2007 - 2022

Wide Boy Attitude Kills Scotland

scotlandbadgeThe question posed in the old Radical Scotland magazine, was ‘Stands Scotland where she did’?

The answer in football terms is sadly, yes. Our failure to qualify for Euro 2016 next year in France, takes us neatly back to the last time we appeared in the finals of a major tournament; also in France in 1998 when we failed to make it out of our group in the World Cup.

There is no inherent reason why Scotland should not qualify for the finals of major football tournaments. Failure isn’t in the genes or the water, so we must look to more basic reasons.

As a country we have produced sportsmen and women able to beat the best in the world in other sporting disciplines, where a fraction of the finance available to football is spent.

Andy Murray, Sir Chris Hoy and Liz McColgan have all performed on the global stage and beaten the best the world could offer.

So if we can do it on the tennis court, the velodrome and the running track, why can we not produce similarly talented athletes on our football pitches?

Each of those three performers exhibited a fierce and passionate desire to reach the top of their chosen sport, along with the skills and the mental strength to instill serious doubt in the minds of opponents.

All three though, possess something else which has often been lacking in our national sport.

They all embraced the sheer hard graft and volume of work required, which our football has studiously avoided for many years.

The ‘what can we get away’ with, wide boy mentality, has been one of the main anchors weighing down real progress in our national game.

In the halcyon days of Scottish football, Celtic, Rangers, Aberdeen and Dundee United all reached European finals, with three of them winning trophies.

What we failed to realise then, was that we were at the tail end of the street football generation, where natural skills had been honed from a very early age.

Those countless hours of practice seven days a week when boys played for their schools, BB teams and just for the sheer fun of it, produced a generation of players with ball skills.

They had been working unknowingly at their craft, because by and large as a working class sport, there was little else for boys from their backgrounds to do.

The modern mantra is that ten thousand hours of practice is required to perfect the skills required to master a chosen sport.

Most boys of the football generation of thirty years ago had met that target by the age of sixteen, without ever being formally introduced to its existence.

We have been trying to address our technical skills shortage for a while, but for all the coaching schools and professional academies, a couple of generations of Scottish players have grown up without playing enough football to have truly mastered their craft.

Former Dundee United manager Paul Sturrock, complained that there were boys signing professional contracts at the age of sixteen, who could not trap a ball properly.

Without wallowing in nostalgia, modern kids do not play football as often as previous generations did.

Professional clubs also hoover up many more young players than previously. Under the old S signing format, they took on a limited number of players every year. Now, with clubs running teams at every age level, there has been a vast expansion in player numbers, leading to a huge attrition and dropout rate from the sport.

Hundreds of boys give up the game completely on being released and realising their dreams of a professional contract is dead. This system wastes financial, coaching and human capital.

The current deep sea trawling method scoops up every half decent player, only to throw them back into the football depths, when it becomes apparent that they won’t make the grade.

One ex player at a professional club, who dropped out of the game completely at the age of twenty one, told me that the youth game is still stuffed with ‘dinosaur coaches’ trying to teach four-four-two and other tactical systems to kids, instead of simply concentrating on letting them play football and enjoying the game.

Arguably, the last world class players Scotland produced were Dalglish and Souness, but there were many others who performed with distinction on the big stage.

Currently we see effort and commitment, but that should be a given. Flair and flamboyance need to be encouraged and allowed to flourish.

We have accommodated players of limited talent and vision, while shutting the door to the more gifted and maverick performers.

If we can’t qualify then perhaps the least we can do is entertain.

The Scottish national team hasn’t done either for a very long time.

Comments (51)

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  1. bill fraser says:

    Some of the premiership teams are breeding there own stars of the future with teams of 7 y.o. and upwards but they have to be given the chance to perform with the senior sides a bit more than they do.There is a development league but it receives little or no publicity.The media should be concentrating a bit more on our future stars rather than 2 or 3 top teams.

  2. john young says:

    The great Pep Gaurdiola when taking over Bayern had to explain to a whole clutch of world class players that he couldn,t fashion them a la Barca as they played this way from the age of 4/5,same as we did many years ago.We send our kids to school at 4/5 yet think that at 10/11 we can take a kid and “coach” him to footballing eminence not a “hope in hell” the Jesuits were correct “give me the boy and I will give you the man” if we are serious kids should/could be identified at as young an age as pos then encouraged to develop encouraged to at that early age to work with a ball to almost total exclusion of anything else.Last night and most others we showed how poor our first touch is,if you can,t control the ball you can,t have any impact on play.Question why are Scots so much smaller/weaker than most of our competitors even in these Islands,could some of it be down to the “ethnic cleansing” after Culloden,the best and the bravest being killed or dis-persed throughout the world,just a thought.

    1. Archie Hamilton says:

      John, I wouldn’t want to downplay the effects of the Highland Clearances but let’s keep a bit of perspective. One way or another, through wars, disease and political turmoil of one sort or another most Western European countries have suffered significant issues of impact on their populations at one stage or another.
      We can hardly use that as a factor in our decline as a footballing nation.

      1. duncan says:

        Spanish civil war?

  3. tartanfever says:

    Don’t forget that in terms of European and International competition we now have seeding (didn’t exist 3 decades ago). Competition favours the larger dominant nations because FIFA and UEFA only want to see the big brand names in competition because they bring in the most advertising revenue.

    We also have a plethora of new countries emerging since the break up of Russia.

    These have not only hampered Scotland but many other small European nations in getting to major finals.

    1. George young says:

      Well said sir.

  4. Clydebuilt says:

    SPENCY …… Haven’t read the article yet….. Over the moon that you’ve written a piece for BellaC ….. Miss your thoughtful contributions on radio Scotland…… Going to have a read now

  5. Clydebuilt says:

    Spence …..thought Scotland entertained well last night. Of course we’re gutted. But the game was exciting from start to finish. We scored two fabulous goals. This morning’s “moan in ” on radio Scotland asked listeners to suggest what we should replace football with as our national sport. This from a state broadcaster that refuses to pay up to televise Scotland Internationals, whilst we receive England’s games. So if your a young lad (or lassie) whose parents don’t have a sports package your unlikely to see your national team play. I don’t suppose this does much to thrill our youth. We pay our license fee and are left with the case that the lead presenter of “Match of The Day” is paid more than is spent on televising football in Scotland. There is a damaging injustice going on here.

