Saturday, October 31, 2009

London Calling

Scotland will be tenuously linked to football at the 2012 Olympic Games after artist Craig Coulthard won a commission as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

Coulthard's work is called Forest Pitch and according to the Highlands and Islands Arts website:
Craig Coulthard’s Forest Pitch involves a football pitch hidden within a forest. Trees are felled to make way for a football pitch and used to create a stand, goalposts and a shelter that will act as both changing room and exhibition space. One football match is scheduled to be played on the pitch, open to spectators and once the match has taken place, the pitch will be left to become taken over by nature again. The changing room is kept as a simple exhibition space to document the project.

The pitch itself, with surrounding infrastructure will be taken over again by the natural world, to become a living relic of the Olympics, in contrast to the new buildings created in London for the Games.
Aside from knowing what I like and what puzzles me, I don't know much about art so I won't analyse this concept further.

What interests me is that this project (funded to the tune of £460,000) will leave an Olympic legacy in Scotland. The idea of a Cultural Olympiad doesn't really float my boat but it seems to be the form so why not fight for a slice of the pie.

There are, of course, other legacies from the Olympics that are more important and we should be standing up and fighting for them as well.

We've already endured the stramash over the football team and there is a danger of Scotland, in fact of anyone north of the Watford Gap, dismissing the 2012 Olympics as another London centric carnival, feeding the beast of the metropolis and go hang anybody else.

Others will, for political reasons, shy away from celebrating a “British” Olympics. Fair enough but I doubt that even an Alex Salmond-David Cameron tag team will have jettisoned Scotland by the summer of 2012. So if it's there and we're still here let's use it for some good.

I'm a sucker for the Olympics. I know there's the commercialism, corruption,drugs, money, stupid sports and let's not even mention Berlin or Munich. But there's also Jesse Owens, the Black Power Salute, Chris Hoy, Derek Redmond's father supporting him over the finishing line and dreams being fulfilled.

It should inspire people and it should be at its most powerful when it's on your doorstep. The legacy it leaves can turn that inspiration into something more tangible and breed the sports people of the future.

What does all this mean for football? The legacy can build sports facilities where they are most needed, facilities that can keep kids interested and make showing dedication in a cold Scottish winter much easier.

Obviously better facilities are good news for football and the wider picture would suggest that turning already active children into competent footballers is going to be easier than finding a few gems in a mine clouded by obesity and computer games.

So even if your heart's not in celebrating the Olympics we should all at least be making as much noise as possible to get our share of what they leave behind. At the moment each generation produces, if we're lucky, one Chris Hoy, a handful of others who raise themselves above the average and countless more who sit and watch on their TV.

If the Olympics can go some way towards turning that around then I, as a confirmed watcher of TV, will think they've done Scottish sport some good.


Thanks to @fromtheden for the Twitter heads up on Forest Pitch - there's more on the Straight From The Den Blog.


Forest Pitch is going to be created in the Borders. In a forest I suspect. A game or two will be played before it is handed over to nature.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Life Is A Roller Coaster

Monday morning and you find yourself reflecting on a Lehman Brothers style financial armageddon at Ibrox and the Tynecastle faithful turning on their own captain.

But by the end of the week Rangers are looking odds on for the first silverware of the season and Csabo Lazlo is touting himself as the successor to Sir Alex Ferguson.

The season so far has been a bit mental. If you're struggling to comprehend it then spare a thought for Tony Mowbray. Two wins from nine competitive matches at home. That's a bad record for anybody but it's quite incredibly poor for an Old Firm manager. More worrying still for those of a Celtic persuasion were the wide open spaces at Celtic Park on Wednesday. They'll have sent suitably seasonable spooky shivers through the boardroom as much as Samaras' succession of missed chances.

Lest we overstate the mire that Mogga seems to have jumped into it is worth remembering that Celtic moved top of the table after beating Hamilton last Sunday. Eddie May would kill for a crisis like Tony's.

The sum result of all this kerfuffle is that predicting the outcome of games is as much of a mug's game as being a manager. But, as the proprietors of Imperial Tobacco would attest, the Scottish Football Blog ain't no quitter.

