Tuesday 22 December 2009

The trouble with Scotland

The Scottish national football team will have a new coach on Wednesday morning. Good luck to Craig Levein who, as Kevin McCarra reflects for The Guardian, he has a lot to do to restore Scottish fortunes to the time when they expected to be at major tournaments, qualifying for six of the seven World Cups from 1974 to 1998.

Anybody who cares about such things should read the brilliant and closely argued post from James Hamilton about the impossibility of Scotland's footballing psychology at the tremendously good More than Mind Games blog.

It is usually an unhappy nation where political fortunes turn too much on sporting results.

The sense of hubris and humiliation at Scotland's World Cup exit in 1978 followed by the failure of the 1979 devolution referendum seemed to define a generation of Scottish defeat and impotence, in politics as much as in football. That deepened many of the neuroses - of Scotland's underdog image, the unreciprocated hatred of England and the increasing weight of a largely mythologised football history of heroic failure - which Hamilton discusses.

Yet Scotland is changing in the age of devolution. The psychological relationship with England seems to be changing, and maturing, in a way which Unionists, devolutionists and pro-independence nationalists all advocate albeit for different reasons and projects.

So the burden for Scottish football to carry could (and should) be quite a lot less.

As Hamilton puts it:

There’s nothing wrong, and quite a lot right, with a country choosing to use football to express itself on the international stage ... But for now, it would be better if Scottish puissance were not seen as quite the function of Scottish footballing performance it is now. It’s too much for men to carry, not without the infrastructure, training and attitude necessary to bring it off. And when so few Scots actually play the game, it’s unfair on those who do. Choose literature; choose wave power; choose Edinburgh’s superb pubs. Choose something else until football can manage it.

That might yet help the Scottish team to get a result or two too.

PS: Another recent recommendation from More Than Mind Games blog is this fascinating post on how Edwardian football papers in 1905 used the new tech of the telephone and transport to spread the post-match word at almost the speed of twitter.

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