Cooney and Black

Of course those SFA dunces need their backsides kicking for the fiasco in Tbilisi – but might Gordon Strachan’s fingers also be stuck in the blame pie?

Cooney and Black - Strachan
SO, here we are again patrolling the perimeter of the international abyss. It’s familiar territory. Perilous, nail-biting territory.

But forget, momentarily, the sobering fact that we need to take full points against Poland and Gibraltar, while praying that the Republic of Ireland do not beat Poland.

Concentrate, instead, on the so-called bad, old days. Back then, Scotland’s approach to international football was what you might call ad lib. The rule book was often hurled out the window.

For instance, on his way to the 1974 World Cup, Willie Ormond insisted on quaffing several “wee wets” before delivering an extraordinary press conference (slating the SFA) after the team landed in Belgium for a friendly.

The drinking didn’t stop there: the players (Billy Bremner and Jimmy Johnstone) seized the baton from their manager in the alcohol stakes when they arrived in Norway for another friendly. Cue outrage and front-page headlines.

Of course, we live in different times, with different values and different rule books. We do things properly nowadays, or so they tell us. If you ignore the Boozegate affair, involving Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor, things are reckoned to be conducted on a more business-like basis.

The vigilant eye of Gordon Strachan sees to it that our guys stay sensible and sober. He has all sorts of little helpers to oversee the promotion of professionalism.

But, of course, in keeping with our Scottish tradition, fiascos can still manifest themselves in other forms. And so we come to the Tbilisi incident.

The statistics are embarrassing but worth recording again: a three-and-a-half hour wait at the Georgian airport for their Dutch charter plane to touch down; a five-hour 20-minute flight; a 6.01 a.m. arrival at Glasgow; a half-hour luggage delay; a 7a.m. arrival at Marr Hall. A night and a morning of hell, then.

Blame cannot be distributed anywhere else other than the SFA dunderheads, who allegedly didn’t fancy keeping their transport in Tbilisi because they would have had to shell out at least £80,000 in airport fees. Head dunce Stewart Regan will no doubt be reminded of his parsimonious ways by Strachan when the debriefing is held at Hampden.

Anyway, not unnaturally, our jet-lagged assembly of footballers (backsides still tender from the kicking they received from Georgia) were beaten, if only narrowly, by a vastly superior German side.

Now, Strachan invariably walks on the bright side of life. On this occasion, the floodlights must have been on when he described the Hampden showing as being “just a fraction away from the perfect performance.”

It was a helluva-sized fraction, in my opinion. In fairness, however, the boys did perform fairly bravely against odds that were simply impossible. But, boy, did they look leggy at the end after chasing their tails for most of the match.

Which brings us back to the Scotland manager. Never mind the SFA, might Strachan and Co not have their fingers stuck in the blame pie as well? Might they not have cut the odds by, say, another fraction?

Consider this. The tradition of international teams flying home immediately after matches has long been established. The clubs, quite rightly, don’t want their prized assets away from base any longer than is necessary. They order their return to physios’ tables asap.

But this was a different matter altogether. As Scotland were on a double-header – ie: Georgia on Friday and Germany on Monday – the players were in their country’s care and therefore there was no need to charge back to Scotland.

The team could and should have taken advantage of that situation and stayed overnight. At least then, even if there had been a delay in their plane flying into Tbilisi, they would have had a satisfactory rest. – and subsequently no excuses.

I mean, they were scheduled to face the super-fit, uber-confident world champions. They needed every bit of help.

Didn’t Strachan see this as an opportunity for common sense to prevail? Or did he and all his assistants miss out on the logic of it all?

There again, did he pinpoint potential trouble and thus set out a cogent argument for extra expense to those frugal buggers at Hampden.
Did they, then, overrule him?

If so, just who is running this bloody football team?

The truth deserves to be told.


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