Euro 2020 (in 2021).

Yesterday, Spain v Croatia. Spain dominate, give away an own goal (to be fair it was a corker). Spain equalise before half time. Go 3-1 ahead with ten minutes to go. Croatia bring it back to 3—3. It goes to extra time. Spain win 5—3. One of the games of the tournament.

I figured the next game would be boring and France would easily brush aside Switzerland as they usually do. France find themselves ahead 3—1, without playing particularly well. Switzerland score with the last kick of the ball in ninety-odd minutes to take it to extra time. Switzerland win on penalties. Kylian Mbappé one of the most coveted players in the world misses his penalty. His net worth as a transfer fee could probably cover the cost of all the Swiss players combined.   One of the games of the tournament.

I thought the England v Germany game was on at 8pm. I missed the first half hour. Lucky me. I watched the second half. If you don’t know by now Sterling and Kane scored to take England through. Pivotal moment. Sterling scores then with a dreadful passback sets up the Bayern Munich forward Thomas Müller  who has a one of one with the Pickford, the England keeper. He misses. Dreadful football. Worst game of the tournament (which I’ve watched).

Ironically, Sweden v Ukraine plays for a place against England in the quarter finals. England must be massive favourites to beat any of these two teams. That would put England in the semi-final. Can they win it? Phew, certainly hope not. I fancy Spain, whose beautiful football is a throwback to Barcelona. They’re not as good, of course, but most teams aren’t. A tournament where the underdog come good (apart from Scotland, obviously, who were out of their depth). Anyone but England.

Rangers 4—1 Celtic.

spot the Ajer swerve?

Rangers 4—1 Celtic.

I expected Celtic to win this one. As I expected them to win the last match against Rangers in the Scottish Cup. I’m Celtic daft that way. Rangers do the clean-sweep of Celtic.  There was talk of John Kennedy getting the Celtic manager’s job. The argument went like this, all he had to do was beat Rangers at Ibrox, win the Scottish Cup and go through the rest of the season unbeaten, and create momentum. Neil Lennon did it after Judas Rodgers left. After the Scottish Cup defeat we went to Pittodrie and got a 1—1 draw. As meaningless fixture as this one you wouldn’t have expected a largely unchanged team. A team that excels in spurning chances and concedes regularly from corners and free kicks. Losing half their goals from most teams in the league that way and before this game, conceding four out of five goals to Rangers in the same manner.

Today was no exception. Where you watching Eddie Howe? For some reason despite Kennedy’s abysmal record, both as a defensive coach and as first-team coach where he’s now being talked up as the next Director of Football. I’m not sure what that entails. But it sounds like flinging good money after bad and creating jobs for the boys, in much the same way as Boris Johnson has done for the English Parliament. It’s getting to the fuck-off point, where we don’t really care, but, of course, we do. That’s the whole point of a pointless match.

I’ll start with the keeper. Scott Bain was OK today. He made one save you’d expect him to make. He’d little chance from Roofe’s opening goal, but when we use terms like should have done better for Morelos’s goal, it’s just another way of saying he should have saved it. Alan McGregor would have. Bain is a bang-average keeper and at best should be used as back-up. Letting Craig Gordon go was one of our many mistakes made this season. Barkas should have played against Aberdeen and today and should also play in the remaining two—even more meaningless—fixtures. Perhaps we’ll have a new manager by then. The most important games next year are the Champions League qualifiers. £30 million the pot could lift us out of below mediocrity.

I’m not a fan of the former Kilmarnock player Greg Taylor. Everything I said about Bain applies equally to Taylor. We should have kept Johnny Hayes. Taylor was OKish today, but that’s never enough.

Jonjoe Kenny is one I’ll be delighted to see going back to his parent club, Everton. Sometimes loan deals don’t work out. This one hasn’t worked out for some time. Yet, Kenny has nailed down the right-back spot despite making more backward passes than a table-tennis player. He was at it again today in the first goal we lost. The obvious signing here was Aaron Hickey, the former Heart’s player, whose Cup Final cameo last year, and in the game before that at Parkhead, should have our Director of Football making an offer.

Stephen Welsh, phew. I’m not sure he’s any better than Tony Ralston.  We want him to do well. A neat enough passer of the ball. Pretty good in the air for his size, but not good enough. Beaten on the edge of the six-yard box when he went head to head with Goldson at a corner when it was just 2—1. The same Goldson that scored a double at Parkhead early in the year. Welsh didn’t fare much better with Roofe. Defoe turned him inside out to score the fourth goal. I don’t think Welsh will do, but then again, I never got my head around the McManus and Caldwell pairing, but at least they could defend when it mattered.

