Date: 26th March 2021
Despite the media-led optimism and even some pre match forecasts of a win the reality is Scotland are number 48 in the world rankings some 25 places below Austria.
More ‘a point saved than two points lost’ would be an honest assessment.
Austria looked a good side and their home match on Wednesday with Denmark will tell us more about the way our group will shape up and whether we are contenders in the group or makeweights.
Steve has made us difficult to beat and it is great to see passion and physicality playing a part in how we play.
Both are inherent Scottish strengths even if Carlos, the wee Spanish ref didn’t like it much.
There is no doubt that Israel will be a tough test on Sunday before we host the Faroes.
There were two great goals at Hampden last night if you missed them. Kalajdzic, all 6ft 8 of him, has been a star at Stuttgart all season and was the best player on the park with amazingly sure and fast feet for such a big man. His header to put them 2-1 up was simply sublime.
John McGinn’s equalising overhead kick was even better and up there with the best ever Scottish goals.
Quite how El Arbitro, Senor Carlos del Cerro Grande missed the rugby tackle on Ryan Christie for a stonewall penalty I’ll never know.
I hope he and his assistant, both with clear views at the time, had red faces when watching the highlights.
To be fair to Austria they also had a perfectly good goal disallowed for an imaginary Kalajdzic push on Tierney.
Norway and Germany Tell and Spell
Before their 3-0 win over Gibraltar on Wednesday the Norwegian team were out limbering up wearing training shirts carrying a wee message for Fifa and their Qatar world cup.
“Human Rights On and Off the Pitch”.
Seemingly innocent enough but in fact a direct and very political criticism of the regime in Qatar and their particular views on many things including the well known plight and conditions of the itinerant workers constructing the stadia.
Top flight Norwegian club Tromso had started an ongoing movement to boycott Qatar.
Fifa responded initially to Tromso’s petition with the usual lightness of touch saying that any boycotting countries would be banned from the 2026 World Cup too.
Instead of throwing the book at Norway Fifa then surprisingly came out with a statement saying “Fifa believes in the freedom of speech and the power of football as a force for good”.
Germany to their credit followed up with a team “Human Rights” top banner before their 3-0 win over Iceland on Thursday.
Same message as Norway just better choreography and visibility.
Well done to both.
If we protest in Israel maybe we will win 3-0 too.
Danmark Har Blinket
Last week we spoke about under pressure head of UEFA, Sandy Ceferin. He’s the one with our Colin Baxter calendar on his office wall in Nyon. Anyway he was and still is unfairly and unrealistically squeezing 12 host governments to guarantee at least 30% capacities at his Euros this June.
As fans we should all be firmly on his side.
But it’s not so simple.
This week Japan announced there would be no athletics tourists allowed to visit for the Olympic Games starting late July and confirmed doubts about how many actual home spectators would actually be allowed inside venues.
Nobody was surprised.
Back in Scotland, even with some progressive opening up from our lockdown likely the Belladrum organisers said it is with “deep regret” that too much uncertainty has defeated their plans as they cancelled July’s weekend festival.
Nobody was surprised.
Across the world including Europe a third Covid wave is very much a reality and the fear is it could make its way here too. Indeed as I write West Lothian is named in one newspaper as Covid capital of the UK at this moment in time.
And set against all this very real uncertainty Denmark did indeed blink this week and made some bold promises to Sandy and his team.
Very bold, incredibly optimistic and possibly foolish in a country where as of today with only 77 days till the first match the following is the reality.
No indoor or outdoor events, activities restricted to 5 persons, mandatory testing for all incomers and 10-day isolation for all newbies or positive test contacts.
There are also currently no entry criteria for fans travelling to Denmark or locals to watch football.
Nevertheless the Danes have confirmed that Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium will host at least 30% of its 38,000 capacity in June.
How can they do that?
Maybe they were smoking the same stuff as Boris who a few weeks ago offered to hold the whole event in London.
The reality is Sandy Ceferin’s team is lobbying and pressurising very, very hard all round Europe. With only 12 days till host countries have to commit and guarantee fans or give up their hosting rights the tension is mounting.
“Held og lykke til danskerne” for what it is worth.
Europe would not be anywhere near ready today for The Euros and there is no guarantee it will be in June either.
That, in itself, is the only certainty Sandy and his team can be sure of.
Well Done the Wee Rangers
I’m told they are still dancing on the Poverty Hill overlooking Dudgeon Park and who can blame them.
Around 80 fans had congregated on the Sutherland mound with a view and witnessed an incredible result.
The wee Rangers from the village of Brora, a metropolis of less than 1900 inhabitants saw off the wealth and might of Edinburgh’s Jambos without having played any league football since early January.
With just 5 training sessions under their belts and one friendly last weekend against Buckie Thistle this was unexpected to say the least.
The SFA decision to restart the Scottish FA cup was unfair to some of their members who the SFA and the secretive JRG had stopped playing.
Highland League teams were treated as an expendable afterthought in the rush to bring the frozen cup back to life.
Not a member focussed organisation but it was ever thus.
