LIKE most other West of Scotland boys the Diary once entertained notions of playing professional football for a living. An early indication that this wouldn’t be happening came from our venerable old PE teacher, Mr Charlie Higgins of St Ninian’s High, Kirkintilloch.

Mr Higgins also coached the school football team and, being a blameless and devout man, he had a special devotion to St Padre Pio. This Italian Catholic priest was believed to have possessed several supernatural attributes, including the gift of bi-location – the pleasing happenstance of being in two places at the one time.

Mr Higgins often garnished his coaching sessions with inspirational tales about the life of Padre Pio. Unwisely, I suggested to him that if we all had the gift of bi-location on the football park it might give us an unfair advantage and that surely this wouldn’t have pleased Padre Pio one little bit.

Whereupon Mr Higgins fixed me with a stare and said: “McKenna, even if you could be ten places at the one time you’d still never be anywhere the flamin’ ball.”

Tellt, as they say. And he wasn’t far wrong.

Reign in Spain

I ONLY furnish you with this tale as a means of introducing a much more uplifting one about by nephew’s wife, Kayla McKenna, who plays professional football for Villareal in Spain. Her move to this top Spanish club came after two very enjoyable years playing for Rangers.

She’s also a member of the Jamaican women’s international squad who are emerging as the surprise, break-out team of the World Cup currently being held in Australia and New Zealand.

Despite not having kicked a ball during a six-month spell when she’d been recovering from serious injury, Kayla helped Jamaica to their first ever win at this level when they beat Panama. They also held the much-fancied France and Brazil at bay and thus qualified for the knock-out stages.

Just as importantly, she single-handedly redeemed the faltering attempts of male McKennas at playing football at a seriously high level by becoming the first in our family ever to participate at any World Cup.

Kayla’s a delightful young woman and a gifted footballer and the entire McKenna family couldn’t be prouder of her.

Kayla McKenna

Kayla McKenna

Wonder women

THE Diary has been watching the development of women’s football for more than a decade.

With each edition of the major international tournaments the improvement in the quality of football is unmistakeable. Yet, the women’s game continues to be disdained in some quarters by men whose knowledge of the game is scant and whose ability to play it exists at the knuckle-dragging end of the football spectrum.

Besides, women had started playing football at a high level around the same time that men began to take the game seriously. During the First World War, women’s football matches were watched by huge crowds of up to 50,000 across Scotland and the UK.

If the game had been permitted to develop and supported by the football authorities at this time then women’s football today would be well-established at all levels.

However, rather than support women’s football, the Scottish football authorities moved to suppress it and threatened to ban any referees from officiating at their games.

Professional women’s football is still in its infancy in Scotland, but last season was a breakthrough one for them with record crowds; great coverage on BBC Alba and a dramatic, three-way race for the title between the eventual winners, Glasgow City, Celtic and Rangers.

Subbed by Saudi Arabia

MEANWHILE, men’s football is facing an existential threat from the medieval, gangster state of Saudi Arabia.

There was something inevitable about the savages who run this country, using their bottomless oil wealth to lure some of the best male footballers in the world to enrich themselves for a few years by playing in a series of kid-on games.

Of course, women’s football will be happily unaffected by the Saudis’ predations. Any outbreak of women’s football in that kingdom would probably be punished with stoning or beheading.

Score a fortune

ALMOST as predictable as the Saudis’ decision to use sport-washing to camouflage the thuggish nature of their government has been the backlash against the footballers who have chosen to accept this dirty money.

Yet, we shouldn’t rebuke them for this. Professional football at the highest level can be brutally short and unforgiving and those players blessed with these skills all know how much they are used to line the pockets of global corporations.

Britain and most of the so-called civilised west choose to look the other way at Saudi Arabia’s many human rights abuses against women and gay people and political murders. They have made these princes of death their main allies in the region and make billions in selling them arms.

So, let’s not get all sensitive when some young, working-class footballers take their cash for a couple of years or so.