More on the Decline of Scottish Football

Here are a couple of charts I’ve run up after a few uncomfortable hours hunched over Lamming’s “Scottish Internationalists Who’s Who” (Hutton 1987).

Approximately 107 men played for Scotland across the World Cup years – I’ve gone for 1974-1986 for the sake of simplicity. I acknowledge the 1990 and 1998 World Cups, of course, but I was also looking for reliable place-of-birth information, and on that afternoon I could get that only up to 1987.

The first chart shows the months in which those 107ish players were born:

image (1)

Boys born in September, October or November have a statistically-higher chance of becoming footballers, and so it is here – more or less. March and May are outriders, but that may be down to something peculiar to Scotland or to the smallness of the sample.

Although these are the good years, it’s obvious that talent born later in the year was not getting opportunities. Perhaps school sports should switch to sorting pupils by size and weight, not by age?

The next table shows the years of birth of the 1974-86 internationals:

imageThe men at each end, if you’re interested, are Denis Law in 1940, and Andy Goram and Paul McStay in 1964.

If you DO look at the 1990 squad, you’ll find that only 8 members of the 1986 squad survive – but of the new arrivals, only three would fail to appear on the table above.

What is truly bizarre is that the 1998 squad contains a player – Tosh McKinlay – who WOULD appear (by a matter of days) on the table above, but who featured in neither ’86 nor ’90.

If you extend the table seven years, to 1971, you will be able to include all but three of the 1998 squad, which means – in my opinion – that whatever happened to Scottish football started happening in the mid-to-late seventies and has carried on ever since.

My own feelings on the matter are that the ’74 squad was better than the ’78 one which was better than the ’82, and you get the idea. I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with me.

Alex Ferguson has said that the best time to develop as a Scottish player was in the 1950s, partly because everyone played all the time – so you could develop your skills at ages 6 and 7 – and because the school setup at that time was excellent. There was comparatively good coaching available in state secondary schools.

But it’s such a small sample. And I’m hopeless at reading stats anyway. Thoughts, people?


5 Replies to “More on the Decline of Scottish Football”

  1. Great stuff. The current 26 man England squad have their birth dates nicely shown on the FA website, and they turn out as (Jan to Dec). Here (and the sample size is now very small). 16/26 are Sep-Feb, yours is 63/107, roughly the same ratio, but the spread is not that similar.

    Jan 4
    Feb 2
    Mar 1
    Apr 1
    May 2
    Jun 1
    Jul 2
    Aug 3
    Sep 1
    Oct 4
    Nov 2
    Dec 3

  2. If the numbers were only big enough, you ought to be able to see the effect of the English schools returning in September and the Scottish in August (assuming that those habits are longstanding).

  3. Well, probably not. But neither did Ian Ure or Martin Buchan, and it didn’t do them any harm.

    I’ve wondered for a long time what would happen if e.g. a 40-something with time to kill put in those 10K hours. I did it in the field of psychotherapy in my 30s whilst working full-time, so there’s no barrier to it really. How good a player could you become, as an adult, from scratch, given enough time and the right coaching? Should it turn out to be possible to produce a (doubtless slow but..) decent player at that age, then game on.

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