The Man Who Loved Islands

“Write what you know.”

It’s one of the simplest pieces of advice any writer is ever likely to get, but it’s also possibly the most crucial.

I may be nothing more than an amateur writer, but it’s something I love to do and I firmly believe you have to have a passion for it to do it well. By writing what you know, you can help tap into that passion and help to pick up on the nuances that really make a good piece of writing come alive for the reader.

I’ve been writing on and off since I was at school. Although English wasn’t my strongest subject, even at primary school I used to love what they called “creative writing”. Sadly by the time I got to high school I had abandoned that in favour of focusing more on the storytelling than my actual abilities as a writer. So much so that what I did write was done in playscript format, nicely avoiding the need to paint any kind of picture and doing almost everything through dialogue.

Mind you, that may also have been because I was writing Star Trek fan fiction and I found it really difficult to write space battles through anything other than the characters telling you what was happening. Indeed, setting things in space was pretty much a theme of my writing through school! Even those “creative writing” assignments became a challenge in how I could twist the latest story into sci-fi/fantasy.

But the problem with what I wrote back in high school was that it didn’t read well. If you don’t paint that picture for the reader, then it’s difficult to truly engage them. The only place the picture exists is in the writer’s head, and that’s no good to anyone.

My more recent writing has focused more on the non-fiction world of Scottish football. I’ve mainly been blogging, but a few years ago I took on the much bigger challenge of writing a self-published book about Celtic’s 2003/04 season. When it comes to writing what you know, a book about your favourite season of your favourite sport pretty much ticks all of the boxes!

I can’t say it was perfect. If I did it again, I’d probably do certain things differently. Maybe that’s self-critical, but show me a writer who doesn’t reach that point of “will people actually like this rubbish” and I’ll show you someone who probably isn’t taking their writing seriously!

If there was one main criticism I’ve had of that book, it was that it was too dry. It’s packed full of facts and figures and quotes, but for a football book I wasn’t able to get the passion across as I would have liked. The best bits are probably where I veer off to talk about my own memories from certain aspects of that season. That’s when the passion starts to come across, that’s when I can paint the picture for the reader.

Perhaps if I’d focused on that at school more, I would have done a better job. Now that I understand how crucial it is, I could have done something about it. I still could if I had the time, but work and family commitments have severely limited what I can realistically achieve now. It’s a shame, because there have always been plenty of pictures in my head. With a bit of work, I’m sure I could paint those pictures for readers.

One of the best exponents of painting those pictures that I’ve read in recent years is David F. Ross.

A couple of years ago I set myself the New Year’s resolution of reading an average of a book a month in a year. I’d fallen out of reading on a regular basis and I wanted to get back into it. To try and push myself to do it, I tweeted my goal. David, ever the opportunist and someone I knew only through a shared involvement with the then ByTheMin Twitter project, suggested I give his book “The Last Days of Disco” a go.

How could I say no to that?!

I’m really glad I couldn’t. Of the thirteen books I read that year, yes I actually kept to my New Year’s resolution that year, Last Days of Disco was the highlight of the lot.

It was set in an era just after my birth, but it still let me reminisce about my own memories of the decade as a whole as it was clearly an era that David knew personally. Not only that, but it was set in a Scottish town. Again, not my Scottish town, but I could still acknowledge the references – especially about being slightly removed from the big city of Glasgow. I know that particular feeling all too well, having started out life there and moved away when I was young.

But the key for me is that David was able to not only transport me back to an era now long gone, but into a town I could picture in my own head. I couldn’t point to Onthank on a map of Kilmarnock, but I’ve a fairly good understanding of what it may be like – or at least was like – thanks to Last Days of Disco.

So when The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas came out, I rushed to read it. More or less the same early 80s era, a clear overlap of the characters, but a brand new story and one I was fully invested in from start to finish. You always know it’s a good book when you’re disappointed it’s over, and that one built up to a crescendo.

Now, The Man Who Loved Islands completes the trilogy and takes me back to catch up with the likes of Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller and how they’ve been getting on since the Last Days of Disco. Having followed their exploits through that first book, I’m immediately invested in them once more because I genuinely want to know what happens next.

I should say that reading Last Days of Disco and The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas isn’t a prerequisite for reading The Man Who Loved Islands. It definitely helps, but there is more than sufficient exposition in this third book to explain any references. The main difference is instead of thinking “ahh that’s what that’s about” you’ll just have a wry smile as you remember the details of what happened previously.

Without wishing to give too much away, because you really should go and read the The Man Who Loved Islands for yourself, over the course of the first third of the book you’ll find the timeline rapidly catches up with near-present day and therefore goes through a period I’m even more familiar with than in the previous two books. In fact, even after “catching up”, the use of flashbacks works really well to fill in backstory as and when required. That’s a departure from the first two books, and I really like this style when it’s done right as it is here.

It isn’t just Bobby and Joey that we catch up with though. In a blend of the first two books, we catch up with the likes of Hammy May, Max Mojo and eventually the Miraculous Vespas themselves. Indeed, by the end of the book there are even minor characters turning up that make you smile. Characters you wouldn’t otherwise have considered until they show up and then you find yourself wondering why they didn’t come to mind in the first place.

That’s the fictional past of the previous two books of course. When you find yourself thinking “remember when…” about a fictional realm as often as I did reading this book, you know the trilogy has hit the mark.

As with the previous two books, The Man Who Loved Islands has humour laced throughout and there are plenty of moments that made me laugh and get funny looks from people depending on where I happened to be sitting while reading on my Kindle app. Given some of the subjects broached in this book, the humour is sometimes quite dark but more often than not it seems a good way to lighten the mood just when you need it.

And, indeed, this book is probably the darkest of the three. The first two books may have dealt with things like gangland lifestyles and even the questionable mental health of Max Mojo, but this book goes deep into the serious problems all too often encountered by people leaving their childhood behind and being forced to embrace the big bad world of responsible adulthood. Areas that may well overwhelm even the happiest among us from time to time.

But perhaps the greatest triumph of David’s is his use of music. The writing across all three books is so good, you don’t need to know the songs involved. I’ll freely admit I didn’t know most of them. But when a song is referenced that you do know, it only serves to add colour to the picture he has painted. That understanding of how music can almost uniquely invoke images and memories as soon as you hear it is masterfully utilised throughout The Man Who Loved Islands just as it was in its two predecessors.

And, as David himself says at the end of the book, if you haven’t heard the songs then give them a go. There’s a helpful list of them printed at the back to make that easier, and it’s a list of which I’ve been making use.

I would love to have the ability to paint vivid pictures with words in the manner with which David seems to do so effortlessly. Perhaps it’s just the wrong time in my life to be thinking about it. Work and family commitments notwithstanding, as you may have gathered I’m younger that David. Throughout all of these books, David is able to draw on his own experiences and memories, some of which predate my own. He writes what he knows, and he does it to critical acclaim.

As for me? Maybe one day I’ll be able to write what I know, because maybe one day I’ll know more to write.

One Team in Tallinn

This blog was first written for Live Forever Football, a website dedicated to 90s football.


The summer of 1998 was a glorious one in my life. Celtic had stopped ten in a row in the May of that year, winning the league for the first time that I could remember – I couldn’t remember the centenary year – and in doing so they had saved the precious nine-in-a-row record set by Jock Stein. On top of that, I had just finished school. Forever. So when June 10th came around, I was free to spend the morning running around shops trying to buy the new Scotland top in time for our kick off that evening.

And I got it. I’ll never forget the odd button with a loop for a collar, a design never seen before or since.

But let’s go back to the start. The World Cup qualifying draw two and a half years earlier.

Thanks to the successful Euro 96 qualifying campaign, Scotland were in pot two. That mattered because with Yugoslavia now no longer an utter mess as far as the footballing world was concerned, UEFA was up to a full 50 member states. With France qualifying automatically as hosts, and FIFA deciding that UEFA would get 15 of the now expanded to 32 teams in the finals, that meant 49 teams playing for the other 14 spots.

Now, if you’re a sensible governing body, that should be really easy to plan. 49 teams, 14 places, that’s seven groups of seven teams with the top two qualifying from each, right?

Not UEFA!

Instead of something nice and simple, they had to over-complicate it like they always do. So rather than having seven groups, they opted for nine. But of course, nine doesn’t divide into 49 properly, so that meant there would be four groups of six teams and five groups of five teams. Having gone with nine groups, they now had to decide how to get 14 teams from that. How do you do that? Well, each group winner qualified automatically, leaving five places for nine runners-up. That doesn’t divide properly either of course, so they decided that the best runner-up would join the group winners in qualifying automatically with the other eight playing off in two-legged ties to decide the other four.

Hang on though, how do you decide who the best runner-up is if the groups are uneven? Well, you discount any results against the bottom team if you’re in a group of six, right? Well… yes, but UEFA also decided the team in fifth place didn’t matter either. Only the results against the teams in 1st, 3rd and 4th places would count for deciding best runner up.

Confused yet? I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

The draw was reasonably kind to Scotland. Of the nine possible seeds, we were paired with the eighth – Sweden – our old foes from Italia 90. The remainder of the draw threw up Austria from pot three, Latvia from pot four, Belarus from pot five and Estonia from pot six. Ten years previous, that would have been the USSR times three, but that just goes to show how much things changed in the 90s.

As we looked forward to Euro 96, Sweden had no such concerns and got their qualification campaign under way with a 5-1 thumping of Belarus in Stockholm in June 1996. Our opening match was a tricky affair, with a trip to Austria at the end of August. A goalless draw ensued, which wasn’t bad on paper when you consider that they would likely be our rivals for the top two spots. Sweden then beat Latvia 2-1 away from home the following day to give themselves full points from their opening two games.

October saw Scotland follow Sweden’s example with a 2-0 win in Latvia courtesy of goals from John Collins and Darren Jackson, but it was the unexpected win for Austria in Sweden a few days later that really put the cat among the pigeons.

Not that we noticed at the time, we were too busy taking part in an utter farce.

Scotland were due to play Estonia in Tallinn that same night, but when training in the stadium the night before it had become evident that the temporary floodlights that had been installed were insufficient. A protest was lodged with FIFA and the following morning, the day of the game, FIFA upheld the protest and decided to bring the kick off forward to the early afternoon. Estonia objected, claiming that they would lose out on television revenue, and decided they would continue to prepare as originally planned.

Which meant that when referee Miroslav Radoman set out to start the game at 1pm local time, only Scotland were out on the park. The entire match consisted of Radoman blowing his whistle, Billy Dodds kicking off to John Collins, and the Scotland captain for the day taking one touch before the referee blew to abandon the game. All the while, the Tartan Army in the stand had found good humour in the situation, chanting the now infamous “one team in Tallinn” song.

By the time the Estonians finally arrived at the stadium for the original kick off time, the Scotland team had packed up and left and even the Tartan Army had finished their own impromptu game on the pitch.

In the aftermath, FIFA’s match delegate confirmed that Scotland would be awarded a 3-0 win for Estonia’s refusal to show up at the allocated time. Indeed, when the Soviet Union had failed to turn up for a 1974 world cup qualifying playoff against Chile, the Chileans were given this very thing and qualified for that world cup.

What actually happened was UEFA’s president, Sweden’s Lennart Johansson, chaired a meeting in which FIFA ordered the match to be played at the neutral venue of the Stade Louis II stadium in Monaco instead. This was scheduled for February, having the knock on effect that Gary McAllister – who should have been suspended for the Estonia game – was now suspended for Scotland’s home game against… Sweden. Convenient!

Scotland’s first home game of the campaign found us on the road again. Hampden was undergoing another round of renovations, and so the game against Sweden took place at Ibrox, a day after Austria had beaten Latvia at home to go top of the group. But unlike the campaign four years earlier, Scotland actually managed to score at Ibrox against one of our rivals, and indeed John McGinlay’s early goal would turn out to be the only goal of the game. We didn’t need Gary McAllister after all. Nae luck Lennart.

That win put Scotland joint with Austria on seven points from three games, with the Swedes now languishing on six points from four games. Things were looking good….

Until that trip to Monaco.

Having originally thought that our game with Estonia would be a 3-0 walkover, the game itself finished goalless. Some would suggest it was Scotland who failed to turn up this time.

The end of March 1997 saw Scotland play a crucial double header. The first game took place at Rugby Park, Kilmarnock, and saw Scotland finally beat Estonia on the park. Tom Boyd with a goal midway through the first half, and a Janek Meet own goal just after the break. But it was the game at Celtic Park against Austria that would really see if Scotland had what it took to qualify.

And show it we did, with a goal in each half from Kevin Gallacher. Though we had played two more games than either Austria or Sweden by this point, we also had a seven and eight point lead over them respectively. It was a lead we’d need going into our trip to Sweden at the end of April.

With Austria winning 2-0 at home to Estonia, Scotland really could have done with getting something in Gothenburg that night. But just before half time, Kennet Andersson opened the scoring for the hosts, before adding a second just after the hour mark. Though Kevin Gallacher was able to pull a goal back with less than ten minutes remaining, Scotland slipped to a defeat which tightened up the group once more.

At the end of the 1996/97 season, Austria kept up their pace with a 3-1 win in Latvia, while Sweden almost let a 3-0 lead slip in Estonia but held on to win 3-2. Meanwhile, a solitary Gary McAllister penalty in Belarus just after half time ensured that despite only having two games remaining it was Scotland who were still in the driving seat.

August 1997 saw the group tighten up even further thanks to a 3-0 win for Austria in Estonia, while Sweden came from behind to beat Belarus 2-1 in Minsk. There was now only two points separating the three teams, and both Austria and Sweden still had a game in hand over Scotland.

But it would be against each other.

Just as they had in Stockholm, Austria beat Sweden 1-0 to leap frog Scotland at the top but also crucially leave Sweden stranded two points behind us with just two games remaining. The following day, Scotland went back top of the group with a 4-1 win over Belarus at Pittodrie, Aberdeen thanks to two goals each from Kevin Gallacher and David Hopkin. A few days later, Austria again went top with a 1-0 win in Belarus, while Sweden kept their hopes alive with a 1-0 win at home to Latvia.

