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Vanishing Scots

The decline of Scottish players in England.Teddy's example.TV news values.The Herald's errors. Larsson gets fresh. George Best.




Quote of the week
( perhaps the year)

" As long as the manager keeps picking me, I'll keep playing" - Teddy Sheringham - 36 years old and 51 caps - talking about his international career. Collins, Ferguson, McAllister please take note.


Picture the scene: You are the sports editor of Scottish Television. The crucial SPL meeting which could change the face of Scottish football forever is less than eighteen hours away. The air is thick with talk of breakaways and resignations. The TV deal has not been settled. What should be your lead item on 'Scotland Today?'

Of course! Alex McLeish saying that he hasn't quite made his mind up about Saturday's Rangers team selection!


The Herald have a series of pdf files previewing the new season available for download. But best not to bother if you're a fan of Aberdeen, Partick Thistle or Kilmarnock. They've airbrushed out Aberdeen's 1995-96 League Cup triumph and Thistle's Second Division title of two years ago.

But they've really got it in for Killie. Not content with removing the Ayrshire side's 2001 League Cup Final appearance from the record, the paper proceeds to ignore their European semi-final in 1967 while ensuring that every other last four appearance by a Scottish side is given a mention. They also have Killie getting knocked out of the European Cup by Everton rather than Real Madrid.

But worst of all is their description of Bobby Williamson's time as Rugby Park boss being spent in an annual battle against relegation. In his four full seasons in charge of Killie, they finished 4th, 4th, 9th and 4th!

Is it asking too much of a Scottish newspaper to make a few, simple checks?

Or is reporter Kevin Colrain a closet Ayr United fan?


Once again eBay punters have resisted the seductive charms of the Henrik Larsson air freshener. Not a single bid has been made in the past seven days. The seller reckons the pic doesn't do the product justice. We'll let you judge for yourself:


On a more serious note: George Best was quite simply the greatest British footballer I have ever seen in my life. I join thousands of others in wishing him a speedy and full recovery from his liver transplant.


For the Scottish Cup 1873-1939 click here
For the Scottish Cup Post-1945 click here
For the League Cup from 1946 click here









Dr Johnson may not have had football in mind when he made his notorious comment that "the noblest prospect a Scotchman ever sees, is the the high road into England," but for over 100 years, some of our best players have sought their fortunes south of the border. Until the last few years that is.

For decades the trek south was lamented by those who felt that it deprived the home game of some of its finest talents. That argument no longer holds. For the flood of a century has dwindled to a trickle over the past decade, with no discernible benefit to the domestic game.

If anything, the opposite has occurred. Our standing on the world stage is at an all-time low. And the only way our teams can even tread water in Europe is thanks to expensive foreign imports.

The days when there used to be debate over whether 'anglos', as English-based players were derisively labelled, should be selected for the national side are long gone. Today, if a Scot holds down a regular place in the Premiership, he's in. In fact, if he's a Premiership player and his granny ever displayed a fondness for shortbread, then Berti Vogts will be on the phone. That is how desperate we are.

It didn't used to be this way. 45 years ago, the maximum wage still applied in England. This was a time when Scottish clubs, supposedly, had a better chance of keeping top players at home. Yet at the start of the 1957-58 season, no fewer than 106 Scots were registered with English First Division clubs. There were thirteen with Leicester City alone and eleven at Leeds. Bolton was the sole top flight club without a Scot on their books.

It wasn't just good, honest pros either. Some of the finest players of the time played in England - David Herd, Jackie Mudie, Bobby Johnstone, Ronnie Simpson and Tommy Docherty for example.

Lisbon Lion Ronnie Simpson

The numbers have fluctuated over the years but a study of the past 40 years makes for illuminating reading. Forty seasons ago, in 1962-63, the number of top-flight Scots had dropped to 82. But again, Bolton were the only one of the 22 clubs not to employ any at all. Liverpool - managed by Bill Shankly - led the way with ten. Like Leicester in 1957, Liverpool had just won the Second Division title. It seems the tales of Scottish fighting spirit may be more than just legend after all.

Again, the players included the biggest names of the day - and those about to become top stars. In England that season were men like George Graham, Bertie Auld, Willie Morgan, Frank McLintock, Ron Yeats, Tommy Lawrence, Ian St John, Bill Brown, Dave Mackay and the tragic John White.

Fast forward a decade to 1972-73 and the decline in numbers had been reversed. There were 95 Scots registered with Division One teams. This time, every single club had at least one Scot. Stoke, West Ham and - surprisingly - Shankly's Liverpool all had a solitary Scotsman on their books. At the other end of the scale, Man Utd had ten and Leeds nine.

Imagine Herr Vogts could make his pick from this selection: Graham and Morgan, kids in the sixties, were now at their peak and they were joined by - amongst others - Eddie Kelly, Kenny Burns, Eddie McCreadie, Charlie Cooke, Willie Carr, Archie Gemmill, Billy Bremner, Peter Lorimer, Joe Jordan, Willie Donachie, Martin Buchan, Pat Crerand, Denis Law, Willie Wallace Bobby Moncur, Tony Green, Jimmy Smith, Alan Gilzean and Asa Hartford. Throw in a couple of keepers and that would be some squad.

