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Sepp Blatter

I still don’t quite know what to make of Sepp Blatter’s resignation.

It was only a few days after he’d secured his presidency for another term. Maybe there’s a lot to come out about his dealings behind the scenes. It would seem so.

But…. A thought occurred to me.

Is it a bit like John Major’s resignation? He resigned (as head of the Tory Party) but still managed to stay on if you recall.

And Blatter’s given himself about six months still in charge while the process of electing a successor takes place. I wouldn’t be in the least surprised if he tried to stand again.

Whatever, I doubt that the next World Cup will be removed from Russia. There were good reasons why it should go there. (It was Europe’s turn and Russia hadn’t had it yet, among others.)

Qatar in 2022 is another matter. (But 2022 is Asia’s turn.)

In another point; to make things absolutely clear, if there is a rerun of the voting for 2018 or 2022, to avoid accusations of sour grapes, England ought not to bid and perhaps neither ought the US given it was that country’s initiative that has resulted in the arrest of FIFA’s executives.

Scottish Referendum Reflections

In the end I suppose confidence and hope lost out to fear and timidity (or caution if a less harsh word is required.)

I didn’t watch the results coming in as nothing was going to happen for hours. I woke up to the news on the radio.

My first thought was one of relief that none of the apocalyptic things predicted of a yes vote – flight of capital, businesses and jobs, the loss of the BBC to us forever (not that that organisation cares much for Scotland) etc etc – would now be happening, my second that Westminster could now safely go back to ignoring that part of the UK where I was born and live.

My third was a profound sadness that the country I had always suspected I lived in was not the one I had hoped I lived in.

Given, for the first time (the Union of the Parliaments in 1707 was carried out over the heads of the populace at large,) the opportunity to affirm that Scotland was a nation rather than an idea, the Scottish people had declined to do so.

I found myself thinking of Alan Warner’s views on the Scottish literature project – see my earlier post – and changing my mind.

In the light of the result Warner may have a point. If the majority of Scotland’s people see no utility in an institutional reflection of Scottishness on the world stage why should there be a Scottish literature at all? What is the point of reflecting Scottishness when, philosophically – the referendum question “Should Scotland be an independent country?” was a philosophical one – the place doesn’t exist.

I also mused on the fact that there is now an argument that, the people having rejected independence, sporting teams representing Scotland become even more of an absurdity, and that, for example, the Scottish FA and SPFL should be dissolved and merged into their southern counterparts. (Whisper this to UEFA or FIFA, though.)

As to the no campaign’s promises of further powers to the Scottish Parliament I’ll believe in promises of Devo Max when further devolution happens, not before. (See the Alan Warner link above.) In this regard please note that I am entirely in favour of devolution of powers from the Westminster Parliament to all other areas of the UK which wish for that.

I spoke to one of my sons yesterday, who I suspect voted no, and he was of the opinion that there is now a momentum, that independence will come inside 25 years.

Perhaps. Perhaps if Scottish sporting teams were absorbed into a GB framework the process would be accelerated. I had long said that the only way Scots would vote for independence was if the Scotland football team was no longer allowed to play against anyone. Since Scotland ceased to qualify for tournament finals, since we became more or less rubbish, even that might not be enough.

MH 17 and Russia 2018

The shooting down of airliner MH17 over Ukrainian airspace was a tragedy – but more likely arising from the cock-up rather than the conspiracy wing of history. Surely no-one seriously thinks that the powers behind either side in the Ukraine fighting intended their minions to shoot down a passenger aircraft? It was clearly done by a trigger-happy clown not subject to much in the way of discipline or command and control as in a regular army. Unfortunately this sort of thing happens in civil conflicts.

The consensus that it was “Russian” rebels who did it is probably correct. That they ought not to have had the weapons to allow them to do it is also a given. But I suspect that Vladimir Putin is raging that it has put him – as the overwhelmingly likely ultimate source of the arms involved – in the wrong. One more reason for the US and EU to portray him as a villain and to increase sanctions.

Yet, unless it blows up into something bigger – in the hundredth anniversary year of the devastating fall-out of an assassination in the Balkans that prospect cannot be overlooked – in four year’s time will most people, apart from the families of the deceased for whom it will linger forever, remember it? Very few gave a toss about the contretemps Russia had had with Georgia in 2008 during the Sochi Winter Olympics earlier this year.

