goals again, they look a formidable preposition. Johnston axed 18 players in a remarkable summer cull. It may pay dividends. Dunfermline cannot afford to slip up this season and it is hard to imagine that they will this time around.

Forfar Athletic: A sensational season that just saw Dick Campbell’s team fall an agonising play-off short of promotion. It was a big and largely unexpected shot at the Championship. The Loons will struggle to repeat the feat. Dods could not say no to his chance at Brechin whilst defensive partner Stuart Malcolm has left for Stenhousemuir. Deadly Dale Hilson is a crushing loss to Queen of the South. Only four players have joined Forfar’s small but well-drilled unit. And with an impressive crop of youngsters propping up the first team they could spring another big surprise, but like Airdrieonians have lost plenty of key men.

Peterhead: A season of consolidation in League One was well received at Balmoor. Another with a small but closely-knit team. The signing of Shane Sutherland will add a creative spark to a team that play an attractive brand of football, and Nathan Blackley from Airdrie will add plenty of steel and bite in midfield. Lost a few players from that department which leaves their skinny squad even more shallow than before which will give them a lot of struggles in the crunch part of the season. Lost goals in David Cox who was a match winner last season. Their rock solid home form and the ever-dangerous and goal hungry Rory McAllister should be enough to keep their heads above water.

Stenhousemuir: Survived last season courtesy of the relegation play-off win over Queen’s Park. Brown Ferguson has overhauled his Warriors. Key man Colin McMenamin stays, and is joined by Malcolm (Forfar), Robertson (Cowdenbeath), midfielder Stephen Stirling (Stranraer), striker Allan Smith (Dunfermline) and well travelled but effective forward Jon McShane (East Fife). These good inclusions are balanced out with the losses of Fleming to (Ayr), defender Alan Lithgow (Airdrie) and the loss of Paul McMullan who was on loan from Celtic and is now with St Mirren. Stenny have plenty of forward options but look a little rocky elsewhere. It could be another slog against the drop at Ochilview.

Stranraer: Another whom have lost their manager. Highly-rated Stevie Aitken worked wonders with the Blues until he left in the summer for Dumbarton. Just missing out on promotion in each of the last two seasons, Stranraer turned to former Ayr United boss Brian Reid to achieve what he did at Somerset Park twice – gain promotion to the Championship. It will be a tall order. Aitken has not been the only big departure from Stair Park. The small hard working unit that was at the root of Stranraer’s success has been dismantled. Young goalkeeper David Mitchell has joined Dundee, club Player of the Year Willie Gibson followed his boss to Dumbarton as did the dynamic midfielder Grant Gallagher, skipper and instrumental defender Frank McKeown has joined Morton, left-back Jackson Longridge has gone to Livingston whilst both wingers Sean Winter and Stephen Stirling have gone. All of these were first-team players. Reid has brought in a few players. Most notably, Paul Carney from Kilmarnock in an excellent coup. Keeping hold of Craig Malcolm and Jamie Longworth as their strike duo was essential. Reid is a canny enough operator and with his contacts, Stranraer can rebuild successfully.

Predicted table:

  1. Dunfermline
  2. Ayr
  3. Cowdenbeath
  4. Stranraer
  5. Airdrieonians
  6. Forfar
  7. Peterhead
  8. Stenhousemuir
  9. Brechin City
  10. Albion Rovers

Which pro golfer best describes your club?

IN case you did not know, there was a really big golf tournament being held at St Andrews over the last week or so. We thought that it would be worthwhile looking at some of Scotland’s top flight clubs and finding their equivalent golfing genius. Calum McClurkin gives his opinion on which golfer best fits each club selected. Got one of your own? Let us know on Twitter or our Facebook page!

Celtic: Bubba Watson

Powerful big-hitter with two green jackets and all the talent in the world to conquer all. Celtic are the best team in the country right now but like Watson sometimes fail to exert their dominance that their talent suggests. Deila’s men have struggled on their European travels as does the left-hander who has a poor Open record.

Aberdeen: Dustin Johnson

Powerful American that is always amongst the early favourites in every tournament he contends but does not win as much as he should. Aberdeen have cemented their place as Scotland’s second best and like Johnson’s major record, it suggests that they just tend to fade away towards the latter stages.

Hearts: Jordan Spieth

An emerging young force. Spieth’s stock has risen massively after winning the first two majors of the year. Mentally strong to see off challengers and at times looked unstoppable just as Hearts were in the Championship last season. Wisdom older of their ages and suspect that there is more to come from both.

Inverness Caley Thistle: Henrik Stenson

Consistent operator on the Tour and another that finishes towards the top of the pile in most events. Stenson is as outspoken and as critical as John Hughes can be, but last season could not go better and both are currently in a period of transition.

Partick Thistle: Jim Furyk

Furyk’s swing is as ugly and frightening as the Jags new mascot, Kingsley, but the old-timer is another who has been around the block at a high level for years. Comfortable at home but occasionally stuffy. Not blessed with huge power but maximise what they have to the best of their ability in order to compete.

St Johnstone: Adam Scott

A consistent player that seems to be considered every time a major tournament comes around but does not carry the prestige as others do. Crowning achievement was his Masters success and the Saints’ was their Scottish Cup win last season. Weapons blunted as of last season for St Johnstone in injuries and losing players. Scott will suffer when he loses his putter when the anchor ban comes into effect.

Scotland’s women’s game – how can we keep improving?

