Geneva

When I was a young boy, my favourite place was undoubtedly my grampa’s house; he lived there for a start. A funny, kind and generous man and a gifted pianist, when my uncle and father moved out of the family semi-detached bungalow, he took the opportunity to use the spare room to construct an elaborate system of fully-functional model railways. While I look back now and see this as evidence of my grandfather’s craftsmanship, as soon as I became aware of the Railway Room’s presence as a child, I became infatuated with the trains and scale model cars in the tiny townscapes, as many other children of that age would.

The railways themselves were elevated around five feet or so from the floor, allowing easier operation of the trains and also granting some useful storage space below deck. Here, along with vacuum-sealed clothing and other various household goods, were my father’s collection of Dinky cars, a View-master device and several picture disks. The cars, retained for my enjoyment I suppose, normally transfixed my attention, but occasionally I would pop a picture disk into the View-master and goggle at the rudimentary 3-D stereo images. If I’m being honest, the content didn’t exactly grab me in the same way the small metal reproduction of American coupes and construction vehicles did, but there was a reason for that.

All but two of the slides (and I’ve checked; they’re on my bedside table as I type this) were of the small European country of Switzerland. That the images would be a way of viewing a faraway land by proxy isn’t surprising, as the production of picture postcards was one of the driving forces behind the formation of View-master’s parent company, Sawyer’s. But why so many of Switzerland in grampa’s house? I didn’t know the answer.

But as I grew older, and my tastes expanded to include things that weren’t cars, or robots that transformed into cars, some of the images on the reels began to sing to me. Quietly at first, the photographs of unlikely tunnels through mountains, alpine switchbacks, vertigo-inducing cable car runs and buildings perched precariously above sheer precipices began to pique my curiosity about this strange land, and I suspect also fostered my interest in civil engineering.

The mystery of the Swiss stereoscopic images, the walking stick with plaques bearing the name of various Helvetian towns and villages affixed to it, and why grampa’s house bore the name ‘Arosa’ above the front door, were finally revealed to me in the mid 90s. It transpired that my great-great grandmother had actually been born and raised in Geneva, the French-speaking Westernmost Swiss city. A student of voice and viola at the Conservatoire de Musique de Genève, she had at some point met my English great-great grandfather, also a gifted musician, and they settled on the English Riviera. Their son, unsurprisingly, was also a musician, and at the age of 21 he accepted an offer to become organist for a church in Glasgow, where he met my Scottish great-grandmother, and the rest is another blog post entirely.

It would appear that the family, including the young grampa, would holiday in Switzerland, specifically a small town in the south-east called Arosa. Evidently, grampa was fond of Switzerland, and his appreciation has been passed down to me, additionally fired by various documentaries on the Swiss’ ingenious solutions to transporting themselves through the Alps. A few years go I began to long to visit, if only to see the city where my great-great grandmother was born, but this fancy took the form of a driving or perhaps more fittingly a train tour of the entire country, something that would take a fair amount of planning and more pointedly a good deal of money. Money that shows no sign of materialising any time soon.

As such, the notion had taken something of a back seat until a few months ago. I’d just completed a part time HNC in Architectural Technology which along with working full time, had reduced my leisure time to a minimum, and I wanted to kick up my heels and indulge my lager tooth. Talking to my friend Emily on MSN one night, I made a throwaway suggestion that we hadn’t seen in each other in ages, and I’d like to celebrate my HNC, why didn’t we go for a night out in Edinburgh? Emily then took it upon herself to suggest that we instead look for some cheap flights to Europe from Edinburgh instead? I wasn’t averse to the idea, and so she went away to look at times, prices, destinations, etc., and came back with some possibilities. The second, as far as I recall, was Geneva, and of course there was no need for any further suggestions as far as I was concerned. Emily went above and beyond by finding a relatively cheap hostel for our three night sojourn, and we were all set.

Our flight to Geneva was scheduled to take off from Edinburgh at 7:06am or some other similarly ungodly hour, which provided something of an obstacle to West Coast based me. However, Emily’s boyfriend Stephen offered to put us up the night before, and drive us to the airport in the morning. As I’d already booked the Thursday off work, this would allow me to make my way across to Fife at my leisure, perhaps spending a little time exploring Edinburgh. And that’s exactly what I did.

