Date: 27th May 2022
5 Days in June
Winner Takes All
2022 will see Scotland International teams meet Ukraine 4 times but the first meeting next Wednesday is the biggie.
We finally welcome the Legionnaires to Hampden in front of the world and its cameras.
Not yet a ‘winner takes all’ scenario with Wales waiting and guaranteeing a very difficult Cardiff Cup Final for Wednesday’s victors.
Good Luck Andy Robertson on Saturday Night in Paris.
Bring Your Winner’s Medal to Motivate Our Boys
Whatever the outcome Scotland and Ukraine are intertwined throughout 2022.
Ukraine will be back at Hampden on September 21st in a Nations League with a return game in Poland on Sept 27th.
And Scotland’s Women also face Ukraine on 24th June in Rzeszow, Poland.
This Week’s Sting
1. In Steve We Trust
It’s a game I never thought would happen after Mr Putin decided to kick-off phase 2 of his wee Eurasian project to rebuild his Russian empire.
I still find it quite amazing that Ukraine will actually line up at Hampden on Wednesday.
I feel uneasy because they are there to make a point to the world.
And a certain Russian dictator with a long, long table now knows they are very difficult opponents.
Scotland will treat them with the respect they deserve.
The first line of the Ukrainian national anthem contains the words, “Ukraine has not yet perished”.
I hope that the last words of our equally prophetic anthem prevail and we “send them hamewards tae think again”.
We all know that most of the fans in the world want them to qualify at ours and then Wales’s expense but this isn’t the Eurovision Song Contest and the place in Qatar will be decided on the park.
Scotland will welcome Ukraine, and the world will see that we are brothers who can compete fair and square.
The pre-match will be surreal but the warmth will be palpable and Ukraine will see we support and respect them.
Their national anthem will get encouragement in a way that is seldom seen in football and probably never before at Hampden.
Fair enough, but once the whistle blows the contest is about two teams who want to win.
The Ukrainians want to be in Cardiff en route to Qatar and so do we.
It will be Steve Clarke’s 34th game as manager.
Our players are more like a club side, a well prepared unit, and will do us proud.
But these are strange times indeed.
Here are a few insights into the mood in the Legionnaires camp I garnered from their official site.
First up is Vitaliy Mykolenko, the Everton Defender just after he joined the group in Slovenia this week.
“Two work-outs a day ahead of a full two way game and a fight between our two teams, so I got a little tired. Our last sparring before the match with Scotland. We didn’t come here to sunbathe but to work, achieve the results and go to the world cup.
Scotland is power football. Good football.”
The head coach, Oleksandr Petrakov, commented on their final closed-doors game. “We simulated the tactics of the Scottish team. One side played 3-5-2 and one 3-4-3. The match ended in a draw. I liked it”.
You may remember the manager is the same rather cocky individual who jumped up and applauded when Lothar Matthaus paired us in the draw all those months ago when the world seemed safer.
He tried to explain that gaffe, “I was joyful because we got Scotland and avoided the really big teams Italy and Portugal. I apologise if people in Scotland think I looked too happy. I have already analysed them. They are competent tactically, take their chances and are a very good team with a great manager”.
I’ll give the last Ukrainian word to Oleksandr Zinchenko the 25 year old Man City defender who hit the world photo headlines last weekend draping the Ukrainian flag over Sundays Premier League Trophy.
“We are all ready to fight to win.
We won’t just give 100 per cent it will be 200.
Every single player understands what is happening in our country in the 3 months since Russia invaded.
I don’t know if I would be very useful to Ukraine with a machine gun in my hand, but my mission is to speak to the world and cover everything that is happening”.
We have to trust Steve and his team and our boys will be prepared.
Andy Robertson summed up the players’ attitude well when he said, “We’ll be so receptive of Ukraine before and after the game but during the 90 minutes, the 120 minutes or whatever it takes we have to be ready to fight for our dreams as well. We know they’ll be up for it, and full of emotion and that can become a problem for them. It’s important our fans make an atmosphere that is supportive and as loud as Hampden has ever been. If we do that it gives us the best chance to achieve our dream to be in Qatar”.
