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Then and Now

Posted: Fri Dec 21, 2007 1:26 am
by Scottish
Without doubt a superb victory for Aberdeen. As many goals in one half as they had scored in their last ten European matches, four home goals in Europe for the first time in fourteen years and the first 20,000 crowd at a European match at Pittodrie for the same length of time.

And at half-time I'd wager no one saw it coming. What can have motivated this second half performance? Perhaps the sight of the faces on Messrs Calderwood, Nichol and Clark in the dugout? I for one certainly wouldn't want to be accused of spilling any of the aforesaid trio's pints. Scary doesn't do them justice. Let's just say that if Cinderella is the panto in Aberdeen this year the Pittodrie triumvirate can supply an excess of ugly sisters.

That leaves us with three Scottish clubs in Europe for the first time since 1970. But a lot has changed in 38 years and comparisons are difficult to make. For a start in 1970 our clubs were a lot more advanced in the respective competitions. Celtic were in the last eight of the European Cup and Dunfermline and Kilmarnock had already played the first legs of their last sixteen ties in the Fairs Cup. This time around Celtic are in the last sixteen and Aberdeen and Rangers the last 32.

There were far fewer games in 1969-70 as well. Celtic had played just four times in Europe by Xmas with two wins, a draw and a defeat. No penalty kicks either. They reached the quarter-final thanks to a lucky call by Billy McNeill on the toss of a coin in Lisbon. This season Celtic have played eight games, winning three, losing three and drawing two. Though Benfica and Milan both featured in the earlier campaign with the former the unlucky losers in the toss-up and the latter the venue of the final that year when Celtic lost to Feyenoord. Some things remain the same though. Celtic never won a game when they left British soil in 1969-70. In fact their away win over Leeds in the semi-finals that season was their first victory outside of Glasgow since winning the European Cup in 1967.

Dunfermline and Killie had both played five matches by the turn of the year. The Pars had won three and lost two. Kilmarnock had won two, lost two and drawn one. This time Aberdeen have played six games, winning one, drawing three and losing two. Rangers have played an astonishing TEN games so far with five wins, two draws and three defeats.

And that demonstrates just how much of the calendar is eaten up by European games nowadays. In 1969-70 no Scottish club started their campaigns before mid-September. This season only Aberdeen had that luxury with both Celtic and Dunfermline starting in mid-August and Rangers at the end of July!

We had five teams in Europe then as opposed to four now. Both Rangers and Dundee United had been eliminated earlier in 1969 and Dunfermline have already gone this season.

We are better off now in one aspect. By mid-January 1970 only Celtic were left in Europe. In 2008 we will have three sides until Feb20/21 at the earliest.

But if we look at rounds reached rather than the calendar we find 1971-72 was a better season than either 69-70 or now. That term Rangers won the CWC, Celtic reached the semi-finals of the European Cup and both Dundee and St Johnstone exited the UEFA Cup in the last sixteen. However the fixtures were arranged somewhat differently with the Tayside clubs departing the scene in early December. Similarly in 1983-84 both Dundee United and Aberdeen reached semi-finals (European Cup and CWC) and Celtic were in the last sixteen of the UEFA Cup but lost to Nottingham Forest in early December.

Newspaper obsession with the calendar obstructs a true comparison with past seasons.

But can we make any other comparisons between 1969-70 and 2007-08? Well, Roy Keane will be less than delighted to know that Sunderland were relegated that season. Manchester City were doing well thanks to a coach noted for his colourful private life (Malcolm Allison). Scotland failed to qualify for a major tournament (the 1970 World Cup) after a narrow loss in a dramatic game against a side that had played in the last World Cup Final (West Germany).

Oh, and whatever the Xmas Number One is this year, there's every chance it will be just as awful as 1969's 'Two Little Boys' by Rolf Harris!


Posted: Wed Dec 26, 2007 7:32 am
by exile
It's difficult to make a meaningful comparison over 37 years.

In the late 60s there were only a handful of genuinely professional leagues in Europe. Scotland was not alone in having part time players in its top division.

