Friday, December 31, 2010

Guardian Top 100 Football Blogs

Nice article on The Guardian sports blog today listing the top 100 football blogs. Even nicer that they saw fit to include The Scottish Football Blog.

Cheers to them and a happy Hogmanay to all.

See you on the other side.


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Hearts v Hibs: For Whom The Bells Toll

Derby day and the form book goes out the window. It's a cliche to even quote that cliche now. But maybe it's true.

Hibs need it to be. Because right now Hearts look prohibitive favourites as the traditional New Year's Day derby returns to Edinburgh for the first time in 13 years tomorrow lunchtime.

The last time first footing the neighbours held this appeal you were probably living next door to a couple called Fred and Rose.

Colin Calderwood's reign at Easter Road has been far from comfortable with Hibs incapable of putting together a run of form and his constantly changing defence failing to deliver what the manager wants and what Hibs badly need. They always look like they're going to concede and that is draining the confidence of the whole side.

Not much sunshine in Leith at the moment.

Which, as always, is harder to stomach for Hibs fans when Gorgie seems to be positively aglow with the warmth of a team in form.

Hearts are undefeated since they brushed Hibs aside in the first derby of the season at the start of November. Suddenly Jim Jefferies side are looking up towards the Old Firm rather than over their shoulders.

Players like David Templeton will be relishing the chance to get at this Hibs team. It remains to be seen if the visitors will be able to cope.

Jim Jefferies will be on a mission to stamp out any complacency. But even old Jim might be looking forward to this one with just a frisson of anticipation.

But nobody would have expected this Hibs team to beat Rangers 3-0 at Ibrox. In coming back from two goals down on Wednesday night Calderwood will at least have seen some spirit from his side.

So Hibs are down but not yet out. Hearts are flying but not invincible.

Derby day in Edinburgh. Anything can happen. I've got to predict a home win. But when I head to the bookies I might just cover myself. Hibs could yet leave a few folk choking on their steak pie.

Elsewhere in the SPL

Aberdeen v Dundee United
Craig Brown gets his first taste of home comforts after two wins on the road. Is he turning Aberdeen round? Seems so. United impressed in the first half against Hibs but ultimately gave up a two goal lead. The New Firm, a new year and a new Aberdeen. Home win.

Hamilton v Motherwell
Everyone's getting in on this derby action. Hamilton haven't played for quite some time and have slumped to the foot of the table. New Motherwell manager Stuart McCall won't have been impressed with much of what he saw against Celtic on Tuesday. Could be a tight one but I'll go for a combination of McCall inspired boost and Hamilton's rustiness to deliver an away win.

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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Scottish Football Blog Awards 2010 - Terry Butcher and Inverness

Football management is a strange beast. A good manager in the wrong job can be left looking foolish. A bad manager in the right job can be left looking like Midas.

Terry Butcher is a decent manager with both successes and failures in his career. At Inverness he has found a well run club that suits his style. The result has been a year of almost constant progress for the Scottish Football Blog's Manager and Team of 2010.

In November 2009 Inverness didn’t look like they had much hope of promotion. Butcher had been unable to prevent their relegation and together they seemed set to follow the established pattern of a relegated club failing to get straight back to the SPL.

Then something clicked. Inverness put together a 19 game unbeaten run that included seven straight wins. Dundee’s implosion helped, but Butcher clinched promotion with two matches to spare thanks to his side’s form as much as failures elsewhere.

And the return to the SPL has seen Inverness breathe fresh air into the top half of the table as well as extending their unbeaten away record to over a year.

That includes draws at Ibrox, Parkhead and Tynecastle, with a two goal deficit being clawed back against Celtic and the 1-1 draw at Ibrox repeated when Rangers headed north.

Snipers might say that many of those draws have been achieved by "parking the bus." But that overlooks the decent footballers Butcher has in the squad and some of the spectacular moments they've given the SPL this term.

Stirring stuff and, if two home defeats haven’t been a fitting end to an impressive year, there is a feeling of a young club coming of age. It's easy to forget that this is a club that has only existed in its current form for 16 years.

A top six finish looks more than achievable in 2011. Off the field the club appear to be in rude health and active at the heart of their Highland community.

The news that David Sutherland, the club’s largest shareholder, is now prepared to relinquish his 25 percent stake to suitable investors should help secure an even brighter future.

