Friday, October 17, 2014

It's all about the money

The BBC's annual Price of Football survey is always guaranteed to generate plenty of chat.

Chat that normally concludes: "The price of football? It's far too expensive."

Which at many clubs it almost certainly is.

The clubs argue that the survey offers no more than a snapshot, a glib spot of attention seeking that ignore the bigger picture.

Hibs, for example, suggested that the headline figure of £405 for an adult season ticket is offset by special deals like £1 offers for children.

(I, like Whitney Houston, believe children are the future. But unless I can borrow one for matchdays, I can't actually benefit from those deals. A lot of people are in the same position. Football's hidden discrimination against the childless is worthy of investigation.)

Is football value for money? Its fiscal beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

How can you even measure value for money? Cost per home win? (So far this season that's £202.50 for me at Easter Road.) Cost per home goal? (So far £67.50).

If you thought about value for money, you probably wouldn't bother going to games.

Supporting a team doesn't work like that.

What the Price of Football survey actually raises is yet another split between clubs and fans.

Clubs operate as businesses. Fans don't - usually - see themselves as consumers.

The more far sighted clubs will try and bridge that gap. But most still use it in the most dastardly way possible to wring every last drop of cash out of supporters. You'll pay for your loyalty, they'll make sure of it.

And fans tend to let them get on with it if the team is performing. It's the rank rotten football of the last few seasons that has left many fans drifting away from Easter Road, not the cost of watching it.

Maybe fans do have a tipping point though. Just last Saturday a revived Scotland were under supported against Georgia at Ibrox.

You might have put money on the befuddled SFA being the organisation that finally pushed its fans too far.

Because that's the one power fans have: to not turn up.

Unfortunately for many people that option is actually worse than going and paying inflated prices.

It's "our" team. And what else would we do on a Saturday afternoon anyway?

So we let the clubs get away with it.

And so it goes on. Until next year. When the BBC Price of Football 2015 will reveal exactly the same thing again.

The pies have it

One thing that is in my control - a boycott of the catering kiosks at Easter Road.

I give them chance after chance.

Last Saturday I bought a pie. Here are the results of my exclusive survey:

Queuing time: 16 minutes
Cost: £2.30
Taste: 0/10
Enjoyment time: 0 seconds

Never again. And this time I really mean it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Euro 2016: Tough group, different Scotland

Three games played, four points secured.

Other countries have made more spectacular starts to Euro 2016 but Scotland can be reasonably happy.

Last night's draw in Poland - after a seriously enjoyable ninety minutes - keeps us nicely placed in Group D.

Three points behind the Poles and Ireland, level with Germany and with arguably our two toughest away fixture out of the way.

Gordon Strachan at the Scottish Football Blog
Germany's defeat in Poland on Saturday and home draw with Ireland last night has left the top of the group more bunched than I might have expected.

History suggests that Germany will take care of themselves. It would have been far more damaging to find ourselves six points behind Poland this morning.

So while Scotland's recovery from Alan Hutton's early mistake fuelled second half dreams of three points, securing a draw would probably have satisfied most of us before the game.

If last night wasn't must-win it might just have been approaching mustn't-lose. In which case, as with Saturday's win against Georgia, job done.

There's also something increasingly appealing about this Scotland team.

Watching a team that seem to "get" their manager, that are prepared to show the right attitude and are capable of playing some really nice football (see our equaliser last night as Exhibit A) is refreshing. We've had occasional flashes in the last few years but too much of what Scotland have done has been pedestrian. Not now.

Gordon Strachan seems to be relishing the national job. And that's increasingly showing in the way his players are responding to him.

Not that qualification is going to be easy. Right now four teams are pushing for three spots, including the world champions. Somebody's going to be going home with a hard luck story and regretting an opportunity missed. As Strachan said last night:

"I said it after the Germany game and this confirms it: this is the hardest group, this will go to the last day."

Strachan may or may not be right about Group D being the hardest group of all but his conclusion looks bang on.

Playing Gibraltar away on the last day might yet be a serendipitous spot of scheduling.

What we can say is that, with three games played, Scotland can still claim to be in control of their own Euro 2016 destiny.

And they look better equipped to handle that responsibility than they have in many years.

Greer today but not gone tomorrow

Last year Gordon Greer became Scotland's oldest debutant in over 50 years.