Day One – Thursday: Edinburgh

It’s fairly easy to get to Edinburgh from my home on the outskirts of Glasgow by bus or train; I took the latter, changing at Queen Street for Waverley. As a Glaswegian, I’m not supposed to admit this, but I do adore Edinburgh…or the cityscape at least. It’s ornate, but absolutely gorgeous, like Castle Gormenghast has broached universal membranes and penetrated our reality. I’ve been to the capital about half a dozen times previously in my 30 years, but never for very long; it’s always been for a gig, to meet a friend or the occasional rugby match. As such, I didn’t know much of the city outwith Princes Street and the Scottish Parliament (my father’s former employers had their headquarters in Holyrood); to address this, I decided to make for Leith.

As someone that has a professional interest in architecture and has a deep-rooted love of football, I was keen on seeing the newly completed East stand at Hibernian’s Easter Road Stadium. My fascination with football stadia can quite often outstrip any curiosity in what’s happening inside them, and I have to say my delight at noting the voids cut in the cellular beams on the facade of the North stand were in the shape of the club’s old logo; this is a damning indictment of my personality. After Hibs’ ground, I took a leisurely walk down to Leith Docks for no other reasons than to see the sea and have a browse around the Ocean Terminal shopping centre. It was a lovely day, putting me in mind of the eponymous Proclaimers song, and I took a bus back into the city centre for lunch. Edinburgh has long been renowned for its excellent bus network, which led to bemusement when the now infamous tram project was announced (for much of the tram’s route, it will double up areas already amply serviced by buses).

I bought some bits and pieces and ate in Princes Street Gardens, underneath Edinburgh Castle, with warm sunshine beaming down on me. Afterwards, I walked up and around the castle and down the Royal Mile before climbing to the top of Calton Hill and taking in the frankly astounding view. Then it was time to head to Fife.

I knew beforehand that Geneva was going to be an expensive trip, but I wasn’t quite prepared to pay £8.75 for a single bus journey from Edinburgh to Leven, a trip of 30 miles or so. Although, in retrospect that doesn’t seem too bad given the prices people in Britain have become accustomed to paying for transportation. Upon arrival in the small town of Leven, I was met by Emily and we bought smoked sausage suppers before eating them on the seafront in the shadow of the disused Methil Power Station, which was possibly the highlight of the entire trip.

After food, I was introduced to Stephen’s four barmy cats (one of which would sleep the entire night between my legs on the sofa) before we visited the pub Stephen manages. There we drank Guinness and I marvelled at the poor condition of the seating in the lounge before returning to the flat to get some sleep before our early morning flight.

Day Two – Friday: Geneva

Come slightly before dawn, I got to see our awaiting chariot; Stephen’s car is the same model of similar vintage as the first car he ever MOTed as a trainee mechanic. Apparently. It’s a silver-grey 20 year-old Volvo 740 Estate which is slightly odd because my childhood home sat adjacent to a Volvo engineering depot and both my parents independently claim my first word was, inexplicably, Volvo. It all added to the theme of the trip I guess. I managed to doze throughout most of the drive to Edinburgh airport and the flight to Geneva itself only really waking at passport control at Geneva Airport. As a non-EU country I hoped I would get a stamp in my passport, an occurrence that is becoming increasingly rare these days, but instead they read the biometric data and waved me through. Foiled.

My work colleague had advised me travellers could collect free train tickets from a machine at baggage carousel 3, valid for one journey into the City itself, and so within half an hour or landing we were walking along Rue de Lausanne looking for our hostel, and this didn’t take long either. With a few hours before we could check in we instead ventured down to the Lake itself where we blissfully did absolutely nothing for an hour or so before returning to the hostel to check in.

