Sport­ing he­roes who lay waste to Wee Man syn­drome

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - Jonathan Brock­le­bank j.brock­le­bank@dai­ly­

THREE decades ago one of the small­est play­ers on the pitch put Scot­land ahead against the mighty West Ger­many at the World Cup in Mexico.

There was no sweeter goal all tour­na­ment. Float­ing into the penalty box, the num­ber seven took a beau­ti­fully threaded pass and, with his first touch, dinked the ball into the far cor­ner of the net.

The ar­chi­tect of this mo­ment of ge­nius was Gor­don Stra­chan – all 5ft 6in of him – and his cel­e­bra­tion is al­most as fondly re­mem­bered as the goal it­self. Rac­ing to­wards an ad­ver­tis­ing hoard­ing, he looked for a ter­ri­fy­ing mo­ment as if he might try to hur­dle it. A na­tion cov­ered its eyes. For it came up to his mid­dle.

Mer­ci­fully he re­cal­cu­lated in the nick of time, slammed on the brakes and set­tled for drap­ing a stubby, peely-wally leg over the hoard­ing.

Yup, the grin seemed to say, I may be a wee guy, the sun­tan may need a lit­tle work, but you’d bet­ter be­lieve I can play foot­ball.

Our story moves to the year 2017, Stra­chan has be­come the coach of the na­tional team he once played for and the grin has long since dis­ap­peared. For the fifth time in a row, our boys have failed to qual­ify for the World Cup fi­nals – a fact that cost Stra­chan his job yes­ter­day – and, not un­rea­son­ably, view­ers at home want to know why this keeps hap­pen­ing.

‘Tech­ni­cally we’re fine,’ ex­plains the now ex-coach. ‘But our guys have to work harder to get on the ball than big­ger lads at six foot three. Ge­net­i­cally we are be­hind.

‘We couldn’t com­bat their height and strength at set plays,’ he adds. ‘Ge­net­i­cally, we have to work at things. It is a prob­lem for us.’


Can it be true? Are lo­calised de­fi­cien­cies in the very build­ing blocks of life stop­ping our blame­less pluck­sters from get­ting into in­ter­na­tional foot­ball tour­na­ments?

If so, no won­der the lads are hurt­ing in the dress­ing room after giv­ing it 110 per cent. Why, the story of their sport­ing fail­ure was writ­ten into their DNA codes from the start.

More im­por­tantly, if Stra­chan is right, what else have our rot­ten genes ru­ined for us? Are they the rea­son for all those lost bat­tles – Flod­den, Cul­lo­den, Falkirk? Is this why the in­ter­na­tional car­i­ca­ture of the Scots­man is the pip­squeak in a kilt and See You Jimmy wig that isn’t a wig?

It is, isn’t it? It’s those damned, pu­trid, in­fe­rior genes hold­ing us back in life. And the key thing to re­mem­ber is it’s not our fault. We, as Scots, are hap­less vic­tims of a mi­cro­bi­o­log­i­cal con­spir­acy, a cruel trick of na­ture against which no mere foot­ball coach can strike a mean­ing­ful blow.

Un­less you count this at­tempt: ‘Maybe we get big women and men to­gether and see what we can do,’ ven­tures the de­jected Stra­chan.

Hap­pily, he is talk­ing bunk – a con­clu­sion hinted at by his own bril­liant strike against West Ger­many in 1986 and proved by the man of the tour­na­ment that year, 5ft 5in Ar­gen­tinian Diego Maradona who lifted the tro­phy.

No, it is not our genes which pre­vent Scots from achiev­ing their goals. It is the na­tional in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex. It is the small na­tion syn­drome which nags at a peo­ple’s psy­che, telling them los­ing is all right be­cause they rep­re­sent a land with less than a tenth of the pop­u­la­tion of Eng­land.

We live in a coun­try which well un­der­stands that the big money and crowds in foot­ball are else­where and that few of our play­ers would get games for the rich­est teams. In short, we know our place, we’re pre­pared to lose and we have our ex­cuses at the ready.

