A parade of the footballers who have represented Scotland over the past 140 years would amount to confirmation that the circus was in town, bringing a predictably wide range of performers, from the dazzlingly brilliant to the freaks and the clowns.
The tail end of the cavalcade, comprising the “artists” of, say, the last decade, would be the preserve of the genuine grotesques, the kind of jokers that would make The Bearded Lady and The Human Cannonball appear the very essence of normality.
A streak of eccentricity, of course, has run through the selection process since the day in 1872 when the Scots faced the downstairs neighbours in the world’s first international, the most bizarre perhaps involving the extraordinary Henry Morris. Henry would be distinguished as no other before or since (in the world, not just Scotland) by going to his final resting place in 1993 as the owner of the astounding international scoring average of three goals per match.
This was the result of the Dundee-born centre-forward’s hat-trick on the only appearance he ever made in the dark blue shirt, an extraordinary 8-2 victory over Northern Ireland at Windsor Park, Belfast, in the Home International Championship game of 1949.
Henry, who also scored 60 goals in one season as East Fife drove to the Second Division title in ’48 and inspired the little Methil club to two Scottish League Cup triumphs (’47 and ’50), must have spent the remaining 44 years of his life trying to fathom (and to explain to family and acquaintances), how he managed to avoid another cap.
Another victim of the seriously flawed judgment of Scotland’s selectors in a bygone age was the most productive scoring machine in the history of the British game, Jimmy McGrory. The little Celtic centre-forward (just 5ft 6in) ended his 15-year playing career with an average of considerably more than a goal a game over more than 400 matches – and with just a paltry seven caps. He did, however, deliver six goals in that brief burst – they include both in a 2-1 victory over England in 1933 – and, by way of confirming his versatility, represented the Scottish League on seven occasions – and scored seven goals.
Morris and McGrory kept decent company, too, as they would be joined by such as Alfie Conn, Willie Bauld and Jimmy Wardhaugh, the exceptional Hearts inside forward trio who, like the Famous Five across the city at Hibernian, inspired the most glorious period in the Tynecastle club’s history. They would be rewarded with a shameful total of six Scotland appearances between them (Bauld three, Wardhaugh two, Conn one).
The recollection of such historic atrocities becomes the more tortuous with the realisation of the general standard of those who have combined to embarrass the country with their feeble attempts at qualifying for the major championships since Euro 2000 emerged as the first of an eight-strong series of failures.
McGrory was always too gentlemanly to allow speculation that he could be spinning in his grave, but even he would surely be at least a little intrigued on learning that Steven Fletcher, a striker who seems to command an unaccountable and unwarranted celebrity among the Tartan Army, should have amassed a staggering one goal from 12 international matches.
Among modern-day absurdities, however, Gary Caldwell is most deserving of the highest place on the rostrum. The eight-club man, including four different spells on loan, is in a position to boast of 55 Scotland honours, which is more than the Celtic defence who won the European Cup – Jim Craig, Billy McNeill, John Clark and Tommy Gemmell – put together.
Impulsive McCoist compiling portfolio of howlers
Ally McCoist’s claim to have as formidable a squad of players as any club in the country outside champions Celtic would do nothing to dispel the impression that his tongue these days is quicker than his wits.
The words had hardly left the Rangers manager’s lips when his side were beaten 3-1 at home in a closed-doors friendly by Hibernian, who could not reasonably be described as the galacticos of the SPFL’s Premiership.
The former striker’s readiness with the impulsive, unconsidered response may be rooted in his history as a media-friendly figure. He has, after all, been what is known these days as the go-to personality for the telling quote for as long as anyone (including himself) can remember. It is possible that McCoist has become so practised in the art of filling space that he cannot break the habit.
Even so, he has been steadily compiling what might be called a portfolio of outbursts, some of them grossly ill-advised and even dangerous. McCoist’s errant views began at Dunfermline two years ago when, without having seen the incident, he insisted that Steven Naismith could not be guilty of elbowing Austin McCann because “he’s not that type of lad”. Naismith, of course, was caught on camera and suspended.
There followed the infamous “we want to know who these people are” demand in the wake of the review panel who sat to consider Rangers’ rules breaches in the wake of their entering administration.
A similar noise was made over the question of Rangers being fined for their indiscretions while Hearts and Dunfermline were not. On both occasions, the SFA revealed that McCoist (and, in the latter case, his chief executive, Craig Mather) already knew the answers.
Perhaps most seriously of all, McCoist declared himself “appalled” by the arson attack on the bus depot which housed Rangers’ new luxury coach, clearly implying that it had been carried out by rival football fans. The subsequent police investigation disclosed that the crime was not related to football.
If these previous retorts are a measure of his judgment, there is unlikely to be a stampede of punters desperate to plunge on Rangers for the only “major” left to them, the Scottish Cup.