Kristoffer Ajer was given the captain’s armband when he went off. I’m sure Ajer, in his own head, will imagine he had a great game. He helped set up the first goal to make it 1—1 after half an hour by leaping at the back post and heading the ball towards goal, for Edouard to score. He’d a few runs from the half way line that wiped out the Rangers’ midfield and backline and create chances for himself and others. But he failed the Bobo Balde test. When the balls coming towards you, you eat the ball and the man, and bounce back for more. My da used to call such players fanny dancers. I think he meant fan dancers. But I’m sure if he were alive he’d have Ajer in mind. His best position, ironically, has been right back, where he doesn’t need to defend like a man. Ajer will go to a big club, and fail to keep a first-team spot. Little does he know his best years are past.

Scott Brown, good old Broonie, isn’t near as old as Davis or Defoe. His 44th game against Rangers, he’s won most. A loser today. Morelos turned him too easily for the second goal. Brown wasn’t bad. He wasn’t good. He was Broonie. It was pointless to play him, because he’s already pledged his allegiance to another team, and we came away pointless.  

Callum McGregor. I’m a fan of McGregor, he got booked for taking out Kent, after the winger nutmegged him. Then he clattered Kamara. The ref played on, and yet another cross into the box was met by the chest of Roofe for the opening goal to the Ibrox team. Three goals in six minutes and we lost two of them. And we were a man down. I’m old enough to remember when ten men won the league and Murdo’s strike soared into the net, and we all jumped in the Jungle, raising the roof. That was never going to happen here.

James Forrest has become a better player since he’s been injured he’s the stuff of myth-making. What we can say with certainty is he gives 15 to 20 goals a season, and creates double that number. Here, given a decent chance, just before half-time. He fluffed his lines for the equaliser, played in by twinkle toes Ajer. He’ll still be here next season. We’ll need his goals and assists.

David Turnbull has been our chink of light this season. Scores goals and creates chances and he’s young. The type of player to build a team around. He got booked for kicking an ex-Celt at Pittodrie last week. I liked that wee bit of nastiness. It showed he cared. Today, he was largely anonymous. Had a great chance with a header, set up by Forrest, on the 56th minute to equalise but put it wide.

Moi Elyounoussi won’t be here next year. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. He’s scored some amazing goals and is our second-top scorer this season. The strike in Lille springs to mind. Alan McGregor’s fingertip save, putting the ball onto the bar, stopped him claiming the opening goal. I’d give him pass marks today. One of the few.

Odsonne Edouard scored the equaliser. Let the line and looked like doing it for us. But then it just fizzled out and was taken off for Mikey Johnston (which baffled me). The Frenchman is a great player, but not a great Celtic player. As a striker he’s scored 22 goals, some of them penalties. He should have grabbed at least a double in the last Old Firm fixtures. I don’t think he’ll make it to the top, quite simply, he doesn’t score enough goals. Great strikers hit 50 a season for Celtic. Mediocre strikes like Scott McDonald hit at least 30. Edouard has had a poor season. He’ll be missed, but if it was a chance he’d probably take too long and hit it past the post.

Ryan Christie would have started today, as he did at Pittodrie, if Forrest had failed a fitness test. Christie used to play in behind the striker and get us goals. His decampment to the wing shows him falling down the pecking order. He’s on the bench for a reason. I like Christie, and would like to keep him, but he’s off for nothing. His best matches this season have been for Scotland.

Ismaili Soro came on for Brown after sixty minutes. Newspaper reports linked him with a move to Tottenham. Yeh? Twenty million and he’s yours. I’ll need to wait and see how good he can be. He’d a few half- decent games before Christmas. And he should have started today. Gave the ball away for the third Rangers’ goal, which pushed the tie out of reach.

Mikey Johnston is better than Edouard. He got the last 15 minutes to show it. I missed Mikey, he gives you something unpredictable when teams defend deep against Celtic, as all Scottish teams do. He’s shown promise. Next season is the time to deliver for us all.  

Possible picks, Celtic v Rangers

Celtic’s first eleven against Rangers—who’s in and who’s out?

