Saturday, September 12, 2009

The SPL is back

Ah, SPL. How we've missed you. After the disappointment of a Scottish team letting us down so badly against foreign opposition let us turn our attention once more to watching Aberdeen, Falkirk, Motherwell and Hearts.

Will this weekend see the first break in the Old Firm armoury? Tony, Wattie. Wattie, Tony. They're as inseperable as Francie and Josie at the top of the pile just now. Who'll crack first? Will it happen this weekend? Probably not.

(Incidentally, should they not have shared the manager of the month award? If the criteria is winning all your games with an Old Firm team then surely they both achieved that in August? Although you might argue that Craig Levein and Jim Gannon had equally impressive undefeated records. Maybe the judges just couldn't agree on a welcome back present for Tony so gave him a cheap plastic award instead.)

Anyways, with no further ado, here are The Scottish Football Blog's predictions for SPL 09/10: Episode IV as nobody is probably calling it:

Motherwell v Rangers
"Loan Ranger" Jerome Rothen is also the "Lone Ranger" as the only player to sign up at Ibrox before the transfer window, as such windows are always destined to do, slammed shut. Fans will be keen to see the winger if he makes his debut in tomorrow's lunchtime kick off. He might find himself clashing with Motherwell newcomer Yassin Moutaouakil - in line for his own "day-boo" after joining up from Charlton. Both teams are defending unbeaten records. One of them will lose that tomorrow. I don't think it will be Rangers.

Celtic v Dundee United
Tony Mowbray will be ruing his bad Fortune as his striker of that ilk, Marc-Antoine, is ruled out for up to two months. As well as being another meeting of undefeated teams this is also a clash between manager of the month, Tony Mowbray, and player of the month, Danny Cadamarteri. United will be looking to face up to Celtic in a physical clash, the home side will be, as ever, playing to the philosophy Tony holds so dear. I can see United troubling Celtic this season. But I don't think they'll start tomorrow. Home win.

Hearts v Kilmarnock
If results go their way Hearts could literally leapfrog Kilmarnock into 8th place if they win this tomorrow. Neither side will be particularly happy with their starts but Hearts will really be looking to reverse a dismal run. If rumours are to be believed then both sides have had off field problems. At the moment Killie look like they've reacted slightly better. Time will tell. You would have backed Hearts in this one last year. Now I'm not so sure. I'll take a draw.

St Mirren v St Johnstone
Paisley celebrates all Saints day. These two seemed well matched at this stage. That could set the scene for a cracker or be the signal for 90 minutes of chess-like gloom. I'm going to back the new boys though. If nothing else Hamilton's dismal start to the season has confirmed the St Johnstone assertion that the media should be looking elsewhere for this year's whipping boys and that should have put a spring in Perth steps. So an away win.

Hamilton v Hibs
The Sunday kick off will at least give Easter Road new boy Liam Miller a chance to prove his fitness although I would doubt Yogi will want to throw him in. Hibs have started well, Hamilton have started very badly. There's more than one sage in Leith who'll tell you that means this is a stick on Hamilton win. Hamilton's revolving door has meant the team has been unsettled and the results have reflected that. I think it will be four defeats on the bounce come Sunday evening.

Falkirk v Aberdeen
Three games in and a goal difference of minus six. Falkirk would probably have expected to be sitting rock bottom right now. That they're not is all to do with Hamilton's woes rather than Falkirk's prowess. Mark McGhee has not had the start he would have wanted, coming over all Bob Cratchit off the pitch and suffering a couple of setbacks on it. But they've already put Hamilton to the sword and will fancy their chances of doing the same against Falkirk. And, by the by, a win and enough goals could see the Dandy Dons move to third if the weekend's fixtures have been kind to them.

Current prediction performance: 5/12 (One week missed)

Friday, September 11, 2009


I almost missed it myself but today I posted my 200th article. How's about that then, boys and girls? In the same week as my 1000th tweet.