Scotland’s qualification now came down to how we could do in our final game against Latvia at Celtic Park. Win in, and no matter what Sweden did at home to Estonia they couldn’t catch us. They already couldn’t catch Austria, so we were now their only hope. There was still a chance of finishing top if Austria lost at home to Belarus, but that looked unlikely.

But the runner up factor would also come into play. Latvia had already secured fourth spot in the group, so a win over them would not only secure at least second spot but also count towards deciding the best runner up.

Going into that final night of qualifying, Italy were in line for the best runner-up spot, although the likes of Croatia and Yugoslavia were actually also in the running but playing teams bottom of their group and therefore not counting towards the calculations. It was Scotland and Belgium who were really looking at this best runner up spot, with the Belgians hoping for us to slip up as well and let them in. But in the case of the Italians, they would either slip up or beat the team top of their group and send them tumbling into the runner up spot instead.

Their opponents in Rome that night? England, who only needed a draw to top the group and qualify themselves.

Back at Celtic Park, a goal from Kevin Gallacher just before half time put Scotland in the driving seat. But it was a nervy second half until Gordon Durie made the three points secure ten minutes from the end. With the win secured, Scotland could check the other results.

Austria topped the group thanks to a 4-0 win over Belarus. Sweden did indeed beat Estonia 1-0, but they were out due to our result. And as for Italy? England got the 0-0 draw they needed, consigning Italy to the place second best runner up of the nine. Who was best?

Scotland. We were going to France.

Italy and Belgium did indeed make it through the playoffs, with Croatia and Yugoslavia joining them too, and we could all look forward to seeing what the draw for the finals would throw up.

There is an odd pattern in Scotland’s world cup campaigns in that every other one seems to pair Scotland with Brazil. We drew with them in Germany in 1974, avoided them in Argentina in 1978, got hammered by them in 1982, avoided them again in Mexico 1986, and narrowly lost to them in Italy in 1990. Having not qualified for 1994, it was again time to face this in France. Sure enough, Scotland were drawn in group A along side the reigning champions.

But this time would be different. Scotland were allocated second spot in the group, which meant we would need to play Brazil in their opening match.

Before FIFA changed the rules and forced the champions to have to qualify along with everyone else, the traditional opening game of the world cup would see the reigning champions start their campaign to retain the title. France 98 would be no different, and so Scotland had just been put centre stage of one of the biggest shows on the planet.

Joining us in group A were fellow Europeans Norway who had topped their group ahead of Hungary – thumped 12-1 on aggregate by Yugoslavia in the playoffs – and Morocco who had easily topped their African qualifying group.

Which brings us back to June 10th.

Sitting there in my parents’ living room and wearing my brand new Scotland top, I was absolutely buzzing for things to get started and never prouder to be Scottish. The world’s eyes were on us, and this was going to be absolutely brilliant.

Of course, then reality hits.

For one thing, the opening ceremony dragged on as they always do. But when it was finally all over the two teams emerged. Brazil and Scotland. One of the most famous footballing nations in the world… and the reigning champions Brazil. As far as I was concerned, all tournaments should start like this.

Sadly, by the time I’d thought that, Scotland were already a goal down.

Cesar Sampaio had scored from a header and we were treated to music for a goal celebration for the first time. But as the game went on, things calmed down to the point that Scotland even put together a move that lead to Kevin Gallacher being dragged to the ground in the area by Sampaio. After the longest wait I could remember for any penalty, John Collins stepped up and levelled the game with confidence.

Half time in the opening game, Scotland were now holding their own. And as the game wore on we started to believe that maybe Scotland could do what so many others had done in the past and shock the holders. Remember Cameroon at Italia 90 winning 1-0 against Argentina? Or Bulgaria holding Italy in Mexico 86? Or Belgium winning 1-0 against Argentina in Spain 82?

Yeah, shame Germany had beaten Bolivia at USA 94 and screwed that pattern up.

With just quarter of an hour remaining, calamity struck and resulted in Jim Leighton’s save being pushed into the body of Tom Boyd and rebounding back into our own net. I’m not sure Boyd could get out of the way, and I’m not sure it would have made any difference anyway with a Brazilian lurking behind him to tap in the rebound, but forever more Boyd is remembered by many for that winner for Brazil.

That was a real kick in the chops for a guy who just a month earlier had lifted the Scottish Premier League trophy for Celtic for the first time in a decade. It’s okay though Tam, I forgive you.

Later that night, Morocco and Norway played out a memorable 2-2 draw. Memorable for its entertainment, but also memorable for the Norwegian goalscorers sounding like a cafe meal – Eggen, Chippo.

You can thanks Baddiel and Skinner for that one, their fantasy football show that was on throughout the tournament created a game out of joining names together. Cocu Kohler was a favourite of mine, while Rekdal Sellami would give you nightmares. Nothing ever quite matched Eggen Chippo though.

For our second group game, Scotland moved on to Bordeaux to face Norway. We needed not to lose, but ideally we needed a win if we wanted to progress from this group. There was no qualification from third place this time after all, so you had to finish top two or you were going home.

At half time in Bordeaux the game was goalless, but when the second half started with Norway almost immediately taking the lead through Havard Flo, we were heading out of the tournament with a game to spare. Fortunately, twenty minutes later, Craig Burley was able to awkwardly get on the end of a ball and chip it over the Norwegian goalkeeper and into the net.

The draw in that game wasn’t great, but at least we were still mathematically in with a chance of second place. Brazil had beaten Morocco 3-0 and ensured they had topped the group with a game to spare, so all we needed now was for Brazil to beat Norway as we beat Morocco and we would join them in the last sixteen.

Simple, right?

Bordeaux, June 23rd, 1998. Scotland’s final group game in the World Cup. Having watched the first two games in my own house, I went round to a friend’s house to watch the final game unfold. A few of us were there, all fresh out of school and not yet ready for the big bad world to suck us in. Ahh, to be that young and free again.

Even before kick off the game was looking rather ridiculous with Craig Burley dying his hair blonde in some weird celebration of his goal in the previous game. This would become a thing at this world cup with the entire Romanian team doing likewise when they qualified top of Group G ahead of England.

But if the hair was bad, then the game itself kicked off and things got worse. Scotland were rotten, from start to finish. Salaheddine Bassir opened the scoring with a terrific half volley from an angle midway through the first half and it was well deserved. At half time we needed the team talk to end all team talks. But, just like the Norway game, what we actually got was Morocco scoring almost immediately after the break through Abdeljalil Hadda.

With Jim Leighton caught somewhere between coming off his line to narrow the angle and staying where he was, Hadda chipped the ball over him. Leighton actually got his hand to it, but all that caused was the ball to loop up and into the net as Leighton scrambled back in vain.

Any hope Scotland might have had of a miraculous turnaround then evaporated as Burley put in a stupid tackle from behind which had no chance of getting the ball and got himself sent off. No case of mistaken identity when your head looks like a lightbulb.

With five minutes remaining, Bassir scored again with the aid of a slight deflection off Colin Hendry and Scotland were left deservedly hammered and out of the World Cup.

It was a devastating performance. My friend who had hosted us was inconsolable. The rest of us just sat there in shock. Somewhere along the way it filtered through that Norway had actually come from behind to beat Brazil 2-1. The fact that it wouldn’t have mattered what we did against Morocco didn’t really matter, although I remember thinking that I actually felt sorry for the Moroccans. That surprise win for Norway meant they were going home too.

Scotland’s song for the World Cup that year had been entitled “Don’t Come Home Too Soon”, Del Amitri’s imaginative dig at how we always went out of the group stages. Yet here we were, once again, “on that stupid plane”.

Sadly, now Scotland can’t even get on the plane to go there in the first place. Eighteen years after this tourmanent, Craig Burley is still the last Scot to score at a major tournament. At the time of writing, Four World Cups and four European Championships have come and gone with Scotland failing to get to any of them. A generation of Scots haven’t even come close to feeling the pride of seeing Scotland on the big stage, before somehow contriving to make a mess of it when there.

But perhaps that’s the biggest cringe-worthy aspect of all. For all France 98 was somewhere between disappointing and humiliating, most of us would bite your arm off just to see Scotland do it all again now.

My Summer With Des

This blog was first written for Live Forever Football, a website dedicated to 90s football.


“It’s coming home, it’s coming home, it’s coming, football’s coming home…”

A song so inspirational that it makes everyone forget that the first official international actually took place at the West of Scotland Cricket Ground, Hamilton Crescent in Glasgow in 1872.

Yes, I know what it really means, but we’ll come back to that later.

Has there ever been a more catchy football song than Baddiel, Skinner and the Lightning Seeds offering from Euro 96? I’m not sure there has, and certainly I can’t remember any football song before or since that’s been done for a tournament and has made it onto the stands and terraces. For all World in Motion was a terrific song, you don’t hear the crowds doing the John Barnes rap!

For Scotland though, Rod Stewart’s version of Wild Mountain Thyme, which he released under the title Purple Heather, was hardly inspiring and I’m sure many people have forgotten that’s what our official song was for the tournament until I mentioned it there.

But at least we had a song again.

After the disappointment of missing out on the World Cup in the USA, there was renewed hope that Scotland would build from that and take their place among the sixteen teams that would be playing in England in the summer of 1996.

While qualification for Euro 92 had been nothing short of remarkable given there were only eight teams in the final stages, doubling the number of places didn’t necessarily mean that qualification would be any easier.

For the World Cup qualifying campaign, only Russia and the Baltic states had been able to compete after the break-up of the Soviet Union. This time round there were a further six former Soviet states, as well as a newly split Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the former Yugoslav states of Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia. What remained of Yugoslavia was still at war with itself and so missed out, but that still meant 47 teams playing for just 15 places. To put that in perspective, four years earlier there had been just 34 playing for 8.

But still, the odds were better, and with a new manager in Craig Brown and the added incentive of wanting to play in a tournament just down the road in the land of our oldest rivals, all we needed was the draw to be kind to us.

And kind it was.

As third seeds, Scotland would have to hope that the top two seeds were relatively easy by comparison. Only the top two in each of the eight groups had any chance of progressing, with the worst two runners-up playing off while the others qualified automatically.

With the draw in January of 1994, by the time the World Cup had come and gone that summer we had already seen our two in action. Top seeds Russia had hammered Cameroon 6-1 with five of the goals coming from Oleg Salenko who would go on to sign for Rangers, but defeats to Brazil and Sweden had knocked them out of the tournament. Our second seeds, Greece, had fared even worse losing all three games without even scoring.

The rest of Scotland’s group comprised of Jari Litmanen’s Finland, the Faroe Islands and San Marino.

Another thing in Scotland’s favour was that, following two years on the road in the previous campaign, the national team were back at the national stadium. Hampden may not have been complete, but it was now usable for qualification again and that was good enough for us for the time being.

The campaign kicked off with a 2-0 win in Finland followed by a 5-1 win at home to the Faroes. With three points now in place for a win we had a maximum of six ahead of our first real test at home to Russia. Although Scotland took the lead through Scott Booth, Russia levelled through Dmitri Radchenko but a 1-1 draw still meant seven points from a possible nine to begin.

The major slip up though, came in December 1994, when a 1-0 defeat to Greece saw Craig Brown’s post-match analysis suggest it wasn’t all that bad because Scotland had more corners in the game. Most other people were far more concerned by the fact that Greece now had maximum points from their first four matches. With Russia having only played twice, the task of qualifying was now looking a lot more difficult.

The turn of the year saw fortunes pick up again. A goalless draw in Russia ensured they were kept at arm’s length, which became all the more important when they beat Greece away from home as Scotland won in San Marino. As the Russians played catch up on the number of games played against the other teams in the group, it was starting to look like a battle for second place was on the cards.

By the end of the 1994/95 season, Scotland were looking a lot better as a 2-0 win in the Faroe Islands was coupled by a surprise defeat for Greece in Finland. When the new season started, the big game at Hampden saw Scotland beat Greece 1-0. With just two matches left, Scotland were on the verge of qualifying.

Following a narrow home win over Finland in September 1995, Scotland’s second place in the group was confirmed the following month when Russia once again beat Greece, this time in Russia. That result ensured the Greeks could not catch Scotland and also that Scotland probably wouldn’t catch Russia at the top of the group given the gulf in goal difference.

There wasn’t even a question of Scotland avoiding the playoffs, it was a done deal. Scotland had amassed enough points already to qualify automatically for the finals. The final match at Hampden saw San Marino as the visitors, but since the results against the bottom team in the group didn’t count towards decided who the worst two runners up were, the game was meaningless.

Nevertheless, I distinctly remember standing at one end of Hampden watching Scotland record a 5-0 victory over San Marino. It was the only game of the campaign I managed to attend, but it was something of a celebration.

We were going to invade England. The only question now, was who would we be paired with?

Six and a half years earlier, the longest running annual fixture had come to an end. Since the aforementioned first international football match back in 1872, other than during the two world wars, Scotland and England had played each other every year. But in 1989 that run came to an end after England’s 2-0 win over Scotland at Hampden Park. Sadly, whilst still popular with the fans, the fixture was proving more and more difficult to fit into schedules and to make it meaningful for the players. So when the summer of 1990 rolled around with both teams heading to the World Cup in Italy, there was no scheduled match between them.

But that all changed after the Euro 96 draw in December 1995. Scotland were drawn in group A. Once again that meant facing the Netherlands at the Euros, although this was now a team that had only come through the qualifying playoff by beating the Republic of Ireland. It also meant facing our rivals from the previous qualifying campaign, Switzerland. Although Roy Hodgson had successfully coached them to qualification, he had left to take charge at Inter Milan, leaving Portugal’s Artur Jorge to take charge for the tournament itself.

Oh yes, and of course Scotland were also paired with the hosts, England. Cue seven months of excited build up.

