By Jim Thornton:
Scottish Football’s Hall of Shame
Paul Dickov and Brian McClair. Scott Marshall. Colin Calderwood and Neil Sullivan. Plus Steve Caldwell and Stevie Clarke. Players whom the SFA should have as the first inductees in a Hampden Hall of Shame. And you can throw in Gary McAllister as well, if you like.
Good players one and all, who are no doubt remembered with affection at their various clubs. And that’s the problem – they’re now just memories. Other than Darren Fletcher and Charlie Adam, they could end up as the last of a dying breed – Scots who’ve turned out at the very highest level down south. They do indeed put our current crop of players to shame.
Fletcher, at Manchester United, was the only Scot who played for a top-six team in the English Premier League last season; fitness permitting, he’s likely to be Scotland’s one and only again this time round. Adam won a Carling Cup medal with Liverpool last season, but he’s now moved on to Stoke, which is more famous for pottery than silverware.
Gone are the days when Law and Crerand lit up Old Trafford, or when Souness, Dalglish and Hansen put a Scottish stamp on English and European trophies. And in the case of Souness, ‘stamp’ was the operative word. As for foreign sides, what are the chances of another Scot turning out for Barcelona? It looks like the Catalans are going to have to wait a while yet before Clyde produce another Stevie Archibald.
Paul Dickov first played for Manchester City between 1996 and 2002, before returning for a cameo role four years later. Since then, no Italians with sky-blue scarves have been seen scouting at Scottish grounds, much to the present Mrs Thornton’s disappointment.
Old Trafford was once Little Scotland, where, in addition to the aforementioned Law and Crerand, Matt Busby could call on the likes of Albiston, Buchan, Holton, Jordan, Macari, McQueen, and Morgan. Before Darren Fletcher, the last Scot to be a regular for Sir Alex was Brian McClair way back in 1998. Fergie must get quite lonely at times with no countrymen to rant at. Where’s the fun in calling some foreigner an effing bawheid when he doesn’t know what that means?
On the other hand, neither Highbury nor the Emirates have been home for many Scottish players over the years, and certainly not since Arsene Wenger took charge. Maybe he’s got a thing against Scotsmen – or just one Scotsman in particular. You have to go back to 1998 and Scott Marshall to find the last Tartan Gunner, and even then he played only a couple of dozen games for Arsenal.
Over at White Hart Lane, Tottenham at one time had a history of signing top Scottish players – Bill Brown, Dave Mackay, John White, and Alan Gilzean in the sixties, for example. Even Jimmy Greaves would have to admit he was in exalted company with that lot. More recently, Neil Sullivan kept goal for Spurs between 2000 and 2002, and just before that Colin Calderwood had half a dozen years at the heart of their defence. Since then? Even Harry Redknapp, who would sign his granny if the price was right, never ventured north of the border.
Newcastle, fifth in the league last season, was also a regular port of call for Scottish talent in days gone by. The Two Johnnies, Blackley and Brownlie, Tommy Craig, and Duncan Ferguson; and before them Bobby Moncur and Lisbon Lion Ronnie Simpson, who kept goal for the Toon 262 times before he returned to Scotland and fame and glory. Steve Caldwell, who’s not even the best player in his own family, was the last Scot to feature for Newcastle (2000 to 2004), and he spent a big chunk of his time out on loan at Blackpool, Bradford, and Leeds.
Managers come and go at Chelsea at the whim of our favourite Russian oilygarch, but they all have one thing in common - they don’t pick Scotsmen. I’ve no idea who the boss was when Stevie Clarke finally left Stamford Bridge in 1998 after giving the Blues a dozen or so years of sterling service, but he and his successors have given our guys a wide berth since then.
Even the once mighty Liverpool, now a ‘famous’ team rather than a ‘big’ one, have pretty much stopped signing Scottish players. Before Charlie Adam, Gary McAllister was the last Scot to play regularly for the Reds – and that was ten years ago; Bill Shankly must be doing revolutions in his grave. And even Adam was offloaded after just one season, deemed by the Kop cognoscenti as not being ‘Liverpool class’. Well, it must be hard to follow in the footsteps of Alberto Aquilani.
So why has there been such a dearth of Scots at the very top English clubs? Why does our national manager have to set his satnav for Wolverhampton and Wigan, or Huddersfield and Cardiff rather than London, Manchester, or even Liverpool? Do the two Robertos, as well as Sir Alex and Arsene, have an anti-Scottish agenda? Or is it or own managers who are to blame for our national side’s decline? Were Burley and Bertie as bad as we made out? Does Craig Levein really know what he’s doing? Or are our players just rubbish? Now there’s a thought.