After a short nap to shake the travelling out of our hair, we wandered over to the Old Town, a cobble-stoned maze of sandstone townhouse lined narrow streets, mapped onto a fairly pronounced incline. We saw St. Pierre Cathedral and the tiny Calvin Auditory before making our way to the western shore of the Lake where we planned to catch a water bus back to the northern shore. We’d each received a travel card valid for all modes of transport in the Geneva area as part of the accommodation package, and when we reached the opposite quay we thought we might as well just jump on the water board departing from the adjacent jetty which heads westwards, out into the main body of the lake, and towards the Quai Gustave Ador. Lake Geneva is a very big body of water, and this point wasn’t even a twentieth of its overall length along its southern shore, but it felt far enough out of the city to be an ideal place to relax and enjoy the afternoon sun. We were beginning to feel the effects of our walking, so we kicked off our shoes and bathed our feet in the surprisingly chilly water, only removing them when a sociopathic swan approached. We lingered until the return boat approached, bought some food from a nearby supermarket and retired for the evening. We were visiting CERN in the morning.

I have a very keen, if astronomically amateurish interest in physics. I think I first became aware of it shortly after I’d chosen to study chemistry at Standard Grade level, and it grew when I began to take an interest in photography where it’s a key element, and since then I’ve been battling manfully to try and teach it to myself. I would love to study the subject at Higher or even degree level, but I feel I would need to start from scratch. I’ve read A Brief History of Time, Six Easy Pieces and even A Short History of Nearly Everything, and despite my enthusiasm for the topic, I don’t appear to retain much information. Quarks, gluons, baryons; they all blend together in my mind with Treknobabble. I found myself trying to explain to a work colleague why I wanted to visit the Microcosm museum at CERN, but I couldn’t explain to him what the purpose of the Large Hadron Collider was; I knew they accelerated particles to near the speed of light and collided them in an attempt to facilitate the creation of another sub-atomic particle whose existence has been theorised and has been dubbed the ‘God’ particle, and that’s when my understanding began to run out on me.

Day Three – Saturday: Geneva

Nevertheless, early on a Saturday morning, Emily and I took a tram from the railway station to Les Vernes, which afforded us perhaps our first glimpse of everyone’s mind’s eye view of a stereotypical Switzerland; rural houses, farmland greenery and mountains rolling away in the distance. After we disembarked our CERN-bound bus, it took us a while to find the museum itself, its entrance tucked away as it is in the complex’s main visitor reception, and if I’m being completely honest, I was a little disappointed in the quantity of exhibits, if not the quality. After concluding our tour, we used the excellent transport system to skirt the north and west of the city to visit the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum, which is genuinely affecting, and if you’re in the area I strongly recommend you visit.

Afterwards, we walked down Avenue Appia, past the Mahatma Gandhi memorial to the Broken Chair memorial and the gates to the grounds of the Palace of Nations. I’d seen images of the Broken Chair before, but I’d never realised one of the legs was (intentionally) missing, a symbol of the lives lost, ruined and changed permanently by landmines worldwide. With that context in mind, it’s quite a profound piece of artwork. After a brief sojourn back to the hostel for some food and rest, we set out in the late afternoon to find the Reformation Wall, located in the grounds of the University of Geneva. Alighting from a tram at the Plainpalais, we noticed the circus was in town (we could hardly miss it); meandering round the site, we found there was a zoo, with entry charged at 6CHF. We bought two tickets and wandered round. I’m not sure I’d ever actually seen an elephant in the flesh before, so to be a metre or so away from one, even an elderly looking one with seats strapped to its back and giving short rides to excited children, was fascinating, if completely undignified for the animal itself.

There were other beasts; zebras, camels, Shetland ponies, horses, monkeys, tropical birds and some deranged llamas that sucked the bars of their compound. Then it was off to the Reformation Wall, via the Conservatoire de Musique and the University grounds where people converge to play games of chess and draughts using oversized plastic pieces on boards painted on the ground. While I’m an atheist, I was baptised into the Church of Scotland, as were many of my forebears. If ‘Presbyterian’ can be an ethnic group, then it’s one I fall into most heavily, and so it felt strangely like a pilgrimage to view a statue of John Knox in the city where he was first exposed to John Calvin’s ideas. In fact, at the feet of John Knox’s statue is a shield depicting the Lion Rampant, Scotland’s Royal standard.