Obviously I've taken my time about it. But still, you've got to say it's an achievement of sorts.

Looking back my first posts dealt with turmoil at Tynecastle and the Hibs' board being somewhat parsimonious. Some fings never change.

Paul Le Guen was struggling. We all know how that turned out.

And STV was rubbish.

Have things got better? Hmmm. I'd say they've not got much worse. The last couple of months have been shockers. And things do need to change.

But, like this blog, Scottish football is still alive. By the 400th post it might even be kicking.

Fare ye weel, George. Part Two

"George, I'm afraid we're going to let you go. Second place was the minimum requirement from this group and you've failed. So we think it's time to find someone else.

"I can confirm, however, that both myself and Gordon will also go and we'll be recommending a root and branch review of the way Scottish football is run."
That's probably not what George Peat will say when he gives George Burley his jotters.

It would be bloody refreshing if he did though. Six major championships without Scotland. An ultimately meek third place in a group that looked very weak outside the Dutch.

This is bad. Very bad. Each third or fourth place finish makes the next time trickier. Take a look at Wales and ask if 52 years without a major championship appearance is acceptable.

The SFA have always been incompetents. George Peat and Gordon Smith have simply don it more publicly this time thanks to the Ferguson incident and the Iwelumo blame game. And who negotiated that brilliant schedule? The boiling heat of Macedonia, players barely match fit for Norway?

The irony is that Burley could claim that most Scottish of oxymorons on Wednesday. The cruel defeat to the Dutch was another of our fabled glorious failures.

All to often we forget the incompetence and abject failures that actually lead us to these glorious failures. We shouldn't this time.

I was struck last Saturday about how much more technically gifted, how much quicker even, Macedonia looked when they passed the ball around in the first half. Keeping possession, taking and playing a simple pass in one fluid movement. Simple, but still likely to draw applause at a Scottish stadium. Not so in most other countries, they grasped quite a few years ago that this is actually how you play football. We must have missed soccer school that day.

Is any of this Peat's fault or Smith's fault? No, they're just the unfortunates in charge when we reached the end of the line. Their only crime really is to be too keen to preserve the status quo and too bumbling to handle the pressure of their jobs.

But they're not the people we need to revolutionise the game. From top to bottom. SFA, SPL, SFL. Youth football. Women's football. Everything.

Six missed tournaments is bad. Seven or eight would be painful. But if we act now we can make sure it doesn't happen again. If we don't then it's too late.

These are long term problems that need long term solutions. From the dug out to the boardroom to the executive offices none of the current incumbents seem up to the task. And that needs to change. Now.

Sorry if I've depressed you with that rant. It's not just me though. Here's what the well know optimist Mr James Jefferies had to tell the Scotsman about our current plight:
"But the trouble is deeper than that. You have a set of players, you can't say that they are not committed to play for Scotland, but the bottom line is that they are short.

"We need to find a way to improve on where they are short. Maybe the Scottish manager has a wee bit to play in that, but it really shouldn't be the case - it should come from the bottom up.

"He (De Boer) made valid points. It's all about what you do when in control of a football. As he said, you look at Iniesta, Messi and Xavi, they are not big strong people, but they can handle a football. Look at Holland in tight areas, the touch, the movement and technique of their players. Holland is not a much bigger country than us, their facilities will probably be better but their climateis the same. They are producing players and so we have to look at what they do.

"I'm sure over the years we have gone over there and looked at what they do. Whether we are not implementing it or going about it the wrong way, I don't know.

"But we go to youth games and look at the top teams and they all want to win cups, so they get the strong players at 12, 13, 14 and it makes a massive difference. But how many of those players who have physique and size come through?

"They can't see the wood for the trees, but we have had this discussion time and again.

"You keep talking about it, but nothing seems to be improving and we have to ask why it is not improving."

Fare ye weel, George. Part One

Come in Mr Burley. Your time is up.

Or is it?

