Glasgow author hopes to pen a glorious new chapter of Scots at the Euros
STEVE CLARKE isn’t the only Scotsman hoping to write a glorious new chapter of this nation’s involvement in the European Championships in the next six months. It just so happens that Richard Keir, a Glasgow-based historian and football statistician, is midway through an epic statistical trawl through the continent’s major nations competition.
While Part 2 of ‘The European Championships: A Complete History’, covering the years 1980 to 1992 (including our first appearance at the finals) recently hit bookshelves, published by Rowan Vale books, the idea is actually conceived as a four-part series and Keir has his fingers crossed for some juicy Scottish involvement to get his teeth into for his future volumes.
Did you know, for instance, that Scotland played no part in the first two runnings of this competition, in 1960 and 1964, only deigning to enter the competition in qualifying for the 1968 finals in Italy?
Or that our first goalscorer was Denis Law, a late equaliser in our first qualifying result, which was a 1-1 draw in Cardiff? And that our famous 3-2 win against recent World Champions England at Wembley was in fact part of a failed qualification attempt for those 1968 finals?
With just one of the home nations permitted to qualify for what was only a four-team finals back then, the home international championships of 1966-67 and 1967-68 comprised the qualification group and a 1-1 draw against the Auld Enemy at Hampden in 1968 (Richard assures me that Celtic’s Yogi Hughes was on target for Scotland with Martin Peters notching for England) meant Sir Alf Ramsey’s men qualified in our stead.
Plus ca change, as the French might say. Certainly, there were no cushy Nations League playoffs back then to get in via the back door.
Keir, whose first published book was an exhaustive history of the Scotland national team’s stats – a kind of Google before Google existed for Scottish football journalists – has made it his mission to document this competition in exhaustive detail, tracing the growth of a competition which has grown from four teams to eight in 1980, 16 for Euro ’96, and now 24.
It is a process which has involved contacting foreign associations, reaching out to Uefa, tracking down DVDs of full matches to watch them all with modern eyes. For the record, he is just seven matches away from completing a repeat viewing of Euro 1996, sourcing info for the third volume, which will hopefully make an appearance sometime next year. That means he is already way past the trauma of Gary McAllister’s missed penalty and Paul Gascoigne’s late sucker punch, not to mention David Seaman conceding the late goal which rendered Ally McCoist’s winner against Switzerland academic.
Coupled with the anomaly of a 3-0 win against the CIS (pictured above, Russia appeared under the banner of the Commonwealth of Independent States in 1992) as our only two wins in the group stages.
“When I was very young, I would compile football scores way back in the day,” explains Keir, who has made a return to the ranks of the Tartan Army recently after taking a few years off. “So when I started doing the Scotland book, I used to go into the Mitchell Library, look at all the newspaper reports, looking at the microfilm when I was off on a Saturday, looking at notes and taking down the team lines.
“The Scotland book took about eight years to complete,” he added. “I sent a synopsis in to publishers and one got back to me. I basically started writing the European Championship stats about four or five years ago. I was hoping to do it all in one book, but the publishers said due to the width of it, it was better to split it. Some of the info has been hard to track down but for the finals matches, I have been getting DVDs from a couple of companies and writing reports.”
For most of its existence, it was understandable if Scotland didn’t reach these continental finals; that excuse no longer holds water. If the complications of it all will become clear at today’s play-off draw, when Clarke will find his side paired against Bulgaria, Israel, Romania or Hungary in a one-off Hampden semi-final on March 26, and learn whether we will be hosting Serbia or Norway or going to their place, Keir would love to have a special interest in the 2020 competition.
“It [the expansion of the tournament] is probably a good thing in a way,” he said. “It gives some of the lesser teams a chance to get the tournaments so it is good in that respect. There are a lot of people against it, who feel it should be more elite. But the Champions League is just so elitist now, it is such a closed shop even to some quite big clubs now. And they are trying to make it even more closed.
“I will be watching the European Championships closely in any case, just a bit more closely if Scotland can make it. Hopefully if we do make it, it might spark a bit more interest and sales!”