Italy, Spain, England - these were then and are now the elite leagues with virtually all full-time professional teams able to import players from other nations (inlcuding in the case of England, from us!). Germany in the late 60s had only just established the Bundesliga. Holland and Belgium were in the early days of professionalism as well, and only a handful of teams were genuinely full-time professional outfits. Portugal had a handful of teams you could regard as 1st class. The Communist countries all had "state amateur" teams which were equivalent in standard to top part-time teams, or average full-time teams, from West of the Iron Curtain. Scandinavian teams were amateur. Greek and Turkish teams were of a low standard.

Furthermore, there are now upwards of 50 nations in Europe, and 250-odd teams (more if you include the Intertoto). So, there are more rounds to negotiate and more chance of a banana skin. Also, seeding hardly existed, so there was the chance of getting to the last 8 by drawing a couple of weak teams in succession. There is no chance at all of a Scottish team getting such good luck in the present setup.

In effect, we have 3 teams in the last 48 - so the logical comparison under the pre-Champions League setup is probably the final 32 - that is, 3rd round of the UEFA Cup and quarter finals in the other 2 competitions,
both requiring 2 victories.

The last time we achieved 3 teams at this stage was 1983-84 - the teams being Dundee United, Aberdeen and Celtic.

(other times we managed this - 1972,1970,1969,1968,1967)

Dundee United had beaten teams from Malta(ranked 33 in Europe at the time) and Belgium(5): Aberdeen - Iceland(32) and Belgium(5): Celtic - Denmark(21) and Portugal(9)

In comparison - in effect Celtic have eliminated teams from Russia(9), Portugal(6) and Ukraine(11) - Rangers, teams from Montenegro(unclassified), Serbia(20) and Germany(5): - Aberdeen, teams from Ukraine(11), Russia(9) and Denmark(21).

Note in each case 3 teams had to be eliminated, and none (apart from the Montenegrin team) in the "minnows" category.

So - the achievements are certainly of a similar standard, if not actually better, than 1984 (which itself was an exceptionally good season in Europe).

Since the CL is much more a "premier" competition nowadays, with all the leading teams from the top nations competing, reaching the last 16 is almost certainly a taller order than getting to the last 8 of the old style European Cup. Who could imagine Linfield managing it as they did in 1967!In this regard, the Old Firm, whose efforts in the past have been somewhat embarrassing in the mid to late 1990s and in the "hard luck story" department in the 2000s, have now done us proud with 3 successive appearances in the last 16.

Unfortunately the draws have given us little chance of further progress I fear, though I rate Rangers' chances at about 50% on paper, Greek football is also experiencing a revival at club level and I think Panathinaikos will get through. Well, maybe one of our teams will surprise me!

Posted: Thu Dec 27, 2007 2:21 am
by Scottish
A lot of good points there especially about the difficulty these days in reaching the later rounds. But I would rather wait and see what happens this season before saying whether it's a better achievement than 1984 for example. My own inclination is that if our clubs progress no further then the answer is no.

If we are to make comparisons though then it is better to do as you ahve done and compare rounds reached rather than the calendar.

Looking at the earlier years you mention in neither 1970 nor 1968 did we have clubs in the last eight of both European Cup and CWC (in 1968 we didn't have a quarter-finalist in either). In 1967, 1969 and 1972 we had four clubs who reached the stages you mention.

Posted: Sat Dec 29, 2007 7:09 pm
by exile
Didn't quite make myself clear - in 1968 and 1970 we had 3 teams which progressed through 2 rounds (which I'm taking as being about the same as reaching the knockout stages in the current setup)

Taking your book "Very Heaven" as describing the best season ever in Scottish football - I wonder what the top half-dozen seasons would be?

