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September, 11th 2009

Why does Scotland basically suck at football?

– Liz Mair

After the Scottish football (soccer) team beat Macedonia 2-0 last weekend, as is typical when Scotland prevails in any sporting contest, hope sprang up again that we might qualify for the World Cup finals next year.  Yes, yes, we'd have to beat Holland (not an easy task), but we were well on our way to competing for the holy grail of sport... or such was the general sentiment among a lot of Scotland supporters worldwide.

And then, the predictable happened.  Scotland lost 1-0 to Holland.  This was a shock to literally no one, but now we're out of the running for the World Cup, and surprise, surprise, it looks like Scotland boss George Burley's head is on the chopping block because yet again, Scotland proved that we basically suck at football (or at least that we suck more than teams like Holland).  Those who dislike our record should be asking a serious question: Why?  They should also be well aware of one non-answer to the question: It ain't because of George Burley. [intro]

Yes, the BBC writes here that "Since filling the post vacated by McLeish, Burley has only managed to register three wins from 12 games in charge."  It's not a good record.  But you know what?  1-0 against Holland isn't disastrous, especially given that we were playing a team that FIFA ranks third best in the world (even if their rankings are arguably screwy).  It is especially not half bad for a team that has never progressed beyond the first round of the World Cup and in recent years, has failed to qualify for the competition on several occasions.  I remember back in 2004, when we were ranked by FIFA on a par with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, behind Angola and Thailand.  I'm confident I'm not the only Scotland supporter who can remember crappy results against the Faroe Islands, of all teams.  When it comes to football, Scotland isn't Brazil.  But surely, as a nation, we can come up with better sporting talent than a country with 50,000 people living in it, I and many others have repeatedly conjectured.  To be fair, quite a lot of the crappiness referenced above (and in general, to be frank) occurred under Berti Vogts' tenure.  But not all of it.  Pull up the World Cup History page over at the Scottish FA's website, because it's instructive

With respect to 1954, it notes that while Scotland participated in the World Cup finals, "Scotland only played two games at the tournament, losing 1-0 and 7-0 to Austria and Uruguay respectively."

1978, which a lot of Scots over the age of 30 (and Scottish fans of Trainspotting) tend to remember fondly for Archie Gemmill's rather amazing goal against Holland, offered this disappointment, per the Scottish FA "The next match was against Iran and the team started well again, going ahead through an own goal. However, Iran levelled the game in the 60th minute, leaving the manager, players and country devastated." 

With regard to 1990, "the opening match saw Scotland slump to one of the most embarrassing defeats in their history, a 1-0 loss to competition debutants Costa Rica." 

The site's 1998 entry notes Tom Boyd's scoring of an own-goal against Brazil, and further that "The final game against Morocco was a disaster for Scotland, being swept aside 3-0 by the Africans and once again failing to make it past the first round of the World Cup." 

Even the good bits aren't all that good, though Scotland's tendency to perform reasonably well against the Brazilians, all things considered, does seem to shine through.

This is what I mean.  Mouth off about George Burley all you want, but it's pretty clear that a top footballing nation we ain't.  So why in God's name did we expect anything different from what happened this year?  Was there a plan of action he could have taken that would have involved him subbing in members of the Brazilian, Italian and German national sides when we weren't looking?

Look, I'm not bashing our team.  Scotland is a little country.  We don't have nearly 200 million people from which to pick the best footballers like Brazil does.  Hell, we don't even have the 50 million or so that England does, from which to pick some more pretty crappy ones.  Yeah, I know, next year, England will be abuzz with chatter about how it'll be a 1966 do-over, but that's crap and anyone paying attention knows it.  The Premiership may be the best football league in the world, but it's not because English footballers are inherently more awesome than their foreign counterparts.  Of course, there's absolutely nothing to suggest the basic truth of that statement that you will ever hear from an English commentator anytime soon.

The upshot here?  I don't know why Scotland basically sucks at football.  But we basically do.  So do England, if you ask me.  At least we're not in their shoes, deluding ourselves every few years into thinking that our team really is on a par with Italy or Germany or Brazil, when that's rarely been proved to be remotely true.  And ultimately, so long as England loses by an embarrassing amount and/or to a totally abysmal team that barely even made it into the competition, do we really care if we're in or out?

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