Are we still paying the devil back for Joe Jordan’s handball in 1977, asks Alan Pattullo
Welcome though the thought is that Gordon Strachan is drawing up a roadmap for Scottish football, there is still the nauseous thought that the worst is yet to come.
Of the European nations who reached a major finals in the last century, only Scotland have failed to qualify in the current century”
Those who predicted a bleak scenario in which Scotland would be the only side from the British Isles absent from this summer’s Euro 2016 finals were branded arch pessimists at the time.
But Ireland’s passage through to the finals, as well as prompting a “should have been us” sense of agitation, means Scotland are now condemned to endure the opposite of the Summer of Love in a few months’ time.
We have been left to hold the coats while everyone else frolics naked in the sun. Instead of relishing the thought of blissed-out, hazy days to come, we can look forward to (more) bitter bemoaning the lot of the Scottish football supporter. Turn on, tune in, drop out? We’re dropping out all right. But forget turning on and tuning in.
Every device relaying updates from Euro 2016 can expect to be thrown out the window as soon as the squads start to get announced. In fact, mark 12 December down as a day to begin the news shutdown; this is the date of the draw, tantalising confirmation of who we might have played, the beautiful French cities where we might have been.
Of course, the desolation is deepened by knowledge this was The One. The One We Couldn’t Fail To Qualify For. Leaving aside the bleak irony of Scotland having helped petition Uefa to expand the number of teams from 16 to 24, it has been maddening to watch a series of fairly low-grade play-offs over the last few evenings.
No more so than on Monday, when an unremarkable Ireland, who failed to win against Scotland in two qualifying meetings, overcame Bosnia & Herzegovina fairly comfortably. Normally it is possible to find some consolation in the thought that such is the quality of football at a major finals, Scotland’s participation would only have diluted the excellence.
But this isn’t likely to be the case at Euro 2016, where there is a proliferation of sides that it is surely fair to describe as being no better than Scotland. But of course, we “didnae qualify” to quote the gleeful line of an old song. Well that particular joke has now rebounded fairly spectacularly on us. We cannot complain. But at least permit some wallowing in some self-pity.
Scotland are not just the wallflowers of British and Irish football. Our scope for underachievement is European in its reach and arcs back into the last millennium. It is underlined horribly by a gloomy statistic purloined from the online forum of the excellent When Saturday Comes and which serves only to torment Scots further.
Courtesy of Hungary’s qualification for Euro 2016 with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Norway, of those surviving European nations who reached the finals of a major competition in the last century, Scotland are now the only ones to have failed to qualify in the current century. Let’s stitch this claim to fame above the Lion Rampant.
As we slip further into depression, hopefully Strachan is at this very moment concocting a panacea. It’s comforting to think he might be spending each night at home in the Midlands making notes such as “scrap everything Mark Wotte has put in place” in the space next to the bullet point: youth football. We wait with bated breath to hear Strachan’s full blueprint.
Certainly, Jim McInally’s trenchant criticisms last week hit the mark. The Peterhead manager, who once was involved in the youth coaching set-up at Celtic, cited the overloading of mediocre young players at clubs as a major problem. But change will take years, perhaps even generations.
Sometimes it seems as though Scotland are simply due some luck. Ireland have had it, from a last-minute winner in Georgia on the opening day of their qualifying campaign to a very debatable handball decision that helped secure their second leg victory over Bosnia & Herzegovina earlier this week. This helped make karmic amends after Thierry Henry’s handball goal six years ago today sealed Ireland’s fate in a World Cup qualifying play-off.
Scotland, it’s true, never seem to get the rub of the green. Perhaps the stakes were so high at Anfield in 1977 that whatever deal was struck with the devil to turn Joe Jordan’s handball into a penalty for Scotland is still working to our detriment.
But that doesn’t explain the 1980s, when Scotland qualified for successive World Cups, or the 1990s, when they reached two out of three, while also qualifying for both finals of the European Championship.
They were good times, sure. And as is the way with good times, they were not appreciated as much as they should have been. Good luck to all those at the party this summer. Don’t mind us as we pretend not to be bothered from afar.