Last night, just short of his 34th birthday, he made his competitive debut. And thirty-somethings across the land applauded him. Or at least this thirty-something did.

The Brighton captain also drew one of Gordon Strachan's more memorable post match quotes:

"Gordon Greer is fantastic. He looks nothing like a footballer; he looks like a rock star turning up at a testimonial game."

Strachan followed that up with: "And he's absolutely fantastic."

Hard to argue on a night when Scotland's most costly defensive lapses came from player with far more international experience.

The centre of defence has looked to be a weakness of Strachan's Scotland revolution.

Greer's belated emergence and the way he seamlessly replaced Grant Hanley in the starting XI is another encouraging example of how Strachan is getting the very best out of all available resources.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Euro 2016: Poland v Scotland


Gordon Strachan's immediate assessment of Scotland's 1-0 win over Georgia on Saturday was effusive.

And, if a 1-0 win over a team ranked outside the world's top 100 can hardly be considered the stuff of sporting legend, a lot of what Strachan would have wanted was delivered.

Scotland were positive, dominated possession, created the overwhelming majority of chances and seemed undaunted by the burden of being favourites from the start.

More goals would have been deserved - and would have meant a calmer climax to the game. But as Georgia grew more adventurous with the clock ticking down, Scotland just about coped.

Job done. If Georgia felt unlucky not to have nicked a late goal they were equally lucky not to be down by more than one goal.

Three points secured. And they probably had to be. If the Republic of Ireland's demolition of Gibraltar was expected on Saturday evening, Poland's win over Germany provided the first shock of Group D.

Poland v Scotland, the Scottish Football Blog
There's a couple of ways to look at that Polish win. It could make Scotland's ability to win plaudits but no points in Germany more painful. On the other hand on Saturday Scotland dominated a game without taking full advantage but were able to close out the win, something Germany failed to do a couple of hours later.

It's unlikely that the German's metronomic qualifications methods will be significantly disrupted by such an early setback.

Scotland will still expect to be battling for second and third with Poland and Ireland. Saturday might have muddied the waters, when they clear we can still confidently expect Germany to drift away from the chasing pack.

But that shock three points does give Poland a bit of a competitive edge in these early skirmishes.

Beating Scotland this evening would strengthen Poland's hand even further. That doesn't mean this is a must-win game for Scotland. But to lose it would leave us on the backfoot going into next month's home game against Ireland.

If Poland win and Germany beat Ireland then Poland move six points clear of us, with Germany and Ireland three points ahead. A point keeps the deficit to Poland at three points and - again banking on a German win - puts us just two points behind Germany and Ireland.

Just three games into qualification the former scenario would be far from insurmountable but the latter is much preferable. A win in Poland would, of course, be even better.

There's an extent to which the improvements Strachan has overseen with the national side and the way he's assiduously cultivated public enthusiasm might have slightly blinded us to the obvious. We took a look at Group D and saw a great chance to qualify for Euro 2016 - but Poland and Ireland saw exactly the same chance.

And, while the extended format of the tournament proper hasn't been universally lauded, it does seem to have added a certain vigour to the opening stages of the qualification process, as recent results for Spain, Holland and Germany show. It's not going to be a particularly easy for many teams.

How will Poland react to their first ever win over Germany? Hopefully the hangover will have lasted long enough to dull their senses tonight.

In reality we're likely to see a clash of two fairly evenly matched teams. Poland made Germany pay for not taking their chances at the weekend. Thankfully Georgia couldn't inflict the same damage on Scotland at Ibrox but it's important that we avoid such profligacy tonight.

Performances against Germany and drubbings of Gibraltar are all well and good. But the situation in Group D hasn't changed all that much - the team that gets the better of the clashes between Scotland, Poland and Ireland will likely snatch the second automatic qualification place behind the Germans.

Tonight's match won't be easy but it does give Scotland the chance to strike an important first blow in that mini-tournament.

A costly mistake

Group D looks to be Scotland's best route to qualification for a major championship since Craig Brown led us to the 1998 World Cup in France.

Saturday's match against Georgia always looked like a fantastic opportunity to get off to a winning start at home and in Gordon Strachan we finally have a manager who really wants to build a connection with the Tartan Army.

So you'd have expected Ibrox to be close to full on Saturday. Instead just under 35,000 turned up.