A debt free Scottish football club looking around for investment to move forward rather than to save their skins? Truly, Inverness Caledonian Thistle are at the rarest of things: a Scottish football success story.

Others might want to look and learn.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

'Well Tip McCall To Do Well

Rumours are rife that Stuart McCall has signed a one year rolling contract to take over as Motherwell manager.

Another left field choice for Motherwell, although John Boyle's judgement in such matters has been reasonably shrewd in recent years. It's not really Boyle's fault that he has to go through the recruitment process so often.

Eyebrows will be raised but McCall seems to tick the required boxes. He's affordable, he'll have shown a willingness to accept Motherwell's budget constraints and he has a working knowledge of the game down south.

His coaching experience includes promotion and a stint in the English Premier League with Sheffield United as assistant to Neil Warnock.

As a manager he had an iffy spell at Bradford City although it was a turbulent time for a club that had been relegated to League Two and were suffering a major financial breakdown. McCall couldn't lead them to promotion but it was never going to be an easy job for a managerial novice. Passion and hometown loyalty are rarely enough in football.

His record at Bradford disappointed - and he clearly felt the pain of not being able to secure a return up the leagues - but he also steadied the ship. A new manager taking over a club that has only a dozen players in the squad is not only being thrown in at the deep end but having their head held under the water.

So Motherwell offer McCall a fresh start. And he offers them something of the unknown. We don't know a huge amount about McCall the manager.

He'll not lack spirit. But he's got a hard act to follow in a league that remains competitively bunched together.

Like all managers he will need time. In his favour he's not inheriting a mess. He's got something to build on. It's going to be interesting to watch the latest Fir Park gamble.

* As I write Chick Young reports that Stuart McCall has actually signed a two and a half year deal with Tommy Craig joining him as assistant manager. The appointment of Craig immediately answers any questions over McCall's experience.

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The SPL's Wednesday Wonders

A famous five today, St Johnstone's clash with Rangers having already lost out to the weather. Hamilton have a pitch inspection scheduled for this morning. If New Douglas Park isn't fit to stage the match then the Accies will not have played a match this month.

Hamilton v Aberdeen
If this one goes ahead then it will be the only professional match in Britain kicking off this afternoon. This might be brave scheduling or foolhardy. Unfortunately temperature might have more to do with the size of the crowd than outside the box thinking from Hamilton. We'll see.

Mr Kipling's mince pies weren't even on the shelves of your local Co-op the last time Hamilton played while Aberdeen enjoyed a winning start to the Craig Brown era against Hibs on Sunday. That result sent Hamilton to the foot of the table. More misery today? I suspect their recent inactivity will count against them. Away win.

Celtic v Motherwell
Celtic's fifth home game in a row. Six points from the last four is not a great return but Sunday's late show against St Johnstone at least points to a certain spirit in the squad.

Motherwell have played only twice since Craig Brown's departure, a spirited showing as they lost to Hearts and a capitulation to Rangers at the weekend. It's been a December to forget at Fir Park. They might have another 90 minutes of suffering before they can move on though. Home win.

Hibs v Dundee United
Apparently Dundee United used to play football games. And Hibs used to be a football team. Having not played since 20 November, United will be worried about being caught cold this evening while Hibs look capable of being caught cold no matter how many games they play.

Looking at United's lack of games, I'll tentatively back the draw. For some reason this game kicks off at 7.15 this evening.

Inverness v Kilmarnock
Given their excellent 2010 Inverness will be smarting a bit after Sunday's defeat to St Mirren. Bit of a shock that one. And Kilmarnock are hardly the team you'd pick for an easy match to bid farewell to the old year.

A clash of two of this season's success stories, hopefully this one will warm a cold Highland evening. Draw.

St Mirren v Hearts
An away win at Inverness was the perfect Christmas result for St Mirren but they need a run of wins to get clear of the messy business at the foot of the table.

Tough test this evening though against a Hearts team undefeated since their Halloween horror show at home to Kilmarnock. Jim Jefferies will be looking for a win going into the Ne'er Day derby. Away win.

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Scottish Football Blog: Thanks Pop Pickers

Amazingly some people actually find the time to read the odd article on this blog. Thanks to everyone for dropping by. 2010's top 15 most read articles have been:

1. Scotland in 1958: Familiar Feelings, Familiar Failings: Who couldn't thrill to a draw and two defeats in Sweden? A Guardian blog link probably helped drive a bit of traffic my way.

