The past 12 months have showcased the best, worst and magnificently ridiculous aspects of Scottish football. So many, in fact, that we have listed them from A to Z…
Rangers’ Colombian striker Alfredo Morelos is fast becoming the most talked about man in the Scottish game. A goalscorer and creator, a walking contrarian, a whirling dervish and an Ibrox hero at the age of 22.
As experienced by Neil Lennon at Tynecastle in October, and many other places. In the aftermath of that tempestuous Edinburgh derby, the Hibernian manager said: “You call it sectarianism here in Scotland, I call it racism. If a black man is abused, you’re not just abusing the colour of his skin – you’re abusing his culture, heritage, background. It’s the exact same when I get called a Fenian, a pauper, a beggar, a tarrier. Every week, we hear the songs at the stadiums. That’s got to be stamped out.”
Morelos, Lennon, assistant referee Calum Spence and Salzburg’s Andrew Ramalho were all hit by coins flung by fans from St Mirren, Hearts, Rangers and Celtic. Life bans the only solution for these craven buffoons.
Del v Craig
Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes calls Hearts counterpart Craig Levein “irrational” and “childish” after Levein said he should stop talking “tripe”. That’s the short version. The bickering went on for days. Proust, it was not.
Scotland manager Alex McLeish must have felt like he’d spent much of 2018 in an industrial-sized tumble dryer. His team, his tactics, his oratory, his personality all came under heavy fire by those who didn’t want him employed in the first place. He’s not out of the woods, but he’s into the Nations League play-offs, so job done for now.
Eighteen SPFL managers left office during the year. Some went of their volition, but the majority had no say in the matter. Alan Stubbs, Alan Archibald and Neil McCann were the biggest names – and then there was that bizarre business with Kenny Miller at Livingston.
In the name of team-building, Partick Thistle, winless in seven games in the Championship, deployed the services of some SAS-type hardmen to push the team to the limit. One player tried to run away. Another broke down in tears. In their next game Thistle lost 1-0 at Queen of the South. Hmm.
The Scottish FA announced that the national team is staying at Hampden, where Scotland played in front of 21,281 fans against Israel, 20,196 against Belgium, 20,000 against Portugal and 17,455 against Albania. Tynecastle, Easter Road and Pittodrie would have been packed and buzzing. Hampden was sleepy hollow.
The word used by Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, to describe the saga of the League Cup semi-final double-header at Hampden, an unnecessarily divisive and drawn-out affair that came to an end when the humiliated SPFL called the whole thing off.
A Lowland League between Spartans and Gretna 2008 in December and a tweet that went around the world. “A break in play as the referee asks that a jobby is shovelled off the pitch”. A pesky fox had done its business on Ainslie Park and thousands of likes and retweets later the Spartans tweet had close to a million impressions. Even Gary Lineker got involved.
The appointment of Steve Clarke has been one of the most inspired decisions in Scottish football in years. Bottom of the Scottish Premiership with three points from eight games when he took over in October 2017, Kilmarnock won more points than any team (74) in 2018 and are just one point off the lead in the top flight. Jaw-dropping progress. Clarke’s team have played Celtic five times, winning two, drawing two and losing only once. The manager hasn’t just revolutionised the team, he has changed the club from hangdog to one of the top dogs.
Scotland captain Andy Robertson is probably the best left-back in the English Premier League right now and the Liverpool defender has to be among the top three or four left-backs in the world. Kieran Tierney remains an outstanding talent at Celtic. McLeish has to get both in his Scotland team – Robertson at left-back, Tierney at right-back.
Celtic and Scotland striker Leigh Griffiths is the latest footballer to suffer and how good it was to see the support he received when his struggles were made public. Neil Lennon, who knows all about the horrors of depression, spoke powerfully on the subject. Unfortunately, mental health issues are growing. So too, thankfully, is the awareness and understanding.
Taken suddenly in May at the age of 54, the legendary Aberdeen midfielder and Gothenburg Great meant a lot of things to a lot of people. His football was unforgettable, his personality even more so.
In taking in nearly £20m for Moussa Dembele and then splurging £9m on Odsonne Edouard, Celtic showed again the vast financial advantage they have over all others. Edouard will turn 21 in January. He has a bit to learn before he gets to Dembele’s level but he has talent, physicality and time on his side.
