Choccy’s Diary: Musical chairs, VAR and a United stalwart

Manchester United and Celtic legend Brian McClair looks back on a week of pigeon fancying, theatre going and VAR while also looking forward to a special night at Hotel Football on November 30th.
Brian McClair  |  12th November 2019

Choccy’s tales

They say a bird defecating on you is meant to bring good luck but I’m not sure what one flying into your head is supposed to symbolise?

Well, that’s exactly what happened to me when I was walking through Edinburgh’s Waverley Station last week and a pigeon decided to fly straight into my head.

Thankfully neither me nor my feathered friend were injured in the altercation, though my beard was rather bushy at the time, so maybe it was looking for somewhere to nest for the winter?

It could have been worse I suppose, just ask Ashley Young.

I went to watch Still Game live in Glasgow a few days ago and great fun it was too, though for some of the audience the entertainment began in the stalls before the event started with a gentleman who had trouble trying to find his seat, despite being located at the very end of the row.

After getting everyone to stand up on no fewer than three occasions, even though he could have just walked around to the end of the next aisle, he eventually settled himself down for a great show – despite there being plenty of free seats around him!

I also want to give a mention to the fabulous Toria Garbutt who I saw performing in Glasgow recently which was another great night. I’d first seen Toria when she supported John Cooper Clarke in Manchester earlier this year, and she is a fine poet and wonderful performer.

Liverpool in the driving seat

After all the hype, Sunday’s clash between Liverpool and Manchester City had a lot to live up to, though I thought it was a pretty entertaining match for one which had so much riding on it.

Despite Jurgen Klopp being cautious and saying it’s still early days, it’s difficult to see anyone catching Liverpool now with such a healthy lead, though maybe someone should ask Kevin Keegan for his views as I seem to remember a certain Newcastle side being chased down by Manchester United in 1996 when it looked like the race had been won.

The shame for me was that the biggest talking point once again was VAR and the penalty that wasn’t awarded after what looked like a handball by Trent Alexander-Arnold in the box.

Whether it was or it wasn’t is neither here nor there now but what struck me is how the City players appeared to be waiting for the video ref to intervene and make a call while Liverpool raced upfield and scored 22 seconds later.

It reminded me of when I was coaching at United and we used to drill players in reacting to bad decisions from officials as, at the end of the day, the referee is always right even when he is wrong, so rather than arguing it’s all about taking-up the correct position and being prepared for what happens next.

Stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before

There’s been a lot said about VAR already this season and in my opinion it’s simply not working out and the events at Anfield clearly showed why.

For me when there is a contentious decision that needs reviewing then the game should be stopped, otherwise we have a farcical situation where the game is going on while fans and players alike are unsure what is about to happen next.

At least if the ref blew and then checked the incident the game could restart, either with a bounce-ball or a penalty, but everyone would know the outcome rather than a goal potentially being ruled out after another 30 seconds of play.

I’ve also noticed huge inconsistencies when it comes to handballs in the penalty area as I was led to believe that intent was not factored into the awarding of spot-kicks anymore, though that would not appear to be the case now.

It looked like officials were going to penalise defenders if the ball hit their hand regardless of whether they meant it or not, rather like in rugby when a knock-on is given even if it’s accidental.

However, the call at Anfield and one between Everton and Spurs at Goodison Park recently when the ball appeared to strike Dele Ali’s arm, would suggest there is at least some leeway being applied when it comes to such decisions.

What also struck me was the fact that many of the video referees at Stocky Park I’ve not really heard of, even for such a high-profile role when some of the biggest names in the officiating world are performing the job of being the fourth official.

As far as I’m concerned the fourth official is just there to make substitutions and keep time, so I don’t know why some of these experienced referees are not making the big calls as they see them on the video screen?

A fine night for Scottish football

It was an incredible win in Europe last week for my former club, Celtic, who won at Lazio with 8,000 fans making the trip to Rome in what, at times, looked like difficult circumstances on a fine night for Scottish clubs in the Europa League.

Celtic played really well despite going 1-0 down and scored their goals at the right time to force their way back into the match and achieve their first ever win on Italian soil in what was a memorable night for all those who travelled.

The win means they have already qualified for knockout stages and if they continue to play the way they have I can see them causing problems for anyone they face next.

Along with Manchester United and Rangers, who also enjoyed a fine win against Porto in Portugal, I can see all three being among those that sides will be keen to avoid when the draw for the knockout stages is made.

No international rescue for United

It’s a case of the international break coming at the wrong time for another of my old sides, Manchester United, having put in some decent performances in their last few games with the lads probably desperate to get back out and try and salvage their season

I thought they played well against Brighton in what sounded like a really good atmosphere at Old Trafford and it’s great to see that the fans are still right behind the team despite some difficult times of late.

I’ve been really impressed by Daniel James who, along with Marcus Rashford has been great to watch this season; while if Scott McTominay continues his current form the club might just be getting a call from Barcelona.

Brandon Williams is also showing great potential and looks like a star for the future and, despite being partial to the odd rash tackle, I don’t see it being a problem as many of the greats I’ve played with and against have had plenty of aggression in their game.

All about the future for Scotland

Steve Clarke

I can’t mention the international break without talking about Scotland though I’m afraid these next two fixtures are purely a case of building momentum for Steve Clarke’s men ahead of the Nations League playoffs.

Cyprus shouldn’t be taken lightly however as they looked a pretty useful side when they came to Glasgow and could prove to be a handful at home in a fixture that Scotland are more than capable of making difficult for themselves.

They do need to be winning their home game next Tuesday against Kazakhstan though, as three points would see them finish third in the group and instil some much-needed confidence before the big one against Finland next year.

Tom Clare a true United stalwart

I just wanted to take this opportunity to say how much I’m looking forward to attending Hotel Football in Manchester on November 30th for a testimonial dinner in honour of one of the club’s longest-standing and most respected supporters – Tom Clare.

It was a privilege to meet Tom at the third Houston Soccer Community Annual Dinner back in August and a great night was had by all while also raising money for some fabulous causes in the local area.

I’ll be joining a number of former United players at the dinner in Manchester to honour a remarkable human being and United stalwart while all proceeds raised on the night from donations will be added to the Thomas Clare Testimonial Fund and used to help with his ongoing medical care.

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