Sanctimonious Scots should get their own house in order before attempting to lead campaigns condemning Johnny Foreigner's cheating
By Bernard Thompson
Rangers fans are the first invited to join the media-led campaign to harangue the Lithuanian who dared to dive at Hampden against the country that is giving him a home and a livelihood.
To be fair, Mikoliunas is a hard player to love, which makes him perfect for Hearts just now. Undoubtedly talented, occasionally interested, prone to sly kicks off the ball, but always ready to bleat to referees at the slightest provocation, he has up to now been more often booed by his own fans at Tynecastle than by those of opposition teams.
But nothing rallies the Gorgie faithful more passionately than the Weegie media or the SFA criticising any aspect of their brilliantly run club. So just a few weeks after some Hearts fans had pencilled in this weekend to demonstrate against the regime of another Lithuanian, owner Vladimir Romanov, contempt for outsiders has prompted them to close ranks. The prevailing feeling is that Miko "may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch".
If the reasoning of Hearts fans - that everyone based in Glasgow is out to destroy a club already living on borrowed players as well as time - is flawed, they have some justification in asking why their 23-year-old winger is attracting such special attention. Granted, the penalty he won could have been catastrophic for Scotland's Euro 2008 campaign; but it wasn't.
And if players like Craig Gordon or Jay McEveley could claim that the venom they directed at Mikoliunas was uttered in the heat of battle, the SFA Chief Executive Gordon Smith has no such excuses. Smith is undoubtedly intelligent and his experience as a player, assistant coach and agent appeared to make him the ideal choice to replace the unpopular David Taylor.
But more crucial to his appointment was his media background - it was thought he could be relied upon to avoid the sort of idiotic remark that precipitated the demise of former SFA president John McBeth, who famously argued that "by and large, the four British countries know what fair play is and when we are stepping out of line. But, as soon as you hit Africa, it's a slightly different kettle of fish. They're poor nations and want to grab what they can. I presume the Caribbean is much the same - they just come at it in a different way."
When Smith gave his own reaction to Mikogate, there were echoes of that insular sentiment that had embarrassed Scotland so badly: "It could be that he reverted to what is acceptable in Lithuania because he was playing for his national side, even though it's unacceptable here," he said. "I don't think the referee helped the situation, either, possibly because he comes from a country where that sort of behaviour isn't so frowned upon." He then went on to insist that Scotland - and presumably Smith - should lead the world in eradicating simulation, name-dropping Franz Beckenbauer and Dino Zoff along the way.
Smith, of course, did plan to tackle the issue in Scotland before discovering that retrospective punishments based on television evidence would breach Fifa regulations. But he is naive to believe that, having made such crass judgements on the values of Lithuania and Slovenia respectively, he could be trusted to lead any such international movement. The fact that his comments came after a match in which Garry O'Connor also dived didn't help. They also came on the back of an apology for the Tartan Army's disrespect for the Lithuanian national anthem, which only added to the surreal air of farce that would have made the Marx Brothers proud.
Smith has merely demonstrated precisely why Scotland is in no position to lead any campaign on fair play: while Scots - or the British as a whole - delude ourselves that we are inherently more trustworthy than other nationals by dint of our birth, we will never show ourselves capable of objectivity. For example, when France last visited Hampden (before beating the world's best team was commonplace), Uefa found that Scotland were slow in returning the ball to the field after Gary Caldwell's goal.
Standing next to Alex McLeish on Saturday was Roy Aitken, the model hard-but-fair pro, but one who was also guilty of outrageous opportunism while winning the Scottish Cup for Celtic at that very stadium. His predecessor in the dug-out, Ally McCoist, was far too beloved of the Scottish media to ever be accused of "going down easily" while playing for Rangers, although fans of every other team were less reticent. But suggesting that Scottish players are as guilty of underhand tactics as those "on the continent" is viewed as a kind of treason.
The irony is that many of the same fans who booed Mikoliunas on Saturday, and who will continue to do so over the next few weeks, will happily list Maradona's Hand of God goal among their all-time sporting highlights. So the Lithuanian might well be justified in shrugging off the righteous indignation of his adopted country. "If Hearts fans want me to apologise I will, but not to Scotland fans," he said. It is a response that, probably temporarily, has endeared him to his club's faithful, a surprising number of whom chose to support Lithuania rather than their own national team.
But then he comes from a nation of heroes, sportsmen, geniuses, villains and cheats - a bit like Scotland.