The National:

SO, let’s deal with the crushing disappointment of  Scotland’s exit from the World Cup before we list all the positives. In that bygone era when Scotland’s men’s team regularly qualified for the final stages of international tournaments they seemed to contrive new ways of breaking the nation’s hearts.

One more against Zaire in 1974 would have seen us into the quarter-finals. In Argentina four years later it was our inability to defeat Iran (although we’ll always have Archie Gemmill’s goal). In 1982 it was goal difference again, not aided by the error between Alan Hansen and Graeme Souness against the Soviets. In 1986 we played an entire match against 10-man Uruguay but couldn’t get the requisite goal. In 1990 we were beaten by Costa Rica yet were still just a few minutes away from getting a decisive draw against Brazil.

None of these, though, can compare with the agonies suffered by Shelley Kerr’s heroic team during their 3-3 draw against Argentina on Wednesday night. Of course, they should have never let a three-goal lead slip away like that, but they simply did not deserve to have their place in history taken from them by a retaken penalty that I’m not sure should have been given in the first place. In this tournament, VAR has been used as an instrument of cruel and unusual torture against the Scottish women. The performances of Erin Cuthbert were in a class of their own. Had Scotland progressed a little further in the tournament, the Irvine-born Chelsea player would surely have been a contender for player of the tournament.

Despite the nature of their departure from France, Scotland have provided a break-out moment for women’s football in Scotland. So here are five reasons to be cheerful:

1. Scotland’s women played some skilful and high-energy football against Argentina and utterly dominated them for most of the match. Both Japan and England, who are among the world’s top ranked teams, could not produce the same quality against Argentina.

2. Scotland’s own displays against the group’s two top teams were very good and demonstrated the astonishing progress made by this squad in a short space of time.

3. Scotland’s women are on an upwards trajectory. They will be a more confident and battle-hardened team after this experience.

4. They belong among the world’s elite.

5. With proper support from the SFA, women’s football in Scotland can become mainstream and professional. It can become something for tens of thousands of girls to aspire to.

Watershed for the SFA

FOR the SFA this is a watershed moment. This dysfunctional and largely unaccountable organisation has been synonymous with failure and incompetence from its inception. In 1971 it was the only one of Uefa’s member organisations to vote against bringing the women’s game into the football family. It has been playing catch-up since, and with mixed results.

The National: 11/09/18 . HAMPDEN PARK - GLASGOW . SFA Chief Executive Ian Maxwell speaks to the press as the SFA announce the national team will remain at Hampden.

The record-breaking crowds in France have shown that this is an established product with a potentially huge customer base.  Male football pundits and ignorant social commentators who harbour cynicism about women’s football insist on underlining the gap in physicality and athleticism. This is a pointless exercise that gets us nowhere. Men are made bigger: so what? The women’s game is skilful, entertaining and intense.

The version of the game that elite male footballers play now is at a much higher level than that which was played a generation ago. Does that mean that we dismiss the football of our youth as unrefined and pre-historic? Fitness levels, professionalism and skilfulness all increased with greater financial backing.

It’s not enough for SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell (pictured above) to link future investment in the women’s game with the whims of sponsors, or to indulge in shallow virtue-signalling by saying that Shelley Kerr was considered for the men’s team. There has to be a serious purpose of intent.

Nothing less than a decree that all Premiership clubs have a fully professional women’s team within five years will suffice. If the cost can be helped by cutting back on the gannets who fill their boots on foreign trips, even better.

Punditry was top quality

THE quality of television punditry at this World Cup has been of a very high quality too and a refreshing departure from the inarticulate squawking and rambling that characterises the output of male analysts throughout the  football season. 

The National:

Among the female professionals offering us their wisdom and expertise is Gemma Fay (above) former captain and goalkeeper of the women’s international team and,  with 203 international appearances, our  most capped player. Fey has  emerged as the best of them all, offering clear-eyed, eloquent and unbiased analysis of Scotland’s matches. She has played with most of the current Scotland squad and her pain at their last-minute agony rendered her momentarily  speechless. Within seconds,  though, she had regained her poise and captured the drama of those moments with her customary professionalism.

I expect to be seeing and  hearing much more of her in the coming seasons where she would  be a welcome and much-needed addition to what lamentably passes for analysis on BBC Scotland’s various platforms. 

Criticisms fall apart

CRITICISMS of the women’s game include claims that even their best players are not capable of producing those feats of intense athleticism that can light up the men’s game. On the evidence of this World Cup, that claim can no longer be allowed to stand.  In the last week alone I would cite saves by the Nigerian goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie against France as well as towering headers by the German striker, Alexandra Popp. The save by the Chilean goalkeeper Claudia Endler in their 3-0 defeat by USA was incredible. There have been back heels, step-overs and crunching tackles by professional athletes at the top of their game.

 When Scotland were in the ascendancy against Argentina I saw three of their players pull off the fabled Cruyff turn in the heat of battle. I’ve waited a long time to see a footballer wearing a Scottish international jersey doing that at a major tournament. When a Scottish male player attempts to perform this manoeuvre or something like it he usually risks getting a hernia.