The game long since won, the second half was petering out quite nicely and we could all take a few moments to admire the view, sneaking glances up at the Ochils without fear of missing anything meaningful on the pitch. Alloa Athletic’s ground enjoys one of the prettiest situations in Scottish football and there’s nothing its newish name, the Indodrill Stadium, or the branch of KFC at the other end of the park can do to disturb that.
But then something meaningful did happen. Nathan Oduwa, who’d just come off the bench for his Rangers debut, tried a trick. Then another, followed by a few more. Tall, skinny, foal-like with his hair arranged in the modern way, Oduwa was all tricks. Not all of the nutmegs, stepovers and rainbow flicks came off, but that didn’t matter to the Rangers fans whose team were winning handsomely and they would have indulged anyone on that sunny Sunday – okay, maybe not Scott Allan holding up a Celtic strip with his name on the back, but you know what I mean.
Some of the Alloa players, the ones with ringside seats for Oduwa’s fancy-dannery and indeed its victims, weren’t quite so appreciative. “I felt as if he was taking the p***,” remarked Colin Hamilton afterwards. A fascinating debate then ensued.
Hamilton’s manager, Danny Lennon, didn’t think Oduwa, on loan from Spurs, was being disrespectful to his team. “He was just wanted to show the qualities he has in front of his new fans.” This was similar to another of Hamilton’s comments, although the harassed defender seemed to mean his words as a criticism: “He’s come up here and he’s trying to show off, trying to make a name for himself. What can you do?”
Well, what you cannot do if you’re an Alloa player, or any of the other opponents Oduwa will hope to turn inside out during his stay in Scotland, is stand back and applaud. You can sympathise to a large degree with the modest men of the Championship – who would never contemplate attempting a rainbow flick – when faced with a bundle of jinkery and irritation such as the 19-year-old. And Hamilton and his team-mates were having an extremely difficult afternoon even before Oduwa pranced onto the plastic pitch in his red boots. But isn’t football supposed to be about entertainment?
Isn’t this the football land of Jimmy Johnstone, Willie Henderson, Morton’s Andy Ritchie, Jimmy Smith of Aberdeen and a hundred tanner ba’ comedians which has always purported to love flair and especially gallusness? If it is then surely this young man has found a temporary home for his audacious skills.
I’ll bring a lot of entertainment, I’ll get the fans on their feet quite oftenNathan Oduwa
This is no mere storm in a Bovril cup. It seems to strike at the heart of Scotland’s cultural identity, and just how schizophrenic that can be. Yes, we celebrate Jim Baxter’s keepy-uppy display against England, positively luxuriate in it. So much so that some think he sat on the ball as an additional taunt (he didn’t – not that afternoon, anyway). So much so that many would pop flickering footage of the immortal juggle into a time capsule to explain the character of the late 20th century Scot to future generations.
But at the same time most of us are not natural show-offs. Unless it contributes to a famous victory over the Auld Enemy, ostentatiousness is often frowned upon. Many of us are natural masochists and wear the hair-shirt willingly. This is the football land, don’t forget, where a well-respected manager responded to claims his team were somewhat on the dour side with a curt: “If it’s entertainment you want, go to the cinema.”
Entering the great showboating vs free expression debate of the Indodrill, Warburton thought his new recruit was “just enjoying his football” and that no disrespect had been intended. Pressed on the matter, he said he would “have a word” with Oduwa.
Now, could you imagine some of the manager’s Ibrox predecessors making such a concession? Probably not jungle-fighting Jock Wallace, although Warburton’s response was perhaps understandable. He’s new to Scotland, still feeling his way, keen to do and say the right things and not cause offence. But I don’t think he has to apologise for his player trying to make a good first impression and enliven the ennui of a contest which had long since lost its edge.
Oduwa had already told us what he was going to do. “I’m very tricky,” he said in an interview published on the morning of the match. “I’ll bring a lot of entertainment, I’ll get the fans on their feet quite often.” Bold words, to which the traditional Scottish reply would be: “On yez go then.”
Hamilton, who had the job of marking him on Sunday, said Oduwa might find himself on the receiving end of rough treatment if he’s to persist with the sleight-of-foot stuff. “I’m sure there will by other guys in the league who, if he tries that against them, maybe won’t let him away with it,” the Alloa man said. But Oduwa knows this and seems unfazed. “I have a lot of battle scars on my legs from being kicked but that won’t stop me,” he added.
His Scottish experience has barely begun. Just half an hour of game-time during which a dance along the touchline brought Rangers their fifth goal and should have earned him credit for an outrageous assist for their sixth, only for that one to be wrongly disallowed. But already he’s the talk of the steamie.
Oduwa has the potential to become quite a showman, and in an era of high prices and low turnouts, our game cannot have enough of them. This is a high-risk strategy, for sure. As they say in football: those who live by the rainbow flick, die by the rainbow flick. The tricks may not always come off, or the good and honest men of the Championship may eventually work them out. But he should not be condemned for trying them.