    1. tartanfever says:

      Interesting point about the BBC. There is a much more subtle way that BBC programming has undermined Scottish football.

      Back in the day, we would have Sportscene on a Saturday night in which we would see highlights of all the day’s Scottish games. At the end of the coverage we would join what was left of Match of the Day which was being broadcast at the same time in England.

      The emphasis was always that Scottish games received first billing.

      Now we have Match of the Day as our main Saturday night football programme. For a time this was followed by The Football League Show (don’t know if that’s still going). Both of these programmes showed only English league games. Scottish programming in the shape of Sportscene in now relegated to the graveyard slot on Sunday night.

      In effect, Scotland has become a new audience for the English game which allowed the BBC to claim full UK coverage and hence the amount it felt justified to pay for it’s presenters along with the increased amount for TV rights

  6. Clydebuilt says:

    Woods should’ve been Spency …….

  7. C Rober says:

    But its got nothing to do with the amount of money the pros get on the field , would you risk your carreer for 90 mins playing for nothing but your country , I know I wouldnt risk losing up to 150k a week.

    It is the same with the foreign sides , they are in the case of the latin players the elite of the elite , but rarely do they take a chance , nor play until their lungs burst , that is until they are in the semi finals , only then do they come out of first gear.

    So perhaps we need to look beyond our first team players , and select up and comers , the new blood to shine on the international stage , basically offering their services to the wider net and lucrative pay deals…. only then will you get bravehearts in deep blue , that is until they too have contracts worth 100k plus a week.

    Overall I have always said that the ruination of the Scottish game has been the big two , where the lions share is , or was until recently , shared with two Glasgow teams.Simply having large academies doesnt justify the inequality , but they are prone to poaching from the youth leagues of other teams too.

    Until the SFA pays equally for participation , not simply for seats in the ground ,in its dispension of the tv monies , only then will the game improve at a national level.

    Rangers and Celtic have a lot to answer for , as well as the indoctrinated psuedo supporters in barras knockoff replica jerseys that have never even been in the grounds , never mind followed to away games.

    Ironically Ireland has its fair share of star players , on good wages , in teams around the EU as well as the UK , but their Lion roared , or was it that the Germans just lay down not wishing a career ending tackle – seeing as how they were already through? Just a thought.

    It is however getting bad when nations like Iceland , with less population than Greater Glasgow itself will be overtaking Scotland in the rankings.

    Gone are the Halcyon days of footie on the street , in shale parks where the only green is broken buckfast bottles , where champtions are born if not made…. Todays kids are driven to school , sit at computers and the only footy they play regularly is fifa on the xbox.

    Being a near 50 something , and I must add here always terrible at footy , I still played almost everyday during the summer of my childhood , even with only one eye that worked which made depth perception somewhat of a challenge.

    Which is why I have given up even watching it , the players of today have an afront to call themselves worthy of a Scotland top , so feck em all.

    Get the kids out there , get the part timers out there , call them from Morton , Partick , Paisley , Dundee and Inverness etc , and not from the big two , pick the benchers that cant get a first team game , and you bet they will put that little bit more into their game on the international Stage…..if not for the top , then simply to get the big wages abroad.

  8. Gary Elliot says:

    Your comment re failing to realise that we were at the end of the street football generation…”we” probably collectively did – but some people recognised it. I remember Andy Roxburgh, years before he was Scotland manager (how many Finals did he take us to again? 2? 3?) saying exactly that. We haven’t made the transition from street football ( because it was all there was to do) to organised development. Quite frankly, we’ll never be regulars at finals until that transition is addressed properly. Never mind Gordon Strachan or the first team managers position, the biggest loss that Scottish football has had in the past few years is the Dutch guy brought in at youth level – Mark Wotte. Left because of intransigence within the game. That says it all.

  9. Andymac says:

    Grow up FFS, it’s a game o’ fitba’, – get a bluidy life! That’s whit’s wrang wi’ ye a’ – it disnae matter. It REALLY disnae matter – grow up!

    1. Black Rab says:

      Yes. I agree with your sentiments. Football and sport in general is an entertainment which acts as a great distraction to the public and the real issues that affect their lives. Far too many people in Scotland have made the supporting of their favourite football team a so called way of life such as being a ‘mod’ or a ‘rocker’ for example.
      However, Jim Spense is right I believe, that the children have stopped playing in large enough numbers for enough talent to emerge as talented enough as to make a difference at professional level and that the existing football culture is outdated to do anything about it.

  10. old battle says:

    Once upon a time our best athletes/ sportsmen, with hand- eye talent, natural strength, agility, ball skills, speed and stamina played fitba’; there was nothing else. Now kids with genetic talent and strength etc have moved into individual sports. The three mentioned in the article chose Tennis, Cycling and athletics and now we see gold medalists in swimming, judo, gymnastics and boxing. There are far more options available for our small pool of sporting talent.
    And notice the shift is towards individual participation and away from the team sport. This reflects the material conditions of our work culture. We are seeing the decline in mass industrial collective employment ie Fordism and an increase in new conditions of p/time, self employment , individual terms and conditions of employment.
    There is in broad cultural terms a greater focus on the individual within the factors of production. We see this in the decline of union membership and the decline in social/collective organisations (Church attendance) & clubs. Social participation is in decline thus the decline in team participatory sports like fitba. Me-ism rules. Not anyone for tennis but everyone for ‘tennis’.

  11. old battle says:

    PS the Wullie Shakespeare quote from Macbeth at the top of the article should read :

    “Stands Scotland where it did?”

    And the devastating reply still resonates
    “Alas, poor country!
    Almost afraid to know itself. ”

    A sad but accurate reflection on the post ref result!