The tournament kicked off on June 8th. Just like the World Cup in 1966, the hosts had somehow managed to ensure that all of their games would be played at Wembley as long as they won the group, so the pressure was on from the start. With memories of defeat to the Dutch still fresh in the memory from the previous World Cup qualifying campaign, Terry Venables men needed to get off to a good start ahead of that potential group decided in the final game.

And for a while they did. England took the lead against Switzerland through Alan Shearer midway through the first half, and appeared to be securing three points right up until Stuart Pearce handled in the penalty area in the closing minutes of the game and Kubilay Turkyilmaz slotted away the resultant penalty.

It would be another two days before Scotland would start their campaign at Villa Park, and just like in Sweden four years earlier, that start came against the Dutch.

But this Dutch side were a shadow of the one Scotland had faced previously. The likes of Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard had all moved on, leaving Dennis Bergkamp to lead the line.

No, really, that was a step down!

This was still a Dutch side to be reckoned with, even if they didn’t have their former winners of the tournament. Ajax, who had lost the final of the Champions League to Juventus the previous month having been the reigning European Champions, supplied a lot of the team. Edwin van der Sar in goal, Michael Reiziger and Winston Bogarde in defence, captain Ronald de Boer and Edgar Davids in midfield. Indeed, throw in Clarence Seedorf who had moved from Ajax to Sampdoria the previous summer and substitute Patrick Kluivert also of Ajax, and you can see just how difficult the task for Scotland would be.

But then again, the Champions League top goal scorer, Ajax’s Jari Litmanen, hadn’t done much against Scotland in qualifying.

Scotland needed a helping hand. So when John Collins got away with handling on the line during one of the many Netherlands attacks, that’s exactly what happened. In a backs-to-the-wall kind of a match, Scotland managed to achieve a goalless draw in the opening match and set the whole group up nicely for round two, and the trip to Wembley to face the hosts.

By the time the two oldest rivals in football faced off, the Netherlands had already beaten Switzerland 2-0 to go top of the table. Nothing less than a win at Wembley would now do for England, while for Scotland a draw would be an acceptable result… as long as you forget about the rivalry!

After a surprisingly quiet first half, Scotland were holding their own again. At 0-0, neither goalkeeper had really been tested all that much and with all the pressure on them the hosts were starting to get a bit edgy. But eight minutes after the break, Gary Neville sent an excellent cross into the Scotland penalty area and Alan Shearer was there to meet it and head past Andy Goram.

Despite that lift, England didn’t kick on. Indeed, it was Scotland who seemed to come to life and after having seen David Seaman save a header from him, Gordon Durie was then brought down in the area by Tony Adams to give Scotland a precious lifeline. All Gary McAllister had to do was slot it home for 1-1.

This wasn’t entirely unknown territory for McAllister. He’d scored a penalty against the CIS at Euro 92 after all. But at Wembley, against the hosts, your biggest rivals… that’s a different prospect entirely. A nation held its breath.

Another nation apparently did the opposite though and blew the ball off the spot just as McAllister finished his run up. Whether that slight movement on the ball actually affected McAllister’s finish is something we’ll never know for sure, but what is certain is that Seaman’s elbow kept the ball out of the net and kept England’s lead intact.

It was a bitter blow to Scotland’s hopes, but what followed very shortly thereafter was a severe kick where it really hurts.

Paul Gascoigne had been something of a controversial figure. At this point in his career, Gazza was actually playing his football in Scotland for Rangers, and had hardly been a quiet figure in another fierce rivalry in Glasgow. But it was a pre-tournament friendly for England where Gazza had got the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Several English players, but most notably Gascoigne, had been pictured on a heavy drinking session in Hong Kong doing ridiculous things like “the dentist chair” where the incumbent has alcohol poured directly into their mouth by friends. Hardly becoming of a top professional footballer.

Questions had been raised about whether Gascoigne should be in the England squad at all, and having been substituted off during the Switzerland game those fears were not dispersing. But Gazza would silence those critics by scoring arguably the second best goal in European Championship history.

Yes, second. Marco Van Basten, you know it is, don’t even ask.

Just moments after the penalty miss, Gazza receiving a ball from Darren Anderton and with his first touch with his left foot he chipped the ball over the onrushing Colin Hendry to take him completely out of the game. Not content with that, Gazza then volleyed the ball with his right foot past club teammate Andy Goram and into the net for 2-0.

As a Scotsman, and doubly as a Celtic fan, watching that kind of thing happen sends a lot of feelings through you all at the same time. There’s bitter disappointment as you know that’s game over now. There’s rage that it’s happened against you by your rivals. There’s more rage because you’re still feeling like you just blew the chance to equalise and now they’ve doubled their lead. There’s even more rage because it’s a guy who plays for your club rivals too.

Then there’s a wry smile because our goalkeeper plays for them too. Never mind the defender though, he hasn’t signed for them at this point, that comes later.

But above all of that, there’s sheer admiration for the ability to score such a technically brilliant goal. And then there’s more rage that you don’t actually feel as angry about the goal as you think you should purely because it’s just so good.

While all that’s running through my head, Gazza is off celebrating with his teammates in a mock dentist chair. Take that doubters, take that questioning media.

England’s 2-0 win over Scotland sent them top of the group and consigned Scotland to the bottom of it. We were now in “mathematically possible” territory again. With both England and the Netherlands winning by two goals, and us losing by that same margin, we now needed a five goal swing in our favour. So either we would need to hammer Switzerland by four goals at Villa Park and hope there was a winner at Wembley, or we would need to just beat Switzerland and hope for a hammering at Wembley.

Clearly then, you try to do as much as possible yourself, right?

If there was one baffling aspect of Scotland at Euro 96, it was Craig Brown’s use of Ally McCoist. The Rangers striker had reached legendary status by this point in his career, and was top scorer in Scotland for the reigning eight-in-a-row champions. So you would think that would be enough to see him starting every game for Scotland. But by the time the Swiss game came around, McCoist hadn’t played against the Netherlands and had only played the last quarter of the game against England.

Fortunately though, McCoist would start against Switzerland. With ten minutes left of the first half, he fired in a long range shot to put Scotland in front. Unfortunately for Scotland, that was possibly McCoist’s most difficult chance to score, having already missed two earlier in the match. Who knows, maybe he was just rusty from all that time on the bench.

Remarkably though, things were a lot better at Wembley. By the time McCoist had given Scotland the lead, England were 1-0 up thanks to an Alan Shearer penalty. Still three goals short of anything important at that point but by the hour mark, things were getting crazy. In just a five minute spell, Teddy Sheringham had scored twice either side of Alan Shearer’s second. One goal for Scotland, four for England, there’s your five goal swing!

As this new filtered through to Villa Park, Scotland tried their best to ensure they got the three points. Rather than pushing to get a second and with it a cushion that would see us mitigate anything going wrong at Wembley, Craig Brown’s men shut up shop and ensured the Swiss didn’t get themselves into the same position. After all, a win for them would see them through just as much as a win for Scotland would see us through.

Of course, this is Scotland and if there’s one thing we’re good at it’s finding new and creative ways to break the hearts of the nation. Although Scotland did indeed see out the 1-0 win to get the points on the board, the goal difference slipped away from us in the cruelest way possible.

Substitute Patrick Kluivert, only on the park five minutes earlier, slotted the ball through Seaman’s legs and got the Netherlands on the scoresheet. The 4-1 defeat may have looked bad on paper, but it was still just enough for the Dutch to join England in the last eight of the tournament and send Scotland up the road.

If only Seaman had shut his legs? Perhaps. If only Scotland had scored a second? Definitely.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, two years later the BBC managed to make it worse. Just prior to the World Cup kicking off in France, they aired a very strange drama called “My Summer With Des”. In that drama, Neil Morrissey’s character is down on his luck having just split up with his girlfriend. But at least he has football to distract him since Euro 96 is on and he can focus on that.

Except, bizarrely and inexplicably, Rachel Weisz’s character then turns up as some kind of lucky charm for both Morrissey’s character and for England. So much so that there seems to be some correlation as to how much Morrissey’s character is getting on with her at the time. They’ve just met when they play Switzerland, and things seem to be going well by the time they play Scotland.

So you can imagine that when England are beating Holland that relationship is about as good as it can get. Let’s put it this way, for one of the England goals there’s a timely climax.

But then we get the Seaman nutmeg as a post-coital scene. At this point, Morrissey almost literally looks at the camera and shrugs, only caring enough to say “oh well, that’s Cameron’s team out” where Cameron happens to be his Scottish friend played by John Gordon Sinclair. Cut to Sinclair looking despondent.

So now all the disappointment associated with narrowly missing out has some added jealousy to go with it because, let’s face it, Rachel Weisz is stunning. But I digress.

As per usual, Scotland had to look on and watch as the rest of the tournament went on without them. But this time seemed harder than usual, because we’d lost to England and the commentators seemed convinced they were going to go on and win the tournament.

They always get to that point somewhere along the line, don’t they?

To be fair, England in Euro 96 were actually exciting to watch, but I’m not sure I see that the same way anyone who was supporting England might see it. They’d blown away the Netherlands, but they hadn’t been too great against Scotland and the Swiss had proven difficult to unpick. What would happen when they met the other good teams?

Euro 96 was the first tournament to feature the Golden Goal in extra time, with the idea being to introduce a playground classic of “next goal’s the winner” to try and stop teams playing out time for penalties. Though it was later doomed to failure as teams became too scared to concede, in this tournament it actually worked.

England’s last eight game against Spain didn’t produce one. Instead we were treated to another penalty shootout where England memorably prevailed, with Stuart Pearce screaming after scoring his penalty six years after missing in another shootout. But as with the group matches, the 120 minutes before the shootout hadn’t been all that impressive by the hosts.

And next up was Germany.

England took the lead after just three minutes, yet again through Alan Shearer, but were pegged back thanks to Stephan Kuntz after just quarter of an hour. The remainder of the 90 may have been entertaining, but it was nothing when compared with the drama of extra time.

Firstly, Kuntz had the ball in the net but it was disallowed for a slight push. That must have been heart stopping for anyone supporting England, but there was an even more dramatic point in extra time that even had me at the edge of my seat.

One teasing ball from Shearer across the face of goal that was agonisingly close to the sliding Paul Gascoigne is an image I’ll never forget. Even in replays of that goal you think maybe he’ll get it this time. Sadly for England, he never does though. Just like the previous round, the game goes to penalties and consigns Gareth Southgate to pizza adverts.

As for the golden goal? It would eventually decide the next two finals, with Germany’s Oliver Bierhoff getting one against the Czech Republic, and four years later David Trezeguet would give France a World Cup and European Championship double with his. Sadly it would be gone soon thereafter, somehow construed as a failed experiment due to the fact we never really got anything as exciting as Kuntz’s ruled out goal and Gazza’s slide that never connects.

And what of Morrissey and Weisz? Well she disappears into thin air and he actually gets his life onto a course of happiness. Sounds a bit like Scotland at major tournaments and me leaving school, but that’s for the final chapter.

Maybe Next Time

This blog was first written for Live Forever Football, a website dedicated to 90s football.


As difficult as it may be for younger readers to believe, there was once a time when it was just accepted that Scotland qualified for the World Cup. Germany in 1974, Argentina in 1978, Spain in 1982, Mexico in 1986 and Italy in 1990 had seen Scotland reach the finals before crashing out of the group stages for one reason or another.

We didn’t beat Zaire by enough. We underestimated Peru and Iran. David Narey annoyed Brazil. We couldn’t beat Uruguay despite a man advantage for almost the whole game. We underestimated Costa Rica.

“Maybe next time” was a phrase that referred to us getting through the group stages, not reaching the finals themselves. But by the mid-1990s, the Winds of Change were sweeping across the continent of Europe and would come to sting us like Scorpions at time progressed.

Ending our Euro 92 campaign on the high of hammering what was left of the Soviet Union was just the beginning for Scotland. The USSR had already been breaking up when the qualifying draw for World Cup 1994 had been made in December 1991, with the Baltic states appearing for the first time.

Indeed, over the two years between the draw being made and the qualification campaign being completed, several other changes would occur. Russia took the Soviet Union’s place in Group 5 following Euro 92, while Czechoslovakia’s break up at the start of 1993 resulted in Group 4 being completed with a team of representatives from both countries playing together in one team.

But Group 1, the group that Scotland were drawn into, was far simpler.

The draw had been reasonably kind. As second seeds, Scotland were always going to be paired with a difficult opponent, and this time around it was the previous World Cup hosts Italy. The third pot threw up Portugal, who had failed to qualify for Italia 90, while pot four saw a Swiss side that hadn’t qualified for anything in nearly three decades.

The other two spots in the group were made up of relative minnows Malta, and the newcomers of Estonia. With the top two teams from each group qualifying, finishing second behind Italy and joining them in the US in the summer of 1994 was the expectation. On paper, it seemed a realistic expectation.

Of course, football isn’t played on paper. And in Scotland’s case, it wasn’t even played on our regular grass.

A combination of the Taylor Report following the Hillsborough disaster and FIFA’s updated regulations meant that Hampden’s sloping terraces required upgrading to continue to host international qualifiers. The seats bolted into the west stand in 1991 weren’t enough to satisfy the various governing bodies, and so with Celtic Park suffering similar problems Scotland’s qualifiers were split between Ibrox in Glasgow and Pittodrie in Aberdeen.

The signs that this campaign weren’t going to go as planned were there even before day one.

September 1992 saw Scotland travel to Switzerland and fall behind after just two minutes to an Adrian Knup goal. Although Ally McCoist levelled things ten minutes later, the Swiss went on to score two more in the second half. But undoubtedly the most memorable aspect of this game was captain Richard Gough literally jumping up and catching the ball to prevent the Swiss running through on goal to score a fourth.

You’ll never see a more blatant red card than that, even if Gough did claim he did it because a water sprinkler had gone off. No you didn’t Richard, you were so out of the running you were paying to get back into the Wankdorf Stadium and you know it.

Not that it mattered. The game was done already and Gough was back in the Scotland line up for the first Ibrox match against Portugal the following month. At least this time Scotland were able to keep a clean sheet, although failing to get anything at the other end didn’t help the campaign and after two matches against our two main rivals for second spot we only had a single point to show for it.

