Rumori di Spogliatoio

Estonia and Scotland, difficult football diplomacy

Angelo PalmeriComment

We want a written apology from the club president and part of the fee refunded’ were the peremptory words pronounced by Leino Lõnsu to the Daily Mail in what ‘FC Santos Invest’ deem nothing less than a pharce.

The company is part of FC Santos Tartu, a club from Southern Estonia which recently got into the European news thanks to their access to Europa League as third tier club. Back in February they managed to organize an international friendly between Tottenham Hotspurs and Celtic FC.

Logo of the game prepared by FC Santos

Logo of the game prepared by FC Santos

We are very disappointed about the team Celtic brought over’ said an exacerbated Lõnsu to the English tabloid in its online versione ‘It was disrespectful to the opponent, to Finnish football fans and to the organisers to field such a squad. You could tell when you saw the Celtic team that the match would end like this. So we are extremely disappointed

 

In fact the game ended in 6-1 win for the Spurs who, instead, travelled to Helsinki, venue of the game, with the full squad and, most of all, with their head coach, Argentina Mauricio Pochettino.

 

'The head coach did not come either - and that was disrespectful towards us as well ’ insisted Lõnsu hinting at Norwegian gaffer Ronny Deila who let his assistant, John Collins, run the trade in its place.

Were Celtic really fielding a weak side?
Looking at the starting XI, the only regulars and first team seniors were Efe Ambrose, local hero Finnish Teemu Pukki, Amido Balde and Craig Gordon.

Celtic justified their choice by opposing the fact that they have an important upcoming game on Thursday, the return game of the Champions League third qualifying round against Legia. Given they have lost 4-1 in Warsaw against Henrik Ojamaa’s side, one would deem the excuse quite weak.

However, never say never in football.

Last season Celtic managed to overthrow the disadvantage earned against Shakhter Karagandy in Kazakhstan (0-2) and win the play-off to qualify to group stage (3-2 on aggregate).

John Collins, always there when there are troubles between Estonia and Scotland (Action images)

John Collins, always there when there are troubles between Estonia and Scotland (Action images)

If contracts have to be respected, certainly the stake of the Champions League is a priority for a club like Celtic.

 

It is not the first time that football relations between Estonia and Scotland are tense.

 

To find a precedent of misunderstanding we shall date back to the 90’s when the Scottish national team travelled to Tallinn for a World Cup 1998 qualifier.

This story is commonly known as ‘One Team in Tallinn’.

 

The object of the controversy was the time of the game.

It was the time when the ‘Eesti Koondis’ was still playing at the Kadriorg Stadium (‘A.LeCoq Arena’ modern stadium was yet to come – 2001).

During the pre-game training, the Scottish squad and FA realized that the floodlights of the stadium (which have never been replaced since then and it's still a big issue when comes to organize evening events, including athletics galas) were quite inadequate for the game the following day (the 9th of October).

The game was initially scheduled for 18:45 local time (17:45 CET or 16:45 GMT).

The request from the Scottish mission was not really unjustified considering that in October, the ‘white nights’ are already over and the darkness falls more quickly as the country approaches winter fastly.

Nowadays clubs like Levadia and Kalju do play in Kadriorg too in that period since season ends in Novemeber. It is not a mystery that kick-off times are no later than 1pm or 4pm for the same reasons and in past season have risen protests among fans when the kick-off was during the week.

 

The Scottish FA requested to move the game at 3pm.

 

The Estonian FA opposed to the decision taken by FIFA to accept the Scottish request.

 

What happened in Kadriorg probably had no precedents in the history of football since the Estonian FA, as a form of protest against the decision or simply as an act of non-acknowledgement of a decision taken without their full consent, did not send the team to the venue for the new time but kept for the original plan according to the 18:45 scheduled time of the game.

 

Time's up! But the game never started... (The Sun)

Time's up! But the game never started... (The Sun)

Few minutes before 3pm in Tallinn, referee Miroslav Radoman with his assistants and the Scottish XI regularly ran to the pitch, shook hands in a half empty Kadriorg (only Scottish fans were there singing ‘There’s only one team in Tallinn!’) and kicked off the game.

 

Quite curiously, the captain of that Scottish team was the same John Collins sitting on Celtic’s bench yesterday. A weird coincidence, since he was the one to touch ball just a second before Radoman whistled and declared the game abandoned.

 

The rest is history.

Estonia was not inflicted a 3-0 loss and, supported by UEFA president Lennart Johansson, obtained to play the game in a neutral pitch. Johansson was also the FIFA vice-president at that time.

 

FIFA decided the game would have been re-played in February 1997 in Montecarlo, at Monaco’s stadium, Stade Louis II.

 

It ended 0-0 and featured again John Collins in the XI. The present-day Scottish assistant coach, was a Monaco player during that period, to mark another interesting coincidence.

 

If Celtic will manage to overthrow the 4-1 loss in Poland, some more money will enter the counters of the club and probably paying the penalty fee to FC Santos Tartu will be less painful.
Unless they agree for a replay.
John Collins will be invited to stay home this time.