At various points before the Macedonia game it appeared that the SFA were ready to sack the national coach. So bloodthirsy did they appear that I thought he might actually be beheaded in the dugout after our inevitable failure against Holland.

But then the team came to life in the second half against Macedonia and carried that form into the game against the Dutch. The result was still inevitable but the performance clouded the Burley issue. Could he now hang on and live to fight another qualification group?

On balance, I'd say no. This has been a failure of a campaign since the fateful loss against Macedonia. Burely has had bad luck and players have let him down - Chris Iwelumo, Kenny Miller and Gary Caldwell - to say nothing of Hoddit, Doddit and the whole sorry saga of boozegate.

But the buck stops with the manager. He's not been able to pick a settled team but he's also seemed to struggle to organise the team effectively at times. This is a particular problem when the players are like our current crop. Scotland need organisation to be successful and under Burley they often lacked it. That is a major fail.

Incidentally I do think Burley's refusal to become mates with the Scottish fitba' press has caused him a lot of problems. It's not given him the breathing space he might have needed at times and it's robbed him of momentum at others. All the journalists who stand accused deny this vehemently. And they have every right to. They will, after all, know better than any outsiders if there was an orchestrated campaign against the manager.

All I would ask is, as you listen to their denials, make sure you hang around to hear the names they suggest to take over. You'll find they're unerringly familiar and unerringly on good terms with the journalists. That might make you wonder...

I'd also say that Burley didn't ever really win the fans round. The appointment was greeted with a national shrug of the shoulders. That was as friendly as many got.

Some were vocal and active in their disapproval. Rumours were rife - although many of these were hangovers from the Romanov misinformation campaign when George took his leave of Hearts. But, you know, people get the impression of something, think "no smoke without fire" and the general fug of dissatisfaction grows.

Mind you, who believes some of this stuff? Someone told me the other day that Burley was both an alcoholic, all but incapacitated with drink most of the time, and a legendary lothario. Now, I might very well be wrong. But if you're incapacitated with drink most of the time surely some of the skills that turn you into a legendary lothario are somewhat diminished. I'd imagine you can be one thing or the other. I'd suspect Mr Burley is neither.

So,goodbye George and hello ... ? Who? Paul Daniels, Derren Brown? Since 1998 we've missed out on Euro 2000, the 2002 World Cup, Euro 2004, the 2006 World Cup, Euro 2008 and now the 2010 World Cup.

George Burley's not alone. Craig Brown, Berti Vogts, Walter Smith and Alex McLeish have all failed to take us to major championships. That's our new reality. The third place this time around will be a further blow to our seeding next time. Whoever fills the Diadora tracksuit is still going to have those problems.

But that, as they say, is another story.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What a Scunner

Scotland 0 v 1 Holland

And so we're gone.

As expected. Again. Another major championship without Scotland. Not even a play off place. Not even a chance of a play off place before the groups are finished.

We'll leave the forensics until tomorrow. There will be plenty of people carving up the corpse.

And we said no glorious failure. But, before Quincy arrives, let us say tonight we built on the second half on Saturday. This team, these Scottish players. They have a pulse. It's been too little, it's been too late. But it's a beating heart.

To praise individuals might be to detract from the team. To apportion blame would be all too easy. Scotland's hopes died tonight but the fatal blows came earlier.

Yes, we could have been ahead. We should have been ahead. But we didn't nullify the Clockwork Orange. As a team we rode our luck. As a team we failed to capitalise.

Always the way it seems. We make everything seem improbable. Then we shoot ourselves in the foot. The improbable becomes the impossible, the threat of glory replaced with the inevitability of being the sympathy winning failures.

The press said we were hopeless. Then they told us we had a chance. And, yes, we had chances tonight. But faced with a superior foe we did all we could. It wasn't enough.

In our hearts we knew it would end like this. Against the supermen of Holland we needed Super Gran.

Instead we got toiling, honest professional footballers. For Scotland, for now, that's not enough. But it is all we have.