Sadly, with the Swiss already having hammered Estonia and of course ourselves, they then went on to earn a 2-2 draw with Italy and had an impressive five points from a possible six. We were already up against it.

Before the end of 1992, Scotland would pick up a second point with a second consecutive 0-0 draw at Ibrox. At least this time it was to Italy, which at least meant we had as many points as the Italians did. Sadly that didn’t last long though with Italy winning away to Malta.

By the time the first game of 1993 had been played, with Portugal also winning away to Malta, Scotland were already looking like they were in trouble. Switzerland were top on 7 points, with Italy next on 4 points and Portugal on 3 points. Scotland’s 2 points didn’t seem too far adrift, but when you consider Portugal had played a game less and it was only two points for a win, suddenly we were needing a good run and a few favours.

A 3-0 win at home to Malta was a welcome if expected start to the year, and with Portugal losing at home to Italy a week later things were starting to look just a little better. With Italy then thumping Malta 6-1 at home in March they were clear at the top of the table on 8 points, but Switzerland still sat immediately behind them on seven points compared to Scotland on four.

At least until they drew 1-1 with Portugal at the end of March 1993. Our rivals for second spot taking a point off each other was probably as good as we could expect ahead of our next game against one of them. But by the time Scotland headed to Portugal, Switzerland were back on track and sitting on ten points after a 2-0 win over Malta. With Italy also on ten after a win over Estonia, it was already seeming clear than anything less than a win in Lisbon and Scotland could all but forget crossing the Atlantic.

What we got instead was absolutely hammered.

Rui Barros opened the scoring after just five minutes, and before we could get to half time just a goal down Jorge Cadete popped up to double the lead. Things only went from bad to worse as Paulo Futre, Barros and Cadete all scored in a five minute spell midway through the second half. The 5-0 scoreline was humiliating, and yet it still managed to flatter a Scotland team who were second best from start to finish.

And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Ally McCoist was stretchered off with a leg as broken as our dreams of a sixth consecutive World Cup finals.

This was the day we all knew Scotland weren’t going to the World Cup for the first time in over 20 years. But as if it wasn’t blatantly obvious already, the Swiss went and beat Italy just days later. With them on twelve, the Italians on ten, Portugal on six and Scotland on just four we’d be lucky to even come third.

And so it proved. A 3-0 win away to Estonia at least pulled us level with Portugal on six points again. Another 3-1 win at home to Estonia just a couple of weeks later put Scotland on eight points, but still two behind the Italians and four behind the Swiss. Portugal then joined us on eight points before the summer break after a 4-0 win at home to Malta.

Yes, Malta actually did better in Portugal than Scotland.

Of Scotland’s three remaining games, two were at home to Switzerland and away to Italy. Just the two teams we really needed to take points off to have any chance whatsoever. The Italians still had to host both us and Portugal, while Portugal actually had a game in hand but two of their four games were against Estonia. They couldn’t all drop points, could they?

“It’s still mathematically possible” is one of those phrases that always seems to be associated with the Scottish national team. From consulting the wallchart in Italia 90 to this point and beyond, it just seems to come up a lot as we cling to hope while our heads try to rationalise what our hearts are telling us.

It wasn’t solely reserved for Scots in 1993, but don’t worry we’ll come to that.

The final stages of qualifying began in September 1993 with Portugal winning away to Estonia to keep them in the hunt for a qualifying spot. Meanwhile, Scotland were preparing for the showdown at Pittodrie with Switzerland.

When John Collins opened the scoring by nutmegging goalkeeper Marco Pascolo, at the start of the second half, suddenly we looked like we might have half a chance of clawing our way back into the mix. But when Switzerland equalised from the penalty spot twenty minutes later after Bryan Gunn has wiped out Ciriaco Sforza, any lingering hope of qualifying pretty much disappeared.

Our disappointment was all but confirmed later that month when Italy beat Estonia and left us knowing that a win in both our remaining games was required with the addition and hope the other three could all somehow take the right points off each other to let us sneak in.

Portugal beating Switzerland 1-0 would have given us a small chance had it not been for the fact that on that same night we were facing Italy in Rome. We needed to win, we lost 3-1 and even our goal only pulled it back to 2-1 at that point in time.

There was no doubt now. Scotland were staying at home. The final group match against Malta in November 1993 was confirmed as a dead rubber and attention drifted elsewhere.

On the very same night that Scotland lost to Italy, England lost 2-0 to the Netherlands and Graham Taylor’s men were left hoping they could thump San Marino while also hoping that Poland did them a favour at home to the Netherlands.

It’s become somewhat commonplace for us Scots to see how the neighbours are getting on since we’re not going anywhere. While the drama of the semi final shootout in Italia 90 definitely had our interest, it’s only when San Marino scored the fastest ever goal many of us have seen before or since, almost ruining England’s goal chase in the process, that we truly seemed to embrace schadenfreude.

I say almost ruined England’s goal chase. Poland losing to the Netherlands meant it didn’t matter how many goals England scored they were staying at home with the rest of us. But had Poland won 1-0 that night, that quickfire San Marino goal really could have cost England.

Meanwhile, back in Group 1, with Portugal beating Estonia in November it meant there was still three teams in the hunt on that final night. Switzerland looked all but assured of their qualification as they faced Estonia, so it was all down to Portugal’s visit to Milan to face Italy to decide the final places. Portugal had to win, while Italy knew a draw would be enough to take them through. In the end, Dino Baggio’s goal was enough to give the Italians a 1-0 win over Portugal that ultimately meant they topped the group ahead of Switzerland who did indeed beat Estonia.

So how did the Swiss manage to overcome the odds? Well they had some real quality on the field in Stephane Chapuisat, but much of the praise was reserved for their English coach – a certain Mr Roy Hodgson. Whatever happened to him?

The Swiss would ultimately bow out in the second round, losing to Spain who themselves would lose to Italy in the quarter finals. Italy would go all the way to the final, becoming the first team to lose that final in a penalty shoot out.

That 0-0 draw against Brazil seemed a long, long way from another 0-0 draw that same Italian side had played out at Ibrox a little under two years earlier. For many, the final summed up USA 94 as a disappointing tournament. With no “home nation” representative there for the first time since they decided to join in after the second world war, it almost seemed distant to us.

Sure, there was some backing for the Republic of Ireland who did manage to qualify. Indeed, there was some jealousy when in their opening game they were able to beat the Italians 1-0 thanks to a goal from Glasgow-born Ray Houghton. In a unique quirk, all four teams in Ireland’s group finished on four points with the unlucky Norway missing out by virtue of a lack of goals scored.

Ireland’s second round game saw them take on the Netherlands, a game I actually watched in the Netherlands while on a school trip. Although I was backing the Irish that day, I was made to feel more than welcome. Partly due to the fact the Netherlands won 2-0 and partly due to the fact I wasn’t quite 13 years old by then.

Frustratingly and somewhat ironically, in an otherwise disappointing World Cup, I managed to miss the best game of the tournament coming back from the Netherlands as eventual winners Brazil saw off the Netherlands challenge by the odd goal in five. Indeed, Brazil had been pegged back from 2-0 to 2-2 and only got the winner ten minutes from full time.

Back in Scotland, those Winds of Change were being felt in the corridors of Hampden. Andy Roxburgh had stepped down on confirmation of Scotland’s non-qualification after the draw against Switzerland. His assistant, Craig Brown, took change for the end of the campaign and was confirmed as remaining in place for the campaign that would follow.

“Maybe next time” was now down to a new man. Although it would soon become a common mantra, for now it was still a realistic belief.

A Scottish Kiss From Lady Luck

This blog was first written for Live Forever Football, a website dedicated to 90s football.


1967. Undoubtedly the high point for Scottish Football. Celtic were European Champions, Rangers were runners-up to Bayern Munich in the Cup Winners Cup, Kilmarnock were semi-finalists in the Fair Cities Cup where they lost out to runners-up Leeds United, and while Dundee United lost out to Juventus in that same tournament they had beaten Barcelona home and away to set up that tie against the Old Lady of Italian Football.

Then, of course, there was the small matter of Scotland beating the reigning World Champions England 3-2 at Wembley. But was that the greatest moment for the national team?

Scotland didn’t qualify for the World Cup in the England in 1966 as we lost out to Italy, and wouldn’t qualify for Mexico in 1970 either as we lost out to West Germany. It would be 1974, a full seven years after becoming unofficial World Champions, that we would finally be off to the official finals for the first time since 1958.

To further put the 3-2 win in context, the home nations were actually competing against each other in a group of four as part of the qualifying stage for the European Championship in 1968. The Euros, as they would come to be known, had only started in 1960 but Scotland hadn’t taken any part in the first two tournaments.

Despite beating them in 1967 at Wembley and drawn with them in 1968 at Hampden, England still managed to top the group as Scotland drew with Wales in 1967 and lost to Northern Ireland in 1968. England didn’t drop anything against them, and so they went on to the quarter finals. Indeed, England qualified for the last four but lost to Yugoslavia in the end.

Scotland’s luck in qualifying for the Euros didn’t get any better even after we started to qualify for every World Cup that was going. 1972 and 1976 may only have had four teams in the finals, but even after the final tournament was expanded from four to eight teams in 1980 Scotland still couldn’t get there.

But in 1990, lady luck finally smiled upon us. When the Euro 92 qualifying draw was made in February, Scotland found themselves in a group along with top seeds Romania and third seeds Bulgaria – both the bottom pick from those pots. Pot four gave us the second team from there of Switzerland, while pot five served up San Marino who until this point had never taken part in qualifying.

I’m sure as Scotland flew back from Italia 90 there were many eyes on the Republic of Ireland’s second round match against Romania. As they played out a 0-0 draw and Packie Bonner and David O’Leary became national heroes in the penalty shootout, in the Scotland camp it would have been the defeated Romanians that were of note. After all, we were due to play them three months later.

Despite going a goal down at Hampden, Scotland fought back and won their first qualifying game 2-1 against the top seeds in the group. When that was followed up a month later with another 2-1 home win, this time over Switzerland, it was clear Scotland had got off to just the start we needed to finally break our duck.

The 1-1 draw in Bulgaria didn’t do too much harm, and although a 2-0 win away to San Marino is hardly the most memorable of results it was enough to keep momentum going into the 1991/92 season. Another draw away from home, this time in Switzerland, was the followed up by a narrow defeat in Romania thanks to a Gheorghe Hagi penalty. Well we weren’t going to keep one of the household names from Italia 90 completely quiet, were we?

The final game was at home to San Marino, and a 4-0 win was recorded in November 1991. But… had Scotland done enough to qualify for the finals in Sweden? We’d have to wait a week to find out.

In the days of two points for a win, Scotland had amassed 11 points from their four wins, three draws a one defeat. The damning statistic though was the +7 goal difference. Romania were on nine points with a goal difference of +12, but they still had a game to play in Bulgaria. Any win at all would see the Romanians top the group and consign Scotland to yet another summer watching on from home.

But there was hope. While Scotland had picked up the maximum four points from their opening fixtures, Romania had picked up none. The defeat to Scotland had been followed up by a defeat at home to Bulgaria. If Romania were to qualify, they’d have to get revenge for that loss.

Popescu did indeed give Romania the lead in Sofia, but an equaliser from Sirakov came later on to deny Romania the win they needed and send Scotland on our way to Sweden the following summer. Finally, Scotland would take its place among Europe’s elite. It was a terrific time for Scotland.

And then they made the draw.

Everyone knows about Marco Van Basten’s outrageous goal in the final of Euro 88. No one even debates the best European Championship goal ever, they just accept it’s Van Basten’s and go on to decide what’s second. That goal helped the Netherlands beat the Soviet Union in the final, and as fate would have it those two were paired to meet again in the group stages at Euro 92.

In Scotland’s group.

Is that enough for you? No? Well, let’s see if we can’t make it worse then. West Germany had won the World Cup at Italia 90, before unifying with the East and then going on to qualify for Euro 92. How about we have them join the party as well then? The World Champions, The European Champions, the European Runners-Up… and Scotland.

I’m guessing lady luck figured we’d had enough of her help in qualifying.

When you consider the other group had the host nation Sweden that we ourselves had beaten at Italia 90, our old rivals England whom we’d hadn’t played since 1989 – the longest we’d ever gone without doing so – France who hadn’t even qualified for Italia 90, and Yugoslavia who had made the quarterfinals in Italy, you would have happily swapped places with any of them.

Which is exactly what Denmark did.

With communism collapsing, Euro 92 was affected on a number of occasions. East Germany had originally been part of the draw, but by the time the tournament kicked off they had dropped out and joined the West in their group instead.

By the time the tournament kicked off in June 1992, the Soviet Union had dissolved and so the team that played in the tournament played under the name of the “Commonwealth of Independent States”. Basically the same thing, but technically didn’t include the three Baltic states or Georgia – except for Kakhaber Tskhadadze who was somehow part of the squad anyway.

They were the lucky ones. The former Soviet states broke up amicably for the most part so they were still allowed to take part in the tournament. Yugoslavia weren’t so lucky. Slovenia were gone by the time the Euro 92 draw was made, but it was the war for Croatian independence that ultimately cost Yugoslavia their place in the championships.

On the 30th of May, United Nations Security Council Resolution 757 placed sanctions on Yugoslavia that had many consequences, but in this context it meant FIFA suspended the Yugoslav national team from competitive football. With England due to face them on the 11th of June in Sweden, a replacement was quickly drafted in.

To put that in the context of time, the Scottish Cup final in 1992 had taken place on the 9th of May. This decision was made three weeks later. Do you know where the Danish players, who rightly thought they had nothing better to do that summer, were at the time?

On the beach.

Denmark literally had to cancel holidays to come and play in Sweden. Or at least most of them did. Some players, most notably Michael Laudrup, opted to stay on holiday thinking it was a waste of time.

