Scotland's Greatest Team STV
TONY Roper's smile-cum-grimace can be hard to interpret. On Thursday night, for example, he welcomed us to the final part of Scotland's Greatest Team and said it was "the debate that has captured the imagination of the nation".
Was that an ironic reference to the fact that, on several news channels at that very moment, millions were watching a debate which might just have far greater impact on our lives? Or were Roper and his scriptwriters presuming that, for those of us who did tune in, arguing the toss of who should be selected in central midfield was more important than the simultaneous squabble between Messrs Brown, Clegg and Cameron over foreign policy?
Because the thing was, even leaving the General Election to one side, this series never quite achieved lift-off in the way that Roper was implying. STV's previous series, The Football Years, did capture the imagination. Scotland's Greatest Team, by contrast, was an add-on; an afterthought.
The first series dug up a lot of rarely seen footage and got a lot of talking heads to put it in context. In the show about 1967, for example, we were treated to the Alfredo di Stefano testimonial between Real Madrid and Celtic in which Jimmy Johnstone stole the show.
In context it had a big impact. Real, who had won the European Cup six times by then, wanted to show that they, not the current holders Celtic, were the true champions of the continent. Johnstone proved how mistaken they were.
On Thursday, we saw a little clip from that evening as an illustration of how good Johnstone was. But we'd seen most of it before. And most of us knew that Johnstone was quite good anyway.
The other problem was the small print. That was found on the STV website, where we learned that our greatest team – voted for by viewers from a series of shortlists – would only include players capped from the start of 1967 onwards.
This was for the simple reason that a TV programme about footballers without footage of said footballers is not much of a TV programme.
We know that, and no-one was expecting STV to unearth film from the early decades of the international game.
But there are ways and means of presenting older material. Or, if you decide to exclude older players from the final team selection, you can at least pay lip service to them with a brief discussion of their achievements, because if you restrict selection to the post-'67 generation, you reduce the number of realistic candidates to the extent that there is just not enough scope for imagination.
The reason for that is the obvious dearth of truly international-class players in the Scotland team over the past 15 or 20 years.
Current No1 Craig Gordon made it on to the goalkeepers shortlist, but he was the exception. Almost everyone else was crowded around in that halcyon era from 1974 to 1986.
The ultimate team, it should be said, was not bad. In 4-4-2 formation it read: Andy Goram; Sandy Jardine, Alex McLeish, Willie Miller, Danny McGrain; Jimmy Johnstone, Billy Bremner, Graeme Souness, Davie Cooper; Kenny Dalglish, Denis Law. With Jock Stein as manager.
Of those on the shortlist, it was the omission of Jim Baxter which might provoke most argument. But you do not have to be ancient to be able to go a little further back, and suggest the odd name from just the wrong side of the cut-off point.
Dave Mackay, for instance, last capped in 1965, would have a good case for being selected in at least two positions. Further back, George Young long held the record for Scotland appearances, and like Mackay could play with equal accomplishment in a couple of positions.
And of course, from the days before television had taken off, the Wembley Wizards were not a bad lot either.
Jack Harkness, Hughie Gallacher and Alex James, to name three of that 1928 team, are surely among our greatest ever players. Fanciful? No more so than constructing a team from individuals who did not all play in the same era anyway.
Cracking soundtrack, though. The Stone Roses, Pixies, MGMT and The View, to name but a few.
Even though tracks by those artists were just there because goals looked good when scored to them, rather than for reasons of contemporaneity. True, Love Will Tear Us Apart, which played in the background as Stein was revealed as manager, was released during his tenure of the national post. Although that just made you scratch your head and ask if there were any hitherto-unmentioned connection between the manager and Joy Division.