  12. HORACE McGONAGAL says:

    The problem is though with all these theories, especially the nonsense of the demise of street football – as convenient and lazy as it may be – does not stand-up to close examination. If we are to consider that the late seventies were the end of street football then why in 78, 82 and 86 did we fail so badly. At that time we had Souness, Dalgliesh, McGrain as genuine world class players and Miller/ Mcliesh as a world class defensive partnership. Additionally we also had Hegarty and Narey to fall back on and that is without including the Liverpool captain and outstanding CH in europe in Alan Hansen. These guys were the backbone of two of the most successful clubs in europe. Furthermore, we had Strachan, McStay and a multitude of great forwards to numerous to mention. What did we win? Some of our more inglorious defeats came about during that period. To take the easy, of times have changed, no longer are kids interested is nonsense, if it was true then why have Ireland, Wales, Northern Ireland and even Iceland flourished, do they not have xboxes and internet?

  13. Sean says:

    Some serious nostalgia heads in having a moan. we played a really good game against Poland and if it wasn’t for a lapse in concentration would of won. don’t know if any of you watched it but we scored two screamers which would have be celebrated as such if they were scored by Argentina. Also I think the Scottish game while at the moment isn’t the greatest we do have some good talent that maybe should be getting a look in. I agree with the guy was saying about bbc and stv not showing our national game is a joke yet we can watch England play which I guarantee the majority of people watching in Scotland are either English or will turn it over after England score because of their deluded comentators. but any way you support your team through the hard times and the good and we are all just gluttons for punishment cause we support Scotland 😛

    1. James Coleman says:

      Don’t know why TV channels get hammered over not showing Scottish games. The SFA CHOSE to sell their games exclusively to SKY. The English FA did not do so, simply because even without exclusivity SKY was willing to pay up a lot of money.

      As to showing English matches in Scotland, it is just cheap fill TV for the companies when the English airwaves are showing England games. The alternative would be ancient repeats of forgettable programmes. Buy a disk!

  14. florian albert says:

    Jim Spence’s analysis of the disappearance of the working class culture which produced the Baxters and Laws is accurate.
    His conclusion; if we can’t qualify at least we can entertain. Countries such as Spain manage to produce players who can entertain, qualify and win at the highest level.
    Getting rid of the dead hand of ‘coaches’ would probably help but, in itself, will not lead to players, who have failed to master the basics, becoming the Scottish equivalents of Iniesta and Lewandowski.

    1. HORACE McGONAGAL says:

      The problem is there is no evidence that is true … why in the 80’s did we have a squad awash with talent in every position, yet win nothing? Future generations into the nineties managed to hold their own however we still won nothing. Yet two decades(2000s)later we had players picking up caps that should never have been anywhere close to a wearing a Scottish jersey?

      1. We may not have won anything but we qualified regularly

    2. HORACE McGONAGAL says:

      Jim Spence’s analysis of the disappearance of the working class culture which produced the Baxters and Laws is accurate.

      No it is not! Explain to me where did Souness, Dalgliesh, Mcgrain, Miller and many others come from? It is absolute nonsense.

      1. Clydebuilt says:

        The players you name would have played football in the street or park with their mates…….. What’s your point

    3. maxi kerr says:

      Florian, I could go on about all the theories expressed on here but …footballers are not allowed to dribble anymore in football. These coaches(robots) have a lot to answer for.

  15. Chill Wills says:

    Do countries like Wales, Ireland and Belgium not have x boxes and the internet? This excuse has been going on for a while now. If other small countries are producing good footballers then lets look at what they do because what we are presently doing is not working too well.

  16. Daniel Mooney says:

    Trouble is when clubs do try to go down the youth/flair route the gaffer swiftly has his players sold from under him and gets the tin tack for his efforts (see Jackie Mac).

    To borrow the old base/superstructure metaphor, all the problems come back to the economic disparity. The English clubs are throwing buckets of money over themselves and eachother in a way which never happened in the 70s, 80s, 90s. As a corollary, even once-mighty Celtic are regularly denuded of their better players by English seaside teams!

    That makes Scottish football very much a second class product. Then there’s the delusion and the corruption: the notorious ‘five-way agreement’ means, effectively, that club football north of the border is part-scripted in the style of TV’s ‘The Only Way is Essex’.

  17. john young says:

    I do not think that most on here understand football,we are “coaching” youngsters that cannot even control the ball ffs we have internationalists that have difficulty getting the ball under control,what is the point you are far too late to attempt coaching if the basics are not in place,I have first hand experience of the SFA coaching sessions and they are rubbish,once more we have a “jobs for the boys” system.

  18. Andy McKean says:

    We played a decent enough game but failed to convince in several of the previous games. Strachan had the team working together, but in the end improvement has been marginal.
    Something great is happening in Belgium, and has been happening in other small countries such as Croatia for some time now. We need to take a look at them.
    I watch football at junior and lower league levels, and I’m convinced that it’s far better than ever before in the past 50 years, and that this can only be down to better coaching. However at SPL and international level we have become gradually worse, and this suggests that there is a structural problem at the top of the game which hinders young players progression, or that, physically, we just can’t compete at the top in modern times, suggesting problems in wider society.

  19. Kenny Smith says:

    I understand the total disappointment that we are feeling now and after these things we tend to look round for reasons why we couldn’t take advantage of our best chance to make a final in years. I can’t just bat away all the arguments that have been mentioned because I do think the end of street football probably did play a part, probably the introduction of other sports didn’t help either. I also think we did suffer from importing a lot of foreigners into our top clubs. I think we have improved under Strachan without having a Gareth Bale like talisman. I never played at any real level but I saw some amazing players wasted by drink and drugs but I guess that opens up an other debate on society in general. I think the BBC and Sky could put more money in but the financial collapse has lead to more of our younger players getting a chance but I do think we need to do more. These are all suggestions that have been put forward before but what I would love to see is 2 top leagues expanded to 16,18 teams with a proper pyramid system and play offs. Summer football is an absolute must in my opinion. I’m no saying English people would watch it but they might if its all that’s on. It is better from youths all the way up when the weather is brighter and warmer. I also think ticket pricing should be looked at to try and get families back to games. I’d like to end by saying that we have had some shocking groups to try and get out of as well.

  20. C Rober says:

    I did not mean to offend but my argument stands , even the names mentioned were products of the parks and streets from our heydays.

    They were however in part the beginning of the truly pro game in Scotland , and imparted their European team playing years into coaching the next generation

    The only way to cut their teeth just like when they started playing was back at home , at least imprting EU club fitness and education if not tactics , yet did better after their apprenticeships were served by Managing Scottish clubs elsewhere , usually England and bigger budgets that went with it.