Celtic v Kilmarnock

Celtic are woeful at home. Kilmarnock are woeful away from home. Ergo a woeful game. Probably not as simple as that. I thought a couple of Celtic players looked a bit shell shocked on Wednesday night, as if they are not quite sure how to react to the situation they find themselves in. Others looked to be woefully short of form. The result is a team that is failing to perform. We tend to know what we'll get from Kilmarnock. Organised and defensive away from home and hoping to cash in on whatever problems Kevin Kyle can cause up front. I've got to go for the home win though. Surely.

Hibs v Aberdeen

Games between these two at Easter Road are often quite enjoyable affairs. Both enjoyed a free week after bad results earlier in the League Cup. Hibs have the plaudits still ringing in their ears from a creditable performance at Ibrox. Aberdeen will still be stung after capitulating in the New Firm derby last Saturday. I'm tipping Hibs to be too strong for a Dons side that's still struggling to find consistency.

Motherwell v Hearts

A tale of two midweeks. Hearts put Celtic to the sword on Wednesday. 24 hours earlier Motherwell are humbled in Paisley. Those results aside Motherwell have shown the better form so far this season and the win against Celtic was Hearts' first on the road in nine months. Home win.

St Johnstone v Falkirk

Derek McInnes should probably just tell his team that every game is a cup tie after the Saints continued their excellent knock-out form on Tuesday. Falkirk are keeping clean sheets but not scoring, a recipe for boredom and a major obstacle as they try to get off the bottom of the league. Could be close this, but I'm backing the home team for three points.

St Mirren v Hamilton

Hamilton were abject at times against Celtic last week but pulled themselves together to finish strongly. St Mirren are a mystery to me as their goal madness continues. Nine goals scored in three games. Amazing. I'll back them to keep up the good run here.

Dundee United v Rangers (Sunday, Sky)

Enough has been written about Rangers this week. Suffice to say they can get reasonable domestic results in the bleakest of circumstances. But I'm going to back a home win here. United will be keen to make amends for their cup loss on Tuesday and I can seem them doing a number on Rangers.

17 out of 48 to date. A poor record for sure. But I'm trying to bring an attractive, attacking philosophy to the Scottish prediction game. A lot of the teams I've inherited are just not up to scratch. I've already told them that they need to shape up or ship out. As long as I keep creating chances I know I'm doing something right. The correct results will come...[rises from seat and leaves press conference abruptly].

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A whole different country

Gordon Strachan has not lost his fan club in the English press if Kevin Mitchell's column in today's Guardian is anything to go by.

His quick wit and popular side career as a pundit have given birth to a "Cult of Wee Gordon" amongst sections of the English media. His perceived differences to another famous Scottish manager have helped in this. Perhaps unwittingly he has gone along with the idea that he is somehow a metaphorical stick with which to beat Sir Alex Ferguson.

This ignores the apparent thawing of relations between the two men since Fergie let rip in his autobiography.

More to the point if there is a massive gulf in their attitude then, in any measure of their relative success, Strachan has quite clearly chosen the wrong approach. It is also a nonsense to describe him as a man who is not obsessed by football. You don't play Premiership football past the age of 40 without a dedication that, in more sane walks of life, might be considered a tad unhealthy.

The English media, as is their tradition, also ignore the detail of Strachan's Celtic reign. Within months of his appointment the much lauded sense of humour had been replaced by something crueller, more arrogant and far less endearing.

Refusing to talk to the press, falling out with and then shunning players, verbally attacking referees, moaning about the tactics used by other teams.

Not happy go lucky, not bubbly, not a healthy disdain for the cult of the football manager. More like Ferguson's Mini-Me.

Much of this has been lost on the English press. Thus they take at face value the Strachan claim that he left Celtic in good shape (little Gordon really doing his bit to help Tony Mowbray out there, by the way. All hail the manager's union). And some Middlesbrough fans welcoming their new boss can, apparently with a straight face, look forward to the attractive, attacking brand of football that he is set to bring to the Riverside.

