Ahh, diddums… Manchester, red and blue, is out of the Champion’s League.
Okay, I apologise, but I’m going to rant. I’m sort of sorry to see United go because I like their football and they have lots of Scottish connections. But, then again, we Scottish love underdogs because we identify so well with them, so I couldn’t help roaring my approval at Basel’s second goal. City: I used to like them when I was a wee boy and Frannie Lee played for them, but nobody likes a team that buys its way to success, especially if you’re a St Mirren supporter. It’s why I dislike Chelsea too, but adore the Arsenal philosophy.
I’ve no problem with English clubs being successful in Europe, except… jings, those commentators just drive you into the arms of the opposition. In the closing stages of the match, as United huffed and puffed at two goals down, the commentator made an outrageous claim. Well, he said, Arsenal and Chelsea have absolutely nothing to fear from Basel.
Really? Let’s see. United drew with Basel at home thanks to a 90th minute equaliser, and they lost to them tonight. So the tiny Swiss minnows remain undefeated by the Premier League champions, taking 4 points out of a possible 6, and were seconds away from taking a maximum haul.
What about Chelsea’s record against the Red Devils this season? One game. Lost by three goals to one. And Arsenal? Well, United spanked them for eight goals. Eight.
But, simply by virtue of the fact that Arsenal and Chelsea are English sides, they of course have nothing to fear, have they?
It reminded me – as most English commentaries do – of the 1997 Juventus – Borussia Dortmund Champions League Final, dear to the heart because local legend Paul Lambert won his winner’s medal. Lambert was a true Scottish hero: like Dennis Law, he achieved success at the very top of the sophisticated European elite rather than the goldfish pond of the Old Firm. In addition, he came from Linwood, where I taught at the time, and was a former St Mirren player. So I was cheering for him and his German team mates.
In the middle of the match, during an understandably nervous spell when passes were going astray, the commentator said something along the lines of – well, you’d have to think that Manchester United would do a lot better against these teams if they were here.
Well, actually, they wouldn’t have done that well. In the groups stages, Juventus beat United at home and away 1-0. Nul points, United, two defeats.
But what if they’d come up against Dortmund? Surely they’d trounce the dastardly Germans?
Nope. In the semi-finals, Dortmund beat United 1-0 in Germany. And then came to England, and beat them 1-0 again. Nul points once more.
So, basically, United would have done absolutely shite against the two finalists: but no patriotic commentator was going to let logic get in the way of a good dig at Johnny Foreigner.
Look, I know Brazilian and Spanish and Italian commentators are just the same: but I don’t have to listen to them and don’t understand them. And Scottish commentators stopped that rubbish years ago with the end of the careers of Arthur Montford and Archie Macpherson; nowadays, a Scottish win is greeted by sighs of relief or, if it’s against somebody who should have trounced us (remember France!), perplexed delight at the sheer bloody luck of it all.
So – English commentators: please, stop the arrogant assumption that the world cowers in fear whenever you say “Premier League”: it doesn’t. Then, you might actually enjoy it when your teams win.
And don’t get me started on the national team. Wayne Rooney? World class? How I enjoyed the way in which the wonderful, sublime Diego Forlan showed him how the game should be played in South Africa…
After a reasonably good game in which Scotland did what was expected of them against a much more talented Brazilian side, it was depressing to hear young striker Neymar’s claims of racist abuse being dismissed by the Scottish football authorities. Most ludicrous of all is the rent-a-quote expert Pat Nevin, who seems to be able to read the minds of several thousand individuals at once by claiming that “They were furious with all the diving about, rolling about feigning injury.” Another godlike talent exposed, Pat.
I was at Love Street in 1983 to watch St Mirren play Feyenoord in the UEFA Cup. I was there for a last chance to see Johann Cruyff, but ended up being mesmerised by a young Ruud Gullit. He stole the show in much the same way Neymar did on Saturday, scoring the only goal of the match, and he received the worst racist abuse I have ever heard for it. This wasn’t just banter or hazing: it was outright hatred of a man because he was black and because he wasn’t wearing a St Mirren shirt.
I found myself sticking up for him, cheering him on, telling those around me to leave him alone and let him play. I was looked at as if I came from Mars. I was in the stand, I was wearing a black and white scarf, I spoke with a Scottish accent – therefore I should be using words like “black fucker” and “nigger shite.”
It was one of the most uncomfortable evenings of my life, and given that Gullit – a hard man, capable of dishing it out along with the best of them – still calls it the worst abuse he has ever faced, it must have been much more uncomfortable for him.
The fact is that on the terraces, the most obvious abuse comes unguarded to the lips of the “fans”, whether it be references to colour, sexual orientation, religion or the size of a particular WAG’s breasts. In the heat of a football match, self-censorship is the last thing on a spectator’s mind.
And it’s not helped by a whole sub-culture in which the odious Richard Keys calls a black footballer a “Choco Jocko” while fellow white panellists laugh uncomfortably rather than challenge it. When Keys says he is not racist and has personal friends who are black, I have no doubt he believes it, just as I have no doubt he doesn’t “smash” his wife when they have sex: it is the pack machismo that allows him to blurt such garbage, and if he can’t resist that mentality, then he isn’t intelligent enough to comment on the weather, let alone something as integral to the national consciousness as sport.
So was Neymar racially abused? Having been on those terraces on September 14th 1983 and heard bile of such invention that the KKK would have been proud of it, I find it inconceivable that all Scottish football fans have moved on so far in such a short period of time. We should be honest about that, refuse to become smug and complacent and take a talented young man’s complaints seriously.