In the evening, we caught a water bus from the River Rhone to the Quai Gustave Ador and walked back west towards town along the shore of the lake, mainly to get a closer look at the Jet d’Eau. Apparently first installed in the nineteenth century as a pressure release device, the city soon came to appreciate the jet’s aesthetic value, and installed it in a prime location on the lake itself. The water can reach a height of some 140 metres, and while all literature claims it is illuminated at night, we found it was switched off by early evening during the weekend we were there. Still, the jet has become inextricably linked with the city itself. Returning to the hostel’s neighbourhood however, we found that the supermarkets all shut at 6pm on a Saturday evening and don’t open again until Monday which is a local custom I find utterly bizarre.

Day Four – Sunday: Geneva

On the previous two days, we’d managed to see a fair amount of the attractions the city had to offer, and Emily wanted to see the country. Specifically, her interest was piqued by mention of a cable car to the top of a mountain just over the border in France. It was only half an hour away, so we packed our passports and jumped on a bus. We needn’t have bothered taking our papers, as the border checkpoint was closed, and it was a short stroll to the base station. I must confess at this juncture to having a mild fear of heights, or to be more accurate, a pathological fear of plunging to a bone-powderisingly painful death from height. While I can sometimes feel a little uncomfortable flying but have more or less become relaxed doing so, a few seconds after the cable car departing the base station I began to feel deeply concerned, mainly because my brain had decided to analyse the cable, the height we were at, the speed we were travelling at and decided that this was not right, not right at all. Cold sweat didn’t cease to pour from the palms of my hands until we had reached the top and I’d consumed a hot dog and a can of Heineken from a little cafe for the very reasonable price of €8 (that snack, atop a French mountain, might actually have been the highlight of the trip).

After refreshments, we decided to keep climbing the mountain; it wasn’t particularly tall or onerous and the weather was terrific, but it was still a fair old hike. We reached a small cafe with an adjoining Buddhist centre, had another brief rest to drink in the view, before deciding to head back down the mountain (and the bloody cable car) and back to Geneva and the next item on our itinerary. As I mentioned earlier, I’m quite fond of football stadia, and Geneva has at least one football stadium of note; the Stade de Genève holds 30,084 and was completed in 2003, just in time to help Switzerland co-host Euro 2004. We arrived to the south of the stadium, passed through a interestingly graffiti-filled underpass and a timber bridge over the railway yard, but I must confess to being a little disappointed in the stadium exterior, being as spartan as it is. It does however have Perspex glass doors that you can peer through to see the pitch through the vomitories, and completing our circuit of the exterior, we found two pitch and media zone passes for the international match between Switzerland and Italy played on the 5th of June of this year, in preparation for the World Cup.

After some food back in the hostel, we made our way down to the lakefront for the last time as I wanted to take some long-exposure photographs of the city at night. The jet was again switched off, which was disappointing, but I managed to get a few decent pictures of both the River Rhone and the lake. Then it was back to the hostel as we had an early flight to Edinburgh in the morning.

Day Five – Monday: Geneva to Edinburgh to Glasgow and conclusions

The return flight wasn’t great to be honest; it was delayed by 45 minutes or so, we had to stand in queues at passport control, customs, the gate and so on. Normally I wouldn’t moan about these types of thing, but I was hungry and tired and wanted to get home. I got separated from Emily at passport control in Edinburgh, paid the best part of £15 for bus and train tickets, another £5 for food, and nearly two hours later I was home, in a rain-lashed Glasgow. I did enjoy Geneva; I liked the atmosphere of the city, the transport system, how clean it was. I’d love to move their, live in a little flat in Carouge and learn to speak French. I don’t know if I learned anything more about the type of person my great-great grandmother was however; Geneva I would say is a very French/International city, due to its location and political/business roles. Presumably Madam Jutz would have had a similarly French/International outlook, but I’m not sure I’ve seen anything more than one small flavour of Switzerland. There’s presumably a reason why my forebears holidayed in Arosa; perhaps that’s the place to visit on my next trip to Switzerland. I know one thing for certain though; I need to take more spending money next time. One spaghetti Bolognese in the Italian restaurant near the hostel would have cost me 22CHF; I only took 70CHF with me for the entire three days.