Like Ferguson before him, Strachan has learnt how to play the English media and, at the smaller clubs he has managed in England, he has never had the intense scrutiny that would show up any chinks in his armour.

But the Championship is a tricky place, a frustrating place. Gordon Strachan has spoken a lot about his relief at being free from the football madness of Glasgow. But the stakes for Middlesbrough are high in a league that has broken good managers and bad.

It might not be that long before the English press sees that ginger halo beginning to slip.

I don't particularly dislike Strachan. But this deification always seems to carry undertones that the SPL was somehow undeserving of his regal presence.

Most of us non Celtic fans can accept that there were faults on both side in the marriage of convenience between manager and club, faults that would be plainly evident to any English hack who bothered to do anymore than cast a glance at the Scottish top flight table come the middle of May.

But if his four year sojourn "home" taught us anything it is that Strachan himself would be extremely slow to admit that he had ever done anything wrong. Arrogance and brittleness are not attractive traits and they will be no more endearing in the Championship than they are in the SPL.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

And so you're back from outer space

Vladimir Romanov. Lock up your managers. The giant of Lithuanian football once more walks among the gnomes that populate the cradle of the game.

I thought we'd lost him. First there was the lure of the televised dance floor and then the threats to his not quite global banking empire caused by the worldwide recession.

The Edinburgh branch of the Ukio Bankas remained unopened. Hearts seemed rudderless and lifeless. A poet and philosopher as much as a businessman, the gap he left was felt as keenly in our cultural life as our sporting life.

And now, like the conquering hero returning from a battlefield, Scotland's premier not-quite-oligarch, conspiracy theorist has come back to us.

Just yesteday Csaba Lazlo was speaking publicly about the need for transfer funds to bolster his squad and stop their slide to bottom six obscurity.

And today Mr Romanov flew into rally the troops. When it comes to morale boosting motivational speeches it seems Vladimir cast aside his normal Churchillian oratory to adopt the approach of a drunken, ageing headmaster reaching the end of his tether.

"It's all your fault" was his message to the players. Rumours that captain Michael Stewart led the team in a spontaneous standing ovation are unconfirmed. But it is always those that love us the most that deliver the harshest truths.

And, like a kindly but stern grandfather, Vladimir sugar coated his appearance with a gift. A new sporting director, no less. We do not who as yet but we are led to believe that he has previously worked with Vlad at Kaunus. That does not, on its own, narrow down the field.

The conventional wisdom will be that this spells the end for Lazlo, the latest in a long line to pay the price of speaking out about the failing of the Romanov regime.

That might well be prove to be the case. But it might also signal a shift in Romanov's style of dictatorship. People who have had dealings with Tynecastle tell me that throughout the business progress and decision making is agonisingly slow because everything has to be checked and double checked with Lithuania before moving forward.

On the football side this micromanagement is even worse. It seems clear that Lazlo has compiled a modest but, he felt, necessary transfer list in the summer, pinpointing players who could operate within financial constraints but improve a squad that had lost some big names and personalities.

He was frustrated in his attempts because another list, one compiled by Vladimir Romanov or somebody close to him, was given priority. These were players that were either unknown to Lazlo or of demonstrably inferior ability to the players he'd identified himself.

Given the lack of transfer activity over the summer it seems that, on the whole, Lazlo has decided that nothing is better than something at times.

All this is conjecture based on whispers and circumstantial evidence. I believe, however, that it's not far from the truth.

If, and it is a big if, a sporting director is being appointed to either take decisions in Romanov's absence or to act as a direct and permanent conduit for meaningful discussion between owner and manager then it will strengthen rather than weaken Lazlo's position.

Lazlo is a likeable man who has performed more admirably in one of Scottish football's more bizarre jobs. But he is not a miracle worker and he needs to be helped not hindered by his boss.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Romanov has realised this. Perhaps his ego and his wallet will allow him to help out his manager and get his team back to where they ought to be.

On the other hand the sporting director's brief might be to measure Csaba's neck and buy enough rope to get the job done. Or, on the other, other hand, no contract has yet been signed and Romanov is back in Lithuania. We may never see a sporting director.