I’ll bet his brother Brian, who did join the Danish squad for the tournament, never lets him forget that decision.

So even when it comes to teams falling apart, Scotland had no luck. Not only did we get the newly unified Germans, but the Soviets couldn’t even fall out with each other properly. Meanwhile in the other group the highest rated team was gone and replaced by a team swapping their flip flops and li-los for football boots and treatment tables.

So it’s no surprise that the Tartan Army invaded Sweden with one goal in mind – to enjoy the experience. I don’t think there’s been another tournament before or since where the Scotland fans have accepted from the very beginning that we had absolutely no chance of qualifying from the group stage. It was almost liberating.

Do you know the names David McGow and Marianne Lindkvist? Probably not, but you might know their faces. Marianne was a Swedish police officer on duty at one of the Scotland matches and David was pictured kissing her in one of the most iconic photos in Scottish Football. That photo alone probably won the Tartan Army the Fair Play award we returned home with from Sweden.

But let’s not go home prematurely just yet! On the park, up first in Gothenburg were the reigning champions – the Netherlands.

To be perfectly honest, the game didn’t exactly live up to expectations. You would have expected the Dutch total football philosophy to overwhelm Scotland but while Hans van Breukelen had virtually nothing to do in the Dutch goal, Andy Goram was hardly rushed off his feet at the other end either.

Richard Gough was able to keep Marco Van Basten reasonably quiet, and a Frank Rijkaard effort was kept out by Goram… but that was about it until the final fifteen minutes. A Rijkaard header down into the path of Dennis Bergkamp from a Ruud Gullit cross saw the lesser known of the three names poke the ball home. One decent move made all the difference in the scoreline and gave the holders the winning start they had wanted.

Later that evening, the CIS managed a 1-1 draw with Germany. Scotland were bottom of the group and no one really expected we’d move from that spot with the Germans up next in Norrkoping.

And yet, just like the opening match against the Netherlands, Scotland matched up well against one of the favourites for the tournament. Indeed, Scotland were arguably on top and having the better chances… only for Jurgen Klinsmann to hold off Gough and roll the ball to Karlheinz Riedle who then fired past Goram.

If that seemed unlucky given how well we had been playing, just after half time lady luck was late back from having her half time pie. Or whatever the Swedish equivalent is. In her absence, a Stefan Effenberg Cross deflected off Maurice Malpas and left Goram helpless to prevent the ball dropping into the net and doubling Germany’s lead.

As busy as Bodo Illgner had been, Scotland couldn’t find a way past the Germany goalkeeper and Scotland were out of the competition with a game to spare thanks to another CIS draw in their game against the Netherlands. With world champions Germany and european champions the Netherlands both on three points, the inevitability of the group had come to fruition.

We all knew it would be this way, and yet Scotland had performed so well against arguably the two best teams in the tournament. If anything, we’d already done better than we had ever expected, even though we’d lost twice. And so we’d face the CIS in Norrkoping knowing it was our last game but that they still had a chance of qualifying. They might need to beat Scotland by a couple of goals if the other game finished a draw, but it was in their own hands to progress regardless of what happened in Gothenburg.

But they didn’t count on Scotland finally catching Lady Luck’s eye again.

The opening goal from Paul McStay came in the first ten minutes of the game. Actually, it’s technically an own goal by goalkeeper Dmitri Kharine’s since McStay’s shot hit the post and rebounded off Kharine’s outstretched arm and into the net, but I’m sure Dmitri won’t mind if Paul claims it.

Scotland were 2-0 up within 20 minutes thanks to another deflection, this time coming off the Georgian Tskhadadze as he directed Brian McClair’s effort into the opposite corner and away from Kharine. The former Soviets, shell shocked after the opening spell, missed some terrific chances as the game progressed but it was all over when substitute Pat Nevin was brought down in the area and Gary McAllister sent Kharine the wrong way with the penalty to complete the 3-0 win.

Remember when Rocky Balboa defeated communism? Well Scotland turned up and poked it with a stick to make sure it was dead.

This was the final act for the CIS. After Euro 92, the Baltic states entered qualifying for the World Cup in 1994 on their own merits while Russia went it alone in place of the Soviet Union. The rest of the former Soviet states wouldn’t enter qualification until Euro 96.

But forget the negative, Scotland’s comprehensive win ensured that we finished third in the group ahead of the CIS. When you consider that the other group saw both France and England finish level on two points with a negative goal difference, Scotland’s goal difference of zero technically means we were the best of the rest.

As far as I’m concerned, at Euro 92, Scotland finished fifth.

Of course, Scotland’s “achievement” went largely unnoticed. The fans rightly took the plaudits while the team went home satisfied with two decent but ultimately defeated games and one thumping win against a team that still had something to play for – so that was no dead rubber.

But then the tournament kept going. Remember those Danes who had been on the beach? Well they came second in their group behind the hosts. Sweden would lose out in the semifinals to the Germans, but the Danes went on to shock the holders in a 2-2 draw and a 5-4 win on penalties – Peter Schmeichel crucially saving the second Dutch penalty from, all of all people, Marco Van Basten.

But they weren’t done yet.

If defeating the Dutch was a shock, then what came next rocked the continent. A 2-0 win over Germany in the final is recognised as one of the truly shocking moments in football. For a team that hadn’t even qualified to cut their holidays short and go on to win the tournament outright is precisely why we all love football. It shouldn’t have happened and yet it did, and we all celebrated with the Danes.

And they didn’t even need Lady Luck to help.

Costa Reekin’

This blog was first written for Live Forever Football, a website dedicated to 90s football.


1990 is a landmark year for me and my love of football. I have very few memories prior to that, save for the signing of two Poles at Celtic shortly after a slightly bigger story broke about a certain former Celtic striker being usurped across the city to Rangers.

To be honest, it was the Poles who really caught my attention given my own family background connection with the country. When you’re the kid with the funny name, being able to properly pronounce Dariusz Dziekanowski and Dariusz Wdowczyk is almost expected. As it was, they were Jackie and Shuggie to many others in Scotland.

Both of Celtic’s Polish contingent played at Hampden in the Scottish Cup final in 1990, and indeed Wdowczyk is the lesser known penalty misser in the 9-8 shootout victory for Aberdeen. Poor Anton Rogan has the unfortunate honour of being the man who missed the most crucial penalty, and so Shuggie is rarely mentioned.

As I watched on at home that day, little did I know that just a week later I’d be watching both of those Poles play at Hampden in the flesh.

The first football match I was ever taken to was a Scotland v Poland friendly match at Hampden Park on May 19th, 1990. To this day, I can close my eyes and picture Hampden Park as it was back then from the terracing at the traditional Celtic end of the stadium. The sheer vastness of this footballing arena was truly breathtaking to a child who wasn’t quite nine years old yet.

The Celtic end of the stadium was open to the elements, but thankfully there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Even back then I noticed that the terracing opposite me was covered, but it never struck me as odd as I had nothing to compare that with. The thing that really struck me at the time was that the main stand to the left had a press box that looked like it could slide off the roof and onto the pitch at any moment.

The game itself is something I can only remember in patches. Scotland took the lead through Mo Johnston, but it was the equaliser that will live with me forever. With Andy Goram rushing off his line, Gary Gillespie didn’t notice this and when he attempted to head the ball back to him he instead looped the ball over him and into the empty net.

I never liked Gary Gillespie for that very reason.

But there was a bigger picture here. This match was one of Scotland’s warm up games ahead of Italia 90. For the fifth consecutive World Cup, Scotland had qualified for the finals once again. As I’ve hinted already, I’ve absolutely no recollection of the qualifying campaign, but for the record Scotland finished second in Group 5. Four points behind Yugoslavia, in the days of two points for a win, and just one ahead of France.

Norway and Cyprus completed the group, and it was arguably Cyprus getting a draw at home to France that made the difference. When you consider that Scotland only beat Cyprus away thanks to a 90th minute Richard Gough winner, you can see how close things were between the two.

Yugoslavia only dropped two points the entire campaign, a draw each against Scotland and France. With both teams drawing against Norway, admittedly Scotland doing so at home in the final game when a draw was all that was needed, the two winning their respective home games against each other cancelled themselves out too.

When the draw for the finals was made in December 1989, Scotland found themselves paired with Brazil for a third time in five World Cups. The other two teams in Group C were fellow Europeans Sweden who had topped England’s group and in doing so had seen off Poland, and the little known Costa Rica who had qualified for the finals for the very first time. Literally everyone in Scotland had failed to notice that they had actually topped the final CONCACAF qualification group, perhaps because CONCACAF was not a well respected confederation at the time.

In the build up to the finals, Scotland played a number of friendlies. Perhaps most noteworthy was Scotland’s 1-0 win over the then reigning World Champions Argentina thanks to a goal from Aberdeen’s Stewart McKimmie. Sure, there was no Diego Maradona in the team, and only three of the players who played against Scotland went on to start the World Cup final against West Germany that summer, but when you’re Scottish you take any small win you can get. Besides, beating reigning World Champions is a Scottish tradition dating back to 1967!

The other friendlies weren’t quite as impressive. A 1-0 defeat to East Germany and a 3-1 defeat to Egypt had come before the draw with Poland, while the final warm up match took place in Malta and saw Scotland narrowly beat their hosts 2-1.

By the time Scotland took to the field in Genoa for their opening group match against Costa Rica, Brazil had already beaten Sweden 2-1 the previous day. With Sweden seen as the main threat to Scotland finishing second behind Brazil, things were looking good.

Well, not everything. Scotland had turned up to play Costa Rica in what can be politely described as a white with thin yellow hoops jersey. How the traditional kit could possibly clash with the all red jersey of Costa Rica I’ll never know, but I distinctly remember thinking it didn’t look right to see Scotland not playing in the dark blue.

The choice of strip was the least of our worries though.

The first half didn’t seem to go too badly. Sure, the service to Mo Johnston could have been better, and sure it was still 0-0 at the break, but we’d get the breakthrough eventually. Wouldn’t we?

Four minutes into the second half, Geovanny Jara played a cheeky backheel that gave Arnaldo Cayasso a clear sight of goal. With only Jim Leighton in the Scotland goal to beat he fired the ball into the net to give Costa Rica a shock lead.

The expected Scotland comeback never materialised. In truth, it never looked like it would. A few good saves from goalkeeper Luis Gabelo Conejo aside, Costa Rica just weren’t put under the cosh as would have been expected. It turned out that Costa Rica were “nae mugs” after all, and went on to narrowly lose 1-0 to Brazil in the next match, a few hours before Scotland faced Sweden.

With both teams having lost their opening group match, this game was already looking like a “win or bust” for both sides. More so for Scotland though, given we still had Brazil to face in the final game.

With both teams now in their traditional kits, things were already looking a lot better. The fact it was a later kick off in Genoa and therefore not as hot and humid as the first match also seemed to help matters. Ten minutes into the game, Murdo MacLeod sent a corner into the box and Dave MacPherson flicked it on to Stuart McCall who was waiting at the edge of the six yard box. McCall slid in and fired Scotland in front. We were off the mark.

The game will never go down as a classic, and despite the good early start it took until just ten minutes to go for us to breathe a little easier when Mo Johnston tucked away the penalty given after Roy Aitken went down somewhat easily in the box, and Scotland had a 2-0 lead. A late consolation from Glenn Stromness latching onto a ridiculously long through ball didn’t stop Scotland picking up only our fourth win at the World Cup finals – the other three coming against Zaire in 1974, Holland in 1978, and New Zealand in 1982. Sadly, to this day it is also Scotland’s last win at the World Cup finals.

That win against Sweden gave Scotland a reasonable chance of progressing to the knockout stages for the first time. With 24 teams in the tournament, the top two from each group would both progress as would four of the six third placed teams. With Brazil top on four points, and Scotland level with Costa Rica on two, we were still in with a chance of being one of the four third placed teams if not one of the top two in our group.

Costa Rica’s game against Sweden would take place at the same time, and so what kind of result we needed was still to be determined. If Sweden could win, a draw would be enough to finish second. Even if Costa Rica won, a draw might still be enough to finish in one of the plum third place positions.

But then again, the final match was against Brazil.

In our two previous meetings with Brazil, we had done fantastically well to draw with the reigning champions in 1974, but the 4-1 hammering in 1982 after David Narey had given us the lead was of more immediate concern. The 1990 Scotland were nowhere near the class of the 1974 Scotland, but neither were the 1990 Brazil team anything like the quality they had in 1974 or 1982. They had only succeeded in beating Sweden by the same scoreline that we ourselves had managed, and even they had struggled to a narrow win over Costa Rica – a team we still felt like we should have done better against.

And so, with our usual bizarre optimism that could see us think getting a result against Brazil was possible having already lost to Costa Rica – and to be fair you only have to look at the 1978 World Cup results to see why we might think like that – it was off to Turin.

Scotland set out with the draw in mind, with Roy Aitken dropping back to play as a sweeper in a back five. The game itself played out exactly as you would expect of a backs-to-the-wall game. Everyone played their part to stop Brazil, most famously Murdo MacLeod who was completed sparked out after taking a free kick full on in the face not long before half time. It was no surprise when he couldn’t continue.

Gary Gillespie came on for him. I should have known then we were doomed.

With just eight minutes left on the clock, Alemao fired in a low shot from distance. Leighton probably should have held it, but instead he spilled it out to Careca. The striker managed to knock the ball towards the goal line under pressure from Gillespie but it was going wide. With the whole of Scotland willing the ball to run out of play substitute Muller, who had come on less than twenty minutes earlier for a youngster named Romario who would become a household name four years later, broke all our hearts by appearing on screen to tap the ball into an empty net.

Im guessing for those in the stadium it was more obvious he was going to score, but for those of watching on at home it was substantially more of a tease.

There was still time for Scotland to give us hope, but a late Mo Johnston chance was somehow tipped over the bar by Brazilian goalkeeper Taffarel and Scotland were stranded on two points. With Costa Rica beating Sweden, they progressed along with Brazil to the knockout stages while across Scotland we consulted our wall charts to see what we needed to happen to be one of the four best third placed teams.