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Jock Stein to Liechtenstein

I’ve semi-deliberately waited 24 hours to gather together my shrapnel-like emotional and logical responses to last night’s Scotland International football match, and collate them into something that would hopefully approach a clear and concise analysis of the game, and yet again, Scottish football in general.

I’m not sure I can. I’m not sure my voice, a thin, reedy affair in a maelstrom of catcalls, will add anything to the debate (a loose term describing the meltdown that seems to follow any game of football a Scottish team plays against continental opponents) still thriving on various planes of the media. It seems, and I freely admit this is defeatist, all of the analysis and criticism that is structured and constructive is a little futile; the same thing will keep happening again and again and again. For instance, as far as I can tell, most Scotland fans, Celtic fans, pundits and journalists think Scott Brown is a deeply average player, that can’t tackle, shoot, pass, dribble, head the ball or do anything constructive from whatever position in midfield he plays. And yet he’s captain of Celtic and has started almost every Scotland game he’s been fit for in the last four years. I’m not sure I’ve seen a single positive remark regarding Brown’s performances for his country over the last two years, and yet he’ll almost certainly start every other game FOR THE REST OF HIS INTERNATIONAL CAREER. So, do coaches and managers see something that we in the blogosphere can’t? You would certainly hope so, but it’s not always the case.

As usual, I shall have to delineate my demented ravings in the trusted bullet point format;

  • Passing. Scotland, way back in the late nineteenth century, actually invented the passing game. You wouldn’t think it to look at our teams now. There are very few Scottish players that don’t look deathly afraid of the ball and immediately try to blooter it as far away from them as possible, as if it were a claymore mine wrapped in polyurethane. With Spain winning both Euro 2008 and this summer’s World Cup with a style of play built on short passing, Scotland’s failures in this department have never been more apparent. But this isn’t a passing fad (pun very much intended, although we could have done with a passing Fad last night…); Scottish football fans have been obsessed with tricky, dribbling wingers, known as ‘tanner ba’’ players since the game first became popular here. These same fans have also little patience for considered build up play, and any delay in despatching ball to the final third of the pitch is likely to be met with groans of dismay. Ray Wilkins, Gary McAllister and latterly Barry Ferguson have all been criticised for playing square or backwards passes that retain possession rather than giving the ball to the winger to lose more expediently. I played five a side football a couple of hours before the Liechtenstein game with seven Scottish middle aged men and two of their sons, and not a single one of us passes the ball that often, never mind well. When you consider, with the smaller pitch, passing is vital in five a side games, that’s a damning indictment on the way Scottish footballers are developed.

 

  • Message boards. The internet has opened football analysis up to Joe Public in a way he’s never experienced before; there are many, many bright football tacticians and the like that don’t happen to work for the media, and posting on a forum gives them an avenue to express their opinion. This can be a good thing as many people involved in the coverage of the sport don’t appear to know the first thing about it (Clive Tyldesley and many Guardian writers for instance), and now their proclamations can be harpooned when they’re quite often proven to be hopelessly inaccurate. However, many people seem to revel in the privilege of having a soapbox to shout from, without being entirely sure what they’re shouting about (no, this isn’t a meta-reference you cheeky so-and-so). I visited the Pie & Bovril site last night, and read posts advocating the selection of Chris Burke (ostensibly retired from international football), wondering why Steven Fletcher and Graeme Dorrans weren’t playing (injury and personal issues), and moaning about the exclusion of Shaun Maloney and James Forrest. Recent mention of Maloney tends to more often than not come from mischievous Celtic fans that like to imply omission of any particular player from a Scotland squad is due to institutional Sectarianism on the part of the SFA; however, despite Maloney being a pretty good player, he’s been injured for most of the last year, having played only six games since last October. Calls for Forrest’s (19 years old, six career first team games) selection is a different beast entirely, a syndrome among football fans known as ‘Players from your team are too pish to play for Scotland whereas so-and-so from my team is really good and should be in the Scotland team and he only isn’t because the SFA is biased against us’. For instance, St. Johnstone fans have clamoured for their midfielder Murray Davidson to be moved from the u-21s to the full squad, and several Rangers fans have touted John Fleck and Danny Wilson for first team places in the past. It’s just another sign of how the partisanship of Scottish football will tear the game apart.

