Patriot Games

6932250What does it mean to be patriotic in Scottish football these days?

I’ve been pondering that one over the last 24 hours, as Scotland prepares to play Ireland on Friday, and especially in the aftermath of the latest installment of Poppy-Gate.

At the weekend, Aberdeen fans attempted to slate Celtic supporters and were met with a chorus of “You know you said No” in relation to the recent independence referendum, where Glasgow gave one answer and the Granite City another.

I found that amusing, especially as there was a time when it was towns like Aberdeen who provided the most passionate Tartan Army foot soldiers.

It’s a sign of the times. The landscape here is surreal.

In the coming international at Celtic Park, a number of Scotland fans will stay away because of the venue. Some Glasgow born home supporters will be in the away end cheering on Ireland. Members of the Tartan Army will passionately sing Flower of Scotland despite having voted to maintain rule from London and two players born in this country will be lining up in green shirts.

In the meantime, a manager who has spent the last couple of years bubbling that his players should be given international recognition despite playing in a lower league will be trying to pull one of them from the Scotland squad, when the kid stands to win his first cap. His club’s fans are a strange lot too, with many self-defining as British and preferring England tops to the famous dark blue.

There can be few countries anywhere as confused as this one.

Looking at it, it’s not hard to understand why 55% of the electorate voted No.

Scotland appears, at times, to be suffering from a profound identity crisis.

The leaders of this game are incompetent fools, but you do have to wonder at some of our supporters too. Many don’t associate themselves with this nation, and never have. The pull of other capitals is a heavy one for them, and many look at our governing bodies and feel no loyalty to anything that wears their badge or bears their name.

It doesn’t help that, for too many years to count, the national team has been an uninspiring joke. The last few appointments, before they got it right with Gordon Strachan, were lamentable, the kind of decisions born of a serious lack of imagination.

Neither George Burley nor Craig Levein had ever won a trophy in their careers – something that hasn’t changed since or probably ever will – and their “relative” successes at clubs were hardly the stuff dreams were made of. The appointments reeked of cheapskate, of an officialdom that did not want to push out the boat and pay top dollar.

One only has to look across the Irish Sea, at our opponents in the coming game, to see how other associations have shown ambition and reaped the rewards.

Gordon Strachan has transformed the fortunes of our team, and he has inspired the fans to back them again. Typically for the SFA, this has not been the catalyst for a renewed campaign to get the supporters rallied and onside. Instead, it’s resulted in a spate of price gouging, and a steep hike in the cost of tickets which threatens to have even loyal Tartan Army followers boycotting international games.

You have to hand it to these people; no-one can make a crisis out of an opportunity quite like the leaders of Scottish football.

The word useless flatters them.

An article appeared in one of the papers recently, talking about the changing makeup of the Tartan Army. I found it fascinating in that it said the number of its members who supported the Glasgow clubs had dropped like a stone in recent years.

I found that absorbing, because I remember growing up hearing stories about Celtic fans going to Scotland games and being frankly appalled at the booing of their players. Many vowed never to follow the national team again, yet in recent years some of them have started to go back. At the same time, fans from the Ibrox clubs have begun to view the Scottish national team as a symbol of a country that’s itching to leave them behind and an association which did them over.

They view Peter Lawwell’s position in the upper echelons of that association as especially troubling, believing Celtic has an undue influence over the running of the game.

One of their websites even perversely suggested that, in using Celtic Park for the match, the SFA was virtually “handing Ireland a home game” despite the fact that one player – just one – in Celtic’s senior ranks has made appearances for the Irish team, and he hasn’t been capped for a year.

In fact, to find another player in the city with as much international experience in the Republic of Ireland shirt (albeit not in the senior team) you have to cross over … to Ibrox.

Oh yes, we’re well and truly through the Looking Glass here.

It’s useless to even attempt reasoned debate with the kinds of people who make arguments like that.

At the same time, many Celtic fans won’t follow Scotland, and not just because of the heart-tugging pull of their roots in Ireland. Many, like the Sevco fans, loathe the SFA and the inherent bias of an association which has bent rules and regulations beyond count on the Ibrox club’s behalf and which still has Campbell Ogilvie at its head.

How can it be that the fans of the two best supported clubs in the land can be united only in thinking the governing body favours the other? It makes me smile, and when I consider that the fans of every club outside Glasgow believes the SFA favours the clubs in that city over their own it makes me laugh uproariously because it kind of supplies the punch line to the joke.

When you consider this rationally – although it is wholly irrational – you sometimes wonder how the Hell Scotland manages to retain any level of support at all.

The game in this country also has to endure an inordinate number of call-offs, as players are withdrawn from squads because of club commitments. It was not unusual for a certain club to pull two or three (and on a couple of occasions even four) players from international duty before big matches, which hampered the managerial reigns of Burley and Levein both.

Sevco Rangers have developed a laughable reputation for asking for the cancellation of games which coincide with international fixtures this season, even when the regulations haven’t supported it. With new power players on the board, guys who want to see the club earning every penny from home games, the manager was told to get on with it in this instance, but McCoist was never going to let the national interest get in the way of his own self-interest and It came as no surprise when he announced that he’d be asking Gordon Strachan to drop Lewis McLeod from the team, with the young midfielder on the verge of his first cap.