Goalkeeper is an easy pick. Celtic hired a private jet to bring Vasilos Barkas back from a recent international. He was on the bench for Greece. He’s not really done anything that Scott Bain, or Conor Hazard, or you’d expect any other bog standard goalie to do. He’s certainly not won us matches the way—may he rot in reserve-team-football hell, the Southampton keeper we got on loan last season did. Hope we don’t need him, but time for Barkas to step up and be counted.

Another loan player, Shane Duffy, is going to be in the middle of a back three, back four, or indeed a back five. He’s limited when it comes to passing, but in the air he’s colossus. Just what we needed. Capable of getting us a goal.

Kristopher Ajer will play on Duffy’s left-hand flank. Ajer is a far better ball player than Duffy, but for his size, extremely limited in the air. Pre-Covid, if AC Milan were offering £15 million, I’d have taken it. Overrated.

Here’s where it gets interesting. We paid £7 million for Christopher Jullien. He can be elegant and good in the air, but can be bullied, as he was at Livingston and Kilmarnock. His injury coincided with the arrival of Duffy. Duffy is a number one pick. I expected Jullien to slot into the position on the right flank.

But Nir Bitton held that positon and with a few good performances looked like establishing a run in the team. He too got injured. OK, as Celtic supporters, it’s annoying when the injured Bitton pops up starring for Israel against Scotland. He’s not great in the air, but as a former midfielder, unflappable on the ball. No matter, he’s out.

Hatem Abed Elhamed also starred for an Israel team that outplayed Scotland. He also played well when he replaced Bitton in the Celtic team. He’s also out. Also injured.

Unless Neil Lennon plays a wild card, Julien will start. The problem here is with Julien’s tendency to grab at players and with him likely to be up against Ryan Kent, let’s hope the Celtic defender doesn’t give anything stupid away.

No matter what team Lennon puts out, with James Forrest injured, Jeremie Frimgpong will hug the wide-right touchline and sprint back to mark Ryan Kent. Well, he can. He’s did it before with some aplomb. One of the few Celtic player to get pass marks in the Old Firm fixtures in the pre-split Christmas of 2019. He plays with a smile on his face. He makes things happen. But unlike James Forrest he doesn’t score much. There’s still time. Potential match winner.

Greg Taylor is the kind of player Scotland use when they’re playing meaningless fixtures. His best game was Celtic away, in Riga. Most of his other games are bang-average. Not a bad player. Not a great player in the mould of a Tosh McKinley.  I’d have settled for Johnny Hayes.

Lennon’s got a decision to make here. Diego Laxalt, the Uruguayan international on loan from AC Milan, could be thrown in for Greg Taylor. I can’t see it. And I’ve not seen Laxalt, although I can remember him, because of his Henrik-like hair, playing alongside Suarez. Give me a bit of that. Fling him into the mix. Here’s hoping.

It gets a bit boring here. We know Scott Brown and Callum McGregor will start in the central midfield slots.

There is now an outside chance of Ryan Christie starting, but we’ll not dwell on that and say he’s out.

Oliver Ntcham will start in Christie’s place. Terrific and cultured player. Doesn’t want to be at Celtic and has a tendency to disappear during games, but not a bad stand in.

Odsonne Edouard is in quarantine, but unlike Christie, could start. Usually, I’d say, will start. Barry Ferguson, the Ranger’s pundit, rated Edouard in the £35 million bracket. But not on this season’s performances. Lacklustre. Doesn’t look interested. He’s off are a few of the remarks I’ve heard (usually, because it’s me saying it). It’s not really a wild card to play Edouard, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion he’ll be on the bench.

Now it gets difficult to pick one from three to who will play centre-forward. I know it won’t happen, but with no Edouard I’d just go with Leigh Griffiths. We’ll get the usual pish about him not having game time.

That didn’t stop Albian Ajeti putting the ball in the netti and scoring goal a game before he got injured. He’s back too, with the usual stricture, not- match-fit.

Edouard can play with any of these two strikers. Or, if he’s out, Griffiths and Ajeti, pairing.

If we’re going to stuff the midfield and Edourad is out then Partyk Kilma could find himself as lone striker. He’s fed on scraps and came through to score goals. His goal against St Johnstone summed him up. Halved in two, he jumped up, and thumped the ball past the keeper. Kilma is no dud. Ironically, the guys that are half-fit are first picks. Scoring goals can change his prospects. Score against Rangers and it could change his career.

In the absence of Christie the guys that can play in behind the striker (whoever that is) is red hot. Ntcham could be pushed up. And I think that will happen.