To be honest, we already looked doomed. Both Argentina in Group B and Columbia in Group D had finished third on three points, and with Austria in group A also on two points with two goals for and three against like ourselves, it was pretty clear what the teams in Group E and Group F had to beat. Should it come to it and only one of Scotland or Austria could qualify, then lots would have been drawn to decide which it would be. To this day I have no idea what that means! What’s wrong with tossing a coin?!

But we still had to get to that point first. With both groups E and F finishing the day after ours, we were left in the bizarre scenario where for a full 24 hours Scotland didn’t know whether to go home or not.

In Group E, Uruguay already had a point while South Korea had none. Spain also had two points, but they were playing Belgium who had four so unless they lost they were going to be of no help. The best case scenario from this group was a comprehensive Belgium win over Spain to wipe out their goal difference, or a small South Korea win over Uruguay to ensure they’re worse goal difference didn’t surpass ours.

Both Spain and Uruguay won, ensuring the latter became another third place team on three points.

Group F was too tight to call. With England on three points, Ireland and the Netherlands both on two points, and Egypt on one point, the only thing that would help Scotland here was for an England win over Egypt to ensure they didn’t come into the equation, and a win for either Ireland or the Netherlands – ideally by more than a goal but a 1-0 win would have been enough given the goals scored column would be in our favour.

England did indeed beat Egypt to top the group, but Ireland and the Netherlands drew 1-1, ensuring both of them progressed to the knockout stages and finally Scotland and Austria were sent home.

Interestingly, Ireland and the Netherlands actually did have to be separated by the drawing of lots, which Ireland won to finish second in the group to the Netherlands third place. Given that meant Ireland faced Romania while the Netherlands faced West Germany, it made all the difference.

With the tournament progressing without Scotland, we watched on as neutrals and tried not to get too carried away with just how annoyingly good World in Motion was as a World Cup song. When you consider Scotland’s equivalent of “say it with pride, the lion shall roar in the sun” it’s no wonder more of us could probably do the Barnes rap even today than could even tell you anything about our song back then.

Fish, in case you’re wondering. Ask your parents if you’re still wondering.

Meanwhile, on a patch of grass somewhere in Scotland, I was falling over trying my best to copy David Platt’s last minute winner against Belgium. That’s when I wasn’t wheeling away screaming “Schillaci!!!!!” after scoring a goal of course.

Italia 90 may have been a disappointment for Scotland, one forever tainted by the memory of Costa Rica, but it inspired me as a young football fan in a way I’d never known before.

And as for Costa Rica…

Sixteen years later, I went to the World Cup in Germany. Scotland hadn’t qualified, but fortunately Poland had and I’d been fortunate enough to win tickets in the ballot to go to their final group match against Costa Rica.

So, draped in a saltire, wearing a Celtic jersey with Zurawski printed on the back, I went to Hannover to watch Poland exorcise some of my demons with a 2-1 win courtesy of two goals from Bartosz Bosacki. There was even a point in the game where Costa Rica were winning 1-0. The game might have been a dead rubber by this point in the tournament, but it certainly made a certain Scotsman feel just a little bit better.

Star Trek Beyond

If there’s one constant throughout my life, then it’s Star Trek. It’s been there for as long as I can remember, right back to my earliest memories of watching the bright colours of the original series as a young child. I’m not sure I have any memories older than that.

I’m definitely a TOS guy. The Original Series may predate me by a good fifteen years, and for all I grew up in an age where we were given The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise, I’m still old enough to remember when there was only “Star Trek”.

And crucially I’m old enough to remember that I loved watching that incarnation of Star Trek. In fact, while kids my age would cite their hero as being Paul McStay or Ally McCoist depending on their football preference, I was usually avoiding getting beat up at school by not admitting my hero was actually Captain Kirk.

I’m not going to pretend that I absolutely love everything Star Trek has ever done though. If you’ve read my four part blog on Star Trek: Generations then you’ll probably know that already! But even bad Trek is still more enjoyable to me than most things.

And, luckily for us, there’s a lot of Trek out there. Indeed, Star Trek turns 50 this month, and although there are large gaps in that time where we didn’t get anything new, we’ve still been spoiled over the years.

TOS only lasted three seasons in the 60s before it was cancelled, while the animated series in the 70s never gets much love. The movies that took us from the end of the 70s to the start of the 2000s lasted for ten feature films with varying levels of success that tailed off at the end. Indeed, a disappointing Star Trek: Nemesis coupled with a directionless Enterprise (until it was too late) caused the second break from Trek that we had until JJ Abrams got involved and rebooted the franchise in typical Star Trek style – by technobabbling a way to link the two versions!

I have to admit that the JJ-verse – or the Kelvin Timeline as it’s now officially known – took me a good while to get used to. The 2009 reboot movie left a lot to be desired in my mind for a number of reasons, but I’ve grown to forgive most of those as the storyline is pretty good. Into Darkness that followed that was a movie built from its predecessors, and one with it’s own added problems. It’s probably a Star Trek movie I like less with each passing viewing. The more I can pick holes in it, the less likely I am to enjoy it on each rewatch.

And I’m a Star Trek fan, so you can bet I’ll be rewatching them a lot!

So when Star Trek Beyond came out this summer I was very apprehensive about what we might get.

SPOILER ALERT. From here on in there are spoilers so you should go and see the latest movie before reading any further if you haven’t already! Although its taken me so long to get this blog written that you might struggle to find somewhere that’s showing it outside of China where it’s only just being released.

But, trust me, it’s worth it if you can get to see it.

With JJ Abrams taking a back seat as he moved over to do Star Wars Episode VII, this third installment of the reboot saw Simon Pegg join the writing team to make sure that an actual Star Trek fan was writing it. Add in Justin Lin who came in from Fast and Furious to make sure we didn’t just focus on a handful of the characters and got the whole ensemble involved and I was cautiously optimistic that this could be a good movie.

Focusing on just a couple of the characters happens a lot in Star Trek movies. The TNG movies were mainly the Picard and Data show in all four of them. The most recent two seemed to focus more on Kirk, Spock and Uhura whereas in the first six TOS movies it was McCoy rather than Uhura that would often be part of the main focus. I’ve seen it suggested that the only time a real balance between all the main cast was struck came in The Voyage Home where everyone actually had something to do. I would probably argue that The Search for Spock did it too, but clearly not to the same extent. But if anyone could bring that to the latest movie, it’s the man who had done such a good job of it in the Fast and Furious franchise.

And that’s exactly what we got in Star Trek Beyond.

Everyone has something to do in this movie. Kirk is the obvious lead, but McCoy and Spock spend a lot of time working together away from him. Karl Urban had been criminally underused in the previous two movies so it was good to see him involved more this time. Uhura was probably cut back from the previous movies, but that’s fine because what she does here with Sulu is just as important as anything else in the movie. If anything I’d probably say she’d been overused in the previous movies just to give a female character more of a lead presence. I don’t mind female characters being the lead, but when you go out of your way to do it to “redress the balance” when compared to other movies then you’re missing the point. All I want are good leads, regardless of their characteristics.

If there’s one guy who didn’t seem to have too much to do then it was Sulu. Yes he got to look good piloting the Franklin in a manner that reminded me more of Galaxy Quest than anything Mayweather may have done as the forgettable helmsman of the NX-01 Enterprise, but Sulu seemed to play second fiddle to Uhura when most of the crew were captured. If anything, the most significant thing Sulu had in the movie was the family moment at Yorktown. We all know Sulu had a daughter somewhere along the line who went on to be at the helm of the Enterprise-B, but here we hare left to infer that this is Demora that is with her dads even if that would mean she was in her 30s in Generations – assuming they were born at the same time in both universes of course.

So what about that “dads” thing?

A lot was made of outing Sulu as gay in this movie, but to be honest I think they nailed it. You’d hope that by the 23rd century “I’m gay!” is as ridiculous a phrase to say as “I’m straight!” is now. People would just accept it and make nothing of it. The fact Kirk’s reaction is merely to smile because his helmsman has been reunited with his family is spot on. I think my only criticism of this scene is that there wasn’t a “welcome home” kiss between them. Maybe we haven’t quite advanced as a society to the point we can show that in a movie. Work to be done then, because you know if it was a woman greeting her husband that would definitely be shown because it’s exactly what would happen.

I’ve seen it suggested that Simon Pegg’s own Scotty character gets a lot of important things to do and that maybe him being the writer meant he was able to do that for his own good, but to be honest I think everything he did in this was exactly what you would want your Engineer to do. I don’t think he had anything extra or out of the ordinary for Scotty. If that’s because Pegg wrote it that way, I don’t really have a problem with it. It fits the story line, and that’s what matters.

The real blow to the franchise is Chekov. As a young kid in 2009 he was almost Wesley Crusher smart-arsed annoying at times, but you still kinda liked him anyway. Into Darkness bizarrely pushed him down to Engineering purely because Scotty needed to be off the ship for the later part of the movie, but in Beyond he gets to link up well with Kirk in a way you wouldn’t otherwise expect. But while he’s clearly matured since the 2009 movie, he still gets to the be the young man that’s thrown out of a crew member’s quarters in his boxers or somehow avoids getting caught checking out the female alien of the week who in previous movies would probably have ended up with Kirk at some point instead.

But this will be the last time we see Chekov. With Anton Yelchin’s untimely death just before this movie comes out we’re going to lose that character as they’ve already said that they won’t recast him. It’s right that they don’t, but it just adds to the impact that death with have on everyone. It feels almost as big as Heath Ledger’s death just before The Dark Knight which meant we wouldn’t see any more of his wonderful performance as Joker, on top of the fact that we’d lost a talented actor.

Death is central to this movie as well. The passing of Leonard Nimoy, who had featured in the previous two reboot movies as the original Spock, wasn’t just acknowledged in this movie but it was made an integral part of it through the impact it had on Zachary Quinto’s Spock. It was brilliantly done, and even the two scenes particularly designed to focus specifically on the death itself were tear jerking moments.

I especially liked the nod to the past of Nimoy’s Spock having a photo of the Enterprise crew from The Final Frontier. When you see that on screen it’s not just a nod to Nimoy but to Deforest Kelly and James Doohan that have passed away previously. Indeed, with Nichelle Nichols having suffered a stroke and the likes of William Shatner, George Takei and Walter Koenig not getting any younger either you really do come to appreciate how long Star Trek has been around and how we need to appreciate the time we have with them around.

Admittedly, this is the one part of the movie where I was left thinking “how did Spock have that photo? Did he have it on board the Jellyfish with him? Did it somehow stay with him after Nero took him prisoner?” How’s that for nitpicking?!

There are plenty of other nods to both Star Trek’s past and to the fans throughout the movie though. Where Into Darkness made an entire story out of them, Beyond merely puts them in as Easter Eggs. If you don’t know them, you can still enjoy the movie for what it is. But if you do know them, you’ll probably be laughing or smiling knowingly as you pick up on them.

Kirk moaning about ripping his shirt again, or his log entry suggesting that life has become episodic. Scotty worrying that he might splice Spock and McCoy together in a transporter accident. The reference to MACOs and the Xindi. The big green space hand. Even the subtle ones like Justin Lin’s father being called Frank and the ship they come across being called the Franklin, or the fact that the registry number of the ship is Leonard Nimoy’s birthday. Even the 966 days in space from Kirk’s log entry is a nod to September 1966, the date Star Trek first aired.

I think my favourite nod to the past though might just be the little blast of TOS music from the episode Shore Leave that we get when Kirk and Chekov are found to be stuck in one of Jaylah’s traps. Michael Giacchino has done all three of these reboot movies now and he’s scored every one of them perfectly. Into Darkness had a bit of the Amok Time fight music when Spock faces off against Khan, but this one is more fun and throws back to one of my favourite fun TOS episodes. I have a real soft spot for a cheeky piccolo!

I think the real triumph of this movie is that they’ve finally managed to do something they didn’t do in any of the previous twelve movies. They’ve managed to get the balance between an action movie and a Star Trek episode style movie absolutely spot on. Even the best of the earlier movies tends to be either one thing or the other. Wrath of Khan is a submarine movie with a returning TOS character. That’s as close as they’ve come, but it’s still more action than anything. Undiscovered Country also has some action but it’s a lot more mystery and is probably more TOS than anything. Both are fantastic movies though, and they usually feature at the very top of most peoples lists – including my own. The best TNG managed was with First Contact which has action Picard set in future history. Again, it’s probably more action than Star Trek episode, but it’s close and its my third favourite of the previous twelve.

But Star Trek Beyond is so good that it’s interrupted that top three for the first time in nearly 20 years.

As soon as I left the cinema I was buzzing with excitement. I’d loved it from start to finish and I immediately got to thinking where it ranked among the previous twelve. I knew it was one of the best, but the more I thought about the more I figured I actually enjoyed it even more than I enjoyed First Contact. That’s no slight on First Contact by the way!

I know many people will say I can’t rank a new movie among movies I know off by heart. It needs time to bed in before a true ranking can be given, and I understand that thinking. I probably agree to a certain extent, but having seen the movie a second time a few days later I hadn’t changed my mind. If anything, I think as this movie beds in I might just need to reconsider my whole list. Maybe I’m getting older, but I’m already getting to the point where I think that maybe Undiscovered Country is a better movie than Wrath of Khan. But I’m also thinking that Star Trek Beyond might come to challenge that top two at some point too.

Yes, it’s that good.

I know many of the Star Trek fans that I know and respect may not rank it as highly as I do, and that’s fine. None of them think Generations is the worst of the Trek movies either! We’re all entitled to our opinion and we’ll all take different things from different movies. But to me this movie is practically flawless, and that just doesn’t happen often. Where it takes elements that we’ve seen before, I think it even improves on them.