The hike in ticket prices must have something to do with that. Over £40 quid for the Georgia match was too much. £250 quid for a season ticket for five games is too much.

When we look to be getting it right on the pitch the SFA cock-up off the pitch. It's all depressingly familiar.

I've already paid for my Scotland Supporters Club membership this season and close to £90 for the games against Ireland and England at Celtic Park.

I chose not go to the Georgia match because I've also paid £405 for a season ticket at Easter Road. With Hibs kicking off at 3pm and Scotland kicking off at 5pm on Saturday it was impossible to do both.

I've missed one league game at Easter Road already this season. If Hibs don't reach the play-offs and I go to every remaining SPFL fixture I'll have paid an average of £23.82 per game to watch an average Championship team.

It would be a good idea for clubs and the SFA to stop taking the piss out of fans as quickly as they possibly can.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Scotland: Georgia on my mind

The new world champions given a fright at home. Six games undefeated before that.

A new tournament format making qualification for a major championship a less daunting proposition.

Scotland are being unusually generous in offering us reasons to be cheerful at the moment.

Scotland at the Scottish Football Blog
Today offers a chance to add some substance to the idea that Gordon Strachan might just be on the verge of achieving something with this Scotland squad.

Georgia arrive at Ibrox outside the world's top 100 (an altogether unreliable gauge but being outside the top hundred is never a positive). In the last two years Liechtenstein and Saudi Arabia, a goalless draw with France arguably providing the brightest moment of a run that includes 10 defeats in 15 games.

Strachan has mentioned this week that being the better team, having the better players, being meticulously prepared can all be meaningless if you just end up having 'one of those days.'

We've all seen it happen.

It can't be allowed to happen today though. While we were taking plaudits and no points in Germany, Poland and the Republic of Ireland were taking three points against Gibraltar and Georgia.

Just the opening skirmishes but it gave them a start on us. Ireland will likely build on that against Gibraltar this evening. If we can beat Georgia and Germany - as expected - beat Poland we'll be in fine fettle going into the game against the Poles on Tuesday night.

A win today would also mean any faint hopes Georgia have of challenging for second or third, in theory allowing us to concentrate on getting ahead of Poland and Ireland.

Won't be easy. Never is. And Georgia have bitten us on the bum when we've had high hopes before.

Charlie Mulgrew is suspended for being stupid but Strachan has a settled squad to choose from.

There are weaknesses, most notably at the centre of defence. Long gone are the days when redoubtable Scottish centre backs seemed everywhere and Craig Brown could jealously stuff them into each squad.

Elsewhere however there are, if not an embarrassment of riches, certainly a number of options. Will Steven Fletcher and Steven Naismith start together? I'd suspect not but it's another nice option to call on.

David Marshall looks set to start ahead of Craig Gordon. I'd take either in my team, the loss to injury of Allan McGregor just highlighting how well served we are for goalkeepers.

Scott Brown will return in midfield with today offering exactly the sort of game that he should relish, a chance to show his seniority in this squad and push the team on.

The signals from Strachan this week have suggested quiet confidence but no complacency.

Sounds good to me.

It might be exactly the right mix to beat Georgia. And after that? It's game on in Group D.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Homeless World Cup 2014: 10 days to go

The countdown to the Homeless World Cup 2014 is on.

We're just 10 days away from the big kick off in Santiago. 10 days to go and 10th October is Homeless World Cup.

A perfect time to get in the mood for Chile by reliving the best moments of the Homeless World Cup 2013, when 500 players representing 103,000 participants in Homeless World Cup project around the world came together in Poznan, Poland.

After seven days of competition Brazil faced Mexico in the Homeless World Cup final:

In 2014 Scotland will join Italy and Brazil in taking a shot at winning their third Homeless World Cup title.

Out last victory was in 2011, edging out Mexico in the final:

Find out more about the Homeless World Cup

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

When Jock Stein went to Leeds

Billy McKinlay's departure from Watford after a little over a week and two games in charge provides us with another of football's "what the actual f---" moments.

The brevity of his reign will be added to the annals, alongside Leroy Rosenior's 10 minute stint at Torquay and Dave Bassett's four day jaunt at Crystal Palace.

Jock Stein at the Scottish Football Blog
And, of course, the failed appointment that has become the most famous of them all - Brian Clough's 44 days in charge of Leeds United, the stuff now of novels, film and legend.