As ever with Mr Romanov only time will tell. As they look at the dwindling power of the Old Firm the frustration for Hearts fans must be at its most acute when they compare the team they have today and the team that George Burley built as the Romanov revolution got underway. What if, Vlad, what if...?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

In a rich man's world

Such has been the forensic focus on Ranger’s perilous finances over the last couple of days that following Scottish football has been like studying for an accountancy degree. Not so much fans with typewriters as fans with calculators.

To save everybody the hassle of crawling into every nook and cranny of the internet in the search for news about the country’s most bombastic football club collapsing into poverty I thought I’d do it for you.

First up is the man who, along with Walter Smith, broke the story of the bank’s increasing involvement. The game’s most fearless interrogator, the Paxman of Paisley, has his say on the BBC website.

Chick Young is not slow to mention that it was his exclusive "that launched a thousand headlines and a million theories." Other than that he has little new to add and even spends a bit of time hitting out at his critics. This is an increasing theme with Chick this year. You’d think that if you go out of the door every morning as “Chick Young” you would have a pretty thick skin but he’s getting increasingly riled by the brickbats that fly his way and can’t seem to come to terms with the idea that the fans can now voice their opinions easily and instantly.

Still we shouldn’t get on Chick’s back too much as his mind is, understandably, elsewhere as he waits to see if a buyer can be found for his beloved football club.

Apparently there are already a couple of offers in for St Mirren as well.

Two "quality" daily newspapers and two sides to every story. The bank is running Rangers say The Herald - which also profiles the man who predicted exactly this kind of unsavoury Rangers crisis.

No, the bank is not running Rangers says The Scotsman. The Edinburgh paper goes on to speculate about Martin Bain who is, apparently, hanging his designer threads on a very shoogly peg indeed at the moment. Ah well, Martin maybe you can go back to the modeling.

The Herald says Rangers’ woes will not necessarily affect Celtic and might even precipitate a decisive parting of the ways between the two chums. Rangers are agitating to get out of Scotland while Celtic are prepared to wait for a perfect deal because they are already financially secure. An interesting thought but the appeal of either club is going to be massively diluted if they can’t guarantee they come as a couple. Where Rangers play in the future will certainly be a consideration of any potential buyer and, as The Times notes, right now the club are not an easy sell.

Dave King, a Castlemilk lad who made his fortune in post apartheid South Africa, seems the man most likely to take over from David Murray. He’s rich and he’s a Rangers fan which will be seen as all that’s needed in a saviour. On the other hand he’s also the subject of some controversy due to his creative, offshore accounting. The South African authorities were understandably miffed to find out that King, who claimed to be below the tax threshold, was in fact the country’s richest man. He says he’s innocent and, if the cash is there, few questions will be asked of him.

Although, as the Wall Street Journal points out, Rangers already have a new owner in the shape of Downing Street’s most famous Raith fan.

Showing all the optimism of denial the Rangers pages on Vital Footballare already naming likely candidates to replace Smith when King takes over. Billy Davies is hotly tipped at the moment. That would seem to make sense. Having been at Nottingham Forest for a matter of months now Davies will be looking for a way out and everything about his managerial career suggests he is the man to bring the stability that Ibrox craves.

In The Record Jim Traynor advises Walter Smith to get out now with his reputation intact and before the sale of half the team forces him to steer a sinking ship. The speed with which King, or AN Other, can assume control will have a major part to play in Walter’s future although as I pointed out yesterday he must now be reaching the end of his tether.

Martin Samuel ignores catastrophic cash shortages to go straight for the jugular of the Old Firm going down south question. We don’t need them and we don’t need there barbaric bigotry harrumphs the big man. Apparently Rangers and Celtic going down south would run the risk of turning 15 year olds from Bristol into vile sectarian monsters due to their sudden exposure to Old Firm internet forum. This seems a specious argument based on the premise that teenage Bristolians are already easily led twats and ignoring the many years and generations of hatred that it takes to become truly vile.