Yet this in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex is a self-in­flicted con­di­tion, one which many Scots have proved is en­tirely op­tional.

Some of those are na­tional he­roes. Six-time gold medal win­ner Chris Hoy is one of the most suc­cess­ful Olympians of all time. If at all he re­mem­bered his place as he rode to vic­tory in three con­sec­u­tive Games, he was remembering that that place was on the podium in gold medal po­si­tion.

Sim­i­larly, Andy Mur­ray does not win Wim­ble­don by remembering that he is from a na­tion with a long tra­di­tion of be­ing rub­bish at ten­nis.

He wins it by ig­nor­ing the sta­tis­ti­cal im­prob­a­bil­ity of a Scots­man lift­ing the tro­phy, by ded­i­cat­ing every ounce of en­ergy and pas­sion and self­be­lief he can muster to out­play­ing the very best peo­ple in the game.

If you are se­ri­ous about vic­tory in any sport re­plete with as­ton­ish­ing tal­ent, those are the min­i­mum re­quire­ments.

Bull-headed ob­sti­nacy was the magic in­gre­di­ent that pro­pelled Mur­ray to the top of the world rank­ings. Quite rightly, he re­fused to be­lieve he did not be­long there. Why should he be­lieve it? What greater claim did a Swiss have, or a Spa­niard, or a Serb, to the ti­tle of best player in the world? Why not a Scot? I doubt whether a Scot­tish foot­ball team has ever run on to any pitch with any­thing ap­proach­ing that men­tal­ity.


Even the first tour­na­ment I re­mem­ber, Scot­land’s hu­mil­i­a­tion at the 1978 World Cup in Ar­gentina, was an ex­er­cise in col­lec­tive self-de­ceit. Man­ager Ally MacLeod may have had Scot­land’s un­der-10s be­liev­ing they were go­ing to win the tour­na­ment; he ev­i­dently did not man­age to con­vince a sin­gle one of his play­ers.

Strange how other small coun­tries man­age it. The Nether­lands may not have qual­i­fied for Rus­sia 2018 but were among the best in­ter­na­tional teams in Europe for a gen­er­a­tion or more.

New Zealand has a smaller pop­u­la­tion than Scot­land but it is rare that any na­tion of any size beats the All Blacks at rugby. And not once in the his­tory of the sport has Scot­land beaten them.

Could it be a ge­netic thing – the sim­ple fact that they build rugby play­ers big­ger over there? Not a bit of it. The Scot­tish team is packed with man-moun­tains, tal­ented ones too.

The rea­son New Zealand play­ers tri­umph with such mo­not­o­nous con­sis­tency over sim­i­larly pro­por­tioned ones from every other coun­try is sim­ply that they be­lieve they should do. Small na­tion or not, they have them­selves con­vinced they are the best.

It would be en­cour­ag­ing to think that, in sport as well as in every other walk of life, most Scots do not fall for the hokum that their Scot­tish­ness is hold­ing them back.

Quite the op­po­site. Our na­tion gave the world some of its most in­flu­en­tial fig­ures. From this in­signif­i­cant ge­o­log­i­cal out­post sprang En­light­en­ment philosopher David Hume, engi­neer­ing giant James Watt, econ­o­mist Adam Smith and in­dus­tri­al­ist An­drew Carnegie. Most credit a Scot with hav­ing in­vented the tele­phone – and an­other one for giv­ing us tele­vi­sion.

We pro­duced per­haps the greatest sprint cy­clist the world has seen and a ten­nis player who can live on court with three of the most re­mark­able tal­ents ever to grace the sport.

Hell, even the Pres­i­dent of the US of A is half-Scot­tish. And no one does self-be­lief like that one.

We can win, us Scots. Our genes are fine. Davids beat Go­liaths all the time.

Doubts over any of the above merely pave the route to fur­ther dis­ap­point­ment.

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