McKinlay eclipses another Scot in English football's managerial shorts hit parade, Alex McLeish lasting just 40 days at Nottingham Forest in the winter of 2012/13.

But we've got to return to Leeds United to find an often overlooked example of the "in and out" managerial reign.

It involves maybe the greatest of all Scottish managers. Of our Holy Trinity, Bill Shankly and Matt Busby performed their miracles exclusively at English clubs.

Jock Stein is unique in achieving his footballing immortality without leaving Scotland. Sir Matt Busby tried to persuade him south to Old Trafford but Stein wouldn't budge.

It wasn't until after his departure from Celtic that he crossed Hadrian's Wall, joining Leeds United in 1978 at the age of 55.

And, just four years on from Clough's explosive time at Elland Road, Stein too would last just 44 days in Yorkshire.

Stein must have looked like the sort of candidate that could return Leeds to the glory days of the Don Revie era.

Indeed Mick Jones, Leeds United's centre forward of the time, reckoned that Celtic were the finest team Leeds had played against when Stein trumped Revie in the 1970 European Cup semi final.

Even then it's been suggested that Stein was only the board's third choice. Stein might have known that - he didn't have the chance to be picky because the job offers were, amazingly enough, not rolling in.

At the same time, however, Scotland were in a state of flux. Ally MacLeod was limping along as manager having taken the national side to Argentina and not, as it turned out, winning the 1978 World Cup after all.

MacLeod lasted just one more game after the 1978 tournament. Which left the position of Scotland manager vacant with Stein, the obvious candidate, weeks into a new job.

United's Eddie Gray believes that Stein saw the Leeds job as a bargaining chip in his quest to get the Scotland job on his terms:

"In my deepest subconscious I felt Big Jock was trying to force the SFA's hand. The big man wanted to be the fulltime manager of Scotland and when he moved to Leeds he made the SFA change their way of working and made him the most powerful manager they'd ever had."

If Gray is correct then it's a fairly impressive illustration of the size of Stein's personality and the value he saw in the Scotland job that he was prepared to use a club like Leeds as a pawn in his game of chess with the SFA. That Stein apparently never had a contract with Leeds and didn't move his family south might support this theory.

Others are less convinced that he had a predetermined idea of how it would end.

Rather they saw him bereft at being jettisoned by Celtic and the Leeds job coming along at the right time. It was a marriage of convenience that his heart was never really in.

His record at Elland Road reads ten games played, four wins, three draws and three defeats. Respectable but not stunning.

The Scotland job was his get out clause - just days after MacLeod was sacked Stein was privately briefing journalists that he'd be interested in taking the national job.

Leeds refused permission for the SFA to talk to him but they could do little to prevent him resigning. That's exactly what he did.

He was officially appointed Scotland manager on 5th October 1978 - the day of his 56th birthday. He'd remain in the post until that tragic night in Wales in 1985.

The sparks didn't fly. Novels would not be written. When Jock Stein left Leeds United after 44 days there was regret in Yorkshire but nothing like the scorched earth recriminations that followed Clough's departure.

Stein was able to move into the role that he saw a more natural progression for his post-Celtic career.

And his time at Leeds United is proof that even the greatest managers can sometimes find themselves in jobs that just don't suit them.


Daily Record
Hail Hail Media
The Mighty Might Whites

Monday, October 06, 2014

David Moyes deserves a shot at redemption

There seemed to be an attempt to re-brand yesterday's Manchester United v Everton game as the "Davie Moyes Derby."

A re-branding exercise that dripped with sarcasm.

A new conventional wisdom is popping up that places Manchester United's decision to appoint Moyes as a catastrophic error not just in hindsight but because they should have been able to see that he'd been a crap at Everton in the first place.

There's a harsh revisionism of his achievements taking place that is really not deserved.

His season at United was a disaster.

Can't argue with that. Sir Alex Ferguson's perception of his own powers extended to the rewriting of history. I think he'd almost begun to see Manchester United as a gift passed from Sir Matt Busby to him.

Forget the years of failure in between. One canny Scot to another canny Scot. Where else do you turn but another canny Scot?

That the Scot in question was likely to be so respectful that he wouldn't question the glaring gaps in Ferguson's legacy was probably even better.