WOMEN’S football is at an all-time high. Participation and interest has rocketed since the USA beat Japan 5-2 in the World Cup Final last weekend. But why has Scotland been unable to join the party? The international side has suffered play-off heartache in qualifying for the last two major tournaments and Glasgow City are streets ahead of the rest in the club game for years. Why are big hitters such as Celtic and Rangers, who have now seriously looked at their women’s teams, still not able to compete? Calum McClurkin takes an in-depth view of how Scotland can continue to improve the women’s game.

The international failings are worryingly mirroring the men’s game. Scotland are cosily ranked in the top 25 consistently. Their lowest ranking in history was 11 years ago when sitting 31st. This paints an image that the Scots are a respected nation in the women’s game, but improvement over the years has been modest at best. The improvement in interest, growth and depth of the club game, and participation has not correlated with performances on the pitch.

The last European Championship saw Scotland lose out to Spain in a very tight play-off loss. Last year’s qualifying campaign was a breeze. Winning eight and losing two, twice to top seeds Sweden, in finishing eight points clear in second place. They achieved what their seeding suggested but the Scots crashed out 4-1 on aggregate to the higher ranked, Netherlands.

FIFA receive criticism for their rankings in the men’s game, but their women’s ones seem to be spot on. Scotland can easily dismiss lower ranked opposition but regularly struggle against the higher ranked countries and there are little signs of closing the gap to the nations above.

More money from more-established Football Associations for the women’s game has seen the likes of Germany, France, Italy and England have strengthened whilst women’s football has always been relatively strong in North America, Japan and Scandinavia. Scotland are finding it tough to bridge the gap.

Despite more teams competing in the Scottish league, no one can get close to Glasgow City. They have dominated the Scottish game and continue to do so. They have won eight league titles in a row and seven Scottish Cups in the last ten years. Their success is the shining light in the Scottish game and it peaked last season when they reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

The competition still lags behind. Hibernian have always had solid, modest women’s sides. Rangers and Celtic are starting to fully focus on their women’s teams. It will take a few years to truly compete with Glasgow City, but a three-pronged competitive title face would be good for the league game, and will gave positive implications for the international team.

But there is a glaring lack of depth in the club game. The Scottish Cup is evidence that the women’s game is not sophisticated enough. Celtic beat Dundee City 29-0 in the second round of the tournament, and three other clubs withdrew from playing due to a lack of players. For a national cup competition that simply takes away the credibility of it all. Hammerings and withdrawals take away any faith that others can compete and demoralises teams so much that they may not bother trying. This shrinks the playing pool.

It is all well and good if Glasgow City, Celtic and Rangers keep winning everything but those with significantly greater resources must help encourage others to play and compete to improve the welfare of the women’s game.

Attitudes to the women’s game have changed. It is now all about getting more girls playing, having more teams developing and competing, to drive Scotland into the elite country bracket that will see us enter major tournaments.

The views expressed in this article are views expressed by Calum and not those of the SFSA.

Can Scottish football profit from the BBC’s loss of it’s ‘Crown Jewels’?

THE battle for TV rights in sport has suddenly erupted in the UK. The rise of BT Sport and its ability to compete with Sky Sports for exclusive coverage has seen eye watering amounts of money being poured into European Club Rugby, major golf, Champions League football and the English Premier League are just a few to benefit enormously great TV deals.

The consumer gets fantastic coverage if they can afford it, as Calum McClurkin looks at how Scottish football can profit from the loss of the BBC’s ‘Crown Jewels’.

On the surface there does not seem to be too many losers, but as the BBC looks to cut its cloth, it is left brutally exposed to the pay-per-view big hitters of Sky and BT, as well as ITV who have lost Champions League rights and are keen to add to their slim sport schedule.

The BBC have shelled out on securing the future of Match of the Day and it has left them vulnerable to Sky, who will have The Open Championship, from 2016 and ITV and BT have a major eye on the Six Nations rugby from 2018. In 2022, the Olympics could be next to be poached after American giants, Discovery, landed a deal relating to the Olympics.

Perhaps there is an opportunity in this for the BBC and Scottish football. There is an argument that the BBC will be outgunned by a crowded pay-per-view market for the massive sports events. The BBC could focus on quality rather than quantity and promote something that they may not have fully utilized.

Scottish football and the BBC could work together. Our game is one of the few that gets a poor deal from pay-per-view networks (Sky pays five times more for Rugby League than it does for Scottish football) and could financially benefit from expanding a deal with BBC Scotland, who already have highlights and radio coverage.

With a bit more commitment from BBC Scotland and a bit more funding from across the border, a good partnership could develop. The BBC team know their Scottish football and have a genuine interest in the whole game — not just the Old Firm — a fixture that is paramount to so many television deals with Sky Sports. They genuinely have a passion for SPFL football and have people who care about the welfare of the international and club game.

The BBC do what they can with limited resources and exclusivity. Their TV highlights may well border on cringe worthy at times, but they have mastered the radio coverage of the SPFL with live coverage and other shows. With the BBC losing massive events, then a case can be made for the regions to receive more power when it comes to sport.

The promotion of the Women’s World Cup has been sensational for the game. The easy access to it accompanied with England doing rather well has seen women’s football soar. It remains to be seen if this is just a World Cup bounce. But in England, they show women’s football highlights from an increasingly profitable Women’s Super League south of the border. Maybe one day Scotland could follow.

The public broadcaster may now be heavily outgunned in personnel and technical wizardry, and money but it will always have that massive reach across the country. And Scottish football needs its nation’s people to re-engage in the club game. The SPFL must realise by comparison that Scottish football is one of the few pay-per-view products that is earning a poor deal.

