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It's a Long time since I wrote about football rather than talk about it. About a quarter of a century to be precise.

It was about the time Kenny Dalglish's career was beginning to flourish and Denis Law's was on the wane.

The changes, of course, have been phenomenal. Scottish superstars are thin on the ground, although lavishly paid, with hosts of toiling endurance runners everywhere to be seen.

I have no doubt that today's footballers train harder than ever, but I suspect the majority don't practice hard enough.

That, for me, is the key element in football development - practice.

Jimmy Johnstone, Jim Baxter and Denis Law practised virtually from the moment they drew breath.

They did so without pounds 100 trainers or the best of kit and facilities.

Sadly, two of them suffered from character defects and one, Law, from a succession of injuries. But their consummate artistry never left them.

Let's be blunt - there is no excuse in these highly-paid days for one- footed footballers.

All that is required is dedicated practice, the kind Eric Cantona indulges in long after the official Manchester United training is over. The kids at Old Trafford have joined him.

The real mark of a top-class pro is improvement every season until their legs give out. There are three terrific examples in the Scotland team.

First, the captain Gary McAllister.

I remember him as a raw, leggy youngster at Motherwell prior to his transfer to Leicester City. There is no doubt he would have remained another pedestrian player but for dedication and a desire to better himself season by season.

I saw John Collins' debut for Hibs and his basic talent was obvious. He looked lightweight and perhaps unsuited to the hurly-burly of the game.

Look at him now, his physique resembles Nigel Benn. The skills have been honed and developed.

My first look at Colin Hendry was when he was a very ordinary centre forward at Dundee. He looked to be another also-ran. He was lucky to have the influence of Donald Mackay who identified the raw material and encouraged him to become the outstanding defender he is today.

His own mental toughness and determination to succeed were crucial.

One other thing all three have in common - no reports of nights on the booze or dalliances with bimbos.

There have been others over the years with as much, or even more raw talent. One of them is Charlie Miller of Rangers.

I saw his debut for Rangers and it was even more impressive than Collins'.

Sadly, I saw him outplayed, out-thought, out-fought and totally out-manoeuvred by a young Austrian named Wagner in an under-21 international last August.

Do yourself a favour Charlie, have a serious conversation with someone like McAllister, Collins or Hendry. Hopefully you will then listen to the wisdom and guidance of your manager Walter Smith.

Tanked up on fuel

Found myself seated at a function bet-ween Scotland assistant boss Alex Miller and racehorse trainer Linda Perratt.

Alex asked Linda about her methods for training racehorses. In the course of her reply she devoted a lot of attention to diet.

She said it was essential to have the correct fuel in the tank and visitors to her Cree Lodge stables were forbidden to give her horses titbits.

"Why is that?" asked Alex.

"Because it is vital not to contaminate the fuel in the tank," she replied. With raised eyebrows, Alex looked at me and smiled: "I suppose bacardi, whisky and beer are out of the question."

A new sporting challenge - find a Scottish footballer who doesn't contaminate the fuel in the tank.


Steven Pressley, left, has one consolation from missing Dundee United's Scottish Cup semi-final against Kilmarnock - he doesn't have to set foot on that Easter Road surface.

How could the SFA choose Easter Road for a showpiece game when the surface is so bad and the capacity so low? On TV evidence (and there's nothing wrong with that) the referee who sent Pressley off at Easter Road against Hibs on Saturday, Mike Pocock, was wrong on two counts.

If Pressley's use of the arm was illegal it took place outside the penalty box, as Lee Power tugged at his jersey.

Second, it did not deny an obvious goal-scoring opportunity because Sieb Dykstra was going to get the ball first.

I am sure Pocock realises he boobed.

There is no way the penalty award can be changed but surely we should invoke the English system which allows a referee to confirm the red card was given in error.

Old Craig could play a bit too

I suppose I am better placed than anyone to provide a list of things you don't know about Craig Brown.

Despite anything he may tell you to the contrary, he is my much older brother.

The one thing which constantly grates on me is the suggestion that he was not a player of distinction.

The truth is that Craig was a terrific player, skippering a Scotland schoolboy team which included Billy McNeill. He was also captain of Scotland Youth just before he signed for Rangers.

While still a teenager, he sustained a knee injury playing for Rangers reserves which changed him from a midfield dynamo to a left back who was never again able to train properly.

Even at that, he was in the Dundee championship- winning squad of 1962 and European Cup squad of 1963 before having to quit on medical advice in his mid-20s.

So he turned his attention at an early age to coaching.

Thirty years of experience is now being employed in Scotland's cause and he certainly does not need the help of a younger brother who expressed the view prior to the Austria match that John McGinlay may provide a greater goal threat than Kevin Gallacher.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 11, 1997
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