The world's most-read Scottish politics website

Wings Over Scotland

Public enemy number one

Posted on September 10, 2012 by

We haven’t had any football-related posts in weeks, but this is an emergency. Many in the independence movement are hoping that 2014 will be the sort of year for them that 2012 has been for advocates of the UK. With the Commonwealth Games and Ryder Cup taking place in Scotland and the World Cup in Rio, a lot of people are hoping for an upsurge in patriotism which might just carry the referendum vote over the line.

But more than two years out, one man might wreck it all before it even gets started.

The Yes campaign could suffer a catastrophic hammer blow in barely over 24 hours’ time. If Craig Levein’s Scotland team fails to beat Macedonia at Hampden tomorrow night, our qualification bid for Brazil 2014 will be dead in the water, and anyone suggesting otherwise is a fool. Two (or God forbid, even fewer) home points out of six against two of the three lowest-ranked opponents in the group would leave the side facing a task that based on the evidence of the last decade would be insurmountable.

Pretty much everyone in the country knew before Saturday’s game kicked off that fielding Kenny Miller as a lone striker in a comprehensively-proven-ineffective system doomed Scotland to a draw at best. The same formation and team choice on Tuesday, in front of what looks likely to be a half-empty Hampden, would be psychological suicide even before the sides took the field, and not just in a footballing sense.

Craig Levein’s Scotland is the “too wee, too poor, too stupid” mentality made flesh, translated from dry, abstract polemic for politics nerds into a form instantly visible and understandable to the normal person in the street. It’s a cringing, cowardly creed, where we better not try anything positive and optimistic in case it ends in disaster – blind to the fact that we’re right in the middle of an endless car-crash of disaster as it is. Scotland’s footballing fortunes are every bit as bankrupt as the UK’s economy, and just like the UK’s debt they’re only travelling in one direction.

Scotland’s Parliament was born in a time of optimism – when it opened in 1999 the national team was in the top 20 of the FIFA rankings. During Labour’s reign, as its forelock-tugging obedience to its London masters cast devolution in a dismal light, that position plummetted as low as 86th. When the Scots showed some sign of standing up for themselves and elected the SNP to Holyrood in 2007, the national side soared to a dizzy 14th place, briefly rising above England for the only time in living memory, and only narrowly failing to pull off the impossible task of qualifying for Euro 2008 from a group including both of the 2006 World Cup finalists and another quarter-finalist.

(A failure this blog still chiefly attributes to the greedy morons of the SFA sending the team out in a completely needless money-grubbing “third” kit of red, the traditional away colour of England.)

At that point the “Scottish” banks imploded in the neoliberal world’s recession and our footballers sank along with them, rapidly plunging to around 50th place, from where they’ve continued to mirror the UK economy by failing to display anything but the tiniest amounts of growth in the last four years. Coincidence or magic? You decide.

Now, obviously we’re not really saying there’s an actual causal link either way between the performance of the national team and the political mood of the country. We’re just saying it’s going to be hard for the electorate to feel optimistic about Scotland and its rightful place among the nations of the world when we’ve just watched an eighth international football tournament take place without us. Those of us whose youth encompassed 1974, 1978, 1982, 1986, 1990, 1992, 1996 and 1998 will be beset by the sort of melancholy that tears at the soul, which isn’t what you want a couple of months before the vote.

We have no idea which way Craig Levein leans on the subject of independence. But if he’s a Yes man, we beg him even more fervently to select Jordan Rhodes from the start, for reasons he probably hasn’t considered before now. If tomorrow’s teamsheet is 4-1-4-1 with Kenny Miller on his own up front again, we might just shut up shop and do something less futile with our lives for the next two years.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

25 to “Public enemy number one”

  1. Training Day says:

    Come on Rev, compared to the Prague game a couple of years back fielding one lone striker (those with keener eyes than I tell me Kenny Miller was on the field) in a home match against mediocre opponents was positively swashbuckling as far as Levein is concerned.  😉

  2. Alex McI says:

    Rev I was sitting at home on saturday morning and said to the missus, I think I will go to Hampden for the game. Went on to the SFA site to get the cost of tickets, only to find that I had to fill in a form to register which looked like a census form, before they would let me into the secret of how much dough they were going to releive me of.
    As I was trying to find out the prices sky sports news gave out the starting eleven, at which point I decided an afternoon with the lady at Aldi and B&M looked like more fun. When I caught the result after being dragged round the shops , I knew I had made the right choice. Scary.

  3. Embradon says:

    Qualified agreement…  but a word in defence of Levein.
    Remember that the heroic failure to qualify for Euro 2008 was due to the underestimation of the difficulty of the match against Georgia. Victory there would have left us needing “only” a home draw with Italy to win the group outright. We had relied,  throughout the competition, on goals from midfield but McLeish played probably the most attacking side available to him and we got a hiding.
    That said, I fear Kenny Miller must be regarded as having retired to Vancouver.
    I doubt that participation in the finals in Brazil will be a factor in the 2014 decision. We got to the finals in ’78, but that was not exactly uplifting for the ’79 referendum!
    There are some really good prospects in the pipeline. Optimism for the start of qualifying for Euro 2016, which will have started by the time of the referendum will, hopefully, be more significant.