We are losers in all of this. A poor TV deal in a crowded market. Scheduling matches at silly times for fans to travel, coinciding fixtures with bigger games in bigger leagues. The financial aspect of a
pay-per-view will undoubtedly approve once those four cherished guaranteed old firm fixtures return. Let’s be honest, it is the only four matches that Sky really care about. BT have the play-offs. Why not let the Beeb have the rest?

Affordability is another important area. With Sky and BT spending absurd amounts of money then subscription costs will rise and it will be very difficult to sustain every sports package. Fans moan about how expensive it is to go out and watch Scottish football games. Following the current subscription increase in cost and TV viewing will be the same price. It is a dangerous road ahead in terms of viewership. Crowds at an all-time low, TV viewing figures for the Scottish game are dwindling, too.

It will take some out-of-the-box thinking to sort this one out. The SPFL’s solution to problems has largely been to follow England. The pay-per-view bubble may burst one day and if Scotland can avoid that carnage then moving to the BBC would be an inspired decision. It is time to break the mould and maybe time to put our faith in the beleaguered Beeb and go in a different direction. We have little left to lose.

The views expressed in this article are views expressed by Calum and not those of the SFSA.

The artificial debate

ARTIFICAL surfaces. The debate has gone on for what seems like forever – should Scotland’s football teams use them? Fans, players, clubs, officials and anyone else with an opinion on footballing matters have been united in their division over the topic, with half the population suggesting that they would be good for our game and the other half saying that it would not.

Here, we are going to take a quick look at the pros and cons of artificial surfaces and try and give some sort of conclusion as to what we think would be most beneficial for our game.

First off, the big pro.

The most obvious benefit of artificial surfaces is the avoidance of game postponement due to bad weather – whether it be a waterlogged pitch or frozen surface. Artificial pitches do not face the problems posed by Scotland’s weather during winter – which opens up the argument for summer football, but let’s not go there – like their natural counterparts. Inches of rain can fall overnight and fans, players and officials do not need to worry about cancelling the game due to the playing conditions. Furthermore, clubs would not need to spend thousands of pounds on electricity for undersoil heating, something which is almost seen as a necessity in Scotland nowadays, but even still there can be some problems with that which means that the heating fails and the surfaces freezes over, making it unplayable. This all means that fans will not face the prospect of travelling hundreds of miles in some cases to get to a stadium and find out that the game is cancelled, so it is sounding really good just now.

Now for the two main cons.

First and foremost, there is a genuine belief among players that artificial surfaces be a higher risk to injuries than a grass playing field. Whether it be the harder surface, football boot studs being unable to grip the astroturf as they can the grass, players do – almost unanimously – feel that injuries will occur on an artifical surface more commonly than a grass one. There does seem to be some support for this theory. Over recent years, a number of players have been playing on artificial surfaces and seen their studs get caught in the ground when they are running or when they have been tackled and it has caused their ligaments to bend in ways that they should not and, in many cases, it has resulted in damage to the ligaments which has caused the players to miss months of their careers. This has been happening in the lower divisions in Scotland as well as the Premiership, with Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park pitch been a cause for criticism among some players.

The other main drawback of artificial surfaces is that it does seem to be a slower/harder surface, even the brand new ones. The women’s World Cup has been played on artificial surfaces and the world has seen the difference in these pitches compared to the traditional grass surface. The ball often seems to be clinging to the pitches in Canada, as well as taking huge bounces and sometimes strange ones, which has meant that the pitches have come under great criticism. People have suggested that the pitches has meant that there have been a lack of goals – plainly absurd considering there have been plenty of goals at the women’s World Cup – but this is still giving people more ammunition to avoid the use of these surfaces.

We have to be careful about how long we go on as there is plenty of material out there regarding the use of plastic surfaces. We have not even looked at how these may be better used at grass-roots level instead of professional level, which a much more in-depth look would be required for.

But we have to make a quick mention of one League One club who play on an artificial surface. At Ochilview, where Stenhousemuir play, the pitch is not only for the club, but the community also benefit from it. The Warriors have an ideal model of how the artificial surface can be used to benefit everyone. They have community teams as well as pro youth sides which use the pitch, and even the local rugby club use it. However, the local council-ran Twilight Leagues are also played on the surface, which is aimed at the younger footballers. Local schools also get the use of the pitch for their PE lessons, in addition to the walking football scheme for over-50s and programme the club runs for fans who are looking to lose weight. So, as you can see, there does seem to be a place for artificial pitches in the community, as long as the community can also get the benefit of them.

Here is a quick summation of our opinions:

Pros – not affected by weather, not as prone to wear and tear damage, can be used more often, easier to maintain.

Cons – more prone to injury (serious ones as well as the unfortunate carpet burns and cramp), playing surface itself, costly.

It is our belief that there is a place for artificial surfaces, but it is not at the top level of our sport. Football is a grass game and although technology is making an impact in sport worldwide, some of the traditional roots should remain forever and we think that the grass surface is one of them.

With more investment in the maintenance of grass pitches, as well as better preparation from clubs and officials, the weather will not impact as much as it currently does.

Sepp Blatter (hate to mention him, but it is relevant) once said that artificial surfaces were the future of football. It may be the future, but it should not be the present. Football has evolved over the decades to the great thing that it is now, but people should not be rushing to change it.

Nights you may not want to remember in European football

WE must confess, we found this one a bit trickier to write. Not only was it difficult to think of games where Scottish teams have been upset in European competition — considering it’s usually at such an early stage — but also down to the fact that most people try and forget about these ones.

