WHENEVER the issue of the Scottish football diet comes up – as it often does and has again – I think of that old telly commercial where an ice-cream vendor is teased by toerags on the make.
“Three Coke bottles, two blackjacks, a chocolate skull, two sherbet dabs and a 99,” demands the first scamp from the scheme, from some distance beneath the van window. “Eight flumps, 11 bubblys, four fruit salads, six flying saucers, a packet of prawn cocktail crisps, a shrimp and a bottle of ginger,” requests his wee pal.
In our seemingly eternal drama of what footballers eat, the players assume the roles of the boys while the part of the irritated van man is taken by whichever coach, usually foreign, has entered the club canteen for the first time and been dismayed by the menu, like a few were before him.
None of the above, it’s safe to say, would be among Ronny Deila’s preferred options for refuelling. The fruit salads would give him encouragement but then he would learn the cruel truth about the chewy sweetie with the telltale message on the wrapper: “Don’t worry – does not contain actual fruit.”
Now, I have no hard evidence that Lennoxtown offers Scotland’s champions flumps or even chocolate skulls, but Deila doesn’t approve of the Celtic diet generally. First he banned ketchup from the training complex and last week he questioned those under his charge and also his detractors outwith the club who think it’s OK for professional athletes to consume what usually comes with the tomato-based sauce.
“Do you think Andy Murray eats chips?” the Norwegian scoffed.
It’s not just true you can watch a football match every night – TV also screens wall-to-wall cooking. Sometimes it seems we’re all participants in The Great British Bake Off and that real life happens elsewhere. Deila must feel he’s walked into our version of that show, The Great Scottish Fry Off, just like Paul Le Guen back in 2006.
The Frenchman was equally unimpressed by the scoffing habits at Rangers where his tenure was short and sour. Consumption of takeaways angered Le Guen although he’ll go down in history among Ibrox’s many authoritarian figures as the man who stood up to the dark threat posed by a wheat-based snack. Other Rangers managers banned beards and walking on beaches, insisting they were only good for running with a large dune involved, but it was Le Guen who finally outlawed Monster Munch.
This seemed to most affect the Scots in the team, notably Barry Ferguson, the captain, Kris Boyd and Charlie Adam. It was the latter who came up with one of the all-time great slow-on-the-uptake quotes from the mouth of a professional sportsman. Said Charlie: “I’d never really thought of eating salads before.”
Regarding Boydy, that was a time when the striker rarely spoke and never smiled. Truly, he was riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma hidden in an empty Monster Munch packet, blowing in a snell Govan breeze.
Over the years doubt was cast on the involvement in the saga of the crisp alternative, a headline-writer’s dream, but I was pleased earlier this year when Bazza confirmed in his newspaper column: “Yes OK I might have eaten the occasional packet of Monster Munch which might have been against Le Guen’s nutritional rules but come on! I’m all for players looking after themselves and eating well but no one is going to tell me a packet of pickled onion-flavour now and again is going to take years off your career. It’s nonsense.”
Interestingly, Ferguson was recalling Le Guen’s brief reign in a defence of David Moyes, just sacked by Manchester United. Despite appearances, their situations were not similar, he said. Moyes was the right man at possibly the wrong time; Le Guen was simply the wrong man. Little did Bazza know back then, though, that the Moyes saga had a similar fatty-foods element, sparking identical dressing-room discontent.
It emerged last week, through the serialisation of Rio Ferdinand’s memoirs, that the Manchester United players were unhappy when Moyes stopped their traditional eve-of-match chip feasts. “It’s not something to go the barricades over,” wrote Ferdinand, “but all the lads were pissed off. And guess what happened after Moyes left? He’s been gone 20 minutes, we were on the bikes warming up, and someone said: ‘We’ve got to get on to Giggsy [Ryan Giggs was in temporary charge]. We’ve got to get him to get us our f*****g chips back.’”
Out of the frying pan into the deep-fat frier? If, after Deila’s rant, you’re feeling self-conscious about the Scottish diet being knocked (again) then this prominent English’s footballer’s confession that his team, then reigning champs, liked to pig out before games will be cheering – and the same goes for criticism of the England’s team fitness levels at the World Cup, which prompted the suggestion, from an Englishman, that they should switch to a vegan regime.
Obviously Moyes hails from the high-cholesterol capital of Europe, proving that not all Scots eat junk. Remember Gordon Strachan’s achievement in captaining Leeds United to the league title at the age of 35, an example to footballers everywhere which he attributed to bananas and seaweed?
And don’t be fooled into thinking that every foreign player’s body is his temple, that he only eats what’s extremely good for him. A few years ago Bayer Leverkusen’s dressing-room went mental when Robin Dutt, admittedly a coach described as being David Brentesque, banned Nutella.
But Ronny Deila has a point if his players are eating too much of the wrong stuff. Football-wise, Germany are top of the food-chain right now. Stars like Thomas Müller, Andre Schürrle and Marco Reus have the gaunt look of super-athletes for whom every morsel, each chewing movement, is strictly monitored. Scots might not be able to beat these guys, but if they’re to at least sit at football’s top table, they need more dietary discipline. “If you tell me a footballer can be three or four kilos too heavy and play against Cristiano Ronaldo then good luck,” warned Deila last week. “To succeed in Europe you have to adapt to Europe.”
What does John Collins say? I think we can guess. A fitness fanatic as a player, an upper body strength pioneer, Celtic’s No.2 is surely part of a bad chef/bad chef arrangement determined to drive the club forward, banishing all thoughts of being able to coast in Rangers’ enforced absence.
Celtic succeeded in the Europa League on Thursday and surely the management team permitted themselves a smile at headlines like “Low-cal heroes”. I especially liked the man from Currant Bun’s intro describing Kris Commons’ winner: “On another night he might have decided to chip it.” But for as long as Deila hangs around, his players might do well to heed the payoff from that old ad.
After the lads wind up the van-man with their epic order, one of them quips: “Just gie’s a penny chew, mister.”