Yet we have our Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, calling for the World Cup due to be hosted by Russia in 2018 to be stripped from that country. I wish him luck with that. The site of World Cups is in the purview of FIFA and that organisation doesn’t take kindly to outside interference.

What makes his remarks even more counter-productive in terms of his stated objective is that Clegg has said that England might host the tournament instead. Anyone who had any knowledge of FIFA at all would know that is a non-starter.


di Stéfano

The football legend who has died today had a name that needed no further explanation. He was part of that legendary Real Madrid side that captivated the football followers of Glasgow and Scotland at the European Cup Final of 1960 – played at Hampden Park. di Stéfano scored a hat-trick.

I was too young to be aware of it at the time but the folk memory was promulgated and persists. Such was the effect of that display of what football could be that the names of the forward line still trip off the tongue with no need for googling. Canario, Del Sol, di Stéfano, Puskas and Gento. Mind you, I see film of that game now and think, “Where was the marking?”

One curiosity is that I believe the Eintracht Frankfurt team that formed the opposition that day were all amateurs – as was German football as a whole.

di Stéfano may be unique in having played international football for three different countries, his native Argentina, Colombia, where he played league football for a while, and Spain for whom he was naturalised in 1956. That was the type of scenario that I thought had been resolved by FIFA with its rules on eligibility but in the recent World Cup one of the commentators remarked that Kevin-Prince Boateng who played for Ghana in the tournament had previously played for Germany (but not, it seems, for the senior side.)

The World Cup was one stage that di Stéfano did not grace, for various reasons, but his thirteen national titles (two in Argentina, three in Colombia and no less than eight in Spain) and five European Cups – not to mention his scoring record – speak for themselves.

Alfredo Stéfano di Stéfano Laulhé: 4/7/1926 – 7/7/2014. So it goes.

Brazil 3-0 Spain

FIFA Confederations Cup, Final, Maracanã Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, 30/6/13

Seemingly Brazil don’t do competitive defeats at home. Their last was 38 years ago, and that was the only one in the past 50 years. They have only ever lost twice in a competitive game at the Maracanã (whose official name I’ve now learned is the Estádio Jornalista Mário Filho.)

As in the semi-final Spain were most unSpain like. This could be due to the fact that both Italy and Brazil got at them. I note here that even if Big Phil did not send Brazil out deliberately to play the early ball over the top David Luiz had certainly noticed the Spanish vulnerability. It was his crossfield pass that led to Brazil’s first goal.

It was strange to see Spain out-hustled for two games in a row. Hustling is one of their strengths. But Italy and Brazil didn’t allow them time on the ball nor space to pass it.

Spain had their chances but the combination of a David Luiz goal line clearance and a Julio Cesar in great form frustrated them.

Fred’s second early in the second half killed the game. Iker Casillas showed here why Jose Mourinho may have preferred Diego López latterly.

Talking about goalkeepers falling from their absolute best Gianluigi Buffon in the semi seemed to have recovered from Italy’s defensive horrors in the group games but looked a bit iffy again in the third place match.

Brazil don’t lose competitive matches at home?

Well, they’re still haunted by the loss to Uruguay at the Maracanã in the last game of the 1950 World Cup. They still will be when next year’s tournament comes round.

Quo Vadis?

Rangers attitude to Scottish football reconstruction has hardened. Their chief executive has suggested they should leave Scottish football if the plans go through.

It looks like they at least don’t believe the plans are designed to elevate them prematurely.

But where could they go? UEFA and FIFA against clubs playing outside their own country’s borders (special dispensation applies to Welsh clubs who historically plied their trade in England and Monaco is also a special case. I’m not sure where FC Vaduz – a Liechtenstein team in the Swiss league – comes in this regard.) England is a non-starter; even given UEFA blessing they would hardly be able to jump straight into the Football League nor even the Conference. (Sorry, the Blue Square Premier League.)

This is a blowing of hot air, perhaps as a reflection of relative impotence. Their absence from the highest echelon is obviously getting to them. (For the next Cup weekend I had planned a post – as yet unwritten – relating to this.)

I do agree the proposals are a dog’s breakfast. The solution to Scottish football’s financial problems is for the top clubs to take a tumble to their real status* and cut their cloth accordingly. Stop spending money they don’t have and don’t budget for TV deals; take them as a bonus.

*Piss-poor league in a piss-poor country on Europe’s periphery. Deal with it.

Scottish Independence?

