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Published: 25 MAR 2003

FLETCHER THE BRAVE
by Red11 StatMan Paul Hinson

When Manchester United took to the field for their Champions League tie against FC Basel at Old Trafford in March, the number 31 Shirt was proudly worn by a debutant, Darren Fletcher. A 19 year-old, born in Edinburgh, Fletcher was an unfamiliar name to many in the crowd that night.

Two years ago, he had been denied a senior outing in the closing Premiership fixture at Aston Villa because he was still registered as a schoolboy. Sir Alex Ferguson clearly rates the youngster, despite injuries slowing his progress from Reserve team level. The unusual aspect about Uniteds latest new kid on the block is that he is Scottish. Already capped at Under-21 level by Scotland, he is one of a dying breed at Old Trafford, and indeed much of the Premiership. The last regular Scot in the side was Brian McClair, who graced the shirt 458 times between 1987 and 1998. Since then, Alex Notman (1 appearance), Andy Goram (2) and Michael Stewart (13) make up a total of 17 games over 5 seasons.

Historically, the Reds have more often than not had a Tartan influence in the side. Dating back to their Newton Heath days, fearless forward Bob Donaldson rattled in over 50 goals for them in the 1890s, Sandy Turnbull scored the winner in the 1909 FA Cup Final against Bristol City, George Mutch, George McLachlan, Billy Johnston, all featured before World War 2. Subsequently, Arthur Albiston, Martin Buchan, Lou Macari, Denis Law, all made over 300 appearances for United.

Even the managerial hotseat has been graced by men from North of the border, from Scott Duncan in the 1930s, to knights of the realm in Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson. In December 1972, Tommy Docherty took charge and immediately set out to fill the team with members of the Scotland side he had recently selected.

The Tartan influence reached its peak in January 1973, when the Reds fielded 8 Scots against West Ham United at Old Trafford, Alex Forsyth, Denis Law, Jim Holton, Martin Buchan, Willie Morgan, Ted MacDougall, Lou Macari and George Graham
being supplemented by Sassenachs Alex Stepney, Bobby Charlton and Tony Young!
So, why has the talent from Scotland dried up? Certainly the English Premiership is virtually free of the quality of the Laws, Dalglishes and Hansens of yesteryear. More disturbingly is the fact the big guns in the Premier League in are similar, Larsson and de Boer taking over from the McGregors and Irvines.

Possibly the turning point was when Graeme Souness became player-manager at Rangers in the late 1980s, and single-mindedly wrested domination from Celtic by bringing in top English players. Their neighbours simply followed the trend and the continental invasion set in. Now Scotland struggle to defeat the Faroe Islands and Malta, and they even employ a German coach to try and buck the downward trend. Maybe Sir Alex is the last of the great Scottish managers, and the days of a Scot in a United shirt are going to be few and far between.

Darren Fletcher you say? He is tall, with good balance and sublime passing skills. Given a run without injuries, we could be seeing a lot more of the lad with Number 31 on his back....

Copyright 2003 Red11. All rights reserved.
Not to be reproduced without permission of the author.


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