    The difference is therefore , seeing as how the question has been asked , then why has the xbox generation led to failure in Scotlands game but not in Belgium , Iceland et al , or has it had any effect at all?

    Kids need to be took to task with a discernible talent asap , told how to eat , how to train for fitness and so on .

    Given the history of the likes of the West Coast teenager , ideally before the other kids of their age and locale get into drink , drugs and dirtys , the tragic history of Scottish health , then like those of yesteryear footy still offered a way out , a life outside the mine , the shipyard , the bookies and the pub just like their faithers.

    Their future isnt just a matter for a P.E Teacher , a kids club coach or the parents individually , but all of them as a whole , perhaps even for Hollyrood too , and where one part fails should we drop those that cant even do those basics of professionalism – despite obvious on the park talent?

    Would the Bests and Baxters of history have faired the same today , with less talent but more professionalism? Perhaps they wouldnt have needed a second liver at least.

    Relying on Team Academies is all fine and well , but should we have a bigger national academy , out with the control of the clubs pre 18 year old , but still remain funded by them , after all its the lower teams that cant compete with Celtics and Rangers income that will benefit the most , therfore the national game as a whole?

    The big two and the CHQ book , how does it affect the game in Scotland?

    When the chq book buys a player , its not always to play them week in week out , but sometimes to bench and loan maybe to the Premiership , whom also do the same , allowing the bigger bank balance teams to win before a ball is kicked simply through buying their competitors star players , it has been evident not just in Scotland and the UK but in the professional game in Europe.

    The likes of Larson warming a Spanish bench , even though hes not Scottish shows the point , he followed the money , and the wife , to weather better than Scotland , from were he was regarded as a god by some , just shows that footballer are mercenaries , or “big fish in little ponds” ” qoute Hansen” , and the national shirt doesnt even come second place. However there is argument that perhaps his experience will bear fruit now he is in management , back with the club he too started with as a boy , just like old Scots players returning to their club for late years apprenticeships.

    Beckham , currently the worlds richest ex footballer , with more riches than the queen hersel , no naw posh the ither wan , well he would have been nothing without his auld da , up the park at every opporchancity practicing the basics , in all weathers , and then of course on to the underfunded kids team coaches to work with …. eventually during his wonder years into the hands of Ferguson , finally moulding Becks to prolong that career rather than piss it away , Ferguson himself nay stranger to tarmac footy and seeing talent pissed away.

    But from what I see of todays da’s at the touchlines they are pocket coaches that think their star player of the future has more talent than they really have , and do very little to nurture the professionalism that would be needed to go onward past the age of 14 , assuming the wain grows past 5″6 that is…..and I doubt they have , unlike Becks da , ever even been doon the park practicing placement passes never mind sprint training.

    With no obvious parental training regime , instead relying on 2 hrs of p.e a week from the school is just not enough , nor is “findus crispy pancakes for dinner wi chips” over food training – which is an integral part of of all training…. ye kin take that wan quote fae Tommy Burns , a professional player , then manager , one that again also came fae the tarmac pitch.

    Could it be that these Truly independent countries already mentioned , are able to harness , able to fund , without politics and bias fae their league teams , able to nurture , through not just their FA but also by their Govts funding of Sport , or is it if we check the history of those countries own good players will we see that they have simply followed the money and left it , at an early age and the first opportunity , onward to foreign leagues for furtherment?

    The demise of oor game is therefore maybe multi faceted.

    So in order to improve the nations game , perhaps the big fish just has to leave the pond , to return briefly with further talent to bear the blue , or is it the SFA are inept at grassroots , so Hollyrood should take over the amateur aspect and its financing , or is the big five getting the lions share itself the only problem and is therefore far from it being an xbox and schoolrun thing as I orignialy said?

    Perhaps we can add that in the last 20 years the School game has also dissapeared ?

    Teachers dont want to do it , parents cant or wont , so can we improve that alone by incentivising the coaching structure of the school leagues through Hollyrood financially , rather than today to rely on lottery and parental funding for shirts etc and have vocational coaches as funding continually goes to opera , orchestra and so on to fund the arts for the wealthy.

    Or could we add to the equation that some of these higher seeded countries now doing so well , with a smaller population , have , like Scotland , a larger pool of folk with foreign grannies we can blame?

    Could we also ask whether the EUFA directives have harmed or bettered the game , at least for the most part in countries where bigger money is available to spend on players , and instead demand that EUFA declare all teams have to front , at the whistle , a majority of players eligible for the national squad in the national leagues?

    Perhaps we could also ask if we are still a united country then why do we not have a national league?

    Would the Scottish big two be , as suspected , and long argued by the Scottish turncoat pundits on SKY ,be reduced to the likes of Blackpool or Newcastle of today , teams that could whop our national side as it currently stands.

    Its a funny old game right enough.

  21. Patrick says:

    I’ve been involved in youth football, both pro-youth and otherwise, for a few years now and I think I can shed some light on this issue.

    First off, I’d like to start with the stuff about how Scotland’s footballers ain’t what they used to be; I’m very suspicious of this argument. Every generation tends to think that youngsters nowdays aren’t made of the same stuff, and that people/society/culture, whatever, has regressed. Football and ‘football people’ are no different in this respect. I believe it’s more likely that Scottish footballers now are better than they’ve ever been (broadly speaking). The problem is that the rest of the world has improved too, and they’ve improved faster than us.

    It’s far more comfortable to blame Xboxs, coddling mothers and laziness. It’s easier to suggest that we go back to what it was like “When ah wur a lad”. The reality is much more uncomfortable; Scottish football hasn’t strayed too far from the old methods, the problem is that it’s remained too wedded to them.

    There’s also a lot of talk of pro-youth clubs shattering dreams and ruining potential careers by releasing players. I think there are problems with how pro-youth is organised (more on that later) but this isn’t one of them. When a youngster is released from their pro-youth team they’re not banished to a land of ghosts and shadows, they’re free to find a local ‘boys club’ (non pro-youth) team. Moreover, the fact that they’ve been released from a pro-youth team practically guaruntees them a place with a club at a lower level, as the fact that you were once picked up by a pro-youth side is taken as a stamp of quality. I’ve seen this several times personally. If somebody chucks the game because they get released, that’s not the club’s fault an not an argument to do away with elite youth football.