Or maybe Ferguson's humility - admittedly a little seen humility - kicked in. Maybe he really didn't realise that it was basically his influence that carried United to his last title and he thought Moyes could pick up where he left off.

Moyes couldn't. And he faced a double whammy: United fans used to success were bereft and fans of every other club, so used to United's success, were gleeful.

Moyes seemed unable to grow in the role and United - dazed and confused at the loss of Ferguson - seemed to suffer a collective collapse of confidence.

The players didn't like what they were seeing, the season drifted away and Moyes looked ever more haunted on the touchline.

United were forced to act. Moyes was sacked. And that simply confirmed the idea that had grown over the season that Manchester United were particularly stupid for listening to an out of touch Ferguson and giving the job to a hapless managerial Inspector Clouseau.

David Moyes at the Scottish Football Blog
Which, as Daniel Taylor pointed out over the weekend, left Moyes dealing with both the biggest catastrophe of his career (as a manager, I well remember him losing the 1991 League Cup to Hibs as a Dunfermline player) and the stigma that everything he'd achieved in his career up to that point was a mirage anyway.

Sir Alex Ferguson's place in the pantheon of managers will be debated for a long time. But we can say that his was a unique career in its longevity and because it spanned football's transformation into a multi-billion pound global entertainment industry.

A hard to act to follow. United need a giant personality, Moyes isn't that. Louis van Gaal could be but even he might currently attest that it's not the easiest gig in the world.

David Moyes would probably never need to work again. No financial issues there and who needs the stress?

But he surely work again. There must be chairmen and chief executives in England and elsewhere looking at his work with Everton and wondering if he could do the same for them. If he wants to go through it all again he probably could.

He might not want to. But it would seem unduly harsh if his dream job turning into a nightmare means he never gets another chance.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

SPFL Premiership: Celtic's stumbles give Deila food for thought

Yesterday I was writing about how the SPFL Premiership has been been a bit of an oddity this season.

It gets odder.

Celtic could have jumped up to third by winning today's home game against Hamilton.

Then this happened:

Celtic 0, Hamilton 1, the Scottish Football Blog

Celtic 0, Hamilton 1.

Which leaves the table looking like this:

SPFL Premiership league table after Hamilton beat Celtic

Hamilton top, Celtic sixth.

Maybe the drama of Hamilton's defeat of Hibs in the play-off matches has given them a momentum that survived the summer.

Maybe it's just a flash in the pan.

Hamilton won't win the league. But Celtic need to do more than just win their game in hand to get back to the top of the table.

When Ronny Deila was given the Celtic job a lot of people asked "who is Ronny Deila?"

It's a problem for him, not yet a fatal problem but an issue nonetheless, that we're into October and people are still looking at each other and asking "who is Ronny Deila?"

Sixth in the table after eight games and no Champions League football (despite getting a couple of chances to make it).

Thursday's Europa League win over Dinamo Zagreb was a bright spot. The continued rehabilitation of Craig Gordon to fill the gap left by Fraser Forster's departure is another.

His is a team in transition. But being Celtic manager means making your mark on the team while still winning games. If you don't get the knack of that quickly you've got problems. Ask Tony Mowbray.

And the weight of expectation and the evidence of history combine to make unusual defeats look more meaningful than they actually are.

So this wasn't just a bad day at home to a useful Hamilton side.

This was a first home defeat to this opposition since Neville Chamberlain was still trying to appease Hitler.

It ends a run of home form that stretched to 34 games undefeated.

Celtic's strength is usually to rise above the rest of the teams, a refusal to get embroiled in that aspect of the Premiership which means anyone can beat anyone else on any given day.

To do that you need to be winning more than 50% of your games.

He's won four from eight in the SPFL and seven from 17 in all competitions. That's not good enough.

As I wrote yesterday, Celtic will win this league. The board should also show patience with Deila, they need to back their man.

But the patience can't be endless. Spending much longer than a quarter of the season mucking about in mid table isn't acceptable.

My personal view is of a manager still uncomfortable in a new role in a new country. I don't think he's handling the press particularly well and, Celtic fans might want to correct me, I don't sense a huge connection with the support.

Sometimes managers, however good, just don't "fit" with certain clubs. Deila's not yet convinced me that he's not fallen victim to that situation.

After the game he told the media:

"I'm not worried."

Any more results like today and he'll probably be feeling a lot less sanguine about his team and about his own position.