We have a Hall of Fame in Scotland but we also have a Scullery of Deedle-Dawdling.
In the immediate post-Brexit age I’d like it to relax the rules and make itself open to non-natives. Right now I hope it might say to Neymar: “Come in come in, it’s good to see you.”
The Scullery of Deedle-Dawdling is an elite club for gallus dribblers and swaggering patter-merchants. They maybe didn’t get to 50 caps; indeed some didn’t win a single representative honour. But they contributed to the story of Scottish football – the Bayview Tapestry you might call it – and we like to think they’re indigenous and that we embrace them more than most other countries.
We certainly embrace them more than France where last week Neymar was booked after attempting a rainbow flick. The superstar was playing for Paris Saint-Germain against Montpellier when, down by a corner-flag and with two defenders blocking his path, he gripped the ball with his ankles and tried to scoop it up and over their heads.
Strictly speaking, Neymar was shown yellow for doing his Brazilian nut. The referee didn’t like the angry response to being told to cut out the fancy stuff but that’s the key thing here: officialdom was cracking down on entertainment. Because that is what Neymar was doing, wasn’t it? Striving to demonstrate that, contrary to a semi-notorious blast from Bobby Williamson, if you want entertainment you don’t have to go to the cinema, it can just as easily be found at a football match.
Williamson apart, we love showboating, don’t we? This is the land of Jinky Johnstone, Willie Henderson, Morton’s Andy Ritchie, Jimmy Smith of Aberdeen, Denis McQuade of Partick Sizzle and an entire music-hall bill-poster of tanner-ba’ comedians. Well, we used to love these guys before football changed and dribbling seemed to fall out of fashion or wasn’t taught by the academies, but I like to think we’re still appreciative of skills first finessed on Tarmacadam with a mangy tennis ball or scrunched-up newspaper tied with string, or under yellow street lights before the upsurge in car ownership.
I loved the reaction the other night of Motherwell’s Declan Gallagher just after being given the runaround by Odsonne Edouard, inset. In the Fir Park media-room, showered but still in a bit of a dwam, the defender said: “I just think when Edouard is on that kind of form he’s unplayable. I was trying to get tight to him during the match but I’m still actually looking for him now, to see if I can find him.”
The Celtic striker is of course French. When we think of France in a sporting context, football or rugby, flair immediately comes to mind. As it should, the word having partly originated there. So what the hell’s happened to “liberte” in Ligue 1 that an acknowledged trickster and flickster is suddenly getting such a hard time? Maybe not suddenly. Last year Neymar was slated for making a pass with his back. Perhaps the identity of the showboater is part of the problem. Neymar has always been easy to admire and difficult to love (and easy to loathe at Celtic Park for playacting when at Barcelona). He left Barça, it was believed, because he couldn’t stand being second fiddle to Lionel Messi. At PSG he’s had spats with another team-mate who’s also a South American rival in Edinson Cavani; also with fans and the club’s hierarchy. He personifies the new Brazil, corporate and unsmiling and bearing little resemblance to the old Brazil, but then football has changed everywhere.
Scotland cannot quite pretend it’s always been a refuge for poor, misunderstood inveterate nutmeggers, welcoming rabona addicts without hesitation. I remember being at Alloa Athletic when Rangers under Mark Warburton paraded Nathan Oduwa, a keepie-uppie kid on loan from Spurs, who only took a few minutes to irritate the Wasps’ slow-turning defenders. “I felt as if he was taking the piss,” remarked one after the game.
I thought at the time that the issue seemed to strike at the heart of Scotland’s cultural identity. We professed to like flamboyance – and we do – but most of us are not natural showoffs. Many of us are natural masochists who don the hairshirt willingly. It all depends, I suppose, on who’s taking the piss.
But Neymar? He’s been subjected to enough hefty kicks to have earned the right to turn it on and show he won’t be cowed.
Of course he’s no Andy Ritchie. As debate began to rage over the PSG man, Morton’s magician popped up on Twitter with a clip of him leaving the entire Aberdeen defence with twisted blood. Did Willie Miller go radge that day? The Dons captain used to complain about everything but, no, he didn’t.
We have the Scullery of Deedle-Dawdling, you see.