    However there are problems with pro-youth football.

    The main one applies to ‘boys club’ football too: kids got to 11-a-side too early. Currently kids start playing 11-a-side at U13 level (12 years old). This, I believe, is catastrophic for their development for a number of reasons

    Most obviously, they get fewer touches of the ball and become less invovled in game. Quite simply, there are more players on the pitch and, such is the nature of 11-a-side, most of them are nowhere near the ball at any given moment. This is an issue, but funnily enough, it’s actually the least important of the problems caused by going to 11’s too early.

    Beyond that, it encourages coaches to do stupid things. Youth coaches don’t take teams from U13 all the way up to U17, they tend to work with one year at a time. This means that for all the talk of long-term thinking, the people invovled are actually forced to think short-term. And when you’re thinking short-term about a team of 12-year-olds playing on full-size pitches with full-size goals, you start doing destructive things.

    i) You need to get height and speed in your team because the pitch is so monstrously over-sized. As a general rule, the best player on the pitch when 12/13/14 year olds are playing 11-a-side is the guy who hit puberty earliest. That guy is Ronaldo for a couple of years until everybody else catches up. I’ve seen most pro-youth teams in Scotland at this age group, and that’s the case in 90% of them.
    But even if you don’t have any big kids who’re good, you’ll need some big kids who’re crap to defend set-pieces and physically compete with the big kids in the other team. Somebody who’s 5’8 eats up the ground much faster than somebody who’s 5ft, and unless you want to lose 10 goals a game from lobs over your defence that their big striker just runs on to, you’ll need some giants at the back.

    The effect of this is that youth coaches at U13-15 level prize physicallity more than anything in their players. We all know that this isn’t the best way to encourage the next Xavi to come through, but it won’t change until we delay the age at which kids move to 11-a-side.

    ii) Coaches have to focus on formation and shape. Spence bemoans this in his peice as if it’s just a stupid thing that ‘dinosaurs’ do. The fact is, if you’re coaching 11-a-side, you’re forced to think about it. Back 4’s need to know how to get narrow and how to hold an offside line. Midfielders need to learn not to run all over the place. You’re more-or-less forced to focus on formations at too young an age. Not only that, but you’re forced to stick players in one position and leave them there. Ideally, players would move around, but you can’t just play a striker and a left mid in central defence in a game of 11’s; rigidity become a necessity.

    This is in contrast to 7-a-side, which they play at U12 level, where there are no off-sides and your team will have a general shape but lots of interchanging is encouraged and players often play numerous positions throughout the season, or even in one match.

    iii) 11-a-side requires too many players. An 11-a-side squad at youth level is normally made up of at least 16 players, but there are often as many as 20 as coaches make allowances for the fact that 90 minutes on a full-size pitch is too much for most kids. As there are no limits to substitutions, and cover for injury and absense is required, coaches often have far more players than they would otherwise need.

    This is where I have sympathy for the ‘broken dreams’ criticism. Pro-youth is a big commitment for kids and their parents and normally involves the delusion that little Johnny is going to be a star, whether the club encourages this idea or not. Because football is a team game, clubs are forced to bring through an entire squad every year just so they can play matches. However, the first team is made up of players between (roughly) 18 to 35 years of age. Think about it; if only 1 player makes it each year, that’s enough to fill up you entire first-team squad (15-20 players aged between 18-35). Of course in practice it doesn’t work like that, but it illustrates the point; you need to bring through far more players than any club could possibly need just because football is a team game. By necessity you’re going to have to string along 95% of them, who have no hope.
    11-a-side doesn’t cause this problem, but it does exacerbate it. If teams kept playing 7-a-side longer, before transitioning to 9-a-side, then 11’s, clubs could have far fewer youth players on their books. After all, you only need 10-11 players in a squad if you’re playing 7-a-side. This would cut the attrition rate and mean that the best players were playing against the best.

    3) Pro-youth wastes people’s time. Scotland is a sparsely populated country, and a sparse population isn’t ideal for developing footballers. Due to youth football, I’ve been to almost every corner of our broad and pleasant land; Inverness, Ayr, Stranraer, Dundee, and everywhere in between. The team I was travelling with was always based in Glasgow. It’s not too bad if you live in the central belt, because most teams are within an hour’s drive, but if you’re from Aberdeen or Dundee and you’re playing pro-youth, you’ve got an all-day round trip every second week. Try doing that when you’re the 2nd choice left back and you’ve got a geography project and an English essay due the next day. I don’t think these trips are fair to kids and I think we should regionalise pro-youth football. Scotland is a wee country, but geographically speaking it’s pretty big. We should take this into account.

    More than that, the SFA should zone kids for pro-youth teams to a certain extent. I’ve known kids who’ve travelled out to Edinburgh or Falkirk from Glasgow 4 times a week because that’s where their team was. I knew one kid who travelled from Bute to Glasgow 3 times a week for training. He got released. The SFA should force clubs to cooperate in order to prevent kids damaging their education and wasting countless hours travelling like this. That’s one of the differences between pro-youth and ‘boys club’; the latter is almost always a short distance from where you live.

    Aside from geography, Scottish football has a cultural problem. Roberto Martinez has an interesting theory about why British football is the way it is. He says we should look at the ‘second sport’ in the country. In Britain it’s rugby, whereas in Spain it’s basketball.

    Rugby teaches the importance of ‘territory’: in rugby, you don’t arse about with the ball near your own try line. You fire it into enemy territory and charge forward to put pressure on them. This is also something that happens a lot in Scottish football (it happens in England too, but more so in the lower-leagues than the cosmopolitan and insanely wealthy EPL). This tactic in football mitigates risk, but it also prevents you from ever controlling the game. It’s the sort of thing that works quite well on bad pitches with bad players, but stops working on good pitches with good players.

    Basketball, on the other hand, teaches you to pass and dribble in tight spaces, and that turn-overs of possession are a major problem. In basketball you pass around the opposition’s goal until you carve out an opportunity, and unlike rugby, you never just launch the ball to get your team up the park.

