Football: Scotland's `Anglo' regiment are missing in action

The Bosman ruling and a paucity of emerging talent are key factors behind the shortage of players from north of the border swelling the ranks of the English leagues.
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THE RICH tradition of Scottish international players plying their trade in the English leagues is on the wane. Whether this a good thing for Scotland is debatable - some "Anglos" (Scots playing in England) of years past think it is positively bad - but the torrent of talent flowing north to south is now but a relative trickle.

"When I was playing in England, a lot of us [Scotland players] seemed to face each other every week," Charlie Nicholas, the former Arsenal striker, said. "At the end of the game you could walk into the players' lounge and there'd be six or seven of us.

"Facing each other every week and then travelling to join up with the national squad, it created a spirit. It seems more isolated now. Players turn up alone, play a couple of games, go back."

The first players to represent Scotland against England did not have to go back anywhere.

In 1870, Charles Alcock, the secretary of the Football Association, placed an advert in the Glasgow Herald newspaper. "In Scotland, once essentially the land of football, there should still be a spark left of the old fire," it read. "I confidently appeal to Scotsmen," it continued, calling for representatives from the north to take on their English counterparts at the Kennington Oval.

The Scottish team that lost 1-0 that year included W H Gladstone, the son of the Prime Minister, and A F Kinnaird, the Old Etonian who later became the Lord High Commissioner of the Church of Scotland. It was a team with the most tenuous of Caledonian links but it did set a precedent, of sorts. All the Scots lived in London.

Even in more recent times, the extent to which England-based Scots have completely dominated their national side can be seen by a perusal of the team that faced England in the 1979 home international. Only one Scottish player - Paul Hegarty of Dundee United - was playing his club football at home.

George Wood of Everton was in goal, while George Burley and John Wark of Ipswich joined Gordon McQueen of Manchester United and Frankie Gray of Leeds in defence. Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester's two First Division sides contributed Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Arthur Graham, Joe Jordan and Asa Hartford between them.

There were a dozen or more other Anglos not involved in that match, such as Martin Buchan, Archie Gemmill, Andy Gray, John Robertson and Kenny Burns. Not to mention Alan Hansen, Frank McGarvey, Stewart Houston, Lou Macari, Don Masson and Willie Johnston. And they were just the full internationals.

While the likes of Everton's John Collins and Newcastle's Kevin Gallacher will face England this weekend, they are two from only eight Anglos in a squad of 24, and there are precious few others to call upon.

"At that time [the late 1970s] and when I started playing for Scotland [in 1983] it wasn't just players coming from Rangers and Celtic, but clubs such as Morton and St Mirren too," Nicholas said. "There was also genuine competition in the [Scottish] league, with Hearts and Aberdeen up there [and providing players]," he added.

So what happened? According to Nicholas, as the 80s progressed, the accepted wisdom was that more Scottish-based players should be in the national side, and - inspired by the likes of Jim Leighton, Alex McLeish and Willie Miller under Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen - that happened. Around the same time, Scottish players felt disinclined to leave for England, Nicholas added.

"And maybe Scotland missed out through that. You learn a lot by going away, growing up, getting some responsibility."

Such developments were not the only reason that the north to south exports slowed, Nicholas added. A lack of talent, per se, through lack of nurturing, was another reason.

"There's not been the talent in recent years, and where there is, there's not the opportunity. There's a feeling of a lack of ambition perhaps, outside of Rangers and Celtic, who are buying overseas anyway. In my day a lot of guys waited a bit longer, like Dalglish, who moved in his twenties. Young players now are not having the same chances and don't have the incentives to wait."

Jimmy Sinclair, the youth programme director at the Scottish FA is in partial agreement. "There's now a real awareness that youth development is the way forward," he said. "It's taken a long time to change attitudes, but education up here is getting better."

Sinclair added that there are other, more fundamental reasons why the promising Scots who are coming through are no longer moving to England in such numbers.

"The clubs have taken it on board down south to develop youth teams. I genuinely feel that the [English] FA are putting in place centres to utilise local talent rather than from further afield.

"English clubs are that much better organised and have less need to come to Scotland looking for players. And then there's also the Bosman ruling."

Andy Gray, a former international team-mate of Nicholas and a current workmate at Sky TV, believes that Bosman has been the greatest facilitator of change.

"When Aston Villa gave me a chance at 19 they took a risk," he said. "The Bosman ruling means that English teams can go abroad now and pick up proven talent that's not prohibitively expensive.

"For us, it was the natural progression of our careers. You moved south. That's not the case any more. There's a choice to move overseas, stay in Scotland, or move down.

"I think the majority of the Scottish players playing in Scotland now - apart from those at Celtic and Rangers, that is - would still like to further their careers and move."

And why have we never seen a south to north migration in numbers? Nicholas said: "English players look at the fixtures, and, the Old Firm games aside, think: `What am I going into'?" A sentiment that all sides might agree with this weekend.

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