However, through a lot of time and research, we’ve managed to come up with a little list of times where ‘lesser teams’ have come up against our Scottish sides and knocked us out.
This list will certainly be a lot more recent than the previous feature, but all is well because we do not want to open wounds that have healed in decades gone by… just the ones that are still fresh-ish in the memory.
Last season’s Europa League qualifying campaign was a tale of such woe for three of our clubs. Aberdeen were unlucky to lose to Real Sociedad — a relatively large Spanish club — over the two legs, so there case was not tipped as an upset. However, both St Johnstone and Motherwell came up against opponents they were expected to beat. Tommy Wright’s Saints lost to Slovakian side Spartak Trnava 3-2 over the two legs, with a credible 1-1 draw away the highlight of their journey. The match was, in truth, lost in the home first leg, when Ivan Schranz’s double all but killed any hopes of progressing in the tournament. Dave Mackay slotted home late on to give the Perth men a glimmer of hope going into the second leg, but Martin Mikovic ended destroyed their ambitions of reaching the Europa League group stages after Stevie May had opened the scoring. With the Saints 3-2 down and desperately needing a goal, May missed a glorious chance late on that would have forced extra-time. Alas, it was not to be.
In the same summer, Motherwell came up against Celtic’s Champions League opponents of this year, Icelandic side Stjarnan. Stuart McCall’s side were 2-0 up thanks to a Josh Law double at home before Keith Lasley conceded two penalties in the same night – one of which was in injury time — to allow the Icelandic side to tie the match up at 2-2 at the end of the first leg. So, still going to Iceland high on confidence and believing they could get the win they felt they deserved from the first leg, Motherwell took the lead through Stevie Hammell. That was until another penalty kick — again conceded by Lasley — was scored to level the scores at 3-3 on aggregate. Lionel Ainsworth put the Steelmen ahead in the tie but Rolf Toft’s strike in the 85th minute forced extra-time, where Motherwell crashed out to an
113th-minute strike from Atli Johannsson.
It was not just in the Europa League that Scottish clubs were being humiliated by the ‘unknown’ sides. Celtic, under new boss Ronny Deila, were dumped out of the Champions League not once, but twice. First by Legia Warsaw and a second time by Maribor after Celtic were reinstated at Legia’s expense for the Poles fielding an ineligible player. After losing the first leg in Poland 4-1, the Parkhead side’s hopes were all but done for, then to lose the home leg of the tie 2-0, fans were already calling for Deila’s head. The club were given a reprieve, however, and sought to right their wrongs from the Legia tie. Again, the first leg was an away trip for the Glasgow side, and they earned a respectable 1-1 draw, something which made them overwhelming favourites to progress. But, in the 75th minute of the second leg, Morales Tavares stunned Celtic, their supporters and Scotland as a whole, when they dumped the Scottish side out of the competition for the second time in as many weeks.
Across the city, but almost eight years ago now, Rangers were humiliated by FC Kaunas in the second qualifying round of the Champions League. The previous season, Walter Smith had guided the Ibrox side to the Final of the UEFA Cup, where they lost to Zenit St Petersburg where they lost 2-0. The season following that run, it was widely expected that the club would make it to, at least, the Champions League group stages. However, Smith’s men came up against a Kaunas side which proved to be dogged and resilient in defence. After coming away with a 0-0 draw at Ibrox in the first leg, Rangers were still the favourites to progress to the next round. When Kevin Thomson opened the scoring in Lithuania, the Scots were expected to see the game out. Goals from Nerjus Radzius and Linas Pilibaitis dumped the club out of the competition at the first hurdle.
We are going to delve further into the past for our next Scottish shocker. Dundee United were drawn against the Finnish side MYPA in the 2005/06 UEFA Cup second qualifying round and still had players of the calibre such as Charlie Mulgrew, Barry Robson, Lee Miller and an ageing Craig Brewster, but were still expected to overcome this challenge. A 0-0 first-leg draw in Finalnd stood United in good stead for the return fixture at Tannadice, and when they took the lead through Mark Kerr, United looked set to grab control and see the game out. Collin Samuel made in 2-0 to the home side and it was not even
half-time. However, the Finns were resilient and two goals from Brazilian striker Adriano in the final 15 minutes knocked the Scottish side out of the competition.
Once again, we have reached the end of this feature, with plenty of other examples coming to mind such as Hibs v Malmo of 2013/14 and Dundee v Sartid in the 2001/02 Intertoto Cup, but we have given enough examples here to rip open enough wounds for fans of Scottish football. Hopefully, we will not see many nights like this going forward.

European nights to remember

THIS week saw the draws for the qualifying round of the Champions League and Europa League being made, with Celtic drawn to face FC Stjarnan of Iceland, Inverness Caley Thistle will begin their first-ever European campaign against Astra Giurgiu, Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen have a trip to Macedonia to play KF Shkendija  and St Johnstone face a long journey to Armenia to play Alashkert.