    Maybe it’s coincidence, but it’s quite a persuasive idea. Spain do play more like a basketball team, and Scotland more like a rugby team. And this starts with youth football.

    Here’s the thing, though; the current crop of Spain players went to 11’s at the same age as Scottish kids did.

    That little piece of information seems to blow a hole in what I’ve just said about 11’s being the problem. In fact, the more I’ve been around youth football, the more I’ve encountered little this issue: there’s always a seemingly valid reason not to change anything. There’s always a country that does it like us and doesn’t seem to suffer from the same problems. Indeed, we often tell ourselves that our coaching courses and expertise are the envy of the world.

    But this is where we need to get smarter. What if Spain gets away with going to 11-a-side too early too because their sporting culture mitigates the problem? What if countries with better weather don’t need to work as hard to produce players as us? What if Portuguese and Italian kids tend to eat healthier diets and German and Dutch kids tend to grow up to be bigger? What if some countries produce more and better athletes? What if kids in Chile and Honduras don’t play as much Xbox?

    We need to adapt Scottish football to address the idiosyncracies of Scotland itself. Spence mentions street football; the truth is, our climate is practically tailor-made to prevent street football. It’s cold and wet and dark for half the year. So we need to build in-door pitches, and make them free for kids to use. Indoor pitches exist in Scotland, but kids can’t just walk on and play on them. It might be much more expensive, but we don’t have equatorial sunshine, we won’t get away with expecting kids to play on the street like they do in Argentina.

    In Scandinavia they play summer football. We don’t. We do what they do in Spain and Italy; we stop playing in summer. This applies to youth football as well as the professional game. For them it’s too hot, but for us it’s the only period of good weather. Think it’s practical to play the passing game in 40mph sleet? Ask a Scottish youth player, cause the chances are they’ve tried it and given up. Not only does it make the game harder, but grass pitches can’t recover during the winter months because it’s too cold and dark. Every kid in Scotland has to deal with this as some point. As for the pro’s: between November and April every year we hear SPFL managers talking about adapting their tactics (kicking it long) due to the poor playing surfaces. Then we ask ourselves why our national team can’t seem to pass the ball like the continentals, as if it’s some unfathomable mystery.

    There are so many things I’d change about Scottish football, too many to list here. Those are just a few of them.

    1. Lee Ross says:

      Excellent post, thanks for sharing. I absolutely agree with your opinions on 7 a side and pitch sizes. I recently watched kids @ 9 yrs playing on a third of a full size pitch 7 a side. Even this is to big and often i noted how the goalkeeper and defender would stand talking and be detached from the game as it was played at the other end. My big problem with kids football is how little time on the ball kids can get. I would rather they got great training sessions where they have the ball allbthe time rather than play games where they stand around freezing.
      Finally, a mention re rugby, my boy aged 8 has started rugby at the expense of football. What Rugby does offer at this age is the chance for the kids to be involved all the time, and, dare i say it i would also say the training and organisation is better than i have found in football.
      Finally, finally i wonder if you think good young footballers are over coached these days? By that i wonder if by the time a good youngster gets to elite level in Scotland they have been coached for so long that they have lost some of the natural skills that made them stand out in the first place?

    2. Jim says:

      Can’t disagree with anything in your post – if only you were making decisions at the top of the SFA! If each community in Scotland had an indoor facility free to use for kids what a difference that would make. People would protest at the cost but this would encourage kids to be active and prevent obesity and the associated medical costs in later life.

  22. Hoomach says:

    I want to focus wee bit on the ten thousand hours mantra because for all that it has become a cliché it’s true.

    Even if we started kids at 5 playing or training 2 hours a day, 5 days a week they would be in their early 20s before they got their ten thousand hours in.

    You mention other great Scottish athletes but the key difference for me is that guys like Murray or Hoy are practising 6, 7, 8 hours a day – much of it fitness; much of it focusin on one small element of their game and doing it over and over and over again until they feel happy with it.

    Clearly there has to be a degree of innate talent which is hard to quantify but there is no getting around the ten thousand hours too.

    Some years ago an American college student with no innate talent decided to challenge the ten thousand hours theory by learning to play golf from scratch.

    He broke the game down in a number of elements (putting, pitching, etc.) and he focused on one element at a time not moving on to the second until he had mastered the first.

    By the end of the ten thousand hours he was competing at a professional level though his lack of innate talent prevented him from becoming a winner as he acknowledged himself.

    So Jim is right – there is no substitute for hours and hours of practice – and that needs to be a career-long habit

  23. Socrates MacSporran says:

    Please people, get real. In modern times – post World War II, Scottish football has never been as good as we like to think it is.

    Just look at our record over the post-WWII decades:

    1940s – one qualifying campaign (1950 World Cup), did not qualify, offered “wild Card”, did not accept it.
    1950s – two campaigns (WC 1954 and 1958) – qualified both times – did not get out of groups.
    1960s – four campaigns (WC 1962-66-70, Euros 1968) failed to qualify in all four campaigns.
    1970s – five campaigns (EC 1972-76-80;WC 1974 – 1978) qualified twice, did not get out of groups.
    1980s – five campaigns (WC 1982-86-90; EC 1984-88) qualified three times, did not get our of groups.
    1990s – five campaigns (EC 1992 – 96 – 2000; WC 1994 – 98) qualified three times, did not get out of groups.
    noughties – five campaigns (WC 2002- 06 – 10; EC 2004 – 08) did not qualify
    teens – three campaigns (EC 2012 – 16; WC 2014) did not qualify.

    Thirty qualifying campaign ten successful – 33.3% success rate. Is this acceptable? That success rate certainly does not equate to the guid conceit we hae o’ oorsel’s as a fitba nation.

  24. john young says:

    When sending kids to school at 4/5 yrs of age their abilities they show are scrutinised and encouraged whereby at the end of their time they hopefully go on to better things,we have little or nothing in this sense in sports football at least,Beckham to is credit worked with his father endlessly developing a side to his game”use of the ball” that brought him to the top in football so kudos to both him and his father,he didn,t have the “natural ability” of many others but he was dedicated.Not only in the sporting field do we fail our kids inmo we do so in the academics where about 85% are failed by a curriculum not suited to them and are condemned by it,we should be adopting a more “holistic” curriculum that takes into consideration the “whole” of the child and the encouragement to a happier and productive life for them,it would need a huge change in how we view education and the children involved,the world we live in will change through technology it will change beyond even our imagination,we have to look for a place in this new world for our kids.