It’s also to turn a blind eye to the less than stunning behaviour of some English fans. Are sectarian chants worse than chants about Munich or Hillsborough? Or is it all just proof that wherever large crowds gather a minority will be unable to resist the urge to act like total plonkers?

So there it is. Not quite the millions of theories Chick promised but quite enough to be getting on with. Interesting times, indeed.

What's in store? The Co-op Cup

A midweek prediction special as Scottish football's least revered competition reaches the quarter final stage.

Dundee v Rangers

Rangers rediscovered some vim on Saturday but, crucially, still couldn't overcome Hibs. This is a poor Rangers side further distracted by off the field disasters. Quite a contrast to Dundee who are flying high and luxuriating in new found riches. Walter Smith will be keen to give Jocky Scott's dark blues due respect but he's also got a small squad struggling to cope with injuries and further domestic and European tests looming. So we can expect a weakened Rangers team coming up against a Dundee team full of confidence and momentum. A shock is not guaranteed but it's a distinct possibility. Home win.

St Johnstone v Dundee United

United go into the Tayside derby on the back of a convincing performance in the "New Firm" game at the weekend while St Johnstone were well beaten by a Kevin Kyle inspired Kilmarnock. The Saints have a strong cup record in recent seasons while United and boss Craig Levein are desperate to land some silverware and will fancy getting the job done this season with both Rangers and Celtic faltering. St Johnsone will try and play their usual game but United are, as ever, likely to be organised and physically stronger. Away win.

St Mirren v Motherwell

After sharing six goals and some heady attacking play on Saturday Motherwell make the trip back to Paisley tonight. I had backed Motherwell on Saturday and was perhaps guilty of underestimating St Mirren's apparent rebirth as free scoring, attacking force. I'm still impressed by Motherwell this season though and pulling themselves back into the game on Saturday is proof of a certain resilience. I'm going for the away win but I think it could be an extra time affair.

Celtic v Hearts (BBC on Wednesday)

Celtic are back atop the league following a 2-1 boreathon against Hamilton on Sunday. Hearts were held to a goalless draw at home to Falkirk on Saturday. Current form does not bode well for a scintillating game on Wednesday night. Hearts are in that horrible place where a lack of goals is making the players tetchy and the crowd restless. Celtic are in that horrible place where the manager doesn't like his players, the players don't like the manager and the fans are confused but feel they shouldn't like somebody. You would predict are nervy, tense and low scoring match but Celtic cut loose against Falkirk in the last round and might just do the same here. Close or not this is a home win.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Great Depression

John Hughes described Walter Smith as the "godfather" of Scottish football managers the other day. In recent weeks, however, Smith's traditional taciturn gravitas has been replaced by a more haunted look, the look of a man who spends his long, sleepless nights wondering what went wrong.

When he returned to Rangers he knew there would be hard work ahead. At times he must struggle to comprehend that he somehow turned the car crash he inherited from Paul Le Guen into a team capable of winning a league title, three domestic cups and making an improbable appearance in a European final.

All that must seem a long time ago. For weeks now the same question has been asked over and over again: "Are Rangers a club in crisis?" On Saturday evening Smith gave us our answer.
Now the bank have taken over the running of the club. They'll have their own ideas and obviously investment isn't one of them, I just think there's a stagnation about our club at the present moment.
The financial problems at Ibrox have been the subject of conjecture and innuendo for months now but Smith's post match comments at the weekend are the first time that anyone inside the club has addressed them publicly and with any degree of honesty.

Radio phone-ins and websites were immediately abuzz with rumours that the club was in administration. Unsurprisingly that seems not to be the case. Banks tend not to leave such announcements to post match interviews with Chick Young.

What we do know is that the bank is concerned enough to have placed its own man on the Rangers board. The debt seems to be somewhere between 25 and 30 million pounds and David Murray's non footballing interests are no longer considered by the bank as a secure guarantor of that debt.

If Rangers were you or me they'd not have been declared bankrupt but they'd be past the stage of putting the demand letters straight in to the shredder and they could forget about extending the overdraft.

