Jack Harper

Name me a Scot who plays for Real Madrid. Go on. And has scored 3 goals in the Champions League (okay, the U-20 version) this season. And signed a 5-year contract with Madrid in 2012. And who FourFourTwo named as one of their top European youngsters to keep an eye on. No?

That Scot is a young man by the name of Jack Harper. Harper was born in Malaga in 1996, the son of Scottish parents. As such, he is eligible for both Spain and Scotland at international level. Mr Harper has brilliantly thrown his lot in with Scotland, appearing so far for the U-17 and U-19 sides. 

People with more knowledge on this matter than myself, particularly the Spanish football expert and Dons fan Graham Hunter, have seen this season as something of a breakthrough for Harper at Madrid. 6 foot 1 and lithe and languid of touch, he sounds like a possible superstar of the future for our national side, and one our football association would do well to nurture and develop. Particularly as we don’t really want him to do a Diego Costa and jump ship to Spain. 

This week, Scotland U-19 manager (and former Sunderland dogsbody) Ricky Sbragia named his squad for Scotland’s set of upcoming qualifiers for the U-19 European Championships, with matches against Italy, Austria and Croatia on the horizon. Jack Harper was not one of the names on Mr Sbragia’s list. 

And what of the reasoning for excluding this precocious Scottish talent who has a long term contract with one of the world’s biggest clubs? He is apparently a “luxury player”, and Sbragia has instead gone for players who are “physical”, with “more height” (Harper is 6″1 remember) and “runners.”

Okay, granted we have a tendency in this country to big young players up way too early then watch with uncalled for surprise as they either crash and burn (Derek Riordan) or eke out a decent but not spectacular career (Mark Burchill). Harper may not end up being the second Kenny Dalglish, or even the second Kenny Miller. 

However, Sbragia’s attitude to the young man is, frankly, bewildering. Here is a guy who has proven himself on the European stage at his age level already this season, but because he can “float all over the place” with Real Madrid, while for Scotland he must be “more disciplined”, this means by Sbragia’s logic that he must be denied the chance to show what he can do at international level. 

Granted, players at Madrid will be swallowed up and spat out on a regular basis. However, it would seem Harper is not one of those given the time and money already invested in the Scotto-Spaniard. Graham Hunter calls his exclusion from the U-19 squad a “prehistoric and retrograde step” – I completely agree. 

The crowning turd in the water pipe is seemingly that Sbragia doesn’t see enough of Harper to be able to make an informed decision. Well I tell you what Ricky, go. Easyjet fly to Madrid from both Glasgow and Edinburgh. If you’re stuck on where exactly he’s playing, you can even catch a Metro from the airport to the Bernabeu station and ask the Real Madrid staff yourself! I can’t imagine Spanish youth football or the UEFA Youth League are played in some mystical parallel footballing zone, however. 

This young man is potentially a future star of the Scottish national team, and he is being treated like a pariah because he happens to adopt a different outlook on the game than the average Scottish U-19 player. All the more reason to get him in the squad, and in my view it is absolutely imperative that Sbragia gets him in as soon as possible, before he decides that maybe he does fancy a game with Isco instead of Ikechi Anya on a more permanent basis. 

East Fife v Arbroath, 21 March 2015

Football is so often about choices. As something of a “check Livescore every Saturday” East Fife fan so far this season, I initially set off for Haymarket station on Saturday afternoon with half a mind to catch a train to Yoker to see Linlithgow Rose in action, in the quarter finals of the Scottish Junior Cup. 

However, on noting that I still had about enough time to travel to Methil to see the team I’ve supported for almost a quarter of a century, I thought it only right that I take in my first East Fife game of the 2014/15 season. 

As far as choices go, going to Methil was an excellent one. Having purchased an inexpensive jacket at Peacocks on the Shorehead (probably the first clothes I’ve bought or had bought for me from a shop in Leven since about 1997) to make up for the fact I’d misjudged the warmth of the March sunshine, I made my way to New Bayview and met up with Daniel, my cousin and godson (lucky chap) to take in the afternoon’s proceedings.  

East Fife v Arbroath

Some early action from New Bayview

 

The first 15 minutes or so of the game produced a couple of good chances for Arbroath, with headers being flashed wide. East Fife slowly took control of the game in the middle of the park, however, and should  have taken the lead in the 22nd minute. 

Young midfielder Ross Brown was felled in the area after three quick chances had gone begging for the home side. Derek Riordan, once of Hibs and Celtic, took the spot kick but unfortunately hit it straight at the Arbroath keeper McCallum. Mr McCallum was somewhat lucky to still be on the park having taken out Brown. 

The remainder of the half played out in much the same way – East Fife largely in control and drawing yellow card inducing fouls from their opponents. One of those on 45 minutes saw Riordan make up for his miss from 12 yards. He hit a direct free kick from the edge of the area low, around the wall and into the back of the net. McCallum got a hand to it but to no avail. 

East Fife v Arbroath

Derek Riordan prepares another free kick in the second half

The second half was largely defined by Arbroath having set pieces comfortably dealt with by the home defence. Corner after corner was well cleared, the only hairy moment coming from a Bobby Linn free kick which home goalkeeper Millar fumbled. His follow up save to deny Whatley however was outstanding. 

East Fife continued to hit Arbroath on the break, and that counter attacking finally paid off in the last minute. Good work from sub Alan Cook down the left saw him roll the perfect square ball to fellow sub Caolan McAleer, who made no mistake in knocking home the second and guaranteeing the Fife three very important points. McAleer celebrated exuberantly with the fans, and was then booked for his troubles, by which point nobody really cared. 

East Fife v Arbroath

The officials shepherd the Fife players back to their own half after the second goal

 

In all, a thoroughly professional performance from the home side. New signings Riordan and Dickson played well, while Ross Brown and Nathan Austin have clearly grown in bulk and confidence since last season. 

A positive result then for me to take back on the inordinately long bus and train journey to Edinburgh, and a 100% record for the season. 

East Fife 2-0 Arbroath (Riordan, McAleer)