High Ground edition 8; dateline 6 September 2011

Olympic flames and national games

Hello from Caledonia. How have you been and did you enjoy your holidays? It’s another big season ahead for sport with prestige events aplenty to look forward to. Speaking of which, what’s the latest on the big ol’ jamboree coming up in London Town next year? One was tempted to draw an analogy involving ‘flames’ but the editor warned one off.  Sticking to the brief, I thought I would have a look-see at the “2012? Who cares up here anyway” latest.

The MacSideliner clan, minus the chieftain, were in Glasgow, Scotland’s other capital city, the other weekend and lo and behold what did they come across but a London 2012 Olympic Flame battle bus (well, a London taxi with a trailer thing attached) slap bang outside the Buchanan Galleries shopping centre in the middle of town, the costliest bit of retail rental space outside of London itself according to a report out last week.

The junior MacSideliners, both keen sports fans, were somewhat bamboozled by the cardboard cut-out driver of the 2012 Hackney carriage as it was none other than Harry Hill! “Hey that’s the guy from the blooper programmes, Mum. Does that mean the Olympics are going to be all over the place?”

They say the art of comedy is timing and I have to agree in this case. The London 2012 organisers had chosen to send the cab to Glasgow on the same day that Scotland were playing the Czech Republic in a vital Euro 2012 qualifier; pretty much a ‘must win’ game. The irony was staggering. With at least fifty thousand Tartan Army foot soldiers occupying Glasgow on their way to Hampden Park to cheer on their national team against a fairly recently independent-again country, here’s ‘Arry driving the Team GB taxi. “Sorry mate, I don’t usually cross the border this time of night.”

Anyway the MacSideliner clan pressed on and sought to take a look inside the trailer wondering with trepidation whether the sides would fall off and Harry would be on a big screen somewhere complete with some witty repartee and a raised eyebrow. Not this time though, and all they saw were some Olympic torches from previous Games and the prototype for 2012. All very interesting but then came the next howler, although this one wasn’t actually very funny at all. A young sporty-looking guy in a wheelchair came up to the interactive trailer and went in to have a look at the exhibits. Only problem was that it was really narrow and despite his best efforts he couldn’t manoeuvre his way around the trailer to get to the torches and ended up stuck having to attempt a multiple-point turn to make his exit. The staff were really embarrassed and did their best to resolve the situation without making the guy feel even worse than he already was. So if you’re listening out there, organisers of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, get that sorted, eh?

So, in proper post-match-performance-analyst-cum-pundit speak, including a touch of the Hansens, “What a shambles; the timing was off, the guy up front is a comedian, and the young lad had nowhere to go. Diabolical!”

The MacSideliners and the wheelchair guy were just about the only people showing any interest in the promo, so it looks like it will take something a bit more special to get the Glasgow and Scottish public interested in 2012, although there was some competition in town apart from the match at Hampden. Brad Pitt had been shooting a movie in Glasgow and had taken over parts of the city centre. The film is to be called World War Z and is about a post-apocalyptic world populated by aggressive zombies and, yes, I know where you are all going with that one, thank you. But seriously, Brad Pitt or Harry Hill in a taxi? Come on!

Czech Mate

Meanwhile, over at the game itself, things were a bit up and down which is fairly standard for a ‘must-win’ kind of fixture (a ‘must-win’ that is, unless we draw and beat European and World Champions Spain and the Czechs drop some points and the calculator batteries are sufficient to work out the permutations against the FIFA coefficients and most up-to-date rankings and then we’ll see who we might get in the play-offs) .

Scotland score first just before half-time after a couple of lucky escapes then manage to lose a soft goal quite late on. Not again, we all think but then Scotland score a classy second goal eight, yes eight, minutes from time. It’s looking like it’s not just King Edward’s Army that we’ll be sending home to think again – it’ll be the latest poet-philosopher, chain-smoking president of the Czech Republic an’ aw (that’s “too” to you). But wait: remember in football terms we are talking about a country that is in an elite group when it comes to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory (MacSideliner note – England are no bad at this an’ aw, but  we are the champions, as Freddie used to sing). So our new-look and pretty young side begin to demonstrate just how young they are by starting to play schoolboy football, hoofing it up in the air aimlessly and giving away possession like Elton John at a benefit concert.

This inevitably gets us pinned back in our own box in the last few minutes and then one of the crafty Czechs takes a very Bohemian tumble in the penalty area without any contact being made. The Dutch referee is so taken with the artistic impression and technical merit of the act that he awards a penalty against Scotland. Of course being a former Eastern Bloc country the penalty taker doesn’t lose too many marks on the technical merit aspect of that skill either and blasts the ball into the roof of our net.

But wait a minute, it ain’t over until the morbidly obese woman sings. Bonnie Scotland rise again and go a charge against the bouncing Czechs. Christophe Berra (and yes he actually is Scottish and not as in the IRB definition; don’t start me now) makes a dart into the opponents’ box and here’s where it gets ironic again. He gets touched and goes down but you know what – our divers aren’t as technically skilled as the “continentals”, and he gets yellow carded for his effort! Final result 2-2 (not good enough).

MacSideliner also witnessed a celebration of the day in the hostelry in which he watched the game. A national brewery had issued everyone with a wristband that offered a free pint for all wearers if Scotland won (shhh, don’t tell our first minister). The company actuary must have worked out the odds of paying out on that offer but with eight minutes left must have been breaking out in a bit of a sweat. One fan on seeing Scotland score our second goal leapt up and punched the air but he was quite a tall guy and he actually put his fist through a rather charming, possibly Bohemian hanging lightshade. And he didn’t even get his free beer afterwards, as it turned out.

The last word on the round ball game

You may not be aware but Scotland has its own legal system which it negotiated to retain at the time of the Act of Union in 1707. This may be our secret weapon as the country is full of lawyers and we even have a unique-in-the-world verdict option. In a Scottish court case you can be found guilty, not guilty or not proven. The last means “we still think you did it but we can’t quite prove that you did – so we’ll kinda keep an eye on you from now on”. There has been much chatter in recent years about the pros and cons of keeping or ditching this. In a very high-profile case last week a Hearts fan seen making an attack on Celtic manager Neil Lennon during a televised match attended by 30,000 people was subsequently charged with assault aggravated by religious bigotry but the case was found to be “not proven” by the jury as only one person heard him utter a sectarian comment during the incident. In Scotland you require corroboration so another person needs to second the opinion, if you like. So he was done with breach of the peace instead. MacSideliner is thinking that perhaps the referee at the Czech game may have been on the jury.

There’s always a brighter side though. Scottish lawyers fighting another case for Celtic had a win when their complaints were upheld against Swiss side Sion who fielded ineligible players when winning their Europa League tie recently. Celtic are now back in Europe so I think that perhaps instead of the Scottish Football Association appointing a Dutch performance director, as they have, they should just get more lawyers in to look for loopholes to up our coefficient. Maybe that will be the real New Firm!

Et Monsieur Platini, your honour, that 2-2; surely we are looking at a not proven here, non?





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