Glasgow au­thor hopes to pen a glo­ri­ous new chap­ter of Scots at the Eu­ros

Evening Times - - SPORT - Stewart Fisher

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!”

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