So in 2014 the people living in Scotland will at last be allowed to vote on their continuing presence in the UK.

I used the formulation “at last” because it will be the first time. When Scotland and England with Wales merged in 1707 the only Scots who had a vote on the proposal were members of the then Scottish Parliament. There was widespread discontent in the general public at the time.

Still, over three hundred years we have had time to accustom ourselves to it.

The likley outcome in 2014?

No to independence.

There will be a lot of scaremongering about how Scotland cannot afford to go it alone though other countries of similar size do alright (Denmark anyone?) and newly independent ones (Slovakia?) don’t seem in a rush to remerge.

The status quo will seem a safer option but that too is a leap in the dark – especially if the little Englanders in the UK were to force withdrawal from the EU. Scottish fisheries might be better off in that circumstance but I doubt anything else will be.

But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Short of FIFA removing Scotland’s right to separate representation* in the World Cup and European Championships the majority of Scots won’t vote for independence.

(*Given the national team’s current efforts maybe not even then.)

Is Anyone Surprised?

You only had to look at who won the rights to hold the next two World Cups after 2014 to know money was involved somewhere along the line.

Russia – oligarchs – and Qatar – oil.

It’s only the degree, and whether it actually went to the members of the FIFA board or their pet projects which was in any way in doubt.

All the shock horror is a bit overdone.

But a cleaning out of FIFA’s Augean stables would be no bad thing just the same.

Sour Grapes

So. It’s Russia.

Well done, comrades. (Or don’t you say that anymore?)

Fat lot of good having David Beckham, the Prince William and Mr Irresponsible presenting the England bid as part of the team did them.

But what an outpouring of bile we got from the commentariat on BBC news in the aftermath, saying that the process was flawed, not transparent enough and must be changed.

What? You lose the vote and that’s because of the system?

This display of sour grapes is profoundly unappealing. You were acting as if it were your divine right to have the tournament. I know God is supposed to be an Englishman but get a grip. No wonder you lost.

Where does this ridiculous sense of entitlement originate? You lucked out once and have been more or less mince ever since. You continually puff up your league as the best in the world. If it is – and that’s by no means a given – it would only be because it is stuffed full of foreign players who are more gifted technically, and more intelligent in the football sense, than your indigenous ones.

And before anyone points the finger, my poor little football country has no such delusions of grandeur. We cured ourselves of any vestige of that a long time ago.

It’s indicative of the desperation fans of England feel that they appear to think that only by hosting the World Cup will they ever win it again. (I would suggest that the way the England team is going now even being hosts wouldn’t guarantee that.)

Face it guys. Nobody likes you. You’re too arrogant.

Foul Throw?

I watched the first half of the game last night in the company of Onebrow. He asked me if I’d noticed that the foul throw no longer seems to be penalised. I told him I had and that it’s only outrageous examples that catch a ref or linesman’s eye nowadays.

I suppose it’s because a throw-in is supposed to be an advantage to the taker (btw a Dumbarton supporter laughs at any such suggestion) and so the officials let minor infringements go.

I also said what annoys me more is the consistent cheating indulged in by those who are awarded a free-kick anywhere outside the attacking third. (The refs are more stringent in that area.) On the award being given the ball has immediately been thrown, or placed, ten yards or more in front of where the foul took place. In some cases this has meant offences in a team’s own half have resulted in a free kick taken in their opponent’s. Another was given for a foul on the goal line and taken from near the eighteen yard line. These instances are surely not hard to spot.

All the teams seem to be at this. And don’t get me started on teams “stealing” yards at throw-ins, which is endemic in the professional game.

In this regard, congratulations to David Villa who, after the field invasion interruption just after the game started, did not lump the ball all the way back to Germany’s goalkeeper on the restart but played it a few yards to where Germany had actually had possession. He gets my “sporting gesture” award for this World Cup. (He’ll probably do a Hand of God in the Final now I’ve said that.)

Far too many (for which read: all) instances of giving the ball back in circumstances like these consist in negating, and more, any advantage the team in possession had at the time of the ball being put out of play.

I also note today that the BBC seems to think FIFA are going to introduce goal-line technology before the next Word Cup.

Parsing what Jerome Valcke says, “I would say that it is the final World Cup with the current refereeing system,” suggests to me that another two refs, one behind each goal line, as in the Europa Cup, rather than microchips in the ball, is what is in the collective FIFA mind.

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