2. Remembering Leeds United: Great Scots at Elland Road.

3. Scotland v Liechtenstein: My preview of Scotland versus the perennial qualifying minnows. I predicted we'd score three or four. Ha ha.

4. SPL 2010/2011 Fixtures: A quick chat about the fixture lists for the season. Later censored because the SPL basically hate anybody publicising their creaking product. Apparently. Idiots.

5. Scotland in 1974: Undefeated, Proud, Hame: The definitive Scottish World Cup hard luck story?

6. 2010 World Cup: Rain on Spain?: Remember Spain lost their opening match at the World Cup? The only champions ever to do so.

7. Scotland in 1986: Another Hard Luck Tale: 24 years ago Alex Ferguson was just another Scotland manager who couldn't quite get us to where we wanted to be.

8. SPL 2010/11: TV Times: Another fixture discussion post. More SPL sponsored censorship. Fools.

9. Alan Gordon, 1944-2010: The passing of a Hibs great.

10. Celtic 1 v 3 Rangers: Testing Times For Neil Lennon: Collum and controversy stole the headlines. But Celtic just weren't good enough in the season's first Old Firm clash.

11. Scottish Goalkeepers Are Rubbish: Craig Gordon. The lad's done good.

12. Scotland in 1978: What Just Happened?: We're on the march. The pain of nostalgia.

13. Dave, David, Hibs and Politics: Hands off Hibs, the tax exile millionaire and the Prime Minister.

14. Boyd Signs For Parmo: Kris Boyd and a magnificent culinary invention.

15. Partick Thistle Fans Boardroom Conspiracy: What's going on at Firhill?

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Monday, December 27, 2010

Scottish Football Blog Awards 2010 - Match Of The Year

OK. So there was some Marx Brothers defending. And Hibs' underbelly was again exposed as being softer than a marshmallow.

But if the SPL could offer matches like this every week our game would be in much ruder health.

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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas


An archive Christmas present from the 1950s. Raith Rovers v Hibs in a 1952 Cup tie. You just don't see enough of women and children clearing snow covered pitches these days.

Merry Christmas, have a good one.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

SPL: Boxing Day Bonanza

A full SPL card on Boxing Day to help you digest the turkey leftovers.

Well, maybe. Weather permitting. At the moment all the games are on. But that's subject to change. Motherwell are working on a burst pipe but are apparently confident the TV game will go ahead. A decision on the Hibs game and Aberdeen's ability to get to Edinburgh is being made tomorrow.

Fingers crossed.

Celtic v St Johnstone
It's nice to be home at Christmas. Even nice to get a win though. Lennon's lads have been lacking at home recently. Poultry related lethargy and poor form will give St Johnstone hope. A home win for me though.

Dundee Utd v Hamilton
United haven't played since 20 November. Hamilton since 27 November. Refreshed or rusty? Home win.

Hibernian v Aberdeen
Hibs capitulation at Pittodrie in October temporarily lifted some of the pressure on Mark McGhee. Aberdeen haven't won a league game since, sit bottom of the league and have a new manager. Can Craig Brown turn it around? Hibs' own revolution under Colin Calderwood has been stuttery. Draw.

Inverness CT v St Mirren
SPL shock troops Inverness host St Mirren who, under Danny Lennon, have been better than some predicted but not strong enough to be safe. Home win.

Kilmarnock v Hearts
Both teams off the back of 1-1 draws, Kilmarnock's at Celtic and Hearts at home to Inverness. It's a measure of both team's season that neither manager seemed happy to settle for a point. They might have to again though. Draw. GAME POSTPONED

Motherwell v Rangers
Will this game go ahead? Possibly. Will managerless spring a surprise? Possibly not. Away win.

SFL Postponements

Matches off on Sunday, 26 December
Scottish First Division
Queen of the South v Dundee
Stirling Albion v Morton

Second Division
Airdrie United v East Fife
Brechin City v Ayr United
Dumbarton v Forfar Athletic
Peterhead v Stenhousemuir

Third Division
Annan Athletic v Berwick Rangers
Elgin City v Clyde

Monday 27, December
First Division
Ross County v Cowdenbeath

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Pigs In Blankets

OK. Allegedly. Our lawyers might be watching etc etc. But Billy Davies and Tommy Sheridan. The mind is boggling.