    1. mogabee says:

      The new curriculum IS holistic and children are given a very wide range of sporting opportunities.

  25. Duncan McIntosh says:

    There are two dynamics at work, finance and the game itself.

    Sitting next door to England, as many have pointed out, is a drain on our game.

    The bbc is both lazy and malevolent in its coverage and share of coverage of football in Scotland. The bbc chooses to pour English football into Scottish homes, unrestricted. Would the English people be happy if this were reversed or if Spanish or Germans football were poured into English homes via the state broadcaster?

    To me the current direction of football coverage is an anglicisation of the entire uk. This means Scottish kids will more readily identify with what they see on their TV screens. Also money leaches to England and Scots with a national game that is financially challenged end up subsidising and supporting the game in England awash with money.

    Out with financial side what must be done?

    Clear out SFA of deadwood, Strachan to stay however, he’s the best we have and his heart and head are in the right place.

    Reorganise leagues, premier league to have 16 teams.

    All voting by straight majority, no clubs with vetoes, 1 team, 1 vote

    Winter break over December and January

    Reduce numbers of mediocre foreign players and promote home grown young players

    Copy what is being done elsewhere that is recognised as best practice or innovative, Implement it in schools

    Consult with current and past managers

    Under 16 get in for nothing at matches not sold out

    Work withholder small countries to reduce the strangle hold that larger countries have over European football, negatively handicapping smaller countries and favouring larger countries mean we will never see a Celtic or Ajax win the top prize.

    Lastly all is not doom and gloom

  26. Stuart Bryant says:

    An ex professional footballer, club and national team head coach, should not be saying on national radio, that the game against Georgia was “Not a must win game”, if that was the guff he was prepared to share with the entire expectant Scottish football fans who had France in their sites, what kind of mind set was he instilling in this current batch of footballers?

    Football in Scotland is definitely on the slide when nobody thought to bring Strachan to task about that wee quip.

  27. Peter says:

    Inarguably the last World Class player we produced was Craig Gordon. He’s still playing but for some reason wasn’t in goals instead of that dud Marshall.

    And, unlike gareth bale, he isn’t a steroid abusing monster.

    We didn’t qualify because our manager picked duds. Couldn’t organise a defence to save his life and sent the team out to lose against germany and not win against georgia and ireland.

    Also we have two cancers in our midst who sabotage our country at every opportunity. Which other country has clubs that persuade their best players to play for other countries? just doesn’t happen.

    We have better players than wales and ireland combined and always will have. Cringing cringers and the outright racism of the gfa and their hatred of all things Scottish is the problem.

  28. john young says:

    Here,s hoping then mogabee.

  29. mike says:

    I am Surprised more people have not mentioned all the people supposedly running the game. How many different governing bodies does a small nation need? It’s no wonder we have no cohesion at all the different levels of Scottish football, it’s the most complex league setup out there.This surely leads to too many personal agendas. These are the people who have let the game lurch from one crisis to another. They have talked our game down, left it un sponsored, failed to make sure it was televised at proper prime times, broken their own rules to suit themselves, squandered money on Hampden when it should have just been replaced, look at what Wales and Ireland got! I could go on but we have all watched the blazer bunch destroy the game in this country. My friend runs an under 11’s team and he is ready to pack it in due to the bureaucracy in trying to get the team a game, the level of support, general attitude of the SFA and the pen pushing jobsworths. I dont think it is going to get better until we clear out ALL of the different bodies and become one clear organisation run by the best footballing brains in this country and abroad.
    I have seen lots of really good ideas online in regards to our professional setup, the most popular being modeling our game on the German system and moving to summer football. We can’t compete with our neighbours in the south but summer football for Sky or BT is surely a money maker for our game. The talent is out there it just doesn’t get a decent chance at development, from playing on pitches akin to ploughed fields, and having to use 5th rate facilities. I get the feeling we have probably missed some very good players and at the same time under developed others as well.

  30. Douglas says:

    A Spanish mate asked me the other day if we still had a national fitba team…

    …”No!” I said without hesitation….

  31. VERITAS says:

    Well Said Jim.
    Having followed Andy Murrays games and fortunes around the world for the last 8 years and just watched him recently real close up at Emirates I am with you 100%
    I can just picture Andy Murray talking to Shaun Maloney ..
    Andy :So Shaun how many plays do you have on free kicks ..
    Andy :,FFS it should be 22……
    Andy:.So Shaun How many times a day do you practice each one?
    Shaun: About 15
    Andy : FFS It should be 1500
    we deserve all we get .. I really like Scott Brown I would always have him in a team he is fearless and has some real leadership qualities ..but he is in the ‘can’t trap a ball category at that level ‘..
    And that tells us everything !!

  32. Andy McDougall says:

    Clearly this is a complex and multi-faceted issue and the national team failing once more cannot be attributed to any single factor. I think, however, that a number of people are confusing the ills of the national team with those of national club football. The two don’t necessarily correlate to the extent that some seem to think. Many countries present at tournament in France next summer will have poorer domestic leagues than Scotland. Wales and Northern Ireland among them. As for the dominance of the league by a small number of clubs, well, while it is hardly desirable, it doesn’t seem to be hindering the German or Spanish national sides too much.

    Many comparisons have also been made with the relative successes of Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. These places are climatically, culturally and societally similar to Scotland. Many have bemoaned our youth’s obsession with videogames, but it’s not as if kids in Swansea spend less time on the Xbox than kids in Glasgow. So what are they doing that we are not? Why have they outperformed us this time? It is hard, I’m afraid, to avoid the conclusion that, quite simply, our players and manager have underperformed in this campaign.

    The three countries mentioned have, as well as poorer domestic leagues, smaller and inferior talent pools to select from. With all due respect, and with a few notable exceptions aside, they are not producing better players than Scotland. Maybe they have had a slice of luck here and there but huge credit must go to their players and to Chris Coleman and the O’Neills, Michael and Martin, for what they have done with that is at their disposal.

