Scotland v Bulgaria in the European Nations Championship.
With Scotland‘s vital European championship qualifier against Bulgaria coming up. coach Andy Roxburgh has more problems than just coping with the boys from the Balkans. Tom Lappin investigates the difficulties involved in getting the national squad together.
Recent interviews conducted with twelve—year-old football supporters in West Lothian witnessed them being rather more fond of the flashy white German outfit with its jagged stripe. than the traditional Scottish blue. ‘We don’t support Scotland' they confirmed. ‘they‘re rubbish’. Whether this is a comment on the youngsters' lack of patriotism. or the Scotland squad's lack of talent is open to question. but it does seem to demonstrate that the national side does seem to be failing to grasp the public imagination in the way
they could ofold. Even after a relatively successful
year. with victories over Romania and Switzerland. and a creditable draw against Bulgaria. public apathy has become widespread. Attendances for vital games have been disappointing. and vocal support a pale shadow of the famous ‘Hampden Roar' ofold. With a vital European Championship game against Bulgaria coming up. that is a worrying thought.
Scotland coach Andy Roxburgh. though. is
rather more worried about a lack of support closer
to home. The League and Cup fixture list have combined to produce at least two Rangers Celtic clashes in the week preceding the Bulgaria game. involving vital members of Roxburgh‘s squad. It's a situation Roxburgh finds frustrating. and the placid old ex-schoolteacher even allows a hint of anger to show through. ‘I don‘t think I have ever had a situation as bad as this.’ he says. ‘People talk about an ideal world. but any world which allows this situation is ridiculous. Maybe in future. when an international is scheduled two years in advance it might be sensible not to encroach on it with an Old Firm game the previous weekend.‘ Roxburgh‘s cause is not helped by matches in England between Leeds and Everton. that involve four other prominent members of his squad. Gordon Strachan. Gary McCallister. Pat Nevin and Stuart McCall. In effect. the domestic and English fixtures means Roxburgh could be faced with losing up to nine prominent members of the senior squad before the game. his fortieth in charge. kicks off on 27 March. It‘s the sort of farcical situation that would not be allowed to happen in a country where the national squad was
taken seriously. and has been ruining British nations‘ preparations for big games for decades. Since the disasters of last summer's World Cup. Roxburgh has made a creditable job of restructuring the national side. and after the hard-won. if more than a little fortunate. victories over Switzerland and Romania. Scotland are in a strong position to qualify for the European Championship Finals for the first time. Roxburgh compares the situation to the World Cup qualifying group in 198‘) when Scotland beat France and Cyprus in succession. ‘Ifwe beat Bulgaria and San Marino. that would give us four points at the same stage as we got them in the World Cup qualifiers.' he says. ‘It tipped the balance for us then. and it might do so again.‘ Bold words. and ones that might be remembered with embarrassment if the unknown minnows of San
Marino prove to be anything other than a pushover.
One dilemma facing Roxburgh as he contemplates his provisional line-up is the controversial Mo Johnston question. Having announced his retirement from international football after the World Cup. Johnston has decided he wishes to be reconsidered for Scotland selection. Roxburgh insists that Johnston will not be an automatic choice. and ‘will not waltz straight into the team. although everyone else in Scotland believes he will be pulling on a blue shirt against the Bulgarians. The logic seems to be that if Ally McCoist. who has been watching Rangers games from the bench. is in the team. then Johnston who is a first-team regular at Ibrox. has to line up alongside him.
The Bulgarians for their part. look likely to be rather more cautious than they were in Sofia last year. which. from the entertainment point ofview, seems a pity. as they have a wealth oftalent to draw on. and their tricky midfielders posed Scotland numerous problems in the 1-1 draw. Like many Eastern European sides. they seem to lack boldness when playing away from home. and although Roxburgh warns of their efficiency at counterattacks. a dour tussle seems more likely than a demonstration ofsilky football. With a bit of luck (something they‘ve not lacked in the i European championship so far) Scotland should l get the two points. and who knows. some of those ‘i small boys might even venture to try a blue shirt on i for size the next time they're having a kickabout. Stranger things have happened.
Scotland 1‘ Bulgaria llampden Park 27 March. 7.30pm.
The List 22 March — 4 April 199159