The Tartan Army will be in fine voice, and we know they are special.
2. “Privileged and Excited” to Build the World Cup Stadia
For some reason this week’s world economic forum at Davos has become a stage for the ongoing, increasingly expensive ‘Sportswashing’ project by Qatar.
After mounting and justifiable criticism they are getting their retaliation in as hard and early as they can.
And no place better than Switzerland via a Swiss based Fifa soap box.
This week the head of the Confederation of African Football, CAF, Patrice Mosepe took the stand to downplay the biggest and most constant criticism of Qatar, the treatment of migrant workers.
Patrice is said to be a billionaire mining tycoon in South Africa, and far from the frontline of being paid next to nothing and living in hot, crowded desert-based construction camps away for long periods from your families.
He was moderating a session titled, ‘Sport as a Unifying Force’ and his very, very special Guest Speaker was the biggest cheese in Qatar.
The Qatari Emir, Sheikh Tamin bin Hamad Al Thani spoke to the audience and panellists including, Fifa’s President and fairly recent Qatar resident Gianni Infantino, Hassan Al Thawadi who is Qatar’s General of the Supreme Court for Delivery and Legacy of the tournament, and ex Arsenal Coach, Arsene Wenger who has finagled himself a nice gig as Fifa’s Chief of Global Development.
Patrice said, “Every time I am in Qatar, I see thousands of people from all over the world having the privilege and excitement of employment and taking home money with the building of the stadiums and hotels.
The English educated Emir, (Sherborne, Harrow and Sandhurst), spoke, acknowledged everything was not perfect, but said that reforms had been happening at lightning speed since the world cup was awarded in 2010.
Maybe they are trying to hide stuff in plain sight.
Amnesty international last week had asked for Qatar to pay $440 Million to compensate migrant workers.
Aware of building worldwide criticism that could erupt at the finals the Emir said, “There are people who cannot accept the idea that an Arab, Muslim country can host the world cup. These individuals including many in positions of influence have launched attacks never seen before”.
He did not discuss nor was he asked by the panel how Qatar was actually awarded the tournament in the first place or his plans to discuss a positive outcome with Amnesty.
And his gratuitous conflation of ethnicity and religion was just badly targeted rabble rousing and self-justification.
(Qatar also pops up in section 6 with some eyewatering financial practices and a pot of money that would have made Amnesty satisfied).
3. Tickets Priced to Sell
Biffa Scottish Women’s Cup
1610 Tynecastle Park
Celtic v Glasgow City
Tickets £5 and under 13s free.
Well done Aileen Campbell and team.
I hope there is a huge crowd celebrating 50 years since the Scottish women’s FA was formed in season 1971-72.
A movement that is unstoppable and good for our game.
The final is also live on BBC Alba.
As recently as December the clubs met in the final of the League Cup with Celtic winning and now looking for a cup double on Sunday.
League form however suggests it will be tight with Glasgow shading it and Glasgow’s Eileen Gleeson wants to pick up her first trophy in the city and to avoid the club going trophy-less for the first time in 17 years.
4. ‘Ultimatum O’clock’ on Monday in the Lowlands
Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked about Scottish Football’s very own camel, our football pyramid.
It was set up to try to open up our game but was modified at the last minute to protect the SFL clubs who felt threatened.
9 years later we now have 4 SFL old boys ‘wailing and gnashing’ in the nether regions.
Everyone and his granny can see that those who have somehow navigated the pyramid to replace them in the SPFL have been good for the game.
And the ‘Ousted 4’, East Stirling, Berwick, Brechin and Cowdenbeath now see how unfair the slippery ladder upwards they voted for is and want it to more mobile both ways.