    But we won’t find many long-term solutions looking to our Celtic cousins. Nor will we find them in romanticising about street football, because, shocking as it may seem, kids don’t play in the streets any more in most European countries. Yes, they really do have cars in Spain too and somehow they still produce players with extraordinary technical capabilities.

    Now, “street football” as more of a vague concept of a cultural tendency towards small-sided, skill-focussed play, that’s something else. Youngsters in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and elsewhere are much more exposed to futsal and variants thereof than kids in the UK. In Spain they start playing 11-a-side much later than they do here. This is something that I, and no doubt others, have written about before (cf. http://goo.gl/RLqE4Z) and while some steps appear to be being made in that direction, we still have some way to go.

    The focus of coaching is also much different abroad. Last year I was living in the Basque Country and my flat overlooked an artificial pitch where teams of boys, girls, men and women would train and play every day. I often observed the sessions and the one thing that struck me above all was that the training consisted mainly of possession-based drills. There was little or no match practice and little or no fitness work. This struck me because in my own days playing youth football our training was almost exclusively fitness work and match practice, with a preference for the former. If we ran hard enough we earned the right to see a ball and play a match.

    Sure, I never played at a high level but I think this experience is indicative of the British approach towards the game, which remains simplistic and old-fashioned. Athleticism is valued over talent and we would rather be perceived as hard workers than skilled. I often think how some amateur football coaches would berate an attacker who, like Messi, waits for the opportune moment to run or stands still when in space. We scream ‘clear it’ at kids then wonder why our professional defenders lack the poise of Gerard Piqué or even Virgil Van Dijk.

    The point that Jim makes about application is crucial, and I’ve often wondered how good our footballers could be if they were as professional as Andy Murray. Elite sportspeople like him know that reaching the top of your field is a 24/7 effort. It’s about dedication in every aspect of your training and lifestyle. Fine details can make big differences. And Andy Murray is never going to appear pictured in a tabloid staggering out a nightclub at three in the morning days before a match. I’m sure he never smokes or indulges in a cheeky Nandos either.

    The number of qualified coaches is of course something that comes up time and again as well. The numbers per person in Spain, Germany and Italy dwarf those in the UK. That’s not irrelevant.

    Facilities too are important. Access to indoor or all-weather facilities must be made easier and cheaper. I don’t think we have a serious lack of green spaces but our climate complicates things for over half the year. Perhaps ironically, in Spain it’s easier to access indoor halls to play futsal in, while in the UK we have more grassy areas in public parks.

    So there are lots of obvious things that can be done to try to improve our chances of success long term, but ultimately I think we need to look at the game differently and value different attributes and attitudes. That means on and off the pitch and it means players, coaches, fans and everyone else. That’s a cultural thing and it will take longer.

  33. Clydebuilt says:

    The BBC have moved on from Michelle Thompson the latest target is Gordon Strachan…. They’re trying to do a George Burley on him…. Run him out of town……. They’ve got to sicken Gordon before he makes his mind up. Just switched on the radio for the start of the match , in last few seconds before kick off all we got out of Liam the commentator was aggressive negativity about the manager and his future. This is the mood music of the BBC’s football chat shows through the weekend.
    One thing’s for sure, if the BBC want rid of Gordon Strachan that means he’s good for Scotland and our team. So far we’ve had Kenny Dalgleish, Pat Nevin, Alex McLeish and Dennis Law Sticking up for Gordon. Add your voices, talk up for a fine Scottish manager…………Spencey your well out of it! Hope to hear more from you on Bellacaledonia

  34. Clydebuilt says:

    Check out AMS Soccerclub …….. http://www.amsoccerclub.org ……..run by Austin MacPhee, sounds interesting

  35. Will says:

    I remember the days of saying eh Mr any chance of a lift over the turnstile and getting into watch the football match for nothing and when players were loyal to the one club. Today football is dead money has killed it I prefer watching rugby union now as it does not involve as much money as football and the Scotland Rugby team are good I might add at the time of writing this comment.

  36. Lochside says:

    Some excellent contributions. My own tuppence worth as follows:

    Having watched football since the early sixties…players were better…not fitter..but better. Each first division club had star players….wingers….half backs…..centre forwards etc. who could trap, dribble, head and shoot. Defenders were of a lower standard because the game was attack minded and exciting.

    However, from 1970 onwards the writing was on the wall…Celtic getting overturned by Dutch footballers in a European Final was the first shock..but these started to increase…despite Rangers and Aberdeen pulling off great victories. But the last one was 32 years ago.

    Have to agree with Patrick’s analysis about youth football in regard to sizes of pitches and 11 a side too early contributing to size and bulk being favoured over skill and agility. However, I view ‘Pro Youth’ as an iniquity….not because I am against elite teams…but because of the restrictions it imposes on youths….they can’t play for school teams for instance and the incredible waste of talent. I once watched my grandson play for his team against Celtic, who played 4 x teams, all the same age , Pro-youth, against them. Think about it …28 boys all vying for 7 places at age 10 or 11! Boys who are rejected…that is the most of them, may well find ‘lower’ teams…but how does that make them feel?…losers perhaps?

    The coaching at higher levels is execrable….swearing, abuse, encouragement to ‘boot’ the ball. I still see grown men booting the ball from one end of the park to the other….whilst remembering that Scottish football was built on the dribbling and passing game back in the earliest days.

    Finally: the professional game is overseen by carpetbaggers from the south aided and abetted by small minded wee thinkers from here. Only in Scotland could we reduce our national stadium to half size and make it worse structurally. Only in Scotland could we have two big teams that have spent the last 30 years undermining the League and their basic national identity by helping to destroy SKY deals and refusing to unite against a malicious Anglophile BBC.

    We need a clear out of the blazers. We need to study and learn from all the best features of other successful countries in development and actual running of the game. The Scottish government has to encourage and fund more sports and facilities at schools with dedicated P.E. staff.

    We have to go back to basic football skills and forget all about ‘tactics’. I don’t ever want to see another manager with a big notebook holding it up to aprofessional player about to go on to the pitch showing him what to do. I can only imagine what Jim Baxter or Denis Law would have told a ‘coach’ to do in those circumstances!!

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