With so many of the clubs our Scottish sides face at this early stage in the competition being recognised as a mystery, we thought it would be a good idea to take a look at times where Scottish sides have upset the odds against bigger sides and suffered humiliation at the hands of some of the so-called lesser sides.
We are going to delve deep into the past as there are plenty of results from the 21st Century which are still fresh in the mind, so here are a few you may have forgotten.
First off, we are going to look at the times our teams have had the odds stacked against them and came out fighting.
We have to begin with one of the greatest nights in Scottish football’s glorious history. The year we are referring to is, of course, 1967 and the place is Lisbon. Jock Stein’s Celtic side — made up of men who were born within 30 miles of the stadium — played entertaining football throughout their campaign and on May 25 of that year, the Celts were rewarded for their efforts, lifting the European Trophy; becoming not only the first Scottish club to do so, but the first British side to achieve the feat. A 2-1 victory thanks to goals from Tommy Gemmell and Stevie Chalmers won it for Stein’s men on the night after they went a goal down against the Italians thanks to a seventh-minute penalty. The win broke the continental stronghold on the trophy and just a year later, Manchester United won the Cup.
However, just six years before this triumph, Hibernian were one of the first Scottish clubs to claim a famous win over European competition. In 1961, Hibs were coming to the end of a successful period for the club and were drawn against Barcelona — who were beginning to show signs of being able to challenge Real Madrid as the top club in Spain — the Catalan side actually knocked their Madrid rivals out of the competition. After the first leg at Easter Road was postponed due to heavy fog, the first time the sides met was in Catalonia. Hibs led 2-0, before Barca went ahead 4-2 only for the Easter Road side to level things up at 4-4, which was how the game ended. If that was not enough of an upset, what happened in the second leg eclipsed that. Barca led 2-1 at half-time, however, in the final 10 minutes all hell broke loose. Hibs equalised before winning a penalty which led to Barca legend Luis Suarez (no, not that one!) kicking the official allowing the Leith men to win the tie 7-6 on aggregate.
A year later, there was more glory for a Scottish side, this time against a German opponent. Dundee played host to Cologne in 1962, right in the middle of a successful period for the club, and under the stewardship of Bob Shankly, the Dens Park side scored a remarkable 8-1 win over the Germans. Cologne lost their keeper to injury in the first leg, so played their second-choice in the return leg in Germany. However, in the second leg, Dundee also lost their first-choice stopper, Bert Slater, after he was kicked in the head. That was not the end of it for Slater, though. With the Germans clawing their way back into the tie, he recovered and went back in goals and Dundee held on to reach the next round. It proved not to be a fluke, either, as they triumphed over Sporting Lisbon and Anderlecht before AC Milan brought their run to an end.
1972 saw Rangers reach similar heights to their Glasgow rivals as they beat German giants Bayern Munich 2-0 at Ibrox. It was a dull period for Rangers, who had just watched Celtic be crowned league champions for the seventh time in a row, and Germany was becoming a dominant force in European competition. However, Rangers — led by captain John Greig — won the European Cup Winners’ Cup thanks to a 3-2 win over Dynamo Moscow in the Final. En route to the Final, the Ibrox men were faced with the task of their Bavarian opponents and after a 1-1 draw in Germany, there was a glimmer of hope for the club in the return leg. Sandy Jardine and Derek Parlane grabbed the goals which saw them into the Final, giving some respite from their city rivals.
For the second and final time on this list, Barcelona were the opponents which were seen off by a Scottish side in European competition. This time, however, the year is 1987 and the destination is the Nou Camp. The UEFA Cup pitted Dundee United against the Catalan club and, amazingly, United triumphed not once — but twice — over Barca. Terry Venables was in charge of the Spanish side and they had players such as Gary Lineker and Mark Hughes leading the attack and Andoni Zubizarreta in goal, but it was the Scots who came away with the win. United held a slender 1-0 lead from the first leg, but the glory was rounded off in Catalonia as United came away with a 2-1 win thanks to late goals from John Clark and Iain Ferguson. This was arguably the greatest night in the clubs history, with even the Barca fans holding out white handkerchiefs in surrender.
We will finish with the latest truly memorable — for the right reasons, at least, — European night for a Scottish side. Taking a step back a few years earlier, however, everyone can appreciate Sir Alex Ferguson’s Gothenburg Greats. 1983 was the year when Fergie truly established himself as a world-class boss. Despite the club being in the midst of its golden years, Aberdeen came up against Real Madrid in the Final of the Cup Winners’ Cup in Sweden. And boy, did they do well! Eric Black opened the scoring after seven minutes, but then another seven minutes later Juanito levelled the scores from the penalty spot. Extra time loomed until the 82nd minute, when John Hewitt popped up and found the back of the net with a header from Mark McGhee’s cross. Of course, Fergie went on to win the top club competition a couple more times, but we like to think that this was his best one ever.
That concludes our small look at great nights in Europe for Scottish clubs. There are, of course, plenty more examples of when Scottish clubs have upset the odds, but theses are the ones that you may have forgotten — or in some cases — just had to be mentioned without boring you to death.

