Surviving members of the Berwick Rangers squad of 1967 may have spent at least part of the last few days bitterly regretting having been shackled during that memorable year to tenth place in the Second Division of the old Scottish Football League, instead of being allowed to maraud through Europe.
Unleashed on the continent, there is a strong possibility that the England-based Scots, led by the late Jock Wallace, would have captured the Cup Winners Cup in Nuremberg to set beside the Champions Cup lifted by Celtic in Lisbon just six days earlier.
That, at least, is the conclusion that would be reached by anyone applying Lee McCulloch’s curious idea of what constitutes the correlation of form in order to reinforce an argument. In the world according to the current Rangers captain, the significance of Berwick’s famous 1-0 triumph over the Ibrox side in the first round of the 1967 Scottish Cup should be regarded as persuasive evidence of the high probability that they would also have been the superiors of Bayern Munich.
The celebrated West Germans, fans of a certain vintage will recall, beat Rangers by the same score in the Cup Winners Cup final at the Nurnbergerstadion; Berwick, however, achieved their victory through Sammy Reid’s goal during the regulation 90 minutes, while it took Bayern until the 19th minute of extra time to produce the decisive strike by midfielder Franz Roth.
By simple extension, therefore, we arrive at the logical outcome: Reid and his team-mates would have sorted out West German opponents who included in their ranks such pushovers as Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Sepp Maier. It is an example of the kind of bizarre notion with which – coincidentally in the same year – self-deluding supporters north of the border proclaimed Scotland world champions, by reason of their Wembley victory over England, who had actually won the title the previous summer.
It would be a matter of utter indifference to those who championed the cause of Scottish pre-eminence that, like Berwick and Europe, the national team – then in the charge of newly-appointed manager Bobby Brown – had not even qualified for the World Cup. Nor would there be any reduction in the level of bravado by the subsequent realisation that the England win, a qualifier for the 1968 European championship, would not even be enough to allow Brown’s team to top their group and reach the finals. Another 25 years would elapse before the Scots would make their first appearance at the European jamboree, in Sweden in 1992.
In the present day, McCulloch used this circuitous thought process to support his claim that there is, in terms of ability and overall strength, little or nothing to choose between those teams who inhabit the lower divisions of the SPFL and those who operate in the upper echelons of the Premiership.
As persuaders, he cited Championship team Morton’s Scottish League Cup victory over Celtic in September and the elimination of Motherwell from the Scottish Cup by Albion Rovers, from the lowest tier in the game, two months later. These were, he insisted, unshakable proof of the closeness of the various levels.
It is, of course, a preposterous proposition (which McCulloch himself would almost certainly acknowledge if pressed), but any ridiculing of the veteran defender should be tempered by the realisation that the piece in which he made the comparisons appeared on the official Rangers website.
Since football clubs’ own communications media are, by definition, propaganda sheets, anyone with half a brain would realise that any article that promotes the organisation’s best interests should either remain unread or hung on a nail on the wall of the nearest convenience.
And, naturally, the attempts to cultivate optimism and heighten the feelgood factor tend to intensify the closer the season draws to the onset of that most crucial event of all, the renewal of season tickets.
As a renowned Rangers man with a deep emotional attachment to his club – as well as commanding more respect from the supporters than any other player on the books – McCulloch would be a natural and willing accomplice to any promotional gambit that could assist in the rehabilitation of a seriously damaged institution. But it would be something of a shock to discover that he hadn’t privately reserved the right to hope that some malign providence does not in the near future arrange the kind of Scottish Cup draw that would give his argument a serious test.
Moyes: Who didn’t see it coming?
The most mystifying aspect of Manchester United’s diminished powers under new manager David Moyes is that it should be considered even mildly surprising. Anyone who has paid attention to Sir Alex Ferguson’s work over the past 30 years – most specifically his personal involvement in the recruitment and handling of star players – would realise that most of those at Old Trafford over the decades have signed and played for Ferguson as much as they have for Manchester United.
In addition, on his decision to retire – in no small part precipitated by the death of his sister-in-law, Bridget Robertson, his wife Cathy’s deeply-loved best friend – could he be expected to acquire a raft of new players in time for Moyes’s arrival? The new man himself declared his independence by immediately replacing the entire coaching staff and would surely have wanted control over potential imports on the playing side.
Nobody apart from Ferguson, Moyes and perhaps two or three select others at Old Trafford is privy to the business which preceded the changing of the guard, making the apportioning of blame pure speculation. And even a superficial knowledge of the history of the game should be enough to identify the statistical certainty that such transfers of supreme power are almost inevitably accompanied by a certain decline.