  4. scottish_skier says:

    It was my fault folks, sorry.

    Every time I watch or listen to even a bit of a Scotland game it all goes wrong. If I completely ignore it/pretend there’s not a match on, they win.

    I’ll go out fishing or something when they play macedonia.     

  5. Dcanmore says:

    Levein sets his side up not to lose, and maybe, just maybe, we might sneak a goal to win. The problem is when the opposition scores and goes ahead then the change to attack is more difficult and usually too late. Simply, he is too defensively minded, even at home matches against less than sparkling opposition.

  6. TYRAN says:

    “Every time I watch or listen to even a bit of a Scotland game it all goes wrong. If I completely ignore it/pretend there’s not a match on, they win.” – I find the same when I watch Murray play tennis. I haven’t been watching and he’s been winning.

  7. Silverytay says:

    It was obvious to everyone by the end of the 1st half that a change of tactics in the 2nd would probably have brought about the result that we desired .
    There is no point in Levein admitting that he was far too late in bringing the subs on ! the supporters were screaming at him to do so within 10 minutes of the 2nd half starting .
    The Serbs certainly did not live upto the hype that they were given .
    If we are going to go out of a competition ! I would rather go out fighting .
    When you consider that there is little change out of £50 for one person to go to the game , it was not surprising that Hampden was not full .

  8. YesYesYes says:

    I agree that it’s depressing watching us play under Levein. Do his team-talks begin with the words: ‘OK, we know we’re shite but I’ve got a plan”? For someone has given our players a huge inferiority complex. The plan, such as it is, seems to be to do whatever it takes to stop the opposition scoring. It’s a terrible indictment of us that in the opening home game of a World Cup qualifier, our three best players were Macgregor, Caldwell and Dixon (a tasty left-back IMO) and the best aspect of our game was our tackling in defence.
    Does anyone know why we played so deep against Serbia (at home!), giving the Serbians far too much space in their own half and inviting them to come on to us and, in the process, making them look much better than they are? If, alternatively, the plan was to counter-attack, then why didn’t we, er, counter-attack and, more importantly, why was the plan to counter-attack? We don’t have the pace, the nous or a good enough manager to do this effectively.
    We’re lucky that Serbia didn’t have a couple of half-decent forwards, otherwise we would have been toast on Saturday. And why is it that, when one of our players passes the ball, you’re left so consistently with the overwhelming impression that he’s passing it not because he wants to start a move, but because he wants to pass the responsibility of being in possession of the ball to somebody else?
    With Miller, I’m at the stage where I’d offer to cut off one of my limbs if Levein would only drop him (permanently). If you wanted someone to run around like a headless chicken for 90 minutes, Miller used to be your man, but he’s passed it now and he can’t even do that for us anymore. I don’t care if Levein has to go down to Wearside and perform fellatio on Steven Fletcher for the duration of this campaign (in between games of course), whatever it takes, we need someone, urgently, to persuade him to come back.
    Sorry Rev, but if we finish third in this group we’ll be doing well. Even I’m terrified of Croatia now, (see what the bugger has done to us). Looks like we’re going to have to look for other sources of inspiration for a Yes vote in 2014.

  9. Gaavster says:

    Quick question for the footballin’ afficianados oot there…

    When did Scotland adopt the ‘lone’ striker approach?

    I seem to recall Walter and Eck both utilising it and maybe Vogts did too….

    Craig Broon didnt, he was a 4-4-2 man and he only took us to the finals in ’98

    My point is, I hear pundit after pundit extolling the virtues of this system, and how it has been successful for Scotland over the years, but I’m sorry… define success….

    We haven’t qualified for anything since we adopted this!!

    Why, oh why, oh why, persevere with something so negative, so lacking in inspiration and so obviously not successful?

    On Saturday we played against a team who have scored 4 goals in their last 10 internationals, had an average age of 23 and 6 players who were 21 or under….

    And Levein sent out a team…. ‘not to get beat’?????

    He played a centre half, who has been outstanding for Wigan, in midfield, when in his own words… ‘we have a plethora of midfield players at our disposal’

    That resulted in Charlie Adam playing so deep, in a play maker role, that he was getting forced to come back and retrieve the ball behind the defensive midfielder and then lump it 50yds to an underachieving centre forward, who has scored 1 goal in his last 7 club games, and who can trap a ball further than I can kick it… (I’m an ex-pro myself btw)

    All the while, a young lad who has scored 47 goals in his last 46 appearances sits on the bench listening to every man, woman and dug in the stadium shouting for his inclusion

    I could go on and on about the lack of tactical nous and ineptitude that was on display on Saturday, but what’s the point?

    The man is so arrogant that he can afford to let a spat between himself and a £12m Premier League striker get between the best team we could put out on the park and the legions of supporters whose patience is wearing extremely thin……

    In the name of the wee man, and to coin a political phrase… Levein, ‘It’s time’


  10. McHaggis says:

    Scotland under various managers has opted for the ‘play not to lose’ approach… which, it has to be said has its place (e.g. Spain away from home).

