It turns out that pinning all of our hopes on Scotland wasn’t such a bad idea after all. On Wednesday night at Hampden, Steve Clarke’s men went at Ukraine with the sort of verve and velocity not seen since the days of peak Klopp-era Liverpool, a side you kids may want to ask your parents about. Older readers may also remember when Jim Baxter juggled the ball and seven pints of heavy on the Wembley touchline in 1967, which The Fiver reckons is the last time Scotland played with such assurance, bordering on arrogance, against an extremely good team. Penny for the thoughts of absent captain Andrew Robertson, who is now only the fourth best full-back in the country, behind Kieran Tierney, Aaron Hickey and Nathan Patterson. Oh Andy, it was good while it lasted.
A great night for the Scots, then, although scholars of the game will point out that, 41 seconds after Baxter’s iconic game of keepy-uppy, supposedly humiliated world champions England went straight up the other end and scored. The man who put the ball in the net was Jack Charlton, limping around at the time on one functioning leg. All of which illustrates the fact that Scotland, through the years, have struggled somewhat with consistency. That should focus minds for Saturday’s visit of the Republic O’Ireland and next week’s return fixture against Ukraine, to be played on neutral Polish soil. Two draws will be enough to secure top spot in Group B1 and a guaranteed place in the Euro 2024 playoffs. Clarke’s team just need to keep a level head. This really isn’t beyond them.
“We’ve got one to give to [O’Ireland] as well!” battle-cried Lyndon Dykes, high on life after scoring twice. “We wanted to prove everyone wrong. This is going to give us massive confidence!” It was a speech so stirring it made Flower of Scotland sound like the STV jingle from the 1960s by comparison, though his pantomime bellicosity may also double up as a serviceable pre-match team-talk for Stephen Kenny on Saturday. Has Dykes fired up the opposition and tempted fate with his big talk? Or will the Scots get payback for their 3-0 hiding in Dublin just three months ago? This excellent performance will have given their fans plenty of renewed hope, albeit with an equal measure of historically-minded fatalism. They’re good enough; they’re also Scotland. Everyone knows how this works by now.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“I’d like to thank the club for giving me the opportunity – it’s a great honour for me to take up this role” – because Mark Noble gets West Ham more than any player in the history of football gets a club, they’ve created a new gig as sporting director just for him.
COMMERCIAL DEAL OF THE DAY
Whenever you think of Everton, your mind immediately gravitates towards thoughts of Thomas Gravesen, Lee Carsley and Andy Johnson. Therefore it makes obvious sense they would team up with Turkish outfit and “top-tier industry professionals”, Vera Clinic as their first Official Hair Transplant Partner. One in the eye for those Old Trafford suits and then some. Vera, the club declares, “will be visible around Goodison Park on a matchday”, allowing fans to contemplate whether a new top knot will boost their confidence while witnessing their latest on-pitch travails. “We are proud to be the Official Hair Transplant Partner of a well-established and strong team like Everton,” blurted board member Kazim Sipahi. “The reason behind our success in the hair transplant sector in Turkey is that we attach great importance to teamwork. Likewise, any success in football has to come from teamwork.” With that kind of synergy, what can go wrong?
“I agree with The Fiver’s assertion that the Nations League does not seem to suit the temperament of the UK home nations (yesterday’s Fiver). Perhaps Uefa could create a ‘closed’ Nations League group consisting entirely of the UK home nations with no promotion or relegation allowed. This would reduce the need for foreign teams to come here or for plucky Brits to travel abroad for their morale-crushing defeats. I have tried in vain to find a flaw in this suggestion, other than the fact the fans would not care to watch such a drawn-out risible tournament. But that has never been a consideration in the past” – Colin Reed.
“Last night I got lost down the great wormhole that is the internet and started looking into the history of football kits. It turns out that ‘shorts’ were originally known as ‘knickers’ and in 1879, Darwen, a team of cotton mill workers, met Old Etonians in the FA Cup semi-final. Darwen were derided for wearing trousers cut off at the knee held up by braces, instead of wearing knickers. Luckily, we live in more enlightened times now (143 years later) and a bunch of elites from Eton would never consider looking down at the common folk …” – Noble Francis.
“Fiver Towers has long riffed of the USA! USA!! USA!!! use of the word ‘soccer’ instead of ‘football’. I recently came across a Corinthian Casuals programme from January 1984 (incidentally, a certain Alan Pardew was wearing the No 6 shirt for Casuals, and future England cap Andy Gray the No 10), which notes that members of the Casuals are proud that an old Corinthian is credited with coining the word: ‘One morning at his Oxford college a friend invited old Corinthian C Wreford-Brown to “a game of rugger after brekker”. “No thanks,” said Wreford-Brown. “I prefer soccer.”’ I would suggest this is a far more ignominious export across the Atlantic than providing the inspiration for the founding of famous São Paulo club Corinthians” – Stuart Webber.
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o’ the day, who also scoops a copy of Jonathan Wilson’s Two Brothers, which is also available to buy here, is … Stuart Webber.
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Home Office data, which appears to confirm concerns of an increase in disorder at matches across England and Wales, shows that 2,198 arrests were made in the 2021-22 season, 59% higher than in the 2018-19 season, the last full year before the pandemic.
Kilmarnock have launched an investigation after a video appeared to show striker Kyle Lafferty using sectarian language while on Northern Ireland duty.
Derby County have lured Rotherham boss Paul Warne back down to League One after relieving Liam Rosenior of their interim manager’s job.
And riding low in League Two, the crypto bros in charge at Crawley Town think their next step is to sign a talent deal with YouTube collective The Sidemen. Uh-oh. “It’s no secret that we want to become ‘The Internet’s Team’,” whooped co-chairman Preston Johnson. “And while we’re normally referring to growing a global community of online fans, why can’t it also refer to players we scout and recruit to join?”
STILL WANT MORE?
After the near-disaster in Paris, concerns are being raised over the state of Uefa, as fears emerge of degraded competence and nepotism under president Aleksander Ceferin. Proper Journalism’s David Conn has much more.
Migrant workers in Qatar have been left in debt after being ordered home before the Human Rights World Cup starts. Pete Pattisson reports.
Formations are out, individual roles are in, writes Karen Carney.
Jack Grealish had a natter with a few journalists, including Jacob Steinberg, about being just a young 27-year-old lad.
Ewan Murray on Scotland.
And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!