But football is football. And the gloom of today is always punctured by the promise of a new dawn tomorrow.

RIP Iain Cuthbertson, 1930-2009

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Whatchu talkin' 'bout Willis?

Reason for the post title?

Well, none really. Although diminutive sitcom giant Gary Coleman does share my birthday in real life.

And also so I can explain that last week's holiday was spent, instead of blogging, watching Eggheads. In one episode that very catchphrase formed the basis of a question. Which I, of course, got right. But then I did once have my name printed in Look-in's birthday column alongside that of the aforementioned Mr Coleman.

Anyhow I'm back now with a preview of the big game (feel free to blame the mindless wittering above on my nerves) and this quick catch up.

What have I missed? Well a full weekend's football. My brother got married on the 29th of August and my best man duties included, alongside the naturally spellbinding speech, a seemingly never ending round of pre and post prandial refreshments.

So Hearts' fightback in Europe, Rangers' romp against Hamilton and Celtic's win at Easter Road pretty much bypassed me.

I missed 137 year old Bobby Geddes taking to the bench for Dundee and coming close to playing. And, of course, I missed young Aiden's dive and Mr Mowbray's somewhat myopic, hypocritical defence of him. Although it did not take Mystic Meg to predict that a Celtic player would dive in the immediate aftermath of Eduardo and the whole sorry Emirates hoo-hah.

Anyway, that's where I've been. Tonight I'll be in the front of the telly. Cheering, sighing, holding my head in my hands and, hopefully, jumping up and celebrating with all the energy that this cold/possible swine flu will allow.

More soon. Or follow my thoughts on the game at Twitter.

When will we see your like again

Can we look forward in anything other than trepidation?

The all conquering Dutch stand between Scotland and a place in the play off. Except they don’t really. We know three points is a must but even then it might not be enough. What a classically Scottish story that would be.

Can we do it? Well, yes we can. This isn’t the team that put the French to the sword twice. But the team that beat the Netherlands when Berti was in post wasn’t much good. And this time we worry only about the 90 minutes today.

Will the Dutch relax? Not intentionally but these are high quality players with big seasons ahead. Some sort of reaction to having already qualified can be expected. But we can’t rely on it.

We need big games from every player. For some that will mean performing above the standard that their talent dictates. It’s a great thing about football that it allows players to do that. Let’s hope it happens tonight.

Let’s hope also that Craig Gordon is passed fit. We look a different team with Gordon in goal. For all the talk of talismen at the front, it is Gordon who consistently provides them with a platform to perform. No wonder he’s being asked to play on one leg.

No McFadden tonight. Step forward Kenny Miller, time to repay the manager’s loyalty. Step forward Steven Naismith, time to show the manager’s gamble hasn’t be made in hope rather than expectation.

Step forward too Scott Brown. Another dynamic display and, with the temper kept under control, another Olympian display of niaff-y niggliness. It might annoy people but it also unsettles people. It might not be Corinthian but tonight’s a night for Scotland to win not a night for us to rediscover football’s lost soul.

The manager? There’s little he can do now. He’ll be the scapegoat if it all goes wrong but it’s for the players to win the game now. The conduct of this whole campaign should be looked at, the SFA scrutinised from top to bottom, the manager and his employers. But not tonight. Tonight is all about the football.

1998 was too long ago. There are children at secondary school now who have never seen Scotland in a major finals. Unthinkable to my generation. We grew up as Thatcher’s children and our deal with that devil was the chance to watch Scotland at World Cups and European Championships. Pride in the national game means we have to demand a seat at these international events.

Tonight we can take a small stride towards getting back there. It may, ultimately, prove futile. If it does then no talk, please, of glorious failure. Failure is failure and failure has been a theme of this campaign.

But tonight we can at least bury some of that. Scream, shout, believe. Tonight’s about a footballing nation coming together to get a job done.

The rest, the shouting, the incrimnations and the rolling heads, will just have to wait. There’s a game on.

So, come on! Let’s get intae them!