Take the destruction of the Enterprise for instance. Yes, this is something we saw in The Search for Spock and probably more similarly in Generations. But here I think it’s the best one of all. Search for Spock made sense because the Enterprise was already badly damaged from the events of Wrath of Khan. It didn’t take much to disable it, and with only a few of them on board to run it the result was inevitable due to all the automated jury rigging Scotty had done to allow them to go anywhere with just a handful of people. But even then, they blew it up in spectacular fashion and “turned death into a fighting chance to live”.

Then in Generations… well, I thought the idea of a Klingon Bird of Prey being able to destroy it as they did was pretty ridiculous to be honest, but once it was in that mess then the saucer separation, warp core breach and eventual saucer crash was really well done. It’s probably the best scene in the movie actually.

But Star Trek Beyond took that same saucer section crash and did it better. No one was on board it when it crashed so there was no issue about being able to survive it. But even getting to that point made a lot more sense. For one thing, they got to that point the same way we’ve seen in Deep Space Nine that Starfleet had to learn with the Defiant. Simply put, big cumbersome starships are fine until little more maneuverable ships can outnumber them to wipe them out. With this many in a swarm you can easily take down a starship like the Enterprise.

And that’s what we get. First they take out the deflector to leave them vulnerable before taking out the warp engines to stop them escaping easily. Even then, Scotty hooks up the warp core to try and use the impulse engines to escape, only for the swarm to separate the core from the engines! In the end, the saucer separation is done to try and give the escape pods a chance to escape, but even that fails and the saucer crashes down to the planet. Even after all that, Kirk and Chekov end up back on board it, and it’s a lot more banged up than the Enterprise-D’s saucer had been at the end of Generations.

Maybe Deanna didn’t do too bad a job of flying it after all, eh?!

So how do you defeat that swarm? Well, you stop them acting as a swarm, obviously. The idea of disrupting the communications between them made perfect sense to me, and using VHF to do it even makes sense as far as physics goes too to my knowledge. I mean, I use an FM transmitter to listen to music and podcasts through my phone and every time I drive by someone on that same frequency it interferes with it! So why would this NOT work?!

It’s a brilliant plot device, and it leads to such a great callback to the music we had in Star Trek 2009 when young Kirk stole his step-dad’s car. Okay, so the Beastie Boys could have been a bit of a cheesy moment in the movie with all of them tapping their feet to it. But then I don’t even like the Beastie Boys and I was doing the same! Music does that to you, and I don’t think that’s going to change in the 23rd century.

The only real criticism I’ve heard about this movie at all is Krall. Does this story make sense? Well it does to me. Here’s a guy who was a MACO. At the dawn of the Federation, Starfleet are explorers and so the MACOs don’t fit any more. But given his service as a decorated MACO, they gave him command of a starship. Yep, that’s all fine, it seems like they didn’t just want to put him out to pasture but ultimately you’re squeezing him into a job he’s not really supposed to be doing and could potentially come back to bite you.

And then his ship gets lost. No one comes looking for him. I think it’s fairly simple. He was a man of his time, found it difficult to live in that time and then something happened to make it even worse and confirm any fears he may have had up to that point. This concept is actually part of the plot of The Undiscovered Country about how when times change and “there is to be a brave new world [his] generation is going to have the hardest time living in it” as Gorkon tells Kirk.

Indeed, the whole revenge after being abandon is even an element of The Wrath of Khan if you’ve read the comics. In there it was suggested that after Ceti Alpha VI exploded, Khan thought Kirk would come back for him. But of course he never did, and when Khan came to realise that he felt betrayed. An already angry man was pissed off and driven mad by it to the point that he wants to destroy everything.

Well, here we are, here’s Krall doing exactly the same. He wasn’t exactly happy with the direction of the Federation to begin with, but to be abandoned by them leads him to feel betrayed by them. I have no doubt that in his MACO world, you don’t leave a man behind. But that’s exactly what happened here.

And then he learns about where he is. About how he can use it to break the Federation and get back to the struggle he grew up in. About how he can keep his life going using the technology there by draining the life of others. He’s effectively like a vampire at this point. Further, he’s a vampire that spends 100 years plotting his revenge, and letting the anger fester over that time.

But how did he put together his swarm? Why does he look the way he looks? Well, the movie doesn’t explicitly state it but I don’t need everything spelled out for me. I can fill in the blanks myself. Maybe he looks the way he does because of whose life he’s draining. When he starts draining human life again for the first time in 100 years, only then does he start changing back.

And that, ultimately, is what I want from a Star Trek movie. Ideally we get an exciting movie, with some wonderful character moments, and we either explain things to the point that it makes sense or you don’t explain things and you let us viewers fill in the gaps ourselves. If you’ve given us enough to do that, then you’ve done your job as a writer. If you try to explain everything and make it so convoluted that it doesn’t make sense, that’s when I start drifting away again. That’s where the JJ Abrams movies fall down for me – whether it be Red Matter or Starkiller Base!

Star Trek Beyond has ticked so many boxes for me, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to say about a Star Trek movie I’ve been to see at the cinema. I can pick a few flaws in First Contact that annoy me a bit and that’s about as close as I’ve come to this level previously. The first one I saw was Final Frontier and it’s littered with flaws to the point it’s usually ranked as the worst by most Star Trek fans.

Except me, it’s second last on my list after Generations. Because at least Final Frontier has some nice character moments. We’ll ignore Uhura though. That’s a whole other blog for a whole other time.

I didn’t see Undiscovered Country in the cinema, much to my annoyance. One day I would love to put that right, even though it’s 25 years old now and I’ve seen it countless times. Insurrection and Nemesis just don’t even come close to living up to most of the Star Trek movies. The most recent two movies are fun, but I’ve never ranked them as highly as I have the better prime universe movies.

But Star Trek Beyond is absolutely brilliant in every way. The fact I still see it as being in third place on my list after more than month since I saw it for a second time speaks volumes. That really isn’t going to change now, unless I somehow spot something in subsequent re-watches that I missed the first two times. But you’d think I’d have heard about that on podcast reviews by now if I did!

I admit, displacing First Contact could be my TOS bias coming through. But even if you’re more of a TNG fan than I am I still think you’d agree this is one of the best of all thirteen movies that we now have. Your final position for it may vary from mine as all our tastes are different, but I can’t see how people wouldn’t rank this highly regardless of their favourite series.

The only thing I can’t understand is how it seems to have been a disappointment at the box office. Marketing? Timing? Staggering its worldwide release? It’s not the quality or the rewatchability, at least not in my view. I don’t usually go and see a movie at the cinema more than once, and in this instance it was my non-Trekkie wife that suggested we go see it again!

I really hope that the box office figures don’t affect the future of the franchise, and fortunately I don’t really think they will, because I’m already looking forward to seeing what they do with the fourteenth movie. I hope they more or less keep the same team together for writing and directing, because other than Nick Meyer – who’s busy with the new TV series Star Trek Discovery coming next year – they haven’t been bettered.

And if you really need any more proof that this movie is terrific? Since I’ve seen it I’ve stopped thinking about the Madness song “One Step Beyond”. Prior to seeing it, that song popped into my head every time the title was mentioned.

It’s great to be so excited about Star Trek again. I’m not sure I’ve felt this excited about it since I was a kid talking to my dad about how weird it would be to see a Klingon on the bridge of the Enterprise. And that conversation was thirty years ago now.

The Little Things

When the calendar flicked over to July, in my house that meant one thing. It was the month our second child would be born.

Doing it again comes with a whole new host of nerves. I’ve touched on them before, but they mainly boil down to trying to remember what you’ve forgotten since the first time and wondering how a second will be different from just having one.

And as the father you get a lot of time to think these things through. Because the pregnancy itself is boring as sin.

It drags on and on and on and your partner gets bigger and bigger and you get bigger and bigger because you need to sympathise somehow.

No really, I’m fatter now than I’ve ever been. But hey, I’ve enjoyed pigging out so there’s always that!

But other than getting fat, you don’t actually do anything else. Your bit was done months ago, she’s doing all the hard work! All you’re really doing is more housework.

Then, just as you get to the point where the baby is coming, you find yourself getting even more useless.

Labour is horrific. And it’s not even because of the reasons you think. It’s really not the most beautiful and magical thing on the planet, as many will have you believe. It’s hour after hour of feeling utterly helpless like you’ve never felt before as the woman you love most goes through agony.

Agony you helped create.

The first time my wife went through it, it happened through the night. So at one point, I was sitting drinking a cup of coffee to stay awake as she sucked on the gas and air in a big bath. It was 4am and I had literally nothing else to do. I couldn’t get in the bath and help, I just had to sit there and wait while she endured the pains of labour.

But then, finally, you get the baby and suddenly you can help again. Changing nappies and clothes, feeding and winding if they happen to be bottle fed, and mainly being a good arm and body to sleep on.

Trust me, being slept on by a newborn is possibly the most peaceful thing in the world. They just lie there, the weight of nothing, while you have a free arm to piss about on your phone or change the channel from the golf to the football.

I mean, I’m writing this on my phone right now with one hand because the other has my daughter lying on it. And yes, the Open Championship is on the TV. It really doesn’t get any better than this.

Oh, incidentally, our first child is having a nap right now too so that helps. It’s a bit harder to sit around being a comfy bed when other children fancy playing with you. But we’ll come back to the older one later.

The early days of a baby are axtually really easy because there’s only a select few tasks for you to do. It’s actually brilliantly designed because babies let you master the basics before changing it up and adding new things for you to do when you’re more confident.

Almost enough to make you believe in a higher power. Almost.

Of course, it doesn’t always go to plan. You might learn what jaundice is, or reflux, or colic, or how much mucus they have in their system after they’re born. You’ll definitely learn the term meconium. Or at least the look and texture and smell of it.

It may all sound a bit overwhelming if you’ve never done it, but to be honest you can wing most of it.

Winging it. It’s basically my motto now. Babies don’t come with a manual, they just come with everyone having an opinion of the best way to do anything and everything.

Well here’s the thing. As bad as it may sound, you actually do need to wing it because every baby is different and you’ll soon figure out that you need to do whatever works for yours.

But that’s another point. There is no right or wrong way to bring up a baby. Well, within reason obviously, we’ve all seen those comedy do and don’t pictures. You know, microwaving the baby to dry it after a bath, putting beer in the bottle instead of milk, playing chess with the baby instead of peekaboo…

No, I’m thinking more along the lines of people telling you to let a baby cry out versus going to the baby to help it when it cries. Breastfeeding or bottle feeding is a massive one that people get downright militant about. But take my word for it, whatever works for you is the right way to do it. If the baby is healthy and happy then you’re doing it right, whatever it is that you’re doing.

So right now, a little over a week after my daughter was born, I’m slowly remembering all the things that worked the first time round. One I’ve quickly brought back is feeding a baby by holding them perpendicular to your own body and not snuggled up next to you. Why? Because babies can fall asleep at the drop of a hat, especially if they’re content as they often are when cuddled into you. Even mid-feed!

I’m also back in the swing of washing and sterilising bottles, teets and other assorted things. Something I haven’t had to do in nearly two years because you only do it for the first six months.

Is it easier this time round? Well I’m less stressed about everything, but I’ve already seen differences between the two. Certainly at nappy changes I’m cleaning different bits than before! But I do feel like I know a bit more about what I’m doing this time round. It’s all in the confidence.

But this time round I also have a potty training toddler running around the house. So while I’m trying to remember what I did with him when he was newborn, I’m also trying to learn how to potty train. Which is especially tricky when you have to help take pants down with one hand!

But here’s just a little bit of what I’ve learned so far.

You will never realise just how often a toddler pees until you’ve emptied, cleaned and dried the potty for the tenth time in two hours. That’s not even an exaggeration, I’ve counted.

And yes, you need to dry because your toddler will also try to convince you that they have done a pee even when they haven’t. So puddles from previous cleaning may give a false positive!

Toddlers quite like wearing pants, until they take them off. At that point, they like being half naked. Which is fine when you’re in the house on your own, as long as you remember that once they’re half naked and know where the potty is then they might do a sneaky pee when you’re not looking.

Which they’ll then drag in to show you because you always make such a fuss about how good they’ve been doing the pee.

How do you deal with potty training when you’re outside the house? I haven’t got that far yet, we’re phasing out the nappies slowly. Which goes back to what I said earlier – some people will tell you that’s wrong. Some say you should make a clean break from nappies. Well this is working for us as it’s building our son’s confidence in a safe environment. That’s good enough for us. If the clean break works for you then that’s great too.

I’m sure there are loads of things I’ve learned and forgotten and will now re-learn. I wish I’d blogged them the first time round but I didn’t. I’d love to think I’d blog them this time, but I wouldn’t want to commit to something like that! Its taken me over a week to write this one!

Besides, this might be the last time I do this. But then that same thinking might be why I didn’t blog first time!

I used to say I’d never get married or have children. Admittedly, I was younger and stupider then. At some point between then and now I thought one was enough. Now I have two and I’m delighted about it. I wanted two.

I’ve never wanted three, and having one of each now isn’t likely to push me towards it. But you never know. I’ve changed my mind before after all!

But for now, I’m just enjoying these early days. First time round I was too busy worrying about everything. I still do that a bit now, but it’s not as overwhelming and so this time I’m making the most of the smaller things.

At least until the other smaller thing wakes up again that is…

If You Know Your History…

The good thing about coming from a multicultural background is that when Scotland don’t qualify for a major tournament, as they haven’t since 1998, I still have a reasonable chance of tying myself to another country that has made it there.

It doesn’t always work of course as some tournaments go by without any of my historical background getting there. Fortunately that wasn’t the case for Euro 2016, nor was it ever likely to be given Scotland’s qualifying group contained another two of my ancestrally linked countries!

The most prominent has always been Poland. When it’s the paternal path that carries that link, it’s hard to avoid when you constantly explain to people about your name. It’s an ever present reminder of my background, one that means “how do you spell that” is as common a question in my life as “where does that come from”.

Kujawa isn’t the most obvious of Polish names to your average onlooker after all. Well, not unless you happen to have a map of the Kuyavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship in Poland handy. The name comes from the region, or perhaps the region comes from the name. I’m never sure which.