    However, it has set in as the default approach and that is what is wrong.

    Levein is a good manager but his approach is virtually robotic. No flair, no surprises, no risks.

    I agree with him that its not up to the fans to pick the team (which isn’t really what is happening, but is his suggestion), but when 45,000 are screaming the same thing at you – then I’m afraid he should really be taking that advice on board.

  11. Stuart M says:

    We got to the finals in ’78, but that was not exactly uplifting for the ’79 referendum!
    …which is why, paradoxically, not qualifying for Brazil 2014 may be no bad thing. Watching the national team embarrass itself on the world stage was the problem back then. Of course, maybe we could go to Brazil and actually qualify beyond the group stage etc, etc. (ouch! I keep forgetting to wear that pig-trotter-proof helmet before saying things like that…)

  12. YesYesYes says:

    Another thought occurs to me. Could Craig Levein be the No campaign’s secret weapon?

  13. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    “which, it has to be said has its place (e.g. Spain away from home).”

    Except it didn’t have its place then, because we had to win that game. Everyone goes on about Prague, but sending the team out for the second half against Spain with still just one striker, when we HAD to score three goals to have any hope at all, is for me possibly even worse. It didn’t make any difference if we lost that game 10-nil, we had to have a punt and at least go down fighting, but Levein sent out the team for the second half still hoping for 0-0 when we were already 3-0 down.

    When he finally did bring on another forward we pulled back a goal, but he just won’t learn despite the lesson being hammered home time and again – when we attack teams, we score goals. When we sit back and try to defend, we lose.

  14. McHaggis says:

    sorry Rev,
    my choice of opposition (Spain) was a generalisation and meant to mean trying not to lose against the best teams in the world away from home, which to me has no shame… I wasn’t referring to any particular game against Spain.

    I agree wholeheartedly that when you need to score goals to have any chance at all it doesn’t matter who you are playing, you need to go out there and attack. 

  15. Silverytay says:

    Earlier this year my wife was watching a documentary about the 70 s and seemingly the establishment was absolutely bricking it about Scotland doing well in the 78 world cup .
    Unfortunately I dont know what it was called or what channel it was on .
    I suspect that it might have been a Monday night as I always work late on a Monday .
    The euphoria about us reaching the finals was fantastic but as we all know it did not last long .
    After watching DIOMHAIR , I sometimes wonder ?


  16. Dave says:

    I’d give anything to go back to these heady days of ’78, even in the knowledge of how it’d end up.  Someone once said 50,000 would’ve turned up to watch Ally MacLeod hang his washing out.  When you compare the excitement back then with the utter turgid crap served up to us now it maks ye greet.

    I’ll still be at the Macedonia game though cos that’s what I do and maybe I’m part of the problem.  I’ll be in Wales cos it’s booked but I sure as hell won’t be near Belgium to watch that dross unless another manager is in place. 

    And btw – he’s a “No”.  There was something in the papers before May 2011 with various fitba personalities warning against separation and he was one of them along with 2 of his 3 predecessors.  Maybe that’s why he’s trying to turn us into Team GB.

  17. Appleby says:

    Why is this man allowed to fail again and again? Time to learn from past mistakes, or more likely get someone else who can. Better to have a go and lose than play to draw at best.

  18. Appleby says:

    Maybe the Scottish Cringe is displaying itself in his tactics on the field? Duck and cover is the best he can come up with.

  19. Oldnat says:

    Fortunately, I don’t think there is a single example where sporting success or failure has been shown to influence a political result.

    (And anyone tempted to  quote 1966 – check your dates first)

  20. scottish_skier says:


    Fortunately, I don’t think there is a single example where sporting success or failure has been shown to influence a political result.

    Aye, just as per the olympic shenanigans. Sweet FA effect on polls (all of them, not even a wee tory bounce down south) as far as I can see, but then that’s only to be expected.    

  21. Seasick Dave says:

    We have an average team with an average manager and we got a dull draw against an average team.

    Tell me, sporting geniuses, what manager and super heroes do you all have in mind to win the World Cup that is rightfully ours?

  22. Rev. Stuart Campbell says:

    We don’t expect to win the World Cup. We expect to have a manager who sends out a team to at least TRY to fucking win.

  23. Adrian B says:

    This man is in the WRONG Job!

    There is NOTHING else to say.

    At least Andy Murray Won his First Grand Slam! 

  24. Westie7 says:

    Sitting in the east stand on Saturday was indication enough that this team, which is capable, had no ambition forwards. Too much left right and back to McGregor who at one point was raging about the constant back passes. 

    Saturdays team showed a performance not fit for the last qualifying place, I’d actually rather not end up cannon fodder in a group of Death

Comment - please read this page for comment rules. HTML tags like <i> and <b> are permitted. Use paragraph breaks in long comments. DO NOT SIGN YOUR COMMENTS, either with a name or a slogan. If your comment does not appear immediately, DO NOT REPOST IT. Ignore these rules and I WILL KILL YOU WITH HAMMERS.

↑ Top