And we'll say nothing about Scottish goalkeepers . . .

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The Independent Online
AMONG their many talents, the Scots have two well-developed destructive ones which they show no signs of giving up. One is the habit of kidding the English. The other is the habit of kidding themselves. On Saturday, in the Daily Telegraph, there was a beautiful example of both happening at the same time. In a feature called Notebook, a Glaswegian writer called Niall Ferguson pointed out that Celtic football team had just beaten Rangers 2-0, and went on to say: 'On this subject I have a bone to pick. This, after all, was the match of the day, and not just in Scotland. With a crowd numbering more than 40,000, it dwarfed the games in the English Premier League (biggest attendance around 25,000). But could I find a single word on the Rangers-Celtic match in my Sunday papers? Not one.'

This is one of the classic Scottish gripes. We are doing great things here in Scotland and none of you down South is paying any attention. However, when you come to look a little closer, Niall Ferguson's complaint looks a little shoddy. When the Rangers v Celtic match was played, I was in Scotland, and although it was widely reported in the Scottish papers, it was not reported in the way that Ferguson would have us believe. It was reported as a disaster, primarily for Rangers, who this season seem incapable of beating 11 old ladies, but generally for Scottish football. The only great thing about the match is that 40,000 people turned up to watch it, and if the football was as bad as the reporters said it was, they returned home saying: 'What a load of rubbish.'

When I arrived in Edinburgh for the festival, I overheard some football experts on Scottish radio on the first day of the season being asked how they thought it would go. Oh, fine, they all chorused; we'll put last season's disappointments behind us and go on and do great things . . . It was not to be. The initial Scottish cockiness, as so often, dissolved into tears as all Scotland's representatives were knocked out of European football competition. Not all. I tell a lie. Motherwell managed to beat a team from the Faroe Isles and are still in some cup or other. And Dundee United are still hanging in there. But Rangers were humiliated by AEK Athens, and Aberdeen were disposed of, and suddenly there was a daily feature in the Scotsman called Scotland's Football Crisis in which there was breast-beating, and wailing, and agonising of the Scottish variety that always follows the initial Scottish cockiness. Odd, somehow, that Mr Ferguson forgot to mention any of this doom and disaster in his Notebook.

There has always been a lot of niggle between English and Scottish football, of course. It is said that during the World Cup Final in 1966 between England and West Germany, the whole of Scotland was shouting for the Germans. I read in a Scottish paper the other day that Paul Gascoigne is the most hated footballer in Scotland, not for any of the obvious reasons (he is boring, over-rated, overpaid, etc) but because the English papers are always going on about him . . .

There was another match played in Scotland last month which probably wasn't reported in the English papers, and which Mr Ferguson didn't mention either. This was a start-of-the-season friendly between Raith Rovers and Hearts. What was special about this friendly match was that two players were sent off for fighting - and they were both on the same side. The Hearts captain, Levein, got into an argument with Hogg, one of his defenders, and they tried to kill each other. Levein was sent off, and Hogg was stretchered off with a broken nose and given a red card as he was being carried to the touchline.

Of course, it may not have been a red card at all. It may have been a yellow card with a nose bleed all over it. But the report of the game, although received with the usual breast-beating by the Scots ('Another dark day for Scottish football' etc), cheered me up immensely. Scottish football may not be the best in the world. Indeed, it may well be the worst. But it still has pretensions to be the funniest.

PS: Funniest football joke of the Edinburgh Festival - Ivor Dembina (in Jewish Stand Up Comedy): 'You know what I was dreading in the World Cup? That the final should be between Germany and Saudi Arabia. I mean, which side should a good Jew support?'

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