His Majesty the King: Denis Law

Ten years on from that and the numbers were down but the quality wasn't. There were 67 Scots in 1982-83 but that figure is so low thanks to the loss of Leeds, Middlesbrough and Wolves through relegation. Thirteen Scots went with them and only five arrived with their replacements - Luton, Watford and Norwich.

Southampton were the only club with none. And while the days of double figures had gone, Man Utd, Nottingham Forest, Stoke and Sunderland could all boast five Scots while Villa, Ipswich, Liverpool, Man City, Notts County and West Ham all had four.

In the case of Liverpool, what a quartet it was - Stevie Nicol, Graeme Souness, Alan Hansen and a certain Kenneth Matheson Dalglish! Add in George Burley, John Wark, Alan Brazil, Gordon McQueen, Lou Macari, John Robertson, Ally McCoist and Steve Archibald and you can see that things weren't too bad.

Kenny Dalglish in action for Scotland

Even ten years ago, Scots in England could hold their own with the best of the foreign imports. For the first season of the Premiership in 1992-93, numbers had fallen to just 43. Three clubs - Villa, Palace and Sheffield Wednesday had none at all. But just like in the 50s and 60s, promoted teams relied on Scottish spirit. Middlesbrough and Blackburn had five apiece.

Perhaps there had been a drop in quality of those going south too. But it could be argued back then that this was a good thing. The Old Firm were flexing their financial muscles and could match the English in wages. In the decade gone by, Aberdeen had won a European trophy and Dundee United had reached the Final of another. This season, Rangers came within 90 minutes of the European Cup Final with a largely Scottish squad. The national team had just played in the European Championship finals for the first time, after five successive World Cup qualifications.

There were still some handy names plying their trade in England: Colin Hendry, Craig Burley, Kevin Gallacher, Mo Johnston, Pat Nevin, Gary McAllister, Gordon Strachan, and Gordon Durie.

The future looked bright.

Last of the bravehearts? Colin Hendry

Travel a further ten years ahead and you arrive at today - the dawn of season 2002-03. In the intervening decade our teams have failed miserably in Europe. The national side has qualified for just one out of the last three World Cups - and failed miserably in that. And never in our history have we had so few players at the top level in England.

When the English season kicks off, just 23 Scots will be employed by Premiership clubs. Five - Arsenal, Villa, Birmingham, Charlton and - unbelievably - Liverpool have no Scots whatsoever. Another TEN - Blackburn, Chelsea, Fulham, Leeds, Man City, Southampton, Sunderland, Spurs, West Brom and West Ham - have just one each. Bolton (for a change), Man Utd and Middlesbrough all have two. There are three at Newcastle and four at Everton.

The biggest names - Duncan Ferguson and John Collins - are past 30 and not interested in turning out for their country. Other international regulars - Scot Gemmill, Gary Naysmith, David Weir - play in constant fear of relegation. Only two Scots-born players - Dominic Matteo and Christian Dailly - are regular performers for teams that finished in the top half of the table last season.

Dailly in his Derby days

Of our band of 23, several have yet to play first team football for their clubs but have already done so for their country! Such is the paucity of talent that there are more Norwegians in the Premiership than there are Scots! Truly, the cupboard has never been so bare.

Now, if players of the equivalent talent of the eighty missing from the 1957 number were all back home in the SPL, this would be no bad thing in itself. Even if the gap of twenty between 1992 and 2002 could be explained by stay-at-homes, we could breathe more easily. But we all know this is not the case. When our clubs can't afford to keep players, they lose them to clubs in the lower divisions of the Nationwide League, not the Premiership.

Yet, perversely, the stock of our managers has never been higher in England. Over the same period, the number of Scottish managers has also fluctuated. Five in 1957 and 1962. Bill Shankly on his own in 1972 until Tommy Docherty arrived at Old Trafford , and Jimmy Sirrel likewise in 1982. Back to five in 1992 and four - Alex Ferguson, Graeme Souness, Gordon Strachan and David Moyes - today. With George Graham, Kenny Dalglish, Jim Jefferies and Walter Smith all with recent Premiership experience too, being Scottish is a positive advantage for a boss.

They have had amazing success too. Since 1985 there has only been one season - 1997-98 - when a Scottish manager didn't lift at least one of the three major domestic trophies in England. Which makes the current depths our players have plunged to all the more disappointing.

To explain WHY we have reached this low would take up all the webspace available to this site. Suffice to say that there are many factors at work and there have been for decades. What is important is that we ask ourselves whether we simply accept the decline as inevitable or whether we begin to do something about it.

Our view here is clear. We realise that we are unlikely to return to the halcyon days when just about every English team could field three, four or more Scots in their line-up. But we do not accept that the present situation is good enough.

If things continue the way they have gone for at least the past two decades then the decline in domestic standards will continue as well. Like it or not, the more Scots there are in England, then the better it is for our game as a whole.

For we can no longer rely on the Old Firm to produce the international stars of the future. Bob Crampsey, writing in The Herald this week, said that, in the past non-Old Firm fans used to comfort themselves with the thought that at least a strong Rangers and Celtic meant a strong Scotland.

Perceptive as ever, Crampsey goes on to say that "today, a strong Rangers and Celtic means only a strong Rangers and Celtic."

But just as the decline did not take place overnight, so it will not be easily reversed. We have a long, hard road ahead just to regain a position of competence. Berti Vogts does not have an easy job on his hands. We wish him every success - and luck too. He's certainly going to need it.




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