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Euro 2016 Draw

So Scotland gets Germany, Republic of Ireland, Poland, Georgia and Gibraltar.

It could have been worse, I suppose. (Could it have been worse?)

We won’t finish ahead of Germany. I don’t think we’ve beaten them for over forty years.

Ireland, Poland and Georgia are all tricky. And Gibraltar? That’s the sort of international team we have struggled against in the not so recent past.

Still, Gordon Strachan has improved things. Look on the bright side.

It’s Your Other Other National Day

Today is your other other National Day. (If you’re Scottish that is.)

St Andrew’s Day.

It is of course now more honoured in the breach as it is not a public holiday nor even – unlike in my young day – a school holiday.

I suppose 30th November isn’t a good time for a day off anyway; the daylight is too short and it’s liable to be considerably parky.

Norway 0-1 Scotland

International Friendly, Vasker Stadion, Molde, 19/11/13.

Grand larceny. Norway dominated this.

We were indebted both to David Marshall in goal and to poor Norwegian finishing for the win. It looked as if the team had never met. We survived a few bomb scares in the first half and at least two golden opportunities in the second.

Curiously the goal came after the only series of passes we managed to string together. (Passing! The secret of success at last!)

Napoleon famously asked of potential generals if they were lucky. This criterion may be applicable to managers too.

Scotland 0-0 USA

International Friendly, Hampden Park, 15/11/13.

Once again I only saw the highlights where it looked as if Scotland dominated the first half and the US the second.

I spoke today to someone who was at the game and he said the second half was more like 50/50.

It’s a lot better result for us than the last time the two countries met. Then again the US were without who are possibly their best players in Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.

Scotland 2-0 Croatia

FIFA World Cup Qualifier: Europe, Group A, Hampden Park, 15/10/13

Well, beating a team ranked in the world’s top ten twice inside a few months without losing a goal isn’t too shabby.

Again I only saw the highlights but it looked from them as if we played the ball about quite well – at least once we had scored. Croatia also seemed to play better this time than last and had a decent team out.

Encouraging signs, then.

It’s a long time till the next qualifiers, though, and fourth place won’t help our seeding any. (More than sixth or fifth would have done, right enough.)

I see our southern cousins managed to make it without benefit of play-off. Well done.

FYR Macedonia 1-2 Scotland

FIFA World Cup Qualifier: Europe, Group A, Philip II of Macedonia Arena, Skopje, 10/9/13

Two wins on the road is not to be scoffed at, but we rode our luck in the second half. Overall Matt Gilks had more saves to make than the Macedonian keeper had in the whole game.

Ikechi Anya, though, has a welcome injection of pace and willingness to get forward. His goal was very well taken.

Scotland had much the better of the first half and our failure to score could have come back to haunt us. Macedonia were much more positive in the second half and looking likelier to score just before we did but didn’t let us in the game after that. When the equaliser came it didn’t look likely they could lose. But up stepped Shaun Maloney to do what he’s done for Wigan and usually doesn’t get the opportunity to do for Scotland (because we don’t get free kicks around the area that often.)

If results in other games go against us it may still be we’ll need to beat Croatia – who have second place in the group in the bag anyway – next month to avoid bottom spot.

Flodden

Today is the 500th anniversary of the most disastrous encounter between the forces of Scotland and England in history. (Bigger even than the 9-3 reverse at Wembley only 50 years ago. But that was a mere football match.)

On the 9th Sep 1513 14,000 men died on a battlefield in Northumbria. 10,000 of those were Scots – including most of the Scottish nobility and even the King, James IV, himself, the last British king to die in battle. The Battle of Flodden Field was at one and the same time the biggest clash of arms between the two countries plus it was the last mediæval and first modern battle on British soil. Never again was the longbow to be a major weapon, never before had artillery been employed.

My memories of reading about this were that it was an unnecessary tragedy as James had only invaded Northumbria as a sop to the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France. England’s king, Henry VIII had gone to war with France and Louis XII had appealed to the Scots king. One of the peculiarities of this situation is that James’s wife was Henry’s sister, Margaret. She had apparently asked him merely to “break a lance” to honour his obligations. I doubt that she thought he would not return.

Reading the BBC History magazine a couple of weeks ago it turns out that Henry VIII’s father, Henry VII, aware of his tenuous right to the English throne had foregone the English claim to Scotland and signed the Treaty of Perpetual Peace. Henry VIII had no such inhibitions – or else was eager to bolster his own position – and had recently reasserted England’s overlordship over Scotland. James, then, in effect, had no option but to stand up to Henry.