The madness of mascots

EARLIER this week, Partick Thistle presented their new mascot — Kingsley — to the public following the confirmation of their new sponsorship deal with American firm Kingsford Capital, reported to be a
six-figure sum. The new scary-looking sun somewhat resembles the Kingsford badge, but this was a Turner Prize nominated-artist who designed Kingsley, besides, at the end of the day, mascots are only supposed to be a bit of fun.
Here the SFSA takes a look at some other memorable — and sometimes questionable — mascots found throughout Scottish football.
Before Kingsley, Partick Thistle graced the public with the introduction of Jaggy MacBee – an oversized bumblebee which funnily enough combined the sponsors — MacB — and the Jags — Thistle’s nickname. There was some precedence in this one, however, bees do have a tendency to sting — sorry, Jag — people now and again, so it can be understood how this one came about. Overall, Jaggy was a good little addition to Firhill and will certainly be missed by young fans who are a bit wary around Kingsley this term.
From an award-winning artist at Firhill to artists who worked with The Dandy and The Beano,
St Johnstone went one further than the traditional cuddly animal when Morris Heggie and Steve Bright concocted the idea of a superhero — aptly named SuperSaint. Having been around for over 20 years, this loveable hero is as much part of St Johnstone as McDairmid Park. Although lacking in powers, he can be seen at every home match day since his first appearance in a programme comic strip.
Next, we take a step towards the unknown at Hibs. Sunshine the Leith Lynx has been around since 2004, but why a Lynx? We get that the boffins in the boardroom thought about getting the ‘Sunshine on Leith’ reference in there, but why add a Lynx? Seems to us that a Lynx was, perhaps, the first animal they thought of that began with the letter ‘L’, seeing as Dundee United stole the glory in going for a lion called Terry the Terror — another questionable mascot choice. Perhaps both Hibs and United would have been better suited by a homage to the Proclaimers and a giant Tangerine respectively.
Not much be said about some clubs other than hats off to you! Clyde’s Bully Wee the Bull could have done fine with just Bully the Bull, but they are the Bully Wee and, sometimes, you just need to put that out there. Stenhousemuir did well with Wally the Warrior, seeing as they are the Warriors. Although, when many people think of Wally, they do expect to be looking for a man in glasses wearing red and white hoops, huddled amongst a remarkably busy public place, perhaps Willy the Warrior would have been better? But then again, maybe not…
Inverness Caley Thistle managed to successfully adopt Nessie as their mascot and Aberdeen did a good job using their famous local cow — Angus — to keep theirs local as well. St Mirren have the Paisley Panda in homage to their famous black and white home colours, so it was either a panda or a zebra… and let’s be honest, who really wants a zebra as their mascot?
Hold on a minute, however. East Stirling have Zed the Zebra… unlucky for them. The Shire could have quite easily chosen to adopt a hobbit for their mascot, which would certainly have given hours of pleasure to fans of Lord of the Rings and children alike. However, in 2009 Zed the Zebra was the plucky choice bestowed upon Shire fans and they’ve taken to him like a hobbit to a second breakfast.
The final one we are going to take a look at is the Dundee mascot – DeeWok. Star Wars fans will be excited to see the term ‘Ewok’ when referenced to a football club’s mascot. However, what is really upsetting is that the DeeWok bares very little resemblance to one of George Lucas’ creations. More like an oversized bear — rather than an extremely hairy dwarf — the Dens Park club went down the right lines with their clever use of a recognisable creation, but got it all wrong. Good effort, though.

Scotland grab a valuable point while Tartan Army commended again for excelling abroad

THERE were reportedly over 20,000 travelling fans which headed to Dublin last weekend for Scotland’s crunch tie with the Republic of Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.

As always, Scottish fans made it into the away end and even outnumbered the Irish in hospitality sections of the ground, writes Ben Ramage.

Once again, their behaviour was a credit to the nation. The Tartan Army has a reputation for having some of the best behaved and most enjoyable travelling fans in the world, and even a trip to a city with 1,000 pubs could not tarnish that reputation.

Irish police commended the behaviour of the Tartan Army faithful, who joyously watched Scotland come back to take a valuable point from Ireland, who took the lead through an offside Jonathan Walters goal.

The game was a similarly physical battle to the first match at Celtic Park in November, with Ireland unwilling to play on purely footballing terms once again. James McCarthy, a figure of much derision within the away end, was extremely lucky to not see red after an elbow in Russell Martin’s face left the centre-back needing treatment.

Scotland boss Gordon Strachan made the surprising decision to leave talisman and fan favourite Ikechi Anya on the bench, but remedied this at half-time which had an almost immediate effect. Just a minute into the second half, he linked up well with Shaun Maloney, who scored yet another goal in what is turning into a superlative campaign for the midfielder.

The ball cannoned off the back of Irish defender John O’Shea, granted, but given that Walter’s goal was clearly offside and McCarthy was lucky to even be on the pitch, the Scots were certainly due a bit of the famous Irish luck which was clearly swirling around the Aviva.

Ireland threw everything they had at Strachan’s side in the dying moments of the match, knowing that a draw would do very little for their faltering qualification hopes. But the Scots held on valiantly, sparking jubilation in the stands as the Tartan Army took one step closer to France 2016 with another valuable away point.

The evening celebrations were pre-empted by partying a day either side in Dublin’s famous Temple Bar area, as well as throughout the city. The Irish Garda were hugely impressed with the fans behaviour, even stopping to get photos with the kilted thousands.

The Irish fans must be commended also, joining in with Scottish support on every corner and giving back as good as they got in light-hearted jibing. The atmosphere was truly electric and both sets of fans made it an unforgettable trip for anyone lucky enough to be there.

If any fans deserve a major tournament again after nearly 20 years out in the cold, it is surely the Tartan Army. This point could be crucial by the end, but Strachan must keep up the momentum going with a victory over Georgia in the next game a must before we welcome Germany and Poland to Hampden Park.

Maloney’s goal could yet be the difference, and if Scotland do make it to the Euros in France next year, it will definitely be in no small part thanks to the magic in his boots. Aligned with the Tartan Army’s ferocious and passionate backing, Strachan’s side certainly have one hell of a chance.

SFSA announce interim board as membership hits 20,000

THE new, independent football supporters’ organisation launched to represent every Scottish football fan has announced its first interim board and confirmed that members have reached 20,000 since its launch just two months ago.

