Wednesday, 24 April 2019

Scotland: that was then, this is now

Two things happened yesterday, the death at 79 of the former Celtic player and manager, and captain of the first British club to win the European Cup, Billy McNeill, and the announcement by the Scottish FA of a rather thin shortlist for a new head coach after the national team's lacklustre start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign, that somehow seemed to sum up the state of Scottish football now.

All but one of the so-called Lisbon Lions team which lifted the 1967 European Cup, with a 2-1 win over the favourites Inter Milan, was born within a few miles of the club's home ground, Celtic Park, and while the next generation of top Scottish footballers largely chose to ply their trade in England, with Celtic and other Scottish clubs becoming almost feeder clubs for big clubs south of the border in the 70s and 80s, the national side which they continued to represent was still a force in world football (the former Manchester United midfielder and Scottish international Lou Macari tells the story of how, when they were boarding the plane at Glasgow Airport to fly to Argentina for the 1978 World Cup, a worker there shouted up the steps from the runway that he'd see them back there the next month with the trophy). Now, of course, as in England, players in the Scottish leagues are as likely to come from other countries in Europe, or further afield, than they are the cities which the clubs in them represent.

The football writer Jonathan Wilson has pointed out that if you invent a sport (England and Scotland played the first international football match in 1872) and then export it to the rest of the world, the only way is down, and although I suppose Scotland's decline isn't quite as dramatic as that of two-time World Cup winners Uruguay or inter- and post-war central European powerhouses Austria and Hungary, the current national side and the performance of its league clubs in European competitions still stand in sharp contrast to those that I remember from the 70s and 80s.

Monday, 1 April 2019

D-Day approaches

With Britain's scheduled departure from the European Union now less than a fortnight away, a secret Government document outlining what a no deal exit from the 28-member trading bloc might entail has come to light.

The 42-page dossier entitled Advanced Planning Regulations If Leave Finally Only Option Left, discovered by a parliamentary clerk inside Lord Lucan's missing backgammon set, lists a number of measures which the government intends to implement on the first day of Brexit, including:

1. Petrol to be rationed so as to restrict car journeys to within ten miles of the coupon holder's home address. Special dispensations may be sought for journeys of an especially patriotic nature, e.g. coach expeditions by ornithologists in search of the sialia sialis above the white cliffs of Dover.

2. A new Small Growers' Relief is to be introduced in agriculture, although HMRC is yet to confirm whether this refers to the stature of the farmer or size of their plot. Keen allotment holder and Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn is said to be drafting an amendent restricting this to the growing of organic vegan produce.

3. Working hours are to be cut across the civil service, staff with surnames beginning A-K working Monday morning to Wednesday dinnertime, those with surnames beginning L-W Wednesday dinnertime to Friday afternoon, and those with surnames beginning X, Y or Z being excused from attending completely.

4. A new 2.8% abv limit introduced for beer and a ban on the importation of foreign wines and spirits to boost domestic production of British vodka, champagne and J├Ągermeister. Wetherspoons to be nationalised under workers' control in order to maintain public morale.

The new British National Diet to be introduced in all schools (baguettes to be renamed long bread rolls).