Regardless, I’ve never been to Poland and as far as I know my family actually came from further south. Although given Poland’s border changes in the last 100 years even that is hard to tell.

A quick history lesson, as it is relevant to my family history. For over a century Poland didn’t even exist after it had been partitioned by the Russians, the Germans and the Austro-Hungarians. Those three powers were at war during the First World War, although the Russians eventually got bored with that particular silliness and decided to have a revolution instead when they realised just how stupid it was dying because their establishment had fallen out with other establishment of other countries. Especially when all of them were happily tucked up in their cosy beds well away from the front line.

In the aftermath of the First World War, Poland was re-established. The borders remained fluid for a while thereafter as the breakup of Austria-Hungary coupled with the power struggles in what would eventually become the Soviet Union saw much of Eastern Europe having anything from border skirmishes to all out war.

Now, before I go any further, I should point out that all I know about my own family history has come from my father. I only met my grandfather once, and I don’t think I was even a toddler when I did. I wish I had known him, I’ve written about that previously, but the fact is I didn’t and so my account of this is most definitely second hand at best.

Somewhere in all of the Eastern Europe upheaval, my great-grandfather was part of the Polish army. He fought the Germans, he fought the Bolsheviks, and somewhere along the line he rescued a minor aristocratic Russian woman from no doubt being put up against the wall when the revolution came.

My great-grandmother.

Its something of a fairy tale really. It seems to be very broadly similar to the legend of Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, although my great grandmother was clearly not as important in the grand scheme of things! Nevertheless, my great grandfather basically rescued her, took her home to Poland, had a son and lived happily ever after.

Well… this isn’t a fairy tale of course.

The sad truth of that story is that my great-grandfather died when Poland was invaded by the Germans and the Russians in 1939. My great-grandmother died in a camp, not unlike Auschwitz except not quite as famous. They weren’t just for Jews you know. If you weren’t the master race, you were going there.

Fortunately, my grandfather lied about his age to join the army, and in the six years of the second world war he moved on from Poland to Yugoslavia and eventually to Italy. In that time he learned many things, including that the best way to escape from a German prison camp is to put on one of their uniforms and walk out of the front door like it’s perfectly natural.

I believe the story goes that my grandfather hooked up with the same Polish army that had earlier liberated Monte Cassino, and that’s where he was when the war came to an end. Unfortunately for him, the politics of Europe changed dramatically and the Polish Armed Forces in the West, troops that were under British command, were suddenly considered traitors by the new communist Polish government.

What a horrible situation that must have been. You’ve fought against the very people who invaded your country for six years, and when the war is finally over you can’t go home because you happen to be hanging out with the wrong good guys?

As if that wasn’t bad enough, Britain actually bowed to the Russian influence in Poland – against all the promises that had been made between Britain, Russia and the US prior to the ending of the war – and then tried to placate them further by insisting the Poles should go home anyway!

Fortunately, after a bit of back and forth, the Polish Resettlement Act of 1947 was passed which meant that British Citizenship was offered to over 200,000 displaced Poles. They spread throughout the countries of the British Empire, especially to places like Canada and Australia, while others opted to remain in the UK itself. A lot of them stayed in London, while others chose to go other cities.

My grandfather, who could now effectively go anywhere he wanted to start a new life, had a difficult choice to make. Where do you go when you don’t know anyone there or even anything about the culture? In the end, he chosen to go somewhere he at least knew something about.

And this is perhaps the most astounding aspect of this story.

It turns out that my grandfather had heard of a great goalscorer from Scotland named Jimmy McGrory. Further more, just before the war had broken out he had heard that the team that McGrory had played for had won a prestigious tournament within the British Empire. So when my grandfather had to pick where to settle after the war, he went to the city he knew a little bit about.

Glasgow, where Celtic play.

I’ve often said that a lot of what I have in life I owe to Celtic somewhere along the line. I met my wife on a supporters bus going to a game at Kilmarnock. I was on that bus because I’d met other friends through message boards on the internet talking about Celtic. I barely have any friends from school, but the friends I have now are mainly traced back to my university days, and specifically the day I got talking to someone because I turned up for lectures wearing my new Celtic top. The job I have today came about through playing football with those same friends.

But I had no idea until recently that my very existence is owed to Celtic winning the Empire Exhibition trophy!

Had my grandfather not heard of Celtic, he may very well have gone elsewhere. He may even have stayed in London as many other Poles did, somewhere he actually moved to shortly before I was born. Had he done that, he would never have met my Scottish grandmother, would never have had a son with her and so in turn he would never have had me.

But even from a non-personal perspective, this story astounds me. In 1938, there was no internet to easily access information. Yet somehow my grandfather had heard about the exploits of McGrory and how Celtic had won the Empire Exhibition trophy against Everton. Now, I know from my own knowledge of Celtic history that McGrory was manager of Kilmarnock at the time Celtic won that trophy, but his exploits prior to that clearly made it across Europe in an era when there was no European competition.

I really wish I could find out more about my family history, but sadly my grandfather has been gone 15 years now and records of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother are unlikely to exist given everything that went on back then. I have a single source of information for all of this, which is one of the reasons I’m writing this blog. This is one of the most interesting aspects of my life, and so I want to ensure it doesn’t get lost in a haze of failing memories and the passing of the people involved.

But also, the next time someone tells me “it’s just a game”, you’ll know why my response is just to laugh.

Civil War

I saw Captain America: Civil War last weekend, but to be honest I’ve had to spend several days gathering my thoughts on it before I could be happy with this blog. Because I get the feeling I’m missing something about the movie given the almost overwhelming love for the movie I’ve seen coming from elsewhere.

Okay, let me try to explain. And as I do so be warned this is full of spoilers.

First, is this even a Captain America movie? No, not for me it isn’t. Not that I’m saying it’s a third Avengers movie either you undertand. No, this is more Captain America and Iron Man. It could quite easily have been Iron Man 4. The only reason for making it Captain America 3 is that it’s his friend they’re chasing and not Tony Stark’s. So as far as I’m concerned, this is not a standalone Captain America movie. You can claim that all you want, but it didn’t work that way. There’s too much focus on Iron Man for that to be the case.

The others in the movie, yeah, fair enough, they’re extras rather than being main characters. That’s the same as it was with the Winter Soldier really. But Iron Man is just too central to this storyline, and he’s the one that goes on the journey through the movie – not Steve Rogers.

Not that Tony Stark’s journey made much sense for the most part.

I really don’t understand why he is just accepting that Captain America has gone off on one? I don’t believe he’d just accept the idea that Bucky was the bad guy and not framed. It should have taken him five seconds to listen to what Steve had to say and then he’d have sided with him. The whole storyline about Tony wanting the Avengers to have oversight is fine, but it doesn’t at any point address the idea that Tony would accept those people having the oversight are trustworthy. They’ve done nothing to earn it, especially in the post SHIELD are Hydra era.

But more than that, the whole main thrust of the civil war is utterly needless.

If the whole point was to get Captain America and Iron Man to fall out and kill each other, then we didn’t need them going to war and involving all the other characters to do it. That whole plot is needless, because ultimately they still get back together in Siberia. It’s there that the revelation comes out about Bucky having killed Tony’s parents, and that revelation coupled with Steve knowing the truth about it would make them fall out in the end anyway.

Which was the whole point. There’s your real civil war, and the best part of the movie by a mile, never mind the other three quarters of the movie.

You can throw most of this movie in the bin and it makes almost no difference to how the plot goes. They’re all conflicted and so some retire and some sign the accords. Fair enough, I can understand that aspect. In fact it’s probably the strongest part of the whole story. I can even understand both sides of it as well, so there’s no way I’m picking a side at this point. Which only feeds back into my refusal to say I was Team Captain America or Team Iron Man from the trailers. I knew there had to be more to it and so there was.

Having oversight makes a lot of sense. After all, you don’t want a bunch of vigilantes and you need consequences for when things go wrong as they have been in recent movies. But equally it also makes sense to be wary of that oversight given what happened with Hydra within SHIELD. Prior to Winter Soldier, SHIELD was the oversight for the Avengers. So what the accords are basically doing is putting that back in place.

If this aspect have been allowed to build over time then I could see how the friction might come from this… but it doesn’t get the chance to do that because things escalate too quickly. It’s far more believable for Captain America and Iron Man to be disagreeing about Tony wanting to protect the world from all the scary stuff that’s out there and going too far to do that.

You know, like in Age of Ultron?

But here we get a whole new story. Suddenly it’s Tony who wants brought under control and Steve who thinks there’s too much hand tying. If anything this is a role reversal of their positions in Age of Ultron. Suddenly Tony wants the Avengers restrained and Steve wants freedom to do anything and everything to protect people.

But then the story runs away from that aspect as Bucky gets framed and the world wants to get him. Except Captain America of course who wants to save his friend and convinces some others that he’s been framed. Not that there’s any logic as to who picks which side of course. It seems to me that it’s a coin toss at times, roughly along the divide over the accords but it’s not even consistent about that as others get roped in. And as I said earlier, even Iron Man makes no sense just to accept that Bucky needs brought to justice.

The civil war doesn’t happen because of a difference in opinion around the accords, it happens because some people believe Bucky is framed and some people don’t. And to get to that point, you have to accept the idea that Captain America is driven purely by the need to save his friend and not do what’s best for the world. I’m guessing those who believe that didn’t see the Winter Soldier? And have also ignored why he doesn’t want to sign the accords in the first place?

It seemed to me that the whole civil war in this movie was put in place purely to throw half of them in jail and ultimately send them underground. But lets face it, rebelling against the accords to help the framed Bucky could have sent them underground just as much as anything else. What we got here was Iron Man throwing half the Avengers under the bus, albeit inadvertently.

On top of that, I think a few of the characters were a waste. Vision was an utter joke. After establishing how powerful he is in Age of Ultron, they’ve cut the feet from under him and made him a comedy figure instead. Dressing him up in a shirt and jumper and making him cook, yeah, great, you could have got Ant Man in longer to be the comedy relief. Spiderman was a really nice addition, but again you would have to think you could throw his character away and not lose too much from the overall movie. He felt a little tacked on as an afterthought sadly.

And yes, most of them were like that – but you’ve gone out of your way to get Spiderman into the universe. That will work better later on when he gets a standalone and this is seen as his intro that lets us skip the origin aspect entirely. I think it might be worth revisiting this introduction when we have more of Spiderman and then I’ll probably appreciate it more. If this movie did one thing, it’s made me look forward to Spiderman Homecoming a lot more than I thought I would, so full credit to them for that.

I also loved Black Panther. I thought he was a great addition and that’s another standalone movie I’m now looking forward to seeing. Here though he’s probably the one character in the movie that they added and he added to the movie. The main plot would lose something without him, as he’s a good comparison for Iron Man when it comes to revenge.

Scarlet Witch was good as well, and if anyone in this movie showed the difficulty with dealing with the consequences of their actions then it was her. But then why on Earth is she on Captain America’s side? Because Tony locked her up? Okay, I understand why that would be frustrating, but surely she’d just clear off and go into hiding instead of following Hawkeye? Actually, come to think of it, you’ve just spent half the movie thinking you need to be controlled for your own good and for the good of everyone else, but the minute you realise you are controlled you switch sides?

And then there’s the utterly needless Sharon Carter. Oh come on! I can’t have Peggy so I’ll have her niece, that’s ALL that is. There’s no reason Captain America would hook up with her, there’s no chemistry with them and it just gets thrown in here. The best bit of her whole story arc was the truth about who she really was from Winter Soldier coming out at the funeral.

Okay, so I might be slightly disappointed they’ve killed Peggy off. It’s not like we didn’t know that was coming though. Maybe watching this movie the same week they cancelled Agent Carter was a bad idea from that perspective!

Here’s the thing though. So many of these criticism, in isolation, actually work well. They just don’t seem to blend into the movie properly. The fight at the airport is brilliant, I loved it, it just isn’t necessary for the story. Spiderman is a really well done character and I’m looking forward to seeing him expanded in Homecoming, but he still feels tacked on to this. The conversations between Vision and Scarlet Witch – despite his comedy value – are truly wonderful and insightful, but they are then completely undone when she fires him through the floor and he later shoots down Brodie in friendly fire because he’s distracted by her.

What, does he have a computer virus or something?! Geez I hated the Vision in this movie. PLEASE make him better in Infinity War, we know he must be important in it!

So what about the bad guy? Zemo? He’s rubbish, right? Well… he is what he needs to be. He’s had his family ripped away from him by the actions, or possibly inactions, of the Avengers in Age of Ultron. I don’t agree with what he’s doing, but you can understand why he’s doing it. Yes, he’s not actually doing all that much. If anything, he does us all a favour by killing the super soldiers so he’s not even that bad a bad guy! He does just enough to push the civil war over the edge. So I’ll tip my hat to the writers for not going overboard with the bad guy, it would have taken away from the central plot if they had.

However, why does he do anything to split them in the first place? All he wants to do is get Captain America and Iron Man and the Winter Soldier to Siberia. That’s his goal, right? Those three need to be there for the climactic scene. So if that’s the case, the civil war at the airport completely deflects away from that! Splitting them makes it less likely that Iron Man will be there, and he needs to be there or the whole plan fails.

As I’ve already said, you don’t need to set up friction between the two characters in this movie, because we’ve seen the friction when Tony created Ultron. In fact, we saw friction between them in the first Avengers movie as well, so we know it’s there. We don’t need an airport fight to show it.

So as far as I can see, Captain America: Civil War is a movie that comprises of some really terrific bits and pieces that are cobbled together into a flimsy plot that makes little sense in an effort to get to a brilliant ending and also to ensure that other pieces are in play for future movies.

Sorry Marvel, but as far as I can see you’ve fallen into the third superhero movie trap that so many others before you have done as well. I enjoyed the movie as I watched it, I loved certain parts of it, but it just doesn’t work for me and so the movie doesn’t even come close to the other two Captain America movies. Granted those were a high bar to try and reach, but you’ve left me somewhat disappointed by a movie I was really looking forward to seeing.

A real shame.