The lengths that some people go to demonstrate their loyalty to a particular team to the world can reach disturbing levels. We have all felt sorry for the child christened with players surnames from their father's favourite team, especially if a girl. Anyone remember when Hibs handed out cagouls to away supporters at Easter Road on a rainy day? It took just to wear those. Other demonstrations of loyalty are less funny. Thankfully the mass fights that were the norm a few years ago have reduced to the mindless idiots of the casual phenomena. However we have no room to be complacent. Scotland has taken a 'holier than thou' attitude to the violent incidents that follow the English team abroad but it only takes one incident to bring us down to their level again. Remembering to take the following into account, fingers crossed, touch wood, God willing, if all's well and any other appropriate superstitious saying, Scotland appears to have learnt its lesson.
Italy had a hell of a fright a few year's when a fan was stabbed and killed prior to a match. For a few weeks before that fateful event there had been reports on Channel 4's excellent Saturday and Sunday football programmes on the violence that has erupted at a number of games. The cancellation of the complete football fixture list for the week following the death was the least that the Italian football authorities could do (by the way, I could never envisage the SFA or the FA agreeing to something similar especially when the FA ran a full programme after Hillsborough). The demonstration by players on the resumption of the league programme by appearing in their opponents strips was commendable. Unfortunately, theses subtle messages never get through to the thick heads that create the problems.
Even administrators are not safe from being drawn into the violence that football attracts. I heard a few years ago that the head of the Algerian Football Association had been killed by Muslim fundamentalists, this being the second shooting involving football personnel in recent months in that country. Maybe I am getting worried about nothing and the problem may just be something to do with Algeria as I heard that 100 prisoners were killed when the Algerian authorities tried to quell a prison riot. But on the other hand, I dread to think of what would happen to the Colombian football team if they were involved in a penalty shoot-out when a stray back-pass in the World Cup can mean death. Some people take their football very seriously but treat life, or the taking of it, rather too lightly.
Team loyalty regarding supporters can be difficult to identify as, when the football bug first bites, usually at school, there are a number of important factors to be considered before the life long loyalty can be confirmed. Most children of school age have to rely on mysterious benefactors called parents to supply the required wherewithal that is a pre-requisite to attending a contest between professional association football players. In other words, Dad needs to 'flash the cash fir the geme'. As the providers of the necessary funds, parents have some say in where the supporting habit is nurtured. If the parent is of the non-supporting persuasion, the choice can be narrowed with safety in mind. While safety at Scottish football grounds has improved significantly over the years with the drinks ban, fences, segregation, seating, general grown-up attitude of the majority of fans, parents can be blinkered to all that and insist that the monster in question attends a 2nd Division game, where they will be relatively safe.
The monster's chums, of course, have parents who are willing, or have been persuaded, to let the choice of venue visited to be left to their little darling. This is when Edinburgh clubs lose out as schoolboys tend to show initial signs of allegiance to teams that are enjoying a winning streak. Hence the number of buses heading west each fortnight with booster seats loaded to help the height challenged monsters see out of their window. As costs play a major part in where you view your football I am sure the Hibs etc could do a lot more to encourage attendance at Edinburgh grounds. Hibs Kids do a good job but as these Kids hopefully will be the suppliers of players' wages over the rest of their lives maybe more could be done.
It is nigh on impossible to build team loyalty from players these days as faces from the annual team photograph can change from wearing green to maroon within a couple of months. I recall overhearing an over excited youngster complaining to his father that when he changed to a new month on his Hibs calendar he would be faced with a Hearts player. Several players attempt to demonstrate their loyalty to the strip by kissing the team crest on scoring a goal. This signal of affection looks decidedly silly when the next week he is kissing the crest of his new team strip. Players move for a number of reasons including, unfortunately with monotonous regularity nowadays, to balance the books.
The treat of bankruptcy hangs over many clubs, and not only in Scotland. The black cloud of reality has dimmed many a manager's ambition with the need to satisfy the banker's demands met by selling a prize asset. While in the cold light of the real business world it makes sense that the books have to be balanced, there can be a degree of short sightedness in destroying the carefully constructed foundation of a team. We can all remember teams that have promised much but have faltered due to the loss of a vital member of the squad. It does not need to be a star, in inverted commas, when sold that tilts the scales towards mediocrity. The loss of a workmanlike player who does the fetching and carrying for the team can be disastrous. The confidence of a team, and it's supporters, can be shot when the player returns in another strip. He is desperate to show that he can still do the business and it has unfortunately been demonstrated to good effect many times at Easter Road.
While transfers for financial reasons are a fact of life these days as often as not the full story behind any transfer is seldom broadcast. All fans can do is piece together rumour and counter rumour. The jigsaw that is a result of this exercise is seldom similar to the "official" version printed in the papers. The terminology used in the "official" version can of course hide a multitude of sins and can lead credence to some of the more colourful rumours. If a player likes a drink a bit too much for his own good the reason for his departure is described as that "he needs a fresh challenge". If "he is no longer in the manager's long term plans for the club" it usually means that he has told the boss where to go within earshot of too many witnesses for discipline to be maintained if he stays. Teams in the lower divisions recognised a long time ago that they have to discover a reasonably good player every couple of years or so if they are to survive as a football club. While the fees for such players are not in the Premiership class, an injection of, say, £20,000 or £30,000 can be of equal value in real terms to a third division team.
Loyalty to the national team is of course safe from the needs of day-to-day book balancing and if a player transfers to a new team he can still be loyal to the international strip. Unfortunately, origins of birth determine eligibility otherwise a number of Brazilian players would have suffered frostbite by now by playing for Scotland's international team. There have been several occasions where a recognised international player declares that he no longer wishes to be selected for international duty. This is a situation that I cannot conceivably consider that I could find myself. Even though I have never played football at any representative level after leaving school, I would pay substantial amounts of money on a regular basis to any named bank account if I could just have my name included in the pool of players that are being considered for a Scotland game.
Playing for Scotland means free travel, free accommodation etc, opportunities to earn extra cash on the commercial side of things and, of course, getting paid to play for their country on top of their club wages. The effect of playing for the international side can also have a positive effect on the players transfer value. Players provide various reasons for not wanting to play but surely playing for your country is the ultimate recognition of your talent. I can agree up to a point that players can be asked to play too much over a period of a couple of years without a break and quote tiredness as a reason. I can also think of a number of occupations where having to follow a footballer's life would seem to be like a restful holiday.
I know that a Bill Shankley quote is pulled like a gun whenever a writer is stuck for words, something that he could never be accused of, but I feel the following has some value in this section. An English journalist asked what inspired Scottish players when they played for their country and Mr Shankley replied 'When ye pull oan the jersey, son, ye look doon at that wee lion oan the breast. It looks up at you and lets oot a roar. Then ye're ready for anybody.' I think that says it all.
The one and only