Football from the inside

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Yet more material from David’s excellent blog.

THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH

You’re shite and you know you are.

That well versed put down, usually sung as the third or fourth goal goes crashing into the net as you destroy your rivals. Gloating and mercilessly baiting as you wallow in the misfortune of others, less able than you are. Football does that, lifting your spirits to such an extent that you lose all sense of reality, forgetting that at some point, it might be your turn to take a beating. As (ex) managers and coaches, we are acutely aware of that, careful to the point of caution, thinking about every word that may or may not be distorted to make the headline. Some are less careful than others and few are brutally honest, but make no mistake, we are all waiting for that time when a loose word comes back to bite you.

John Collins had his very own “you’re shite and you know you are” moment this week and to say that I am surprised at the reaction and hypocrisy by some from both within and outwith the game, would be an understatement of ‘Houston, we have a problem’ proportions.

Firstly, it is important for me to state there is no question that John, MAY have chosen his words a little more carefully. However, having clamoured for years to get our players, managers and coaches to tell the truth and reach beyond the “game of two halves” and “crossing the white line” clichéd claptrap, are we now to pillory someone for giving an honest assessment on some of our game’s failings?

It is important however to give context to what John said. John Collins did not say that Scottish football is appalling and of sub-standard as some of the newspapers would have you believe. He did, however say, that Scottish football, does not test Celtic as much as European football does in certain situations (granted, in a slightly different way than I have). He wasn’t making a sweeping generalisation as has been portrayed in some quarters, indeed, if you read the full transcript of the interview, the tabloids have a very different emphasis to their side of the story than the broadsheets. There is nothing wrong with that. The journalists are only doing their job. They will enter a press conference with pre-conceived ideas about how the ‘presser’ will go. On many occasions they will already have an idea of their angle, pushing and pursuing a line of questioning until they get what they want. Or, as was the case on this occasion, the interviewee will hand them what they want on a plate. There is often a great amount of training and skill involved in that, because being able to spot the ‘story’ is what sells papers. But let’s look at what John actually said;

“they’re not clever enough players or quick enough thinkers…”

Those nine words in isolation are now being taken to mean that Scottish football is awash with players who are of the football intelligence level of a miscreant schoolboy and may well be construed as disparaging. They certainly created the headlines that seem to have caught everyone’s eye, but if you look at the previous sentence and the one that comes after (which many of the newspapers decided, in their wisdom to leave out) then you can see that John was in fact talking about specific incidents on the pitch, situations and points of weakness that better players are able to exploit.

“…If you become open and detached from each other against good players and good teams you’ll be punished…that doesn’t happen to us in Scotland – no disrespect to the other Scottish teams, but they’re not clever enough players or quick enough thinkers to punish us when we do become detached from one another.”

To suggest that John was being deliberately condescending to the standard of the Scottish game, rather than being very specific about the demands of European football, is frivolous. However, the stark reality, regardless of how the words may have been perceived is that had he meant to ‘down’ the Scottish game in a not-so-subtle manner, he would only have been telling the truth. The standard of play, and indeed, player when it goes beyond the first and second rounds of the European competitions, after weeding out the chaff, DOES become a much bigger test than what we can provide in this country. We only need look at ALL Scottish clubs results in European competition in recent times to see that.

There has also, in my opinion been a great deal of hypocrisy on the subject, with all manner of managers and coaches having their say on the matter, most of whom disagree with John’s assertion. I have known Derek McIness for a long time, having played against him and pitted my wits against him in a coaching capacity. He has achieved far more in the game than I ever will, but on this occasion I have to disagree with him, given that John Collins is saying no more than what almost every manager in the country will say in their team talk every other week when they arrive at Celtic Park. No? Let me fill you in.

“We need to keep it tight…”

“We need to stay compact and not become open and detached from each other, because if we don’t, Celtic have players who are quick enough and clever enough to punish us…”

Sound familiar? Does that counter argument therefore mean, that every manager in the country is being disparaging, disrespectful and demeaning to his own players, just as John Collins apparently was? I’ll leave that for you to decide.

The Celtic assistant manager wasn’t trying to apportion blame for Celtic’s failings, he was stating a fact that in Europe, his players are given a greater test than they are at home. If Celtic fail in Europe, it will be down to Celtic, but John Collins wasn’t trying to waiver or deflect from that. He will be acutely aware of his responsibilities, and that of Scottish football, but neither was he trying to put down our game, nor sing “You’re shite and you know you are.”

So please, spare me the false outrage and the calls for his hanging. A wise man once said, “better to be true to yourself than to be false to others.” Something we should maybe all think about next time we see the headline and forget to read the whole story.

My first book – TAXI FOR FARRELL: FOOTBALL BETWEEN THE LINES is now available to pre-order from Teckle books All pre-orders before November release date will receive a signed copy and free delivery. Click here to order.

All material in this feature is the Intellectual Property of the author and as such may not be reproduced in print or for commercial gain without the prior permission of David Farrell

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