Celtic in Dubai alone could provide enough material for a half-hour comedy show

PHOTO: Sky Sports

“There’s a team in Glasgow, right, training for a fixture at the weekend. Practicing set-pieces, practicing their fitness, practicing their drills, and there’s a team lying in Dubai round a pool 19 points behind getting their hair braided aff a Shane Duffy.”

That’s a quote from Celtic fan Declan of Port Glasgow, who called Superscoreboard to discuss a photoshopped image of his team’s centre-back braiding their left-back’s hair beside a pool in Dubai.

That image began circulating just hours after the club genuinely flew out of Glasgow to run about in the sun for a few days at the height of a pandemic.

Scottish football is rarely short of comic material.

A recurring lament over the last few days has been ‘There just aren’t any characters in Scottish football these days’.

If there weren’t any characters in Scottish football these days, I’d still be working in a call centre, Si Ferry would be an obscure League One footballer and The Terrace would never have made the jump from podcast to weekly BBC TV series.

Popular Twitter accounts like @SimpsonsSPFL and @fitbatweets wouldn’t exist, and Off The Ball wouldn’t still be going strong more than 26 years in.

There are countless writers, illustrators, podcasters and other creative types who have begun working in or around Scottish football within the last few years, and none of them would be anywhere near as prominent without the rich vein of material that our game throws up. 

Every Sunday I compile a Twitter montage featuring the most surreal and amusing incidents from the last week in Scottish football.

More often than not, the problem is how to condense the material rather than how to generate it.

Last week’s edition began with Queen of the South issuing an apology for their earlier insufficient apology for a high-profile political figure best known for pretending to be a cat in the Big Brother house tweeting from a match he wasn’t supposed to be attending.

It ended with grainy photos that allegedly showed Celtic’s captain and manager drinking pints by the pool in Dubai hours after being beaten by Rangers.

In-between these moments we saw a game being called off due to a plastic pitch failing its inspection, a national newspaper writing about a porn star waiting to congratulate Rangers’ goalkeeper at Ibrox and a staunch penguin.

Even if this supposed dearth of ‘characters’ was an issue, the constant stream of absurd storylines would easily keep comedy writers going.

Thankfully, our game is actually full of distinctive characters.

That edition of the weekly round-up also featured the likes of John Hughes, Scott Brown, Alfredo Morelos, Kris Boyd and Neil Lennon.

You don’t have to like them, but are Alfredo Morelos and Neil Lennon somehow less interesting, distinctive or controversial than Kenny Dalglish and Frank McAvennie were in the ’90s?

While it’s true that your average modern player has been media-trained to provide bland, unenlightening quotes, there are countless other characters with personalities every bit as vivid as those who were prominent in the ’80s, ’90s and noughties.

The generic ‘Yeah no you know’ answers from 2021’s crop are just the modern equivalent of a player in the ’90s revealing that his favourite band are Status Quo in Match magazine.

You get boring footballers now just as you got boring footballers in the ’90s, and there are plenty of outsized personalities to compensate in the present day just as there were back then.

There’s even humour to be found in the blandest of personalities, just as there was 25 years ago in Kenny Dalglish’s ‘Mibbes aye, mibbes naw’.

Last year Murdo Macleod was the subject of an interview so relentlessly dour that it became one of the year’s most amusing moments.

Rangers captain James ‘you know’ Tavernier, meanwhile, even inspired a drinking game that celebrated his repetitive interview responses.

All you need in order to develop an impersonation, homage or catchphrase is one plausible adjective. Chick Young? Staunch. Kenny Dalglish? Mumbly. Frank McAvennie? Horny.

 

McAvennie didn’t ask ‘Where’s the burds?’ in real life. All the writers had to notice was that he liked getting his end away, and then build on it. That one aspect of his personality was enough to spin out decades’ worth of material.

Can you look at Morelos, Lennon or Boyd and claim none of them have a defining personality trait?

Or, for that matter, Dick Campbell, Chris Sutton, Craig Levein, Ann Budge, Steven Naismith, David Martindale, Ryan Kent, Jim Goodwin, Gary Locke, Shane Duffy, Ally McCoist, Ryan Porteous, John Hughes, Leigh Griffiths or Danny Lennon?

That’s to say nothing of the paranoid bloggers, unsettling mascots and obsessed Eastern European political leaders.

There are countless others within Scottish football with obvious idiosyncrasies that are ripe for parody.

God knows I’ve been getting enough mileage out of Craig Levein saying ‘Regrets? No, it’s a good laugh” one time three years ago. 

‘No more characters in the modern game’ just sounds like the football equivalent of ‘Back in my day there was real music’.

The artists you loved when you were young will always feel more authentic, as they soundtracked the most vivid time in your life, at a point when you were most susceptible to new ideas.

Middle-aged men aren’t the target audience for WAP or evermore, and they can’t be expected to remain as in touch with modern Scottish football personalities as they were with those who were prominent in their teens and twenties.

Only an Excuse was a huge influence on me. I had a book of the scripts when I was a wee boy and too young to understand most of the jokes.

I was the guy in the playground giving it ‘Ho ho ho’ in Chick Young’s voice and ‘Hi, Jim White here’. Frankly, it’s a damning indictment on my primary school that I wasn’t bullied. 

There are numerous reasons why the ’90s are looked upon as the show’s golden age, and none of them are to do with a supposed lack of personalities in the modern game. 

While many of the references may have been niche, the writing has always been fairly broad. That’s why you see so many messages from people saying ‘Not a football fan but I never miss Only an Excuse before the bells’.

You don’t need to know how good a goalscorer Frank McAvennie was to appreciate ‘Man with funny face makes joke about shagging’. 

The ‘Pump 2?’ joke is a stone-cold classic, and can be enjoyed every bit as much by someone who’s never attended a game as by a blogger who can tell you every SPFL striker’s most recent xG ratio.

In recent years, writing for Only an Excuse must have become a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ scenario.

Persist with beloved characters like McAvennie and you face being called stale. Jettison them and you risk alienating the casual New Year viewer who makes up a large part of the audience. 

Finding a sweet spot that unites football fans on social media who were born years after McAvennie last kicked a ball with aunts and uncles who just want a bit of ‘Where’s the burds’ action feels like a task that would be beyond most of the show’s critics. 

Only an Excuse was hugely influential, and along with the likes of Off The Ball has moved Scotland away from the idea that football coverage must be deferential to players, managers, officials and pundits.

Regardless of how you feel about recent editions, Only an Excuse has been a good thing for the game. Its final episode might now have aired, but Scottish football will continue to generate comedy for years to come.

Anyone who fails to find humour in Scottish football’s current crop of characters has no excuse.

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