Archie Gemmill disproves Gordon Strachan's genetics claim, says expert

An expert has refuted Gordon Strachan's claim that the Scottish national football team is '˜genetically behind' their competitors following their failure to qualify for the World Cup finals.

Archie Gemmill celebrates after scoring the winner for Scotland against the Netherlands in the 1974 World Cup. Picture: SNS Group
Archie Gemmill celebrates after scoring the winner for Scotland against the Netherlands in the 1974 World Cup. Picture: SNS Group

Professor Blair H Smith from the University of Dundee said ‘genetically different’ would be a ‘more accurate’ term and questioned the veracity of the claim height was the key to success.

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“While there is a suggestion that genetically determined height in men is associated with social advantage the jury is still out on that one,” said Dr Smith.

Gordon Strachan said genetics was a problem for Scotland. Picture: PA

“In football - the subject under discussion - small height has not stopped some players being excellent, and may even have conferred an advantage.”

Dr Smith - professor and clinical director in the division of Population Health Sciences - pointed to Archie Gemmill’s famous goal for Scotland against Holland at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

Data has shown the Dutch to be the tallest nationality in the world, with men currently averaging 183cm, yet Gemmill measured just 165cm.

Gordon Strachan said genetics was a problem for Scotland. Picture: PA

“Undoubtedly, his short stature, with his low centre of gravity, enabled him to dodge between defenders more effectively than could a taller player,” Dr Smith said. “And Gordon Strachan (height 168cm) scored a cracker against West Germany in the World Cup Finals in 1986.”

There is a trend that countries in southern Europe, such as Spain, are slightly shorter on average than those further north.

This does not seem to impact the nations in terms of football however, with the Spain starting line-up which won the 2010 World Cup final averaging 180cm - shorter than the average height of Strachan’s team (181cm) from Sunday night.

Dr Smith, one of four principal investigators for genetic analysis resource Generation Scotland, said he thinks Strachan’s tongue was ‘firmly lodged in his cheek’ when he made his comments.

However, Dr Smith said Strachan did have something right when he claimed: “Genetically we have to work at things, maybe we get big women and men together and see what we can do.”

“Height is a product of the genes we inherit from both parents,” said Dr Smith. “Therefore Strachan is correct in saying that a tall woman mating with a tall man is likely to produce tall children.

“There is no other way to ‘work on the genetics’, and such social engineering is unlikely to be acceptable.”

Dr Smith noted that around 20 per cent of an individual’s height was due to environment rather than genetics, and this has implications on averages on a national scale.

Height is one of the key measurements used to identify malnutrition, and environmental factors such as diet are deemed by experts to be inherently linked to nations’ average heights.