It was either cutting the grass or watching the Dons against St Mirren. As it turned out, I made the wrong choice. It was two hours I’ll never get back.

Admittedly, there was a morbid fascination and a misplaced belief that it could only get better. As I wondered whether it was too late to get the mower out, two quotations came to mind.

Firstly, Willie Miller’s observation on a similarly turgid 90 minutes, “It’s football, but not as we know it.” Then, as a kick out from one goalie was fielded by his opposite number, Brian Clough’s words came flooding back; “If God had meant football to be played in the air, he would have put grass in the sky”.

As my attention wandered from the screen, I found myself pondering the big questions in life. Is there life on Mars? How can you check the fridge light goes off when you close the door? Why is Scottish football (and refereeing –yes, I’m talking about you Willie), so awful?

It hasn’t always been like this. Celtic famously won the European Cup with a team all of whom were born within 30 miles of Glasgow. The only non-Scot in Rangers’ European Cup Winners’ Cup squad of 1972, was replacement goalie, Gerry Neef.

Eleven years later, Aberdeen won the same competition, seeing off Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, with a team made up entirely of Scots. In my teacher days, two of that team, including the scorer of the decisive goal in the final, had been in my register class.

Watching the recent Dundee derby, it was hard to believe that Dundee had reached the European Cup semi-final in 1963 or, 24 years later, United twice turned Barcelona over, including a stunning victory in the Nou Camp. Top English clubs including Liverpool, Manchester United and Leeds were choc a bloc with Scots. Football writers pondered endlessly on whether it was possible to accommodate Jim Baxter and Denis Law in the same Scottish side.

A wee while ago, (name drop alert 1), I asked Denis how he thought he would get on in the current Scottish side and set-up. There was a glint in the great man’s eye when he replied that he would “probably struggle”, before adding, “You’ve got to remember, I’m over 70 now”. Ah Denis, where has it all gone wrong?

Apologists for the Scottish game often resort to expectation management. We’re a small nation, what can we realistically expect? That’s neither a justification nor explanation. Indeed, the lack of aspiration and expectation lies at the root of our current condition, in which even mediocrity seems beyond reach.

Two nations of similar size, Denmark and Croatia, performed admirably at the recent European Championships. The Danes are currently walking our World Cup qualifying group, yet to concede a goal, let alone drop a point.

Danish success is in part built on the Scandinavian healthier lifestyle. In comparison to their Scottish counterparts, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish footballers look like athletes. As far back as 1986, when Aberdeen faced IFK Gothenburg, I recall (name drop alert 2) Alex Ferguson saying he knew the Dons were up against it when the two teams stood side by side in the tunnel.

Little has changed. During international pre-match anthems, TV cameras are lowered as they pan along the Scottish line-up, otherwise only the tops of our players’ heads would be in shot. Improving the nation’s health would boost our performance in all sports. In Scandinavia and much of Europe, the emphasis is on athleticism combined with technical ability.

In recent Aberdeen games it’s obvious the manager is attempting to develop a style in which the ball is played out from the back. Unfortunately, he appears to be using the Readers’ Digest coaching manual; the one in which the sections on passing and ball control have been abridged or omitted.

As the Croatians demonstrated at Hampden, they are overloaded with players of technical ability. Luka Modric and the rest attended footballing academies, developing high-level technical awareness and skills, perhaps explaining why they have come so far in such a short time.

Croatia dates only from 1991 and the ending of a brutal civil war during which several of Modric’s family were killed in cold blood. As a young country, there’s little Scottish-type negativity and they expect to do well.

However, as David Pratt details in his recent Sunday Herald piece, that can manifest itself in destructive nationalism and racism. Scotland, like Croatia, would describe itself as a “football country”, but even that is a delusion. The expansion of women’s and girls’ football and the success of the Scottish team is hugely welcome, but can’t disguise the declining number of youngsters playing the game.

The needle matches played on every piece of waste ground and school playground are as much part of history as black football boots. The decline of school football has also contributed. Denis Law is still grateful to his former technical teacher, the late Bill Durno, who gave the frail, bespectacled 12-year-old a chance to play the game.

A recent trip to Tunisia was like turning back the clock. Kids were playing football everywhere. Pausing to watch a couple of games, I marvelled at the skill level, all achieved without artificial surfaces, Predator boots and replica kits. The youngsters were doing things with ragged footballs that many Scottish professionals would envy.

Such participation and enthusiasm mean the footballing future belongs to Africa and other emerging nations. We need somehow to create a similar critical mass or settle for the current mediocrity, or worse.

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