It’s In The Genes, Somewhere

by Ross Dunbar

The position of Scottish Football in the world game has been on a rapid decline in the past few decades. Scotland have not qualified for a major International tournament since 1998 and that hoodoo is set to continue for at least another 3 years.

The demise of Scotland’s position in world football is closely matched by its reputation. The implementing of defensive tactics at club and international level is fair reflection upon the technical ability of football players in the country. From grassroots to professional games, ability comes second to size and while the best thre players in the world are all under 5ft 8, the importance of being big and strong is still emphasized by some coaches at a grassroots level. The technical players are snuffed out of games which has created a turgid standard of football in Scotland.

Surprisingly, Scottish Football was well-respected and producing small, tricky and technical players was something of a norm in previous generations. There will not be many fans alive to tell the famous stories of Scotland’s football history and we can only rely on eyewitness accounts on the incredible standard of footballer being produced in Scotland in the last century. It was part of the genetical make-up of Scottish wingers and many of them were compared to the best in the world.


Alex James – Scotland

The famous Scotland side of 1928 would set Wembley alight with their dazzling skills on the ball. Scotland defeated England 5-1 in front of 80,000 fans and subsequently were given the tag of “Wembley Wizards” for their stylish performance. Scotland had an incredible array of talent in its frontline with four suppliers for the potent Hughie Gallagher up front. On the left-wing was Rangers star Alan Morton, nicknamed “The wee blue devil”, was only 5ft 4 but made up for that with exceptional balance and pace. Morton played a huge part in the 5-1 win with 3 crosses being headed home by Alex Jackson. The aforementioned Jackson was a fantastic talent and was famous for his excellent dribbling skills. Jackson was the tallest of the Scotland frontline at just 5ft 7.

Another stand-out talent was inside-left Alex James who played for Preston North End and Arsenal. James netted twice against England at Wembley and played mainly as a supporting striker with a fine range of passing. The inside-right was James Dunn who was a late call-up to that Scotland squad to face England. Dunn was your stereotypical ginger Scot and made his name with Hibs and Everton.

The list is endless. Sandy Archibald, Tory Gillock and Willie Waddell were all of Rangers and had these famous Scottish qualities. Bobby Walker and Tommy Walker were both great players in their eras and go down as two of Hearts’ best-ever players. Jimmy Johnstone of Celtic is famously remembered for his dazzling skills and as part of the 1967 European Cup winners side and left-winger Willie Ormond was part of the famous five of Hibernian.

All of a sudden, those genes seem to go missing and Scotland was starved of talent like those in the early 1900s for many years. However, in the last year or so, a new batch of youngsters has appeared on the scene and all have a similar make-up to the famous players of the past. They have a lot of ground to make up to be spoken in the same breath as these players but it is encouraging to see this type of player back in Scotland.

Barry Bannan – Scotland

Aston Villa’s Barry Bannan caught the eye at the start of the season in the Premiership and impressed on his international debut in November. Bannan, who is 5ft 7, can play as a support striker or on either flank and has a lovely left-foot. David Templeton of Hearts has shown in glimpses that he has ability but like most wingers has been largely inconsistent throughout the season. David has taken up the genes of his dad Harry who was full of skill and pace as a player.

Rangers striker John Fleck made his senior debut at 16 and has been hampered by long spells on the bench and a few niggling injuries. Fleck was incredibly over-hyped by the Scottish media, very unfairly in my opinion, but three years on it is still clear that Fleck can go a long way in football if given the right mentoring. Left-winger Gregg Wylde has just burst on to the scene and is one of the few remaining old-fashioned wingers in football. Celtic’s James Forrest is becoming a regular in the starting eleven at Parkhead and is another old-fashioned winger which is encouraging for Craig Levein, the Scotland coach.

After a very unimpressive start, Levein has the chance to experiment at the Carling Nations Cup in Dublin and he has made it known that changes to the regular squad will be made. It would be ridiculous to suggest that any of the current youngsters are anywhere near as good as Morton, Jackson, James and co. but it is nice to see some of these small, pacey and technically-gifted players breaking through in a league still dominated by hatchet men even in 2011.

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