Raiding North of the Border

Posted by on Jan 26, 2010 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Kneejerk journalism has suggested Kevin Nolan as the most accomplished performer thus far in the Championship, but as good as the ex-Bolton man’s displays have been, I for one would suggest Alan Smith as having been every bit his equal. A third name, however, might stake a claim for the accolade of the best of the best so far. What sets Graham Dorrans apart is his easy calm in possession, clockwork passing and eye for the odd peach of a goal. A fringe figure last season after signing from Livingston, the Scot has blossomed since the Baggies’ descent, culminating in a first national cap in October.

But Dorrans’ rise is a new exception to a sustained dehydration of Scottish talent in the English game, perhaps best evidenced by Middlesbrough’s recent capture of Barry Robson, Willo Flood and Chris Killen from Celtic. As Mark Clemmit said on the BBC’s Five Live Football league last week, these are the kind of players one associates with Rochdale and Oldham on loan. Only Robson of the three is a Scot of course, but this distinctly underwhelming flurry of business will only serve to cast further doubts over the terribly unimpressive stewardship of Gordon Strachan thus far, as well as the slim pickings to be had north of the Tweed. I saw Flood play a couple of times at the start of his career at Maine Road and lightweight doesn’t even begin to describe him — a kind of Vinny Samways or Mike Fillery without the league appearances.

Despite atrocious results, Scotland’s 1974 and 1978 world cup squads probably provided the most celebrated selection of stars the tartan nation has seen. These line ups included a sizeable proportion of the best British players of the time, with Kenny Dalglish, Alan Hansen, Archie Gemmill, Joe Jordan, Billy Bremner, Graeme Souness and Lou Macari all deserving of household name status. Since then, there has been a dramatic downsizing. That Darren Fletcher and Barry Ferguson are the best that the Scots can provide must be wrenchingly disappointing. The former is only now starting to recover from Roy Keane’s contemptuous bewilderment that “people in Scotland rave about him” and the latter misfired badly in a spell at Ewood Park before enjoying an Indian Summer of sorts with the Birmingham City of today.

New national boss Craig Levein epitomizes this lengthy decline. Ignoring the historical precedents set by Craig Brown at Preston and Tommy Burns at Reading, he persisted in raiding north of the border on his appointment at Leicester and ended up with a cluster of players suitable only for the division below, including Mark de Vries and Alan Maybury. He may have signed Matty Fryatt, but Levein did not register that below the Auld Firm, the standard in the SPL is roughly on a level with the lower reaches of League One. Indeed, Ferguson’s travails as well as those of other high profile southward bounders such as Ally McCoist prove that even the gruesome twosome prepare players only for a Championship future at best.

Dorrans does provide hope but for the Tartan Army to truly turn round, they’ll need a talisman of world class quality to emerge — as Hristo Stoichkov inspired Bulgaria and Gheorghe Hagi their northern neighbours, the presence in a side of a player that can hurt any opposition would allow lesser lights such as Fletcher to feed off them and create a formidable unit. Scotland still await that man.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 50 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.


  1. Ben
    January 26, 2010

    Well said. Nolan's been more conspicuous than Smith, but both have been equally good. The two opponents I've been most impressed with are Dorrans (superb against us) and Forest's Paul Anderson, though Paul McKenna has come close too.

  2. Matt R
    January 27, 2010

    Honorable mention for Don Cowie please. Signed for two-and-six from Inverness a year ago, he's having a terrific season. We've just signed another from the sub-big 2 SPL ranks in Stephen McGinn, ex of St Mirren. Hoping that he can disprove your theory too…

  3. Matt
    January 27, 2010 Reply
  4. Lloyd
    January 27, 2010

    Matt: you beat me to it on Cowie. Scott Severin balances it up, though?

    Of course, Argyle have had plenty of history with Scottish players in recent years, most of which subtantiates this post. Of our current Scots, Jim Paterson, Chris Clark, Steve Maclean, David McNammee and Alan Gow have all been supremely average. Our Glimmer of Hope Jamie Mackie is classified as a Scot, but that's only by way of a relative.

    Most of our Scots have been as honest as the day is long, and appear to be good sorts. Paul Sturrock's links north of the border worked out well for us in the third and fourth tiers (I'm thinking of the likes of Marino Keith, Graham Coughlan [Irish but signed from Livingston] and David Worrell), but our current predicament should be a case study for a club that gets too carried away with the (relatively) low wages Scottish players command.

    I've got a feeling, though, that Ross McCormack could prove quite influential in the run-in for Cardiff. Granted I only witnessed highlights, but he looked to be heavily instrumental in their drubbing of Bristol City last night.

  5. Matt R
    January 28, 2010

    Severin is difficult to comment on seeing as we've not really worked out what he's for. He's made very little impact, and barely featured in truth, but without understanding what the idea was in the first place it's harsh to be dismissive….

  6. Matt
    January 28, 2010 Reply

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