Joining former Scotland captain Gary McAllister on the interim board of the Scottish Football Supporters Association (SFSA) is ex-professional player Des McKeown and founder of Scottish Women in Sport, Maureen McGonigle.  The interim board will be chaired by

Dr Andy McArthur, a highly respected executive working in the Third Sector.  Former First Minister Henry McLeish will take on the role of Honorary President.

The Scottish Football Supporters Association is a not-for-profit, members’ body open to everyone, whether they are individuals, supporters groups or affiliates.

The SFSA will attend its first Fans Europe Conference in Belfast on 3rd July.  Until now, Scotland had been the only football nation in Europe not to have been represented at this gathering of football supporters.

Also joining founder director Paul Goodwin on the board will be successful business people and football supporters Gordon Profit and Crawford Boyd.

Gary McAllister said: ‘Supporters from all over Scotland have been signing up to join the SFSA to ensure that they have an independent voice that expresses their views.  Having an interim board of directors that includes people with first-hand experience of how the game works alongside those with business skills will ensure that the SFSA is well informed and will represent that members well.’

Henry McLeish said: ‘The rapid progress made by the SFSA since its launch just a couple of weeks ago is tremendous.  From a standing start to over 20,000 individual members illustrates a desire for fans to play a more central role in the game in Scotland.  The modern day football supporter is highly astute and aware of the challenges facing the game and can provide valuable insights into how the game is run and also on how it will evolve in the future.’

Paul Goodwin added: ‘In a very short period of time we have a highly experienced board, over 20,000 individual members and we will soon be the first Scottish fans to attend the Fans Europe Conference.  The SFSA has rapidly become the most relevant fans group in Scotland representing a vast number of supporters.  The only other organisation is Supporters Direct Scotland, which is controlled and governed from London and only formally represents the voice of formally constituted supporters’ trusts.  This means that thousands of fans are shut out without a voice.’

The SFSA can be found on Twitter @scottishfsa or through #reclaimthegame and on Facebook.

For further information on the SFSA, please contact Paul Goodwin on 07702 252519 or Simon Barrow on 07850 120413.

Scotland’s recent qualifiers of great importance

WITH the Republic of Ireland European qualifier fast approaching and being mooted as the biggest since our crunch decider with Italy back in 2008, Ben Ramage takes a look at some of the most vital qualifiers of the Tartan Army’s recent history.

Scotland 0-1 Holland World Cup 2010 Qualifier, Wednesday, 9th September 2009

Scotland had a chance of making the play-offs for the 2010 World Cup, but a poor campaign at the hands of George Burley, including a heavy loss to Norway, left us needing to beat the Dutch. No easy task, but we gave the Dutch our best effort and went close to leading when Steven Naismith hit the post and Michel Vorm saved Miller’s follow up. A win was all that would do, but we were sucker punched when Eljero Elia pounced on David Weir’s mistake and rounded David Marshall to finish the game with nine minutes to go. Burley was subsequently sacked following a 3-0 friendly defeat to Wales, and again the wait for qualification continued.

Holland 6-0 Scotland European Championship 2004 Play-off Second Leg, Wednesday, 19th November, 2003

The Tartan Army headed to Holland having beaten the giants at Hampden Park, thanks to one of James McFadden’s many wonder goals. It was never going to be easy for Berti Vogt’s boys to hold the lead, but it was really a one-sided affair as Ruud van Nistelrooy grabbed a hat-trick while a young Wesley Sneijder controlled the midfield. He fired in a belter from long range, as well as setting up two from set-pieces for Andre Ooijer and Frank de Boer as we were well and truly dismantled.

Scotland 4-0 San Marino World Cup 2002 Qualifier, Wednesday 28th March 2001

In one of very few games which Scotland have ever completely dominated from start to finish, the Scots secured a comfortable win. Two goals from then-skipper Colin Hendry and further efforts from Billy Dodds and Colin Cameron helped Craig Brown’s side to another vital win in the group.

Scotland 1-2 Italy European Championship 2008 Qualifier, Saturday 17th November 2007

Alex McLeish’s men made such a brave attempt to qualifying for the Euros back in 2008, despite being drawn in the most unbelievably awful group alongside both of the previous World Cup finalists, France and Italy as well as quarter-finalists Ukraine. Needing to beat the world champions to have a chance to qualify, we were stunned early on when Luca Toni scored after just two minutes after some poor defending from a throw in. Scotland rallied well and Barry Ferguson equalised in the second half, resulting in pandemonium in the Hampden stands. We were well and truly robbed, though, when Alan Hutton was blatantly fouled in the corner late on, only to see the referee inexcusably give the free-kick the other way. Of course, the Italian’s equalised from the resulting Andrea Pirlo cross and they qualified, meaning the wait for a return to major action continued.

France 0-1 Scotland — European Championshi[p 2008 Qualifier, Wednesday 12th September 2007

Another memorable result from our ill-fated 2008 qualifying campaign. Having already beaten the French at Hampden earlier in our quest to reach Austria and Switzerland, McLeish’s men had some recent inspiration to draw on in Paris. Craig Gordon was in world-class form at one end, keeping several French efforts from finding the back of the net. At the other end, all that was needed to gain a priceless three points was another wonder strike from McFadden. In the end, two wins over France were not enough, however, as Les Bleus pipped us to the runners-up spot in the group.

Scotland’s journey to France 2016

IT IS international week and, for once, we are actually thankful of its arrival because there is no competitive club football for the next several weeks. We are at a crucial stage in Scotland’s European Qualifying campaign, with five games played out of 10.