I've not been to the newsagents. This might be a cracking Photoshop job. Or massively untrue and pulled from the Record's later editions.

But still. It's a right guid story. Allegedly.

First reactions via text: "Yuk, yuk, yuk." "Ha, ha. Even better."

Aye Gail, the people of Scotland send both of you our support.

Middlesbrough v Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day. Best of luck with the chants, Boro boys!

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Scottish Football Blog Awards 2010 - Part One

Time for the 2010 Scottish Football Blog Awards. A meandering look back at the year Spain finally delivered on the global stage, Lennon gave peace a chance at Celtic and Scotland managed not to draw with Liechtenstein.

The Charles Foster Kane Money Can't Buy You Happiness Award: England's footballers. A miserable, morose, monosyllabic group of millionaires at the best of times. Further suffering was heaped on the men who power the world's best league when the World Cup delivered fairly damning evidence that they're just not that good at football.

The Cameron-Clegg Coalition Building Award: Jim Jefferies loves Hearts. But it's a tough, taciturn kind of love. How would Jambo Jim fae Wallyford be able to cope with the idiosyncratic reign of Tynecastle's ruling Romanov dynasty? Pretty well as it turns out. So far.

The Peter Mandelson Spinning A Dead Horse Award: John Hughes was keen to point out that "football people" could see what he was building at Easter Road. They could. So could rugby people and cricket people. He was building a team without a defence, who couldn't win at home and were heading for relegation. Don't call Yogi if you're wanting an extension on the house.

The Julian Assange Electronic Communications Award: Hugh Dallas. The button is delete, Hugh. Not forward.

The JFK Memorial Conspiracy Theory Award: Celtic fans. Apparently the working title of Oliver Stone's next film is "SFA: The Celtic Files."

The Tommy Sheridan Tabloid Titillation Award: Allan McGregor. A clean sheet king on the pitch, off the pitch…no, I'm not going there.

The Geoffrey Howe Award For Being Savaged By A Dead Sheep: The SFA. Henry McLeish has spent much of his political career being not fit for purpose. If even he can seen how woefully inept you are then it is time to make a change.

The Oliver Twist Award: Lovable urchin Wayne Rooney asked for more. Sadly, he got it.

The Arthur Scargill Award For Services To Industrial Relations: The referees had a point but their strike was pretty pointless.

The George Orwell Doublespeak Award: Craig Brown loves Motherwell. Craig Brown loves Aberdeen. Craig Brown's gone down in a lot of people's estimation.

The Prince William and Kate Middleton Romance Of The Year Award: It's not clear if Henry McLeish and the SPL Working Strategy Group took each other up a mountain in Kenya. But it seems they had a chat or two on SPL reconstruction during the post-coital cigarettes. In this particular love triangle it is Scottish football that should be filing for divorce.

The Davey Crockett Backs To The Wall In Ultimately Futile Defence Award: Craig Levein. 4-6-0 against the Czech Republic. And one of the most depressing nights in the history of the national team. And that's a tough list to get on.

The Gordon Brown Why Did I Say That Award: Dougie McDonald. Who still can't accept that lying is wrong. It's not like telling children that Santa is real, Dougie. It's not like that at all.

The Pick Your Fights Like The Klitschko Brothers Award: Neil Lennon. Charging up touch lines like an aggressive drunk on Sauchiehall Street. Not actually doing his team any good though.

The Careful What You Wish For Award: Aberdeen fans. The two Jimmys don't look quite as bad when you're staring up from the bottom of the league. Jimmy Tarbuck probably doesn't look quite as bad when you're 9-0 down at Celtic.

The Vince Cable Why Did I Take This Job Award: Stewart Regan. Will never again moan about how boring cricket is.

The Ann Widdecombe Award For Unlikely Political Reinventions: John Reid. A lying bully wages war on lying bullies. Although I suppose he is used to waging ill defined wars.

The Denis Law What The Hell Is That Accent All About Award: Colin Calderwood. Sounds like he was born and raised on a train shuttling back and forth between Scotland and England.

The Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama Jumping The Gun Award: I've got nothing against David Beckham. I have got a problem with a broadcaster giving a man in his mid-30s a lifetime achievement award as a way of grabbing viewers.

The Eyjafjallajoekull European Misery Award: Hibs, Motherwell, Dundee United and Celtic left our co-efficient battered like a Scottish Mars bar.

