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Graham Hunter: Adopting the Groucho Marx position and how Ireland stole Scotland’s lovable losers crown

Graham Hunter turns his attention to Scotland and Ireland's Euro 2016 qualifier and unleashes a generation's worth of frustration and grudge holding against the Emerald Isle.

by Graham Hunter | November 13, 2014

On behalf of Scottish football, just in case anyone in Ireland has thought about it, I reserve the Groucho Marx position.

Our marker is down, from now until the end of the qualification campaign in 2015 it’s ours. You can’t have it.

Which Groucho position? This one.

Groucho Marx

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“I sent my club a wire stating, ‘Please accept my resignation – I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member’ – Groucho.

Euro 2016 is the tournament that it’s ‘impossible’ not to qualify for, right?

No dress code, no age restrictions, never mind whether the bouncer has you on the guest list, not just for the in-crowd – if you’re not at this party it’s a guaranteed eternity of embarrassment.

Particularly, for Scotland, if elimination is at the hands of Ireland. Again.

And the most stylish way of pretending we never actually cared that much would be the Groucho position. ‘Better things to do in summer 2016′, grass to cut, handicap needs trimming – wouldn’t want to be part of a devalued Euro anyway..’

‘Twenty six teams? Ridiculous’
Aiden McGeady MBS

It left a Mark

What’s that I hear you asking? Why particularly embarrassing to exit to the Irish?

Well with all due respect, on behalf of my nation, we hold a grudge. A really big, nasty, festering, Friday night on Sauchiehall street after a good few bevvies one.

Never mind any gilding of the lily, Irish football really barely registered as a blip on anyone’s horizon before 1987. I’m nearly sure of that.

Mark Lawrenson playing for Ireland in 1987

LAWR CHANGER: Lawrenson’s winner against Scotland changed both country’s sporting fortunes (pic: Inpho)

It all started with THAT win at Hampden Park. Firstly, the free kick from which ‘Lawro’ scored should never have been taken – half our defence was still lying prostrate on the turf, the ball was played about a kilometre from where the foul had been given. The ball was never stationary. The dopey Dutch referee dropped a clanger the size of County Clare.

Secondly, you boys in green have never, ever admitted that qualification for Euro ’88 was solely down to us. Well, to Gary Mackay, actually.

His gorgeous goal away to Bulgaria [27 years ago this week] PLUS those two points (of which we were robbed by big Jack’s smash and grab merchants at Hampden would have put us through to Germany ’88) put Stoichkov and co out. Ray Houghton, Lawro, Stapo and big Paul McGrath through.

Any thanks? Any acknowledgement? Any sheepish acceptance that Hampden was daylight robbery.

Not a dicky bird.

Not So Bravehearted

Moreover, I can’t be the only Scot whose friends in Ireland have been gleefully ‘roasting’ him over the last few months.

Yeah, yeah. Seb Coe and co would say that ‘sport and politics don’t mix – should never mix’. But they do.

I’m quite certain that many in Scotland shared my Independence Referendum experience – admirably malicious texts, phone calls and emails from Irish pals in the build-up demanding to know whether the Scots would have the ‘cojones’ to seize their chance for freedom from the yolk of Westminster as Ireland once did.

Then, with equally gleeful malevolence, mocking our failure to put the ball in the net when the goal was gapingly open after Scotland narrowly voted ‘no’ in September.

And even though there’s a heat about this game because ‘it’s about the points, stupid!’ [to coin a phrase stolen from George Bush], a heat because two extremely self-confident and brutally confident ex-Celtic managers do battle – I think there’s a cultural-sporting context for it which vastly heightens the importance.

During Scotland’s slide into sporting mediocrity, independent-Ireland have not only neatly stolen our identity as the world’s favourite cheeky Celtic nation – the boys in green have become a better Scotland than we ever were.

From that moment in spring 1987 when Tiger Economy Ireland clawed Scotland at Hampden they’ve shown us how we should have done it when we were the top Celtic-cats

Billy Bremner misses against Scotland (1974)

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Once it was Scotland’s birthright to beat Sir Alf Ramsey’s England at Wembley in 1967 and declare ourselves world champions. To scare the bejaysus out of reigning world champions Brazil in the 1974 world cup and only let them escape with a 0-0 draw because Billy Bremner missed an open goal. To draw with Iran but then beat Holland [four years on from being finalists in 1974 and a fortnight away from reaching the final again in 1978]

Ireland took all that and topped it. That’s sore to admit.

The Green Eyed Monster

Qualifying when we can’t. Beating England at Euro ’88. Absolutely rocking Italia ’90, beating Italy at USA 94, shame-free spot-kick losers to Spain in the Japan-Korea knockout stages. Recipients of the ‘we love you, you plucky victim’ award from the entire world outside France when Thierry Henry mistook football for basketball in that World Cup playoff.

That’s our gallant loser trophy you’ve stolen, that’s OUR ‘best fans in the world’ title you’ve shamelessly robbed. Identity theft is a serious issue.

And when we look around for solace – we can’t look at rugby or cricket any more either.

From just a couple of weeks after ‘Operation Lawro’ at Hampden in ’87 and for the next twelve years Scotland met Ireland at Murrayfield and Landsdowne road fourteen times losing only once.

Proper domination.

But of the next eighteen Ireland have won twelve. Torture. Six Nations titles, a bloody Grand Slam [and, yes, even we cheered when Ronan O’Gara dropped-kicked Ireland into an emerald heaven].

With bat and ball against the Irish Scotland’s ODI record is lost eleven of fifteen and in Twenty20 it’s an embarrassing played three lost three.

Ireland beating Scotland in cricket

ANOTHER BATTERING: Ireland are even dominating Scotland on the cricket field (pic: Inpho)

How the combined Shinty/Hurling contest is going I daren’t even look.

I don’t want to rope poor old Gordon Strachan into this rant of mine, he’s enough on his hands coping with street-smart Martin and the bragging-rights battle which [I have no doubt] is also at stake between the two former Celtic managers under whose swords, both as player and manager, the mighty have fallen.

But Gordon was in that team at Hampden in ’87 – watched his former Cup Winners Cup winning team mate Jim Leighton beaten by the ‘Lawro-goal’ which should never have stood.

He’ll want to put the world to rights. To put the cocky Celtic imposter back in it’s box. Then to send them a gilt-embossed card with the Groucho position beautifully printed on it so that, late next year, it’s the FAI who can post it on to Uefa and Michel Platini saying: ‘We never wanted to come to your party anyway’. Yours – The Boys In Green.

All together now: ‘You’ll never beat the Scottish’.

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