It was the mid-1990s, a time in which political correctness had less of a hold and the comment was widely attributed to one of the many great wee men who have graced Scottish sport down the years.
“We should get every woman of child bearing age in Jedburgh up to the Samoan team hotel this week and in 20 years’ time Jed-Forest will have the strongest team in Scotland,” Roy Laidlaw was reputed to have said.
The probability is that one of the more dignified men to have represented Scotland as both player and official down the years said no such thing, but he has always had a mischievous streak so it is just possible.
Either way, though, the implicit message was not dissimilar to the one issued by Gordon Strachan last weekend that has seen so much ridicule heaped upon our football manager.
Like Laidlaw, the former Aberdeen and Manchester United midfielder was speaking from a position of understanding what it takes to punch above your weight at international level. Both were intelligent players and that is reflected in their recognition that whereas in their playing day, which for the most was in the eighties, superior work ethic could allow them to be competitive, the increased emphasis upon and sophistication of sports science has meant that at the top level of both sports those blessed with superior skills and/or physiques are also now maximising their potential.
It was not, then, only in the context of the comments attributed to Roy that I was amused to encounter many examples of people in the rugby community seeking to make capital at Strachan’s expense in the early part of the week. It was, after all, a professional Scottish rugby coach who, in rather despairing tone, said to me rather more recently: “I don’t know what it is about our rugby players. It’s as if some of them have been put together by Dr Frankenstein.”
By way of example he cited one particular prop forward who could, apparently, bench press all sorts of ridiculous amounts of weight, but also suffered from what he cruelly described as “chicken legs”.
Nor does it seem to unreasonable to point out that while our footballers are participating in genuinely a global game, it seems a bit rich to boast about the rugby team’s record of never having failed to qualify for a World Cup when, until the first of those tournaments in 1987, Scotland held the highly advantaged position of being one of just eight members of the International Rugby Board, entitled to play Test rugby and remains one of only 10 that are allowed to engage in meaningful annual competition.
The reality, not least because of the rewards available, is that the vast majority of Scottish youngsters with the talent to do so will pick football first and foremost, so that is the sport in which comparison of physiques, athleticism and skill are most relevant, particularly in team sports where talented individuals cannot compensate for the failings of those around them.
In that regard – albeit perhaps because of the unresolved trauma he was instrumental in inflicting during derbies of the eighties – I genuinely struggle to think of another Scots-born footballer who, in terms of that combination of physique, athleticism and skill, would have been a better choice for cloning than Davie Narey, the Dundee United centre back who once prompted the worst pundit’s observation in sporting history when his glorious, but ill-advised goal against Brazil was described as “a toe poke.”
Born and bred in the city where he spent the vast majority of his career before a late and successful spell with Raith Rovers, what held him back, ironically in this context, was an unwillingness to move home far from his roots. Indeed, the last I heard of the notoriously publicity shy Narey was when someone recently mentioned that he had been seen in the queue for The Silvery Tay, my parents’ favourite chippie.
That, though, brings us to another important subject in terms of the making of Scottish footballers that has been dismissed irresponsibly by far too many who should know better. Unpopular as it remains to point it out, I’m afraid Ronny Deila really did have a point when it came to our intake of processed sugar and fried potatoes…
AND ANOTHER THING
In terms of addressing the issue he has identified Gordon Strachan might, in the short-term, pay close attention to the
Consider, for example, the following contenders for Scotland’s 2019 World Cup squad: forwards – Dell, Berghan, Swinson, Toolis, Bresler, Nel, Cowan, Hardie, Denton, Strauss, du Preez, Wilson; backs – Price, Pyrgos, Burleigh, Taylor, Grigg, Maitland, Visser, Seymour, Tonks.
Got the connection? Yup, that’s right, not one of them was born in Scotland, most are dependent on the grandparent rule to be Scottish qualified and others merely on residency.
The genes are strong in those ones… strong enough to provide some support for the handful of homegrown players such as Stuart Hogg, or his footballing counterpart Kieran Tierney, who genuinely have what it takes to excel in international team sport.