 

  • Booing of the Liechtenstein national anthem. It has the same tune as ‘God Save The Queen’, the British national anthem. So some Scotland fans booed it. I despair; I understand that if Scotland play England or Northern Ireland, some people will jeer the UK’s national anthem on ideological grounds, and that’s understandable, if not entirely mature. But the Liechtenstein national anthem is about a small principality in Western Europe; perhaps some Scotland fans have conflated the German-speaking Liechtenstein with the Third Reich and blamed them for the persecution of their beloved von Trapp family. Either way, to those that booed another nation’s anthem, I can only invoke Wheaton’s Law; don’t be a dick.

To be honest, that’s about it; without mentioning my hobby horse of dramatic League reconstruction, there’s not a lot else Craig Levein could have done last night, considering Scotland eventually won the game. Well…maybe he could have done something about the long balls, that clearly weren’t working. And Wallace’s injury couldn’t be avoided. Scotland may have scored the winner in the seventh minute of injury time, but Liechtenstein did spend most of the second half fouling, diving and time-wasting, so it was somewhat pleasing seeing that come back to haunt them.

My final thought on the matter is this; Scotland haven’t played particularly well in Levein’s four games in charge thus far (two competitive, two friendly), but in those games we’ve won two and drawn one. That’s actually not all that bad as far as this national team is concerned. And while I think Levein has made some mistakes, and hasn’t handled himself particularly well post-match thus far, he’s still a young manager, and a novice international manager. If he can learn from his mistakes thus far, and build up a team sprit the way Walter Smith did after Vogts stewardship, Scotland still have a very real chance of making the play-offs of this qualification tournament. That should be the national team’s target in the short term. It remains to be seen what happens in the long run.

Halfway between the glass being half-full and half-empty, or how I learned to start worrying and love Scotland.

Over the last 12 years, I’ve grown accustomed to the hope accompanying each international football tournament qualifying stage that this time it would be different, that Scotland would kick off their campaign with a display of scintillating, technical football, seal a convincing win, and I wouldn’t spend another Saturday evening in an existential funk. Well, this time it was different; for some reason, UEFA decided most of the qualifying fixtures would be played on Fridays, and so it was a Friday evening I spent in an existential funk.

Scotland have played Lithuania several times in various qualifying tournaments over the last twelve years or so, but our results in the Baltic state haven’t been great, reading one victory, one draw and one loss before this match. It’s an oft-repeated maxim that there are no easy matches at international level, and this is certainly the case where Scotland are concerned at this point in their history. Increasingly in football I hear teams being described as ‘minnows’, or ‘poor’, which is not only disrespectful, it’s counter-productive; you can only beat what’s in front of you, whether that’s the World and European champions or a small but proud country that sealed its independence from a larger, bellicose neighbour twenty years ago.

With that in mind, I had concerns regarding Scotland’s chances of winning all three points, which consensus told us was almost certainly necessary were we to stand any chance of reaching second place in the group and the qualification play-offs, because Lithuania had shown in the past they were more than capable of matching us. And let’s face it, Scotland haven’t been playing well; the last match, a friendly against Sweden, had ended in an ignominious 3-0 defeat, and player morale was likely still recovering from George Burley’s inauspicious spell in charge.

By the time the game was fifteen minutes old however, it was evident that Lithuania were deferring more respect to Scotland than was perhaps due, and it seemed Scotland didn’t know how to react to this unfamiliar exaltation. Manager Levein had obviously decided a solid defence minded starting line-up was required, with five midfielders and Kenny Miller alone up front, but this meant a sacrifice in terms of creativity. The Scots were thus unable to capitalise on Lithuania’s relaxed pressing and occasional attacking forays.

In the first half, Scotland’s best chances in an offensive sense came as a result of set pieces conceded in and around the Lithuania’s penalty area due to the home side’s somewhat aggressive tackling (although some of the Scottish players were quite happy to accept the invitation to make the most of said challenges); however, Barry Robson’s delivery into the penalty area was poor. Bafflingly, despite his profligacy in such promising situations, Robson was allowed to continue taking Scotland’s free kicks and corners, even when Darren Fletcher’s sole set-piece intervention provided the visitors’ with their best chance in the first half, Stephen McManus steering the captain’s free-kick inches wide of the far post.

