When you think of national teams prone to in-fighting, your thoughts perhaps drift to the Dutch. But the Oranjes are a picture of harmony when compared to the Scotland squad of the early 11th century.
It was the ambition and paranoia of striker Macbeth that led to the team’s notorious internal divisions. Many observers of the time viewed his rapid rise to the captaincy as suspicious, particularly since his predecessor’s career ended so abruptly and unexpectedly. As a result, lingering resentment in the squad meant he could never fully unite the country behind his leadership.
Some historians argue Macbeth owed his success not to ny ability, but to the pre-match rituals undertaken by a midfield triumvirate formed by the Witch sisters. The same three ladies were the subject of a formal inquiry by the Gambling Commission when it emerged they had multiple wins in the Football Pools, though they were never found guilty of fixing matches.
Other academics claim Macbeth’s position relied on the tactical innovations and motivational skills of fellow striker, Lady Macbeth. Her career came to an early and inglorious end when TV cameras caught her tampering with the markings in the penalty area*.
The tampering incident was just one of many dark deeds that the Macbeths applied to their game, often seeking (successfully) to blame others for their misdemeanours. In one match at Inverness, their unprovoked attacks left several opponents dead, but it was youngsters Malcolm and Donalbain who received red cards (later rescinded). Questioned about the poor refereeing, one of the Witches offered a damning indictment of the Scottish football philosophy of the time: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”
Little is known about other squad members. Dagger was a floating number nine with a sharp touch, always hovering just in front of Macbeth. The latter often mentioned Banquo at post-match dinners, but he was largely invisible to the watching crowds. Banquo’s son, Fleance (“The Lochaber Messi”), played only a peripheral role in the Macbeth era, but would go on to captain the team a few years later.
On the wing, Wood spent most games rooted to the spot, until a match at Dunsinane when his rapid advance surprised even his own teammates. The resulting confusion led to a bloody confrontation involving Macbeth and Macduff, with the former losing his head and the captaincy. It was to be Macbeth’s final game.
The authorities were quick to rewrite the history of Macbeth’s career following his demise. In truth, his main weakness was merely an obsession with one-dimensional attacking football, but the Scottish FA’s review of his tenancy as captain was far more damning: “a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more.”
*Some scholars claim this incident is the origin of the well-known phrase “Out, damned spot! Out, I say.” Another memorable quote attributed to Lady Macbeth was “What’s done cannot be undone”, her unusually humorous response when asked why she never needed to adjust her bootlaces during a match.
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