Gordon Strachan has to reject this request, or he’ll find himself swimming against a tide of this, as Levein did and Burley before him. He’s already lost a number of players to injury, and so the squad which features in the Ireland match will already have a make-shift quality to it.

Injuries are one thing, but if he starts letting clubs dictate his selection policy to him then he’s making a rod for his own back and jeopardising our qualification chances just at the moment we’re started to believe in them again.

This isn’t some friendly match, after all, where you can make allowances for a coach who doesn’t want to risk injuries to his star players in a meaningless skirmish. This is a competitive fixture, the kind every player should want to play in and every club should be supporting.

But this is Scotland. Land of the twisted logic.

This is a strange country at times, with allegiances divided right across the boards. Hoping that this land can come together on Friday, in the hopes of beating Ireland and taking a giant step towards qualifying for a major finals for the first time since France ’98, might be too much to ask for, even when the team needs all the support it can get.

Nevertheless, I am endlessly fascinated by the crazy kaleidoscope of loyalties we seem to produce here. No other national team can inspire such devotion and yet such disregard within its own borders. No other national association has come close to the SFA for their ability to drive a wedge between themselves and vast swathes of the home support, from every club, across the land.

Yes, it’s fascinating and at times it’s even hilarious.

Only one thing bugs me about it; the fans who’ll wrap themselves in the Saltire for a night, who’ll lustily sing patriotic songs at the top of their lungs, and will look down their noses at those in the away end who were born five minutes up the road … all the while, holding onto the secret (or not so secret) shame of having voted No in the referendum.

They’re the ones who ought to be sent homeward to think again.

Of course, we’re already too late for that.

This is Scotland, and this is Scottish football. There’s nothing quite like it.

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James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

8 thoughts on “Patriot Games

  • 11 November, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    And then there’s the McQueen intervention asking fans to give McGeady and McCarthy a rough time because they elected not to play for the country of their birth. It’s a greater shame that Strachan saw fit to support this tripe.

    This means that to be consistent, Scotland’s fans would need to give Martin and Morrison a rough time as well, for opting to play for Scotland, not the country of their birth.

    Did you ever hear such garbage. Are those ones fond of calling themselves football people able to think at all?

  • 11 November, 2014 at 7:58 pm

    Great article, i was born in Greenock, moved to England with the rest of my family when i was only 4, i run a successful CELTIC SUPPORTERS CLUB here with many of its members Scottish yet when we all get together in the pub on Friday i will be amongst the minority in supporting Ireland, my father and my grandmother originate from Derry and that’s where my loyaltys will lie. After Friday i will still want Scotland to win all their other games against anybody but Ireland, but i find it harder and harder to fully support Scotland as long as people like Ogilvy, Doncaster and Reagan are still putting their names on secret 5 way agreements for one team and show total disregard to the rest of Scottish football.. HAIL HAIL

  • 11 November, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    Yes, Shaun Maloney I think was born in Singapore.
    In the past we’ve had Gough, born in South Africa, Elliot born in England, McCall ditto as well as many others.
    Hypocrisy is rife!

  • 11 November, 2014 at 8:53 pm

    Totally concur with your post Keighley Bhoy. I am Scots by birth (edinburgh for my sins) & have followed Celtic for 50yrs, most times travelling alone which as a female wasnt always the easiest! I used to watch scotland until the treatment of our players by ‘fans’ & the sfa enraged me so much I never went back. As I grew older I couldn’t have cared less how scotland got on, they meant nothing to me. My grandparents were from Wicklow & Donegal & my Irish blood runs strong. I’ve watched the republic for years now & luckily will be at paradise on Friday, fervently hoping for a victory. A goal from Aidan would be the cherry on the top. COYBIG .

  • 12 November, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    FOREVERGREEN, have a tremendous night Friday, and be safe, we are most definitely not alone in oor opinions, HAIL HAIL, COYBIG+

  • 12 November, 2014 at 9:35 pm

    I’ve supported Celtic for over 50 years and witnessed the sectarian comments against Celtic players when playing for Scotland. Wee Jinky in particular would get it in the neck from the bigots. Only 24 Scotland caps for Celtic’s greatest ever player in the club’s greatest ever team confirmed that the bigots were not only on the terraces of Hampden – they were also in charge !! I have never been to a Scotland game since the 60’s and don’t intend going to another any time soon. Mc Geady will get the Jinky treatment from the Scotland fans as nothing much has changed in this “greatest little country in the world”. Neil Lennon would agree, no doubt.

  • 13 November, 2014 at 1:37 am

    My roots are in the Emerald Isle although born and bred in SCOTLAND.

    Forever Green’s comments I find narrow minded, sad and bitter.

    I voted with the 45 and am proud of it

    I am a celt, my father nurturing me at CP (5yo)

    I hope my country beats ROI with goals to spare.

    Come on Gordon take us to a MAJOR CHAMPIONSHIP


    S cottus

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