The club is for sale and, apparently, some people are interested. But David Murray is wanting to recoup some of what he has spent over the last 20 odd years. Any potential buyer must be prepared to keep Murray sweet, take on a massive debt and overhaul a threadbare and limited paying squad. It's only a certain kind of guy that finds that kind of small change down the back of the sofa.

Things could get worse and who, Rangers fans apart, wouldn't be intrigued by the SFA and SPL having to step in to punish the Ibrox side for going into administration. The nightmare scenario is for "doing a Leeds" to transform into "doing a Rangers."

Some Rangers fans, applying the universal myopia of supporters, will shrug all this off, safe in the knowledge that Rangers are "a massive club." Indeed they are but the bigger they are, the harder they fall and all that. Right now Rangers, through monumental financial mismanagement, find themselves losing groundstaff to Partick Thistle because the Jags pay more and Jocky Scott gloating about having more resources than Walter Smith.
Administration or not that's a pretty bleak place to be.

And it doesn't look like getting better any time soon. A transfer window will open soon and Rangers will go into it hoping only to hold on to what they've got. Rangers, as they are just now, are a club with the singular ambition of keeping their head above the water. Nothing more.

Smith and his management team are out of contract in the second week of the new year. At the moment the board will be unable to offer them new deals. That means Rangers, the SPL champions, will face 2010 with a manager who doesn't have a contract.

Walter Smith has proved himself time and again to be completely loyal to the club. But lifting the lid on the involvement of Lloyds on Saturday was the latest in a line of well timed indiscretions this season. His patience is wearing thin. His legacy and the future prospects of Ally McCoist are not well served by remaining on the bridge of a sinking ship.

How long the board, and the now absent but still powerful Murray, can hope to hold on to a man in his sixties with no need to work except a sense of duty is debatable. Would Smith be able to say with complete honesty that he hasn't thought about walking away in January?

Rangers are no longer a club that can operate with matters on the football pitch as their priority. Servicing debts and cutting costs now dominate board meetings. If Walter Smith is worried about his reliance on a 39 year old centre half then his directors might be happy to listen to his concerns. But they are completely powerless to do anything about it.

We hear too much about football clubs and their finances, about foreign owners and debt, about unaffordable wages and January fire sales. But in any consideration of Rangers at the moment it is the machinations in the boardroom that must dominate.

Against this Smith's achievements over the last couple of years appear even more extraordinary. But he'd never claim to be a magician and he's now being asked to do a job that seemed unimaginable when he signed on in 2007.

Whether he stays or goes Rangers are now less a football club than a stark warning about the dangers of big business going wrong. Money may or not be the root of all evil. But when the money men make mistakes they tend to be more calamitous than a goalkeeper fumbling a cross or a striker missing an open goal.

Rangers are living in a new reality. By speaking bluntly on Saturday Walter Smith was preparing the fans, who are not given to managing their expectations, for a long, hard season ahead.

Without a new owner soon Rangers footballing decline over the next couple of years could be spectacular. Don't expect Smith to stick around to preside over that.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

NFL? Not Effing Likely

A bit of a tongue in cheek article on the ever busy Mirror football site the other day asking what football could learn from American football.

Thankfully noses are turned up at cheerleaders and overseas games. Salary caps (some chance) make the cut along with referees explaining their decisions on the spot (unworkable and ridiculous) and instant replays (similar technology is inevitable in some form).

Independent timekeepers get the thumbs up (officials will soon outnumber players), as do TV season tickets (unpopular with Sky?), players getting more involved with charities (clearly a good thing but the culture of philanthropy differs in the UK as, bluntly, does the education of sportsmen) and revenue sharing between clubs (ha, ha, ha).

The final lesson is the sale of beer at grounds. The Mirror seems to think that having handfuls of nachos and beer would make people less inclined towards violence. Never in my life have I seen a drunk back down from a ruck in order to have a bite to eat.

Having said that I personally wouldn't mind having a beer at the game but it would need to be managed properly.