This weekend’s tie against the Republic of Ireland is the sixth game in our journey for France 2016 and begins the second round of fixtures. So, we thought that it would be a good idea to take a look at the journey in qualifying so far, as well as the next steps along the way.

GERMANY 2 1 SCOTLAND the first match of our qualifying campaign was a daunting away trip to the new world champions. Fans were filled with trepidation and when Thomas Muller scored the opening goal after 18 minutes, those fears intensified. However, the brave Scots rallied and Ikechi Anya levelled the scores in the 66th minute. Our men could not hold on, however, as Muller struck again just four minutes after Gordon Strachan’s men were level. Charlie Mulgrew was send off late on, as Scotland succumbed to an expected, but spirited, opening loss.

SCOTLAND 1 0 GEORGIA — after our impressive opening showing against Germany, much was expected in our first home game of qualifying against Georgia. The Scots pressurised and pressurised their opponents but could not find a way through the resilient Georgian defence. However, in the 28th minute, Shaun Maloney’s effort was saved by the keeper, but luckily bounced in off defender Akaki Kubutia to give Strachan his first win in qualifying, albeit a narrow one.

POLAND 2 2 SCOTLAND — another tough away trip loomed for the Scots next, this time up against surprise package Poland, who had just triumphed 2-0 over Germany in their last game. A result was necessary and we got one, which kept us three points behind Poland and Ireland, but more importantly, level with Germany. Krzysztof Maczynski‘s opening effort for the Poles was cancelled out by Maloney after 17minutes, before Steven Naismith put us ahead in the 57th minute. However, we could not hold on as Arkadiusz Milik scored 15minutes from time to keep the Poles top of Group D, but give Scotland a valuable away point.

SCOTLAND 1 0 REPUBLIC OF IRELAND crucial home tie against Martin O’Neill’s men at Celtic Park while Hampden was not quite ready from it’s use at the Commonwealth Games. It was another match of limited chances for both sides. Arguably, Ireland created the better opportunities but once again, it was Maloney who popped up with an important winner 15 minutes from time. The win moved Scotland on to seven points, the same as Germany and their opponents here, just three points behind Poland.

SCOTLAND 6 1 GIBRALTAR a highly-anticipated tie at home against lowly Gibraltar. Everyone was expecting a Scottish win, it was only a question of by how much. Surprisingly, it took 18minutes for Scotland to open the scoring, from the penalty spot. Maloney converted and everyone expected the Scots to push on and get several goals. However, from kick-off, Lee Casciaro went up the park and scored the away side’s first-ever competitive goal. Normal service resumed as Maloney netted once more from the spot, Naismith grabbed another for Strachan’s men and Steven Fletcher scored the first hat-trick for Scotland since Colin Stein in 1969. The result got us to where we are now joint second place in Group D, level on points with Germany and one behind Poland.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND V SCOTLAND such an important game coming up on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin. Judging by Scotland’s previous two away games in the group to Germany and Poland, the Scots should be able to get a decent result. However, the Irish have admitted that this is a must-win game for them to keep their hopes alive. Scotland warmed up with a 1-0 win over Qatar, while Ireland held England to a goalless draw. With both sides needing a win to keep up the pace with Germany and Poland, expect fireworks and, hopefully, Scotland can get a point, if not all three.
GROUP PREDICTIONS: Ireland 1 1 Scotland, Poland 3 1 Georgia, Gibraltar 0 Germany 5.

GEORGIA V SCOTLAND another away tie for Strachan to overcome. However, if we put in a performance like we did against Germany and Poland in our opening two away games, then the Scots can feel confident to get points here. We will be hoping for all three and, in truth, Scotland will probably need maximum points from this game going into our next two games. Strachan has the side playing well, so we would not be surprised if we came away with three points.

GROUP PREDICTIONS: Georgia 1 2 Scotland, Germany 2 2 Poland, Gibraltar 1 Ireland 3.

SCOTLAND V GERMANY a huge tie for the Scots. Germany began to show signs that they were hitting form in their latest Group D ties after beginning the group slowly. A home tie is a home tie, though, so Scotland will still have some expectations, especially considering how well we did in our opening match in Dortmund. However, we need a result here, but a draw would probably be enough to satisfy the fans, but it will be no easy task.

GROUP PREDICTIONS: Scotland 2 Germany 2, Poland 7 0 Gibraltar, Ireland 2 0 Georgia.

SCOTLAND V POLAND perhaps the decider in the group. If our predictions are right, Scotland will sit on 15 points with Germany and Poland not to far away, with our predictions suggesting they may be on 15 and 18points respectively. A win for Strachan’s men will put us level on points with the Poles and with an away tie against Gibraltar to come, we could be expected to be favourites to qualify. Hopefully, that will be the case and our predictions are not too hopeful.

GROUP PREDICTIONS: Scotland 1 0 Poland, Ireland 1 1 Germany, Georgia 3 0 Gibraltar.

GIBRALTAR V SCOTLAND the final match of our France 2016 qualifying campaign. Scotland could go into this match joint-top of the group with Poland and Germany breathing down our necks. We are expecting a comfortable win for Scotland, as well as wins for both Poland and Germany. The results would mean that Scotland would finish ahead of Germany, knocking the world champions out at the first hurdle. It may be more in hope than expectation, but we can do this. C’mon Scotland!

GROUP PREDICTIONS: Gibraltar 0 3 Scotland, Germany 3 0 Georgia, Poland 2 1 Ireland.