Mohammed Elyounoussi playing ahead of Taylor and in behind the striker. He’s on form and scores goals. But I’m not convinced. He disappears.

If we’d got Tom Rogic on loan from Southampton and played him in the same position (as he did under Brendan Rodgers) then I’m sure the Australian internationalist would also have scored goals. He might even start. But don’t put any money on it. It’s the bench and a long wait for Rodgic.

The wildcard here is David Turnbull. The former Motherwell player has looked tidy with the ball, and untidy, giving it away. He takes great free kicks. Has boundless energy and an eye for a goal. He might well replace Christie in the team, in the short and longer term. I’d favour him over Elyounoussi.

Celtic as we all know have won eight games in a row. Don’t be fooled. Unconvincing and wide open at the back. I don’t rate Rangers, but they have shown they could exploit the open space. I expect us to start with one striker and a packed midfield.

Lennon usually plays one wildcard. In this game it will be Diego Laxalt in for Taylor. Celtic will win, if they score first. If not, it’ll be a draw.  

Barkas

Duffy

Ajer

Julien

Brown

McGregor

Ntcham

Frimpong

Laxalt

Elyounoussi

Ajeti

T.M.Devine (1999, with afterword 2006) The Scottish Nation 1700-2007

the scottish nation

It’s difficult to summarise a book that spans over 300 years, rich with knowledge and learning, which runs to over 600 pages. But it’s really quite simple. He who own the land owns the people. The Highland Clearances are an example of this. But Devine notes the Scots were always a nation on the move. Only Ireland and Norway have exported more of its people. But neither of these nations have done as well as the expatriate Scot abroad. Start haphazardly with Andrew Carnegie, once thought to be the richest man in the world, and work your way round the globe. Leaders of nations. Leaders of men have been Scots. But when sheep are more profitable than humans and there’s profit in one but not the other then as the theatre company 7:84 once lamented in aphorism of song and dance in their production:  ‘The cheviot, The stag and The black, black oil’. First came the sheep. Then the large hunting estates for the well off. Oil for the future. Black gold (or is it now fool’s gold?)  History made simple. In that agitation-propaganda era, when we were going to change the world, seven percent owned eighty-four percent of the land. Land means people. The new number’s game is ninety-nine percent own practically nothing and one percent own almost everything.

Devine precisely charts this movement from land to city and the evident pride in the British Empire that ruled the world. Scotland, viewed itself as equal partner, was the workshop of the world, and Clyde-built shipping and locomotives were a guarantee of quality. Glasgow at the hub of the industrial revolution grew at a faster rate than London. Our strength was our weakness. Local coal deposits which powered the revolution were no longer easily accessible and were cheaper abroad. Steel replaced iron, the price of which was dependent on coal deposits, but the massive investment needed for refurbishment was also dependent on other industries, most notably ship-building and its continuing ability to produce ships which could be sold abroad. Other nations, notably, America, Japan and Germany produced their own ship. Cheaper ships. Better ships. So that by the 1970s shipyards on the Clyde could no longer compete in terms of cost or the related time-frame in which ships would be started or finished.  Industry also needed an infrastructure that could move with the times.

There were and are bubbles of innovation and adaptation mainly centring on universities and involving technology and biotechnology.  Beardmore, a five-minute walk from my house, is now a NHS Hospital and hotel. But Beardmore once built ships. It branched out into building airplanes and cars. Difficult to believe that now. But we’re going back 100 years and Two World Wars. The resurgence in ship building which these conflicts brought life back to Glasgow, back to the Clyde, but it also left it dependent on industries that could no longer deliver profit and therefore jobs.

Worlds apart, even Barack Obama in his State of the Union Speech asks how much longer will we ‘accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well’?  I can assure you I’m not doing spectacularly well. And it’s a mockery of sorts, in these times of austerity, when rents go up and up and private landlords do pretty much what they like that money is being collected for a statue of Mary Barbour a First World War social activist. I’m sure what she would call for was a more just society. And it seems pointless to honour one woman and not the thousands of others that took part in demonstration that briefly changed our world for the better. It also ignore the thousands of men that downed tools and left there place of work to support these women’s actions. Tokenism is a statue. Government intervention and rent controls were a most lasting tribute. Devine covers this and the benefits of government intervention in the Scottish economy very well. The opening of the Highland to electricity, even though it was clearly uneconomic at the time, proved a crucial investment as tourism brought more money to the nation than shipbuilding, which like coal and steel becomes increasingly likely to be a memento of the past.