The scenes from the dressing room afterwards tell you what the players took from the result.
The Sky’s the Limit For the Girls in England
Sky have just signed a 3 year deal worth £24M to broadcast 44 live games from the English Women’s Premier league.
The BBC will still have an iron in the fire with 18 games from the top two leagues on BBC1 and BBC2 and these will be screened in Scotland too.
Sky has said they plan to treat the women’s game exactly the way they have treated men’s football.
This will up the ante and is seen by some as being transformational.
Progress like this has happened elsewhere.
Already in Mexico Monday nights have become “Womens’ football night”.
Maybe that’s heading our way too?
Go the girls.
England Men’s Games on Council Telly Free Thanks To Nationwide
This week’s news broke that ITV had partnered with Nationwide to make them the ‘stand alone’ sponsor of England men’s football matches on ITV from now till the 2022 Qatar tournament.
If you watched any of the England v San Merino game last night you would have seen the various sponsorship links. It was also live on Scottish TV while our match was only on Sky, as per normal.
I was intrigued enough to read up more about the Nationwide sponsorship this morning.
Surprisingly there was no easily found confirmation of how many pound notes the deal is costing the mutual owners of Nationwide, the customers of which I am one.
The organisation currently has circa 700 branches of which only around 35 are north of Hadrian’s Wall so we as a race are an under-represented population dynamic at the Swindon based mutual. If I was being pernickety the organisation seems not quite Nationwide enough to have reached north of Inverness or to any of our Islands.
Nationwide has said it will use this TV sponsorship to promote its partnership with the ‘FA Respect’ programme which seeks to foster mutual respect among players, coaches and children in a bid to ensure grass roots football can be played in a safe and positive environment.
Paul Hibbs, Director of Advertising at Nationwide, in a press release ahead of the live broadcast said “We are delighted to be in partnership with ITV on their England football coverage. It will allow us to reach fans at all levels and help build mutual respect through the beautiful game”.
Nationwide Also Sponsor Football in Scotland
But sadly not on telly so we can see Scotland games free.
I wasn’t actually aware of what they do sponsor up here but again a little digging has uncovered something called the “Nationwide Positive Play” initiative.
This is described as reinforcing the importance of football to make it fun for boys 12-18 and girls 13-19. It promotes fair play and rewards clubs and schools who create a positive playing ethos and “lets them play”.
There was no need to be ashamed though of my ignorance because I am not alone.
I have spoken to 4 people today about what they know about Nationwide in Scottish football.
One Skyless fan watched the England game and told me Nationwide were sponsoring all the qualifying games for Qatar.
He wrongly thinks Scotland games are covered too.
The others said they didn’t know of any Nationwide link and none were even aware of the sponsorship of the English match.
I’m not going to discuss the positives (money) or the negatives (less viewers, fan alienation, and eventual disinterest) of subscription sport.
Nevertheless I hope whoever is in charge of sponsorship and TV revenues on our 6th floor ivory tower at G42 9AY is justifying the reasons why English fans can watch their heroes for free when Scottish fans have to pay.
Just seems myopic, wrong and self-harming.
A bit like the next wheeze from the other org sharing the 6th floor ivory tower in the south side.
Most Fans Don’t Want Colt’s Teams Anywhere in the SPFL
Following the noise last week coming from Hampden and the pre-vote tactic of running a poll by their in-house supporters organisation we undertook a simple and fast piece of research.
Thanks if you were one of the 4500 fans who took the 2 minutes to answer our simple questions.
Only 37% of fans see the introduction of Colts/B teams as a good thing for our game.
57% are totally against the proposal.
6% are undecided.
A common thread through the space for comments by those against was the belief that this move would only help our biggest two clubs.
And for those in favour the view was that this is a major reason why countries like Spain, Holland and Germany are so successful.
I drilled into the research and found that the majority of fans who voted ‘yes’ are also fans of our two biggest clubs.
Fans who voted ‘no’ are also cynical that this is just another self-interest driven change being foisted on the game by those who wield the power.
My own view is that football in Scotland urgently needs to look at grass roots and elite development for both the boys and girls game.
It needs to ask questions like:
Why does Iceland, with the same population as Aberdeen, punch above its weight?
What does Croatia do that we can learn from?
What do we do well and what do we do badly as a football nation?
That is just for starters we need to re-ask the kind of tough questions Henry McLeish asked when producing his McLeish 2 report. You know the one that is now in a dark, bottom cabinet drawer somewhere on the 6th floor.
It should be the starting point for any debate or ahead of any vote.
Grass roots and elite development should be resourced as a priority.
For me, for now, any rush to usher in changes like this will be like Matt Hancock’s much overhyped but now long forgotten ‘test and trace’ programmes.
Our game needs a 360-degree review and plan and part of that might well be an honest assessment of the role colts teams play elsewhere.
I think John Collins is right to say we have to be more serious about elite kids but don’t buy into his ‘colts as a silver bullet’ belief.
Nothing is ever that simple.
I think the solution here will eventually be to start in our schools and local clubs and progress across the country and the leagues from there.
As always feel free to drop me a line about anything football related.
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