His initial efforts were successful, taking three castles in short order. He then set up a strong fortified position on Flodden Hill and awaited the English forces. The English commander, Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey, apparently accepted battle on James’s chosen ground. However, being out of favour with Henry, he was desperate for a victory and instead of attacking at Flodden Hill, he made a flanking manœuvre, interposing his army between the Scots and the border. James was furious at this unchivalric behaviour and had to make a quick redeployment to Branxton Hill instead. Perhaps it was this anger that led to his lack of judgement in the battle. Wikipedia has the details of this dispute over the proposed battleground slightly differently.

Flodden Memorial from path
Flodden Memorial from path.

Flodden Memorial

The plaque reads, “Flodden 1513. To the Brave of Both Nations.”

The Scots artillery was heavier but more cumbersome and so less effective but at the beginning of the battle the Scots left completely overran the English right (if only!) and retired from the battlefield expecting the rest of the army to achieve overall victory. In the centre, however, things did not go so well. From their position on Branxton Hill the Scots could not see the boggy ground in the declivity between the lines.


Flodden Memorial. View to Branxton Hill

Flodden Memorial. View to Branxton Hill. From English start line.

Flodden Memorial from Scottish line

Flodden Memorial from Scottish line. Memorial is just left of centre here.

The Scottish Start Line at Flodden
The Scottish start line at Flodden.

The Scots infantry, armed with long pikes, whose efficiency had been proved in European battles, soon lost the essential formation necessary for success as they slipped and slid on the uncertain footing. The pikes also could not be anchored securely due to the underground conditions so were useless defensively. The English infantry, armed with much shorter billhooks, waded in to bloody effect. Dead bodies and blood soon made the conditions even worse.

Flodden Information Board

To their credit, as one of the information boards on the Battlefield Trail says, the Scots did not cut and run, but bravely fought on.

The memorial, built in 1910, is inscribed to the brave of both nations. I have been told the only other battle memorial to acknowledge both armies is at Quebec but cannot confirm this.

There is an information centre – in a red telephone booth – in Branxton village. It claims to be the smallest information centre in the world.

Flodden Information  Centre

James had been making his court and kingdom one of the most cultured in Europe, and Scots into a major European language. That process came to an abrupt end on his death.

The result of the battle at Flodden, the subsequent decline of Scotland’s influence, is probably the main reason why this post is being written in English rather than Scots.

The irony is that, despite the result of the battle, it was not Henry VIII’s descendants that would unify the crowns of Scotland and England and be monarchs of the UK but rather James’s, through his marriage to Margaret, their son James V and granddaughter Mary Queen of Scots, down to her son James VI and I.

The disaster is said to have inspired the traditional Scottish lament for the fallen, Floo’ers o’ the Forest,” sung here as The Flowers o’ the Forest by Isla St Clair.

Serial Delusion South of the Border

In Thursday’s Guardian, Owen Gibson (in an article titled “Dyke sees remedy for Hodgson’s headaches” on page 42 of the print edition) said, “With the odd exception (1990, 1996, 2004) the [England] national side has consistently underperformed since 1966.”

Oh dear. Not again.

Would a more realistic way to look at this statistic not be to suggest that actually in those four years cited (out of a total of 24 opportunities) that the England team actually surpassed itself and otherwise played for the most part as might be expected?

It would only be on those occasions that England failed to qualify for a major championship finals that the team could be said to have “underperformed.”

(On this note it can now be seen that Scotland consistently overperformed on all those occasions between 1970 and 1998 when reaching the finals competition was achieved.)

Scotland 0-2 Belgium

FIFA World Cup Qualifier: Europe, Group A, Hampden Park, 6/9/13.

Nobody really expected Scotland to get a result out of this and so it transpired.

I only saw the highlights and it looked as if Belgium did not have to reach top gear. Even so, Scotland did well to restrict them to as few attempts on goal as they got.

Belgium are an impressive side. Whether they are impressive enough to go all the way in Brazil next year is another matter.

Bottom of the group again. With only two games left we really need a win on Tuesday in Macedonia to have any hope of avoiding that spot at the end of the qualifiers.

England 3-2 Scotland Versus Writers’ Bloc

International Friendly, Wembley Stadium, 14/8/13

I didn’t see this as I was attending Sterne und Autobahnen* last night (see last post but one.)

By all accounts there were signs of promise.

I’d like to think, though, that in a European Championship or World Cup qualifier away from home we would not twice lose a lead. This is Scotland however: it will most certainly happen.

*The Writers’ Bloc gig went well, John Lemke’s and Poppy Ackroyd’s music – thoroughly modern for the most part, not my usual listening – was good and expertly performed, the story to accompany it entertained and was well read. The good lady and I may even have got a taste for tripping to Edinburgh for an evening.

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