We obviously would want to include - good performances in Europe (ideally including a win over English opposition), good results for the national team (including perhaps a win over England), and avoiding seasons including 9-3s and 7-2s

Unfortunately most seasons either fit in to the categories of "disaster" or "mixed bag". But I'd like to put forward

1949 - 3-1 win at Wembley
1962 - 2-0 at Hampden after 25 years without a win
1963 - Baxter at Wembley (part 1), Dundee in the European Cup semifinals
1970 - Celtic beat Leeds and reach the European Cup final
1972 - Rangers win the CWC
1974 - Scotland's best shot at the World Cup, and a win over England
1983 - Aberdeen in the CWC
1987 - Dundee United in the UEFA Cup Final
1992 - qualified for the European Championship - only time we've reached the last 8 of anything
2003 - Celtic beat Blackburn and Liverpool and reach the UEFA Cup final

That makes 10....

Posted: Sun Dec 30, 2007 3:53 pm
Aren`t you forgetting 1883-84? Queen`s Park win the Scottish Cup & are unluckily beaten in the English one while Scotland beat England, Ireland & Wales to win the inaugural International Championship. Pretty dam` good I`d say.

Posted: Sun Dec 30, 2007 4:02 pm
by Scottish
Sometimes some of the best achievements coincide with the worst. Wembley 1961 was within a few weeks of Rangers reaching the inaugural CWC final, Hibs in the semi-finals of the Fairs Cup and Jock Stein announcing his arrival with a Scottish Cup win at Dunfermline.

Posted: Sun Dec 30, 2007 4:18 pm
by exile
And football being what it is, a win in Europe for either of the Old Firm means sackcloth and ashes time for the other side.

Then there are the seasons we all want to forget - where our teams drop ourt of Europe before the leaves are off the trees, the national team is walloped by England or sinks without trace in qualifiers, or our fans lose the plot.

Too many of them in recent decades.....

Posted: Sun Dec 30, 2007 4:41 pm
by Scottish
exile wrote:Then there are the seasons we all want to forget - where our teams drop ourt of Europe before the leaves are off the trees, the national team is walloped by England or sinks without trace in qualifiers, or our fans lose the plot.
I would nominate 1974-75 as the worst. For the first time since the establishment of the ECWC none of our teams met the standards defined above - i.e. winning two ties in Europe - with a total record of W3 D2 L7. The expectations generated by the 1974 World Cup were soon dashed by a failed European qualifying campaign. There was a humiliating defeat at Wembley. And to cap it all the - IMHO - disastrous move to a ten-club top division at the end of the season.

Posted: Sun Dec 30, 2007 5:27 pm
by exile
1980-1 was a strange season. I moved to England just in time for Aberdeen to be given a going over by Liverpool. The Anglo Scottish Cup was a total disaster (Chesterfield 3 Rangers 0) and the other clubs didn't do much in Europe - but the season was rescued by John Robertson's penalty. The English pundits were sure McLeish and Miller would gift the game to England (since they played for a Scottish club, they must be rubbish... and to be fair they hadn't had a good game at Anfield) but they played out of their skins. And Alan Rough, another target for English pundits, had a shut out, the 1st one at Wembley by a Scottish keeper since 1938. We also took big steps towards qualifying for the World Cup.

I often wonder about 1974-5 whether the offside experiment in the League Cup (no offside between the penalty areas) had something to do with the dreadful performances in Europe that season. It must have taken some adjustment after playing to these rules for the opening month of the season. Hibs in particular had a dreadful spell when they shipped 17 goals in 3 matches. On the other hand it fitted with the longer term trend of decline after the good seasons of the late 60s and early 70s. Scottish teams just didn't seem to cope with the idea of "total football" as played by Ajax and soon copied by other clubs.

Posted: Sun Dec 30, 2007 6:54 pm
by Scottish
I should have added that 1974-75 was pretty poor on a personal level. I moved south in late September and the last away game I saw was a 5-0 defeat at Celtic Park. The last Rugby Park fixture was a 6-0 humping by Rangers.

Yet I still got people asking if I missed the fitba!

As for Hibs in 1974-75 they did manage to beat Rosenborg Trondheim 9-1. That's one result which won\t be repeated any time soon. Of course Scandinavian clubs (and countries) were regarded as easy meat in those days - much as Dutch sides had been a decade earlier.

