By Damon Main –
It has been 20 years since a Scottish club has played against a Georgian opponent. In September 1995 Glasgow’s Celtic and the then Georgian cup holders Dinamo Batumi met in the first round of the now defunct European Cup Winners’ Cup. Back in the 1990s Batumi was one of the strongest clubs in Georgia, as the club also won the Georgian championship in 1998.
But the run up to the 1995 match between Celtic and Dinamo Batumi was plagued by controversy, as reports of organised crime at the local Batumi Airport led to uncertainty over whether the city was safe enough to host an international match. Furthermore, between 1992 and 1993, the first conflict in Abkhazia (just north of the Autonomous Republic of Ajara of which Batumi is the capital) had just taken place, and there followed on-going questions regarding the security of the entire Black Sea region.
The conflict that began in 1992, ended in late 1993 when Georgian troops took the Black Sea port of Poti, a short drive north of Batumi, was felt by some observers to pose a security risk for fans traveling from Scotland. Despite calls from the Scottish press to move the game to Turkey, UEFA decided that Batumi was safe—to be fair, by 1995 the political situation in Georgia had stabilized somewhat, and Abkhazia’s conflict did not flare up again until 1998. In the end, Celtic went through to the next round when a close 3-2 win for Celtic at Batumi’s Central Stadium was followed by a 4-0 win in Glasgow.
Even before Georgia’s independence in 1991, Scotland and Georgia had a history on the football field—it was Georgian footballers who ended Scotland’s hope to participate at the 1982 World Cup in Spain. The final Group 6 match saw the Scots needing to beat the Soviet Union to qualify for the second round, but goals from the Georgian Aleksandr Chivadze and a famous goal from the late Dinamo Tbilisi legend Ramaz Shengelia saw the USSR through to the second round group stage.
The above, however, is history and now Scotland, and Georgia are drawn together in Group D with Germany, Poland, Ireland, and tiny Gibraltar. Georgia has struggled thus far, and has only managed one win and five defeats in qualification for EURO 2016, which will take place in France. The poor performance in this year’s qualification campaign has resulted in the firing of the national team coach, former Dundee and Newcastle United player Temuri Ketsbaia, and he was replaced by Kakhaber Tskhadadze, whose playing career included stints at numerous clubs including Dinamo Moscow, Spartak Moscow, Alania Vladikavkaz and Manchester City. Despite the change in leadership, Georgia’s poor form has continued as Georgia has lost 4-0 against the highflying Poles in Warsaw; a game that included a quick fire hat trick from Bayern Munich’s striker Robert Lewandowski.
Scotland – The History of Brave Defeats is Endless
Georgia’s current results should give many Scotland fans cause for optimism regarding their trip to Tbilisi. The previous qualification history between the two nations, however, suggests that form might not come into play this Friday. As the Scottish national team has long been seen as the nearly men of international football, and the list of brave failures is endless. The Scots have not qualified for a finals tournament since the 1998 World Cup in France.
They came close to qualifying for the 2008 European Championships in Austria and Switzerland. Drawn in Group B with France, Italy, Lithuania, Ukraine, Faroe Islands and Georgia—it was in the qualification round of that tournament that Scotland met Georgia for the first time when they played in Glasgow on March 24th 2007. Scotland won the match 2-1; an early goal from Kris Boyd was cancelled out by Georgia’s legendary striker Shota Arveladze, but a late goal from Craig Beattie enabled Scotland to hang on to three points after all.
By the time the Scots played Georgia in Tbilisi in October 2007 they appeared to be the favourites to qualify for the tournament in Austria and Switzerland. Home and away wins had been attained over a highly talented French team, whilst four days before the trip to Georgia, a Ukrainian side that included strikers Andriy Voronin, and Andriy Shevchenko, was swept aside 3-1 at Hampden Park in Glasgow.
Coached by the German Klaus Toppmöller, who took Bayer Leverkusen to a Champions League final in 2002, the Georgians shocked the Scots by beating them 2-0 in Tbilisi as goals from Levan Mchedlidze (then just 17 years old) and David Siradze blew the qualification group wide open and effectively allowed the French to qualify at the expense of the Scots.
In the current qualification campaign, Scotland has already faced off against Georgia; a game that Scotland won 1-0 in Glasgow due to an unfortunate own goal from Akaki Khubutia. Now, before the return match against Scotland Kakhaber Tskhadadze hopes to see his team score its first goal since he took over as coach of the national team. Indeed he is not the only one who is optimistic, as it is expected that a near capacity crowd will attend the game at the newly renovated Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena. Before hosting this year’s UEFA Super Cup match between Barcelona and Sevilla, all the old seats were ripped out at the Boris Paichadze Dinamo Arena, and were replaced with blue and white seating—Scotland fans are hoping that the colour choice will prove to be a good omen.
A native of the ‘granite city’ of Aberdeen in Scotland with a passion for football, writing, photography and travel – Damon has spent most of his life watching football religiously. His main interests are European club football, fan culture and the stadium. Writing largely as a hobby, Damon somehow manages to combine his sense of global wanderlust with a love of writing – producing articles, images and insightful research for a variety of online and print publications.