The above is nothing new. Periodically football's administrators will cast an envious glance across the Atlantic and decide we need to import a little American stardust. That little something that will make the "product" that bit glitzier, that bit shinier. Each new initiative is, we are promised, the best cure for declining attendances.

All this leads us, admittedly at length, to the new SPL initiative to make football more family friendly. Undercover families will be sent to each ground to report on the welcome they get and the conditions they enjoy or endure.

Come the end of the season a team will be crowned SPL Fans Champions and receive a boxed set of The Waltons. Probably.

The idea to make the SPL more family friendly is laudable. This intiative comes from the league's new chief executive Neil Doncaster who tried the same thing with limited success at Norwich.

I say limited success because while attendances at Carrow Road grew the team still ended up relegated. How much the rising attendances was due to Norwich games becoming the family activity of choice in East Anglia rather than just a by product of fans returning to try and cheer their team out of a serious malaise is unclear.

There are certain things that can and should be done. Prices should be reduced, packages for families encouraged. Paying two quid for a lukewarm pie or more for a slice of congealed, anaemic pizza is unacceptable for anyone let alone a family of four.

The Family Champions scheme is at least a step in the right direction because it involves asking people what they want rather than simply steaming ahead with what clubs think they want. The cancerous growth of costumed mascots is a classic example of suits sitting in a room thinking “this will show we're down with the kids.” The football mascot is the sport's equivalent of your dad disco dancing.

Some things the clubs can't control. We've all seen the young, sometimes very young, kids being dragged along to the games by the dad's who have been left in charge of them for the afternoon. Watching your dad sitting drinking with his mates before sitting in a cold stadium, ill protected from the elements, while your dad rants and raves like a madman is not a nice day out for a three year old. How many of those kids when they are old enough to decide for themselves tell their dad to stick it up their bar stool?

But why does anybody go to a football game? Not for the pies or bovril, not to see bizarre proof that it is acceptable for a grown man to hug and kiss the children of strangers as long as he is dressed as a lion, not to see cheerleaders or seven year olds take penalties at half time.

We go to watch the football and to keep us going there must be some entertainment. This is a country where a much feted manager told people to go to the cinema if they wanted to be entertained.

How can that be acceptable? I watched Kilmarnock lose narrowly the other week with a game plan based around launching the ball at a tall centre forward. This was football nirvana as imagined by a bad youth team coach in 1984.

Grown men were weeping at the sight. How can we expect mum and dad to subject the three kids to that on a regular basis?

I'm not against Mr Doncaster's plans and applaud him for at least trying to halt the decline in attendance. But to hear him talk about how his masterplan worked at Norwich despite performances on the pitch getting worse is to hear a businessman with no feeling for the game ignore the very essence of watching football.

We enjoy the highs, we endure the lows. That's football. But we have every right to demand excitement and skill on the pitch. Everything else is pretty much irrelevant.

To guarantee that the SPL, the whole of Scottish football, needs massive change. By focusing on nothing more than window dressing Mr Doncaster is failing the fans and is destined to failure within the status quo.

No wonder he so impressed the SPL chairmen at his interview.

Turning back the clock

The clocks have gone back. How did you spend the extra hour? This year I decided not to waste it squeezing in yet more alcopops or sleeping off the day's excess.

Instead I've chosen to resurrect an old favourite. The Sunday Post of my childhood used to run a "What They Said" feature on the back page. This involved collating quotes from each of the Premier League managers about their team's performance.

From memory Graeme Souness would be celebrating another victory, Billy McNeill would use the phrases “To be honest” and “All credit” more than was previously thought possible and Alex Miller would celebrate a clean sheet while berating his team for not scoring at the other end.

I'm not sure if The Sunday Post< still do this. I've not read the paper since an interview there descended into what I can only describe as passive aggressive sectarianism. Not only was this ultra offensive it was also hugely misdirected given my childhood as a mainstay of my parish church's nativity plays. Still, that's DC Thomson for you. A particularly modern and forward looking firm. If you happen to live in the 1920s. So for a special Sunday treat and as an homage to the golden age of newspapers that The Sunday Post of the 1980s so vividly embodied here is “What They Said:”

Aberdeen 0 – 2 Dundee United

Mark McGhee
We had great chances, so it was an unnecessary defeat. It was not just Fraser Fyvie, who went on to have a good game, but international players like Lee Miller. We said before the game that it would be difficult to defend set-pieces in those conditions and they took advantage of that in the first half. The missed chances are the one disappointing aspect as we matched them all over the field and I'm satisfied that we are making progress.