Hearts striker Steven MacLean had a little squeeze of Celtic’s Eboue Kouassi’s nether regions during the League Cup semi-final at Murrayfield. “I’ve been doing it for years. I don’t know how many times a goalie has done it to me and you just laugh and get on with it.” Kouassi didn’t laugh. He fell over in supposed agony. MacLean got a ban.
Queen’s Park pigeon
A decapitated pigeon falls from the sky and crashes to earth on the Hampden pitch while Queen’s Park are playing St Mirren in the League Cup. “Our thoughts are with his flock at this sad time,” tweeted the home club.
It takes many forms but the targeting of black players has become deeply troubling. The most recent incident was in the Edinburgh derby, but that’s far from an isolated case. Celtic’s Scott Sinclair was subjected to racism, Motherwell’s Christian Mbulu got it at Hearts, Shay Logan got it at Rangers. Dennon Lewis, the Falkirk striker, was also allegedly subjected to similar bile. This is nothing new – football is poisoned by these people – but the incidents seem to be on the rise.
It was a genuine Wow! moment when the Liverpool legend agreed to become the new Rangers manager. A global football figure in charge of a troubled giant? It was a gamble and it was intoxicating. Gerrard signed a new team and made progress in Europe at the first attempt. Domestically? He needed a big result and he got it against Celtic at Ibrox. It was 1-0 going on 4-0 or 5-0, an evisceration of the champions and a major springboard for the second half of the season. Rangers are level with Celtic at the top at the halfway stage. Brendan Rodgers no longer has it all his own way.
Rodgers won a second treble for Celtic and took one step on the road to an extraordinary treble-treble by winning the League Cup in December. He has now secured seven trophies in a row. Things got tricky for the Celtic manager in the summer. A fractious transfer window, an exit from the Champions League, an iffy beginning to the league season and rumours of disquiet behind the scenes. Celtic’s world calmed down and now there’s a little turbulence again after their Ibrox experience. Game on at the top of the Premiership.
When Rangers suggested that there might have been “underlying issues” behind Willie Collum’s refereeing of the club, a Scottish FA sanction soon followed. Open season on referees has continued throughout the year. Gerrard, after his first league game, said that decisions have been going against Rangers for years. “I don’t think we ever get anything to go for us,” he said, to the bemusement of many. Lennon said that Hibs were playing against 12 men when facing Celtic – Don Robertson was the target. Craig Levein said Hearts were playing against 13 men against Rangers – Bobby Madden and his assistant were in the firing line. Rodgers said that on occasion he has cause to wonder “if the officials know the rules.”
The only way to reduce the number of refereeing blunders is to give them a helping hand. Scotland thinks it has the worst referees in the world. Most leagues around the planet think the exact same thing. VAR would help. It would cost about £1.5m-£2m. “Unaffordable” say the SPFL. Nonsense. Get it sponsored and get it implemented or else the on-field injustices continue. Football either wants fairness or it doesn’t.
Scotland’s women’s team created history by qualifying for the World Cup in France in the summer. It all went to the wire for Shelley Kerr’s team in a thrilling end to the campaign and their reward is a group with England, Japan and Argentina and matches in Nice, Rennes and Paris in June. Kerr has built a team in her own image; resilient and proud. Just being at the party won’t be enough for the manger. A place in the knock-outs is the aim. It’s a major challenge, but then few thought then capable of getting to this stage in the first place.
Rangers midfielder Andy Halliday is substituted five minutes before half-time in the Scottish Cup semi-final with his team already 2-0 down to Celtic. An emotional rant ensues. The midfielder is picked up on camera directing a mouthful of vitriolic abuse in the direction of manager Graeme Murty. Celtic went on to win 4-0 and then won the next meeting 5-0. The language, we surmise, didn’t get any better.
Young at heart
It’s been a turbulent year for former Scotland striker Kenny Miller. There was the spat with and subsequent exit from Rangers, and then the ill-fated stab at management at Livingston. On December 23, he turned 39, but this has been Miller’s best goalscoring first half of a season since 2011, when he was with Cardiff. He has eight and seems to no less hungry now than he was when he was 20 years younger.
The sound we should all make when the worst excesses of the Twitterati start with their lunacy. Social media is a great vehicle for engagement, but with every passing week the irredeemable bigots and the insufferable bores are ruining it with their conspiracy theories, their whataboutery and their hate.