Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Naughty boys

Thanks to Scotland's relationship with the demon drink the extra curricular activities that attached themselves to the legend of Walter Smith's first time at Rangers are now looked back on with a certain fondness by some:

Ah, the drinking. What a laugh. Team bonding. The results proved that it worked.

Well, to an extent.

Maybe careers weren't ruined but how many were extended? Ally McCoist can come out unscathed, cheeky chappy image enhanced. Fair enough, but Gazza's excesses were tolerated as well.

His eventual car crash of a life may always have been inevitable but it would seem that Rangers, in common with his other clubs, did little to divert it as long he delivered on the pitch.

We choose to forget too that Rangers did bring some youngsters through at that time but how many stayed on track after exposure to the first team culture?

Yet Smith remains a man with an authoritarian reputation. His recall to Murray Park was partly to put an end to the stories of alleged insurrection and lack of professionalism that dogged the Le Guen era.

Last season all seemed fine. Smith's disciplinarian aura not only licked the team into shape, it also seemed to transform their whole effort in a UEFA Cup campaign that was, in a word, disciplined.

But at the same time persistent stories of Allan McGregor's apparently excessive "exercise" regime when off duty still hinted that some of these players harboured a certain disregard for keeping their heads down.

Then McGregor and club captain Barry Ferguson returned from Amsterdam and went on a bender. Smith made his feelings clear and told them to sit tight. In flicking two fingers at Scotland Ferguson and McGregor showed exactly what they thought of their manager.

Smith took action then and no doubt warned his entire squad over their future conduct.

Which can only lead you to the conclusion that Kyle Lafferty, perpetrator of one of this season's most shameful on-field incidents, has displayed the same callous disregard for Smith as Ferguson and McGregor did before him.

Would anybody be surprised to hear that Walter Smith had specifically told Kirk Broadfoot to eat only scrambled eggs?

Does any of this matter if Rangers win the title on Sunday. No, if we take the precedent of Smith's nine in a row heroics at face value, it doesn't.

But Smith himself will be aware that problems remain. Budgets are strained. The owner wants out and has charged Smith with delivering a profitable commodity. A team of winning idiots is preferable to a team of losing idiots but it remains a team of idiots.

Ferguson and McGregor look like being on the way out. For all his talk over the last week Smith would really be sending a message to those that replace them and those that they leave behind if Lafferty was shown the door as well.

Infamy, infamy, they've all got it...

I'm sure I saw that George Peat running away...
It's nice when the non-Old Firm devotees out there are given yet another reason to dislike one of the "big" two. They are not, in fact, at their worst when they are gloating at the never ending cycle of triumphs.

Gloating and arrogance is the tribal default of the victorious football fan. Celtic and Rangers aren't unique in this - they simply get more practice than everyone else.

Rather they reach the nadir when they are wading through a pitiful mire of self pity, belching out tear soaked regurgitations of their most ludicrous bouts of paranoia.

When they choose to do this in a week that they should be concentrating on the woeful shortcomings of their team the sheer awfulness of it increases with every hate fuelled, spittle stained sentence.

Parkhead minded blog The Celts Are Here provided a stunning example of this the other day.

In the past fortnight his (if it is a he) side have apparently lost, then apparently won and then somehow lost again in the SPL title race. Inept against Rangers, jittery against Dundee United and woeful against Hibs, Celtic have bottled this one. The manger must take some of the blame.

So constructive criticism from The Celts Are Here? Not a bit of it. Rather a lengthy tirade about Scottish football corruption. Or rather the ongoing Anti-Celtic conspiracy that pervades every facet of the game.

Somewhere in the midst of this yodel of self pity we hear that such is the extent of Scottish football's rotten core that "it would shame Ceaucescu's Romania or Saddam Hussein's Iraq."

Really? Are Celtic players living such desperate lives that they use foreign games as a way of seeking political asylum as Romanian sportsmen once did? Are any of Celtic's millionaires living under the threat of imprisonment, torture or death at the hands of the top official in football as Iraqi footballers were?

No probably not.