Our pyramid is a good thing but needs a reset that looks wholistically across the nation and it is fair to say that the vast majority of fans support a new improved pyramid and want changes like bigger leagues.
(Thanks for the huge support for last week’s suggestions in Sting.
More on that later).
In the meantime, there is a wee bit mess to sort out in the Southern feeder league next week and like all things in Scottish football it is both simple and complex.
Scotland is Letting Elite Youth Players Down
Experts agree top under 20 talent needs real football to develop fully and ‘toughen up’.
Competitive football against adults is seen as a big part.
Speak to the pros like Jimmy Bone and they say this used to happen in Scottish reserve football that delivered three things.
i) It kept fringe players fit and competitive.
ii) It allowed first team players to come back after injury.
iii) It blooded young talent, playing against real pros.
Look back at Celtic 1967, Rangers 1972 and Aberdeen 1983 Sides
How many players came through their reserve sides?
Answers on a post card to Neil Doncaster, 6th Floor Hampden Park, G42 9DE.
But Reserve Leagues Cost Money
The history of second team football in Scotland shows there is no easy solution.
There was a national reserve league from 1955 till 1975 and then again intermittently since.
Bringing youngsters though is an age old problem.
What has this to do with the Lowland League?
Last year after an initiative driven mostly by Rangers a one year deal was struck to allow Rangers and Celtic Colts to augment the Lowland League upwards from 16 – 18 clubs.
Both Celtic and Rangers paid £25K for the privilege.
Some clubs in the Lowland League liked it ,some like recent escapee Bonnyrigg didn’t.
They thought it was unfair to all clubs below.
And yes, it was an unpopular move with every aspirant club in the pyramid below the Lowland League thinking if the league can contain 18 clubs then why not expand it and make movement up and down into it easier.
2 Becomes 3 for `Season 2022 – 2023
This year Hearts appeared with a similar elite kids problem and also asked to join the Lowland league as paying guests.
19 Clubs with 3 guests was discussed.
An unbalanced league of 19 didn’t appeal to the 16 bona fide members and resulted in a 13-3 vote to stop idle Saturdays beckoning every 9 weeks.
The big guys didn’t like that.
Reverting to the usual ‘power card’, because we are bigger than you, the three premier league colts gave the wee Lowland League an “Admit all three of us or none of us”, ultimatum.
A gambit that will fail.
I think “No colts teams in the Lowland Leagues”, will be the outcome of the vote due on Monday.
And I hope it leads to the Lowland League looking at real changes in and out and the SPFL doing something to address its non existent reserve and breakthrough football strategy.
5. ‘Saude’, Jose Mourinho
5 European finals.
4 different clubs.
5 wins out of 5.
All 3 Uefa trophies.
A truly amazing record.
6. What Happens When Sportswashing Countries Like Qatar Buy into Football?
The answer is the football world goes mad.
This week, in the French Ligue 1, a 23 year old footballer at a Paris club signed a 3 year contract.
Nothing special about that I hear you think.
But how about a £127 Million signing-on fee to open the deal?
That is a sum that takes your breath away.
And how about £1million pound notes per week over 3 years to keep it ticking for both parties.
In a country where the actual league is not a patch on the English, Italian, German or Spanish leagues.
Maybe just about Europe’s 5th best league and one player won’t change that.
Crazy money paid by a nation, desperate to Sportswash, and about to host a world cup that was awarded in and under a cloud of hidden money.
A country that still doesn’t pay immigrant labourers proper wages and where working conditions are rightly criticised.
A 3 year deal that bizarrely just about equates to Amnesty’s request for compensation.
Spain’s LaLiga Presidente Javier Tebas was grumpy that the player did not move to Real Madrid on the expected and verbally agreed free transfer. He called the deal, “An insult to football, a preposterous scandal, and an obscenity”.
Kylian Mbappe, the footballer, poor lad that he is, also controls his own image rights.
That’s it for this week,
Feel free to write to me about anything happening and thanks for the feedback.
Makes a happy man very old!
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