Posted: Mon Dec 31, 2007 5:08 pm
by exile
I do remember a Killie-Hibs league cup tie in 74-75 which finished 3-3, I saw this on telly (we had only just got one after a tv-less period)

Posted: Fri Jan 04, 2008 1:31 pm
by lbb
A far simpler comparison would be to say that the standard of domestic football in Scotland in 1970 or 1984 was far superior to 2008. It is truly baffling that we have achieved, at club and international level, a series of 'interesting' results when a succession of mediocre matches take place every week under the guise of the Scottish 'Premier' League.

Posted: Fri Jan 04, 2008 4:56 pm
by exile
It would be simpler - but how could we be sure it was true? One of the things I do remember from the 70s and 80s is old codgers telling me how much better things were in the 50s. Yet if you look at Scotland's results in that decade they were pretty dreadful (0-7 v Uruguay, 11 games without a win including a 2-7 and a 0-4 against the Old Enemy (who weren't in one of their vintage eras either)), and, Hibs apart, early results in Europe weren't brilliant either.

I'm inclined to take notice of actual results rather than subjective opinion. Old Firm fans are possibly right to bemoan the fact there is no Gascoigne, Laudrup or Larsson playing for them now - but as far as the Champions League is concerned results are better now than they were when the OF were stuffed with talented players, even though when they play Barcelona or Milan it's like watching the Texans defending the Alamo.

Posted: Sun Jan 06, 2008 6:15 pm
by Scottish
exile wrote:It would be simpler - but how could we be sure it was true? One of the things I do remember from the 70s and 80s is old codgers telling me how much better things were in the 50s.
True enough. I'll wager that when the Wembley Wizards were performing their heroics there were more than a few old codgers insisting they couldn't hold a candle to the great teams of the 1880s etc.

But in the particular instances of European football I think it is fair to suggest we were better then than now. Whether this is because Scottish football has regressed/not advanced enough, other countries have overtaken us or a mix of the two is a matter for endless debate. But of this we can be certain: expectations nowadays are much lower. When Celtic beat French Champions Nantes in the European Cup in 1966-67 it was a routine success. Any result other than victory would have been a shock. Yet when Rangers achieved a similar result in Lyons this season it was a sensational triumph.

The return matches emphasise the point (while admitting the differences between the knockout and league formats). A Nantes win at Celtic would have been as big a sensation as Rangers' win in Lyons while the Gers home defeat was regarded as a pretty unremarkable outcome.

Aberdeen's 4-0 win over Copenhagen is taken as proof of some great renaissance yet 35-40 years ago a 4-0 home win over Scandinavian opposition would have been par for the course.

Scotland's first ever home defeat against Italy is somehow evidence we are on our way back internationally even though it was the first home defeat in a European Championship match for eight years!

Posted: Mon Jan 07, 2008 10:17 am
by lbb
It's certainly true to say that there's never been a shortage of people who hark back to a better time but that's not to say that they're always wrong.

There is a danger in an obsession with results. I regard Rangers' best European performance of the last 25 years to be the match against Bayern Munich in Munich in November 1999. Rangers lost the match 1-0 but displayed an ability to perform a European-class game against high-level opposition. Rangers clearly play an inferior brand of football to that of 7 or 8 years ago even if they achieve better or comparable results. Is that progress? I don't think it is.

In 1984, Aberdeen were capable of beating the European Champions over 2 matches and Dundee United were capable of beating the Serie A champions at Tannadice - and still finish 3rd in the Scottish league. Both sides, and Scottish teams in general, were capable of credible results on a fairly regular basis playing a reasonably entertaining style of football and offering a very competitive domestic scene. I don't think any of these criteria can seriously be said to have been met today.

Expectations have been lowered, as has been said, and fans are more likely to accept 'playing to our strengths' (i.e. defending as much as possible) than they would have done years back. I don't think the game is better as a result even if results give the delusion that the good times are back.