There is also a remark about international relations between the UK and Ireland being damaged by the massed ranks of the Govan choir. Hmmm. In the long and complex history of Anglo-Irish relations a few Neanderthals threatened our now peaceful, fruitful even, co-existence?

My guess has always been that if the fans insist on not moving on then the Irish government are more likely to be thankful that the lunatics choose Glasgow rather than Dublin as their asylum.

Maybe the real brilliance of the article is that this year's conspiracy (Rangers playing Hearts at home three times) is so flimsy an attempt at subverting the natural course of the league that The Celts Are Here must revisit last year and take up the cause of Queen of the South and the Scottish Cup Final. I can't speak for the Doonhamers but I'm sure they can live without this kind of myopic madness on their behalf.

Results come and go. Officials get it right and get it wrong. Celtic could and should have put the SPL title out of reach. Now they seem destined to lose. Clearly some of their fans have already lost it.

Regular readers of this blog will know I have very little time for the powers that be in Scottish football. But it is this sort of hate fuelled, idiotic and offensive rant that shows that it's some of our fans that are really rotten to the core.

I'm sure in his blackened dungeon of despair the author is beyond caring but there is always a silver lining. In Scotland his rants provoke embarrassment, bemusement and derision. In the Iraq he appears to have known so well it might just have provoked Uday Hussein.

Back to the future

And so the end is near. Time, I think, to revisit that glorious time in August when we look forward to the season ahead, confident that our predictions will make Nostradamus look like a fairground fortune teller selling false hope for the future because she can no longer get away with selling her body.

Time, in fact, for me to get more egg on my face than Ibrox Masterchef Kirk Broadfoot.

First managerial casualty:

Mixu. Almost certainly. If the rumours have an ounce of truth in them then a humping by Clyde could mean he's away before the start of the season. To be swiftly followed, I'd guess, by Rod Petrie.

Hands up who didn't agree with me? The fans still remain undecided (actually the impression I get is that a majority are firmly decided that the axe should fall) but Mixu hangs on.

A top five win over Hearts and a reworking of Davy Crockett's tactics in back to back draws with the Old Firm ensure he'll be there next season. Only a cynic would say that a lengthy, compensation winning contract has persuaded the normally lavish spending Rod Petrie to keep his powder dry.

Third place:

Dundee United. I've got a feeling that Craig Levein (man least likely to be sacked) will have got United even stronger this season. Could be third at a canter.

So they came close in the end but, in truth, Hearts 3-0 clinching win over United was deserved over the season. A bad start to an emotional season for United left them with too much to do although missing out on Europe completely would be a punishment too far. Levein remains, however, the man best placed to launch a "best of the rest" challenge next year.


I've got a feeling Hamilton might make a strong enough start to survive. So take your pick from St Mirren, Kilmarnock and Hibs (see above).

Hamilton started strongly (one prediction I got right) but still left final confirmation of safety late. Hibs improved on the close season, Kilmarnock survived a predictable slump and St Mirren were better than Inverness and Falkirk.

A season of reasonable contentment:

Falkirk. Top six again. A cup run. Yogi's stock will rise further.

Two cup runs in fact. But also the threat of relegation and demands for his head. If they beat Inverness and Rangers it will be a bloody brilliant season. I reserve judgment on this one!


Celtic again I think. There's a chance Rangers might struggle a bit this year. Celtic might not need to do much to keep the title.

I am alone in thinking Rangers did struggle? This is a poor Rangers side. It's evidence of the oddly unsatisfactory Gordon Strachan reign that Ibrox now seems the most likely destination for the title. Celtic should be miles ahead. They're not and that's a problem.

Last Chance Saloon:

Csabo Lazlo. Just because the Heart's job is last chance saloon in perpetuity. Jimmy Calderwood, bit of an enigma at Aberdeen - needs to get the fans back. Kenny Miller, surely now is the time to deliver.

Vlad's done a runner and Csabo's done a grand job. Jimmy's future may now hang on Sunday's results but the fans will remain unconvinced even with European qualification.

For me the problem with Kenny Miller was summed up in Amsterdam. One touch, two touch, three touch, tackle. To his credit he always gets back up for more. And he'll see a title win as vindication.