Devine does not shy away from the more brutal aspects of sectarianism, hatred of Catholics and calls from them to be deported back to Ireland from inside the Kirk and from leaders of the Church of Scotland. It was no coincidence, he says, that an Orange hall was built to face the gates of John Brown’s shipyards, which was about a mile from my home. Catholics were viewed as an inferior race which should not be allowed to work heavy machinery. Devine notes that the growth in educational opportunities and growth of an educated Catholic cohort has largely eroded this ingrained and built-in prejudice. But it was only yesterday, my mate Sharpy told me when he was interviewed for agency work and he was asked which school he went to. The wrong answer meant no job.

Devine, writing in 2006, ends on a hopeful note. He notes that the gains made by the working man during the fifties and sixties, were never equally shared and have largely gone but the reliance on manufacturing industries no longer holds true. Relative to other nations ‘productivity levels may be weak’ but gives examples of good and sound Scottish businesses such as the Royal Bank of Scotland (nationalised at a cost of billions of pound, one of the most toxic banks on earth) and HBoS in banking (ditto); the Wood Group (with oil under $50 a barrel the chairman estimates the North sea has only about ten years oil and this may not be economically worth taking of the sea) Cairn Energy (ditto); Scottish Power in energy (a subsidiary of Ibrerdrola with profits flowing out of the country to Spain); Stagecoach (it still exists and expanded into trains and the company owns franchises in North America and is still Scottish, whatever that means).  The future’s bleak. The future’s Poundland.

He who owns the land owns the people. It doesn’t matter if it’s Iberdrola in Spain or the Ineos plant in Grangemouth with profits going to North America. Jim Ratcliffe, Ineos chairman, faced off union involvement in his business plans and was rewarded with the promise of block grants from the Scottish government. Money flows at in increasing rate from the poor to the rich and the working man and woman clings on and hopes for better days. The Scottish Nation 1700-2007 shows he’ll have a long wait. The blip that was the 1950s to the mid-1970s is a folk memory of when British governments, for all their faults, offered welfare to the poorest members of society. Now government offers welfare and bespoke tax packages to the richest members of society. We’d need to go back about 100 years or more to see a more socially unjust society. Devine did not predict that or the face-off between SNP and the London paymasters in a 55-45 split nation. But it’s always easier in retrospect.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole

Blogging 101: Dream Reader.

I was out cutting the grass last week. It was warm and I was wearing shorts. I didn’t notice there was a wasp on my leg, until it stung me. There was a wasps’ nest close-by under the stump of a tree. The wasp was just doing what wasps do, protecting its nest. I flicked it away and stood on it and said ‘tell your mates they’ll be gettin’ more of the same. Come ahead if you think you’re big enough’.

I shouldn’t have done that. We all know about the death of bees and how in China they need to coax small boys up trees to pollinate the fruit trees. But I don’t live in China. I live in Scotland and I was just doing what I do.

Blogging is what I do when I’ve got something to say and no one else to hear it. Writing is a circuit from Reader to Writer.The circuit is not complete until someone, somewhere, reads your work.

My ideal reader would be Jesus, because he wrote a good book, a bestseller and God knows I’m word blind and  he knows the kind of mistakes I’m going to run into before I make them.

Next to God I’d probably put Alice Munro. She’s a Canadian Confucius, a master of the epigram of making something short, but long and outside the boundary to time, but not Jim, as we know it. In other words I don’t know what I’m talking about. That often helps when writing, because writing is a conflation of doing and thinking, but only if you do it right with a bold wrongness.

I must admit that me and Alice go back a long way. She ‘favourited’ me once. I wasn’t really sure it was her. Nobel Prize winners and deities don’t usually tweet and I imagined some bot was used to to harvest all mentions of her and reward her followers with the gold stars we used to get at Primary school to show how special we were. I was delighted, of course. A Spanish-Canadian robotic Munro cleaning up the mess of my writing and putting the world to rights.

You don’t usually lay a trap for God, but science demands it and calls it the experimental condition. I baited a trap for Alice Munro, pollinated it and left it lying on Twitter. She ‘favourited’ it again. Alice Munro does exist.

Tomorrow I will not be the same person as today. I will be living in harmony with the birds and bees in an independent Scotland. You are welcome to visit.

http://unbound.co.uk/books/lily-poole