Craig Levein
We had an added incentive as Mark had a little go and the players felt slighted at the comments that he made in the paper during the week there. I did not have to say anything. He gave the players the motivation and my team talk was easy. Any time you come up to this stadium, it's difficult to get any points from the game, so I am really happy. These were two teams that tried to play football, but the horrendous conditions would not let us. They had two good chances, but we had some astonishing misses as well.

Hearts 0 – 0 Falkirk

Csaba Lazlo
It's not the best result for us and with the chances we created we could have been 5-0 ahead. I can't always defend players and say they need time. In professional football you don't have a lot of time. We need the fans to support us.If you don't score goals then you don't win games. How many teams can create five or six chances in a game?

Eddie May
It's a fantastic result coming here, we have come to a very difficult venue against a good Hearts team. The demands I put on the players are very high and sometimes they have been fantastic, we have to hit a consistency for the season. The referee did extremely well, we would have had no complaints if he had sent Darren Barr off for a challenge on Suso Santana.

Kilmarnock 2 – 0 St Johnstone

Jim Jefferies
The main thing was to get up on the game and get competing for the ball. Once we started winning our battles, we started playing far better. We stopped them causing us trouble - they were on the back foot a lot of the time, and Kevin came up with two cracking goals, especially the second one. But today I thought our midfield were great in the second half, because they were non-existent in the first half.

Derek McInnes
We totally controlled the first half and got in good areas but did not make the goalkeeper work hard enough. The second half was in total contrast and we got what we deserved from our second-half performance and the goals we gifted them. If you don't make the most of your dominance, it can come back to haunt and it did that here. I am getting fed up saying it and answering the same questions, but it it is up to us to sort it out.]

Rangers 1 – 1 Hibs

Walter Smith
We're disappointed from that point of view that the boys didn't get a reward for that. We created by far the more opportunities to win the match but Hibs, after about 70 minutes, found themselves still in with an opportunity and they had a couple of chances to get a win nearer the end of the game. So, all credit to them for coming and playing in the manner in which they did. From our own point of view, it was a good performance, there's a bit of disappointment that we didn't manage to win it. The boys today, considering the problems that we're beginning to have injury-wise, played exceptionally well.

John Hughes
But, being the manager of Hibs, I'm so proud of my boys. We wanted to go and have a go at them and, on another day, we could've won the football match. We could've lost as well, Rangers missed some real good chances. The game was end to end. I think the boys showed a lot of character. Graham Stack was absolutely outstanding in goal. Liam Miller was possibly the pick of the bunch in midfield, it's a pleasure working with him. Right through it all, I think we played some good stuff, created chances, got our goal - it was a fantastic goal from Anthony Stokes. Allan McGregor had a lot of saves to make for Rangers. I'm really pleased that the boys came here and showed everything I asked of them and that we took something from the match.

St Mirren 3 – 3 Motherwell

Gus MacPherson
I'm extremely frustrated and disappointed, because I think we played well and worked hard. Motherwell are a good team, but we worked hard when we didn't have the ball to try and stop them from playing. We got our rewards for that, we got ahead - but we should have been more ahead at half-time. I don't think the penalty was the turning point, because we reacted superbly to an injustice. As a team, we worked hard as a unit and we played well. It's just so disappointing, this situation.

Jim Gannon
I'm disappointed with myself and the way the team approached the game. Before I look at the players I look at whether there are lessons to be learned. It wasn't an inquest, it's just that this is a game probably more than any other game we have got a lot to learn from. It was fortunate that we got the second goal when we did but the game was far from over at that point and it instilled a bit of life in our players. I think the substitutes gave us a little bit extra.