Pigeons, punches & tattoos – the addictive world of Scottish football

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Goals, gaffes, howlers & handbags – Scottish football ready to return

When the news came through from Hampden that a dead squirrel had dropped out of the sky during the League Cup tie between Queen's Park and St Mirren, confusion reigned – yet again – in Scottish football. A dead squirrel? Falling from the heavens? How?

The story was, of course, untrue. A spokesperson for Queen's Park revealed it was, on inspection, a pigeon (decapitated) and not a squirrel that had plummeted to its *****. The club added sombrely on Twitter that their thoughts "are with his flock at this sad time".

A month earlier, Ayr United manager Ian McCall was doing an interview at the end of a pre-season friendly against Forfar at Somerset Park when a seagull crashed to earth beside him. "I'm really not happy about this," said McCall. It wasn't entirely clear what he was referring to – his team's performance or the fact the bereaved seagull's wider family were hovering menacingly above his head at the time.

I'm a late convert to Scottish football. Growing up in Limerick, save for the occasional clip of Celtic goals tacked on at the end of a sports bulletin on a Sunday night it was never seen on our screens. You had Manchester United and Liverpool, Leeds and Spurs, West Ham and Arsenal and then you might have had Celtic. Beyond that, Scottish football didn't exist.

We were missing out. From about 2005, I started to take notes about the madcap wonder of the game in this country and wrote newspaper columns about the craziness of it all at the end of each year. Some memories of the bonkerdom still stick out.

Artur Boruc, then Celtic's goalkeeper, getting a tattoo of a monkey's backside on his tummy with the word 'Rangers' written on it. 'There's a Rangers bum on Artur's tum' went the headline.

Then there was the more recent yarn about the Celtic fan getting a '10-in-a-row' tattoo while inebriated on holiday in Magaluf and then waking up the next morning with 'Terry Munro' etched across his chest.

There was Craig Brown, then the 70-year-old manager of Motherwell, punching an uppity official from Odense during a European tie at Fir Park. Brown was indignant when asked if the blow had connected. "Oh aye," he said. "I definitely hit him. I used to be quite a useful amateur boxer in my youth."

There were tales of blackmail and kidnapping and fraud and mysterious goings-on of all kinds. The Rangers saga could be a movie trilogy.

Just in the past year or so we've had Hearts building a new stand and forgetting to order the seats, we've had Ross County accidentally deleting their own website, we've had Inverness Caledonian Thistle somehow tweeting **** on their official account.

We've had a vomiting linesman at Kilmarnock v Dundee, we've had a well-oiled Rod Stewart doing the Scottish Cup draw on telly, we've had a section of Celtic fans being told by the club that they're a bit smelly and should wash themselves, we've had Kingsley, the weird-looking Partick Thistle mascot, announcing he's running for office on Glasgow City Council.

And now dead birds are dropping out of the sky and endangering players and managers.

This is the weirdness that everybody revels in, but there's more to it. Attendances are on the rise. Intrigue is on the up, particularly since the arrival of Steven Gerrard at Rangers, a story that reverberated around European and, perhaps, world football. Gerrard, Brendan Rodgers, Derek McInnes, Neil Lennon, Steve Clarke, Craig Levein – that's a compelling cast of managerial characters at the top end of the Premiership.

Scottish football is not monied and it's not glamorous, but in terms of stories and passion it could go toe-to-toe with any league in any country anywhere in the world.

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Neil Lennon hasn't held back when celebrating this season.

'In that moment, you felt like applauding'

It's the passion, the all-encompassing obsession, that's addictive. If you were reared on the game here then it's in you and it's never coming out. If you weren't, but live here for long enough, you find yourself sucked into the vortex. And it's terrific in that vortex. Not everybody gets it, but who cares?

It seems like Scottish football fans are caring less and less what outsiders think of their game. A case in point was the recent Adam Rooney business. Rooney, one of the Premiership's most consistent goalscorers in recent seasons, was signed by Salford, a club with deep pockets and famous owners.

A few commentators in England – among them, Jim White, the exiled Scot on Sky Sports – wondered what the transfer said about the state of the Scottish game. The inference was that it was a new low that a club of Aberdeen's history lost their best goalscorer to a non-league club down south.

Previously, there might have been uproar about it in Scotland. Some might have agreed with the sentiment. Others might have disagreed. The chances are the words would have been taken to heart one way or another and the navel-gazing would have carried on awhile. 'Whither Scottish football and all that…'

This time, no. Most people here understood what was going on. Fiscal commonsense came to town a while back. That's something to be proud of.

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Is this the new 'Broony'?

In the Rooney case, McInnes could not guarantee the Irishman a starting place. Rooney was offered regular football elsewhere on a much bigger salary. He went. End of story. The view from Scotland wasn't 'Isn't this embarrassing', it was more 'Isn't it odd that a non-league club can shell out upwards of £4,000 a week on a player…'

We have two worlds on one island. There's the world of English football – predominantly Premier League football – and there's Scotland's world.

In the world of the Premier League, Everton sign Davy Klaassen for £23.6m and sell him 18 games later for £12m. A world where Southampton sign striker Guido Carrillo for £19m, play him 10 times, get no goals, and loan him to Leganes. A world where Stoke sign defender Kevin Wimmer for £18m in the summer and farm him out to Hannover in January.

Instead of asking what the Rooney deal says about Scotland, you could ask what those deals – and many others – say about England, but each to their own. Why do these clubs ******, and too often waste, tens of millions on players? Because they can. Because their prize money and television money – regardless of success or failure – is other-worldly.

West Brom made £94.6m despite finishing bottom of the Premier League last season. The three relegated clubs made a combined £292m. For finishing seventh, Burnley made £120m, which is more than double the amount Aberdeen intend to spend on their new stadium.

After Aberdeen drew 1-1 with Burnley in the Europa League first-leg tie at Pittodrie last week, McInnes was asked if this sent a message to England that the quality of football in Scotland is better than they might have assumed.

His answer was redolent of a changing attitude. He said he didn't care what people in England thought of it. It was of zero interest. He wasn't being rude, he was just telling it like it was. His team didn't need to prove themselves to anybody apart from their own people.

In that moment, you felt like applauding. Scottish football has its own identity, it's own appeal. By turns, it's beautiful and ugly, thrilling and tedious, inspiring and infuriating. It's all yours. And, God bless it, it's back.

There was an unexpected participant on the pitch at Hampden…

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