Into the second half, Lithuania were still sitting off the Scots, the preternaturally fit Alan Hutton was still finding room to roam down the right yet seeing little of the ball, Kenny Miller was still isolated, and Scott Brown and Robson were still underwhelming, yet it took Levein until the 70 minute mark to make any real tactical chance, when he brought James McFadden on for Robson. James Morrison replaced Brown a short while later, but Scotland, and Lithuania never really looked like scoring and the game petered out, eventually ending goalless.

So, reaction; let me make it clear that a draw away to a side that are technically about the same level as us isn’t a disaster as such, but nor is it great. In terms of the competition in the group, we have to try and take as many points off Lithuania, Liechtenstein and the Czech Republic, as there isn’t a hope in hell we’ll get anything off the best team in the World (Spain, in case you didn’t know). In that respect, I’m concerned. But there are more worries;

  • Starting with a midfield of Naismith-Brown-McCulloch-Fletcher-Robson is fair enough; it’s solid defensively, but it’s not very imaginative, and it took too long for Levein to bring on two of the more attacking players when it became clear that Lithuania weren’t mad keen on the idea of scoring themselves.
  • Scott Brown. He’s just a bad, bad player. I thought it was a form thing for a while (I know he’s had family issues), but he hasn’t developed into the player you’d expect of a £4.5m captain of Celtic. And he’s 25 now; he’s not a boy anymore, so there’s no excuse for getting riled up and involved in every flashpoint in every match. What’s worse is that he seems to be impinging on Darren Fletcher’s game as well now.
  • Settling for a point against Lithuania. Again, this is fine, to an extent, because squad morale is still recovering, because of the Sweden game, because the away form has been awful for a while. But why are we sacrificing points to build confidence? We seem to insist on playing international friendlies against teams that are at least slightly better than us, with the result that when all our players that are fighting to get into their club sides pull out because they can’t afford to get injured and we field the second string, we lose heavily/are humiliated, which affects the morale of everyone connected with the team, and then when the competitive games come around, the returning players mean the team is completely different anyway, and we’re back to square one in terms of building familiarity, team-spirit etc. It’s so counter-productive. I feel that if Scotland are to play friendlies (and I’m sure I read somewhere that playing and winning more friendlies is actually beneficial to a country’s World ranking and thus draw pot seeding), we should choose opponents from those European countries currently ranked below us, who will provide us with a test, but crucially, not too much of a test. Okay, I know how that sounds, but club sides warm up for league campaigns by playing eighth-division German amateurs, why can’t Scotland play Andorra for example? I think we’d learn as much as do from getting soundly whipped by Portugal or Slovakia.

Scotland’s next game is on Tuesday night, against Liechtenstein at Hampden, and this is pretty much a must win game, if only because a draw would kill off our qualifying campaign, and a defeat would probably instantly end Scottish football as an entity. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t agree with denigrating other nations’ sporting prowess, but the entire population of Liechtenstein could fit into Tuesday night’s venue nearly 1.5 times over. While the microstate’s footballers worked hard against Spain last night, they were unable to prevent the World champions scoring four times without reply. So, Scotland cannot face Liechtenstein’s challenge lightly, but if they prepare correctly and play well, they should have enough in the tank for a win. A morale-boosting scoreline would be gratefully received, but beggars cannot be choosers, and it remains to be seen what Levein’s line-up will be; will Dorrans and McFadden feature in midfield? Will Steven Fletcher (if fit) or Kris Boyd partner Kenny Miller in a two-man strike-force? Who, if anyone, from Friday will be dropped, and will the manager stick with solid stoicism, or go for attacking flair?

I had hoped to attend Hampden to watch the game in the flesh, but I play five a sides on Tuesday evenings, and the logistics of travelling the ten miles or so in time for kick-off became too complicated. I may have to settle for watching the game on my brother-in-law’s 40 inch TV in HD, and trying not to wake the nieces up with that traditional Scottish battle-cry “Oh, for fuck’s sake"… Hopefully that won’t be an issue. Scotland and hope, I’ll never learn.