The Derek Trotter Award for Salesmanship: Sir David Murray. How long before he's trying to sell Ibrox from the back of a van at the Barras.

The James Corden Award for Annoying Buffoonery: George Peat. What is the point of you, George? What is the point? Still the joke's on us after all that clowning around with the dinosaur yesterday. TOTAL TOSSER.

The Adrian Chiles Grass Isn't Always Greener Award: Kris Boyd. Loving it at the Riverside.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

SPL Play-Offs: What If...

In one of the more predictable developments of this Scottish football December, perennial third placers Hearts have backed calls for the top four SPL teams to be involved in a championship play off competition.

I can't figure out the appeal for third placed Hearts at all.

Again, I don't think Dundee United's Stephen Thomspon was being genuine with his proposal. He was using it to get the message across about how unhappy certain clubs are with the SPL/McLeish Report stitch-up of last week.

But, just for fun, I thought I'd see which teams would have benefited from a top four play off over the 12 years of the SPL. Unsurprisingly Hearts come out on top.

I've estimated earnings based on an equitable four way split of crowd attendances from the three games totalling four million pounds. I still award all championships to either Celtic or Rangers as no team has beaten either side of the Old Firm in a Scottish Cup semi final in the same year that they have finished third or fourth in the SPL.

The most risible reaction to Thompson's plan is that it would result in more teams winning the championship. It almost certainly wouldn't, given the Old Firms dominance of all three of our national trophies.

Only Hearts and Dundee United have finished in the top four of the SPL and won the Scottish Cup in the same year, neither of them playing the Old Firm in the semi finals or final. So it's not a great leap to imagine that play offs over the last 12 years would have resulted in the same two sides winning the championship.

Here's the list:
Hearts 6 top 4 finishes = £6 million
Aberdeen 5 top 4 finishes = £5 million
Hibs 4 top 4 finishes = £4 million
Kilmarnock 3 top 4 finishes = £3 million
Motherwell 2 top 4 finishes = £2 million
Dunfermline, St Johnstone, Dundee United, Livingston 1 top 4 finish = £1 million each

Now, again, this is all hypothetical. But what a difference this money - even based on my simpleton accounting - would have made to these clubs.

Interesting to see that Thompson's Dundee United would only have benefited once in the 12 years of SPL football.

As for a gap closing device to reel in the Old Firm? Doesn't work as both would have earned at least twice what any other had managed.

* Quick bit of research after a question on Twitter. I think I've checked right back to the Second World War and the only time another side has won the Scottish Cup after the Old Firm have been kept apart in the semi-finals is Aberdeen in 1983.

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Neil Lennon's Awfully Big January

Dominating possession, the lion's share of corners and attempts at goal but with nothing to show for it. Then a weakness in the face of counter attacks was exploited and suddenly Celtic found themselves scrambling for an equaliser against Kilmarnock last night.

Familiar failings. The cracker-jack start to the season seems a long way off now. The first eight games brought eight wins and 24 points for Neil Lennon. The following eight games have brought only 12 points and three wins.

I wrote after the Old Firm game that Lennon was displaying a worrying habit of losing big games as manager. He was failing the critical tests. He's been failing more than that recently. Losing at Tynecastle might not be the end of the world but failing to beat Inverness, Dundee United and Kilmarnock in successive home games hints at bit problems for a club where winning everything really is everything.

Clearly the defence needs strengthening and Lennon confirmed last night that there would be new arrivals in January. That might also include a striker after Gary Hooper's serious looking injury.

But Lennon has already made a number of signings. And the team continues to struggle. The board have no option but to back him for now but they might be feeling ever more queasy as they do.

That Celtic are still only two points off the pace shows that Lennon is not involved in a duel with an invincible Rangers side. The situation is not yet an almighty disaster.

But the "I told you so" brigade (of which I will be accused of being a member) will see that the warnings of the inexperienced Lennon's unsuitability for the job are beginning to look fairly accurate.

Even his undoubted passion for the club hasn't brought the desired results. Lennon wanted fire. His run-ins with the refereeing authorities - some justified, some not so justified and often with a dose of over-reaction thrown in - have looked at times to be engineered to generate that fire.

But it is in the white heat of this refereeing row that Celtic have come unstuck. A young manager's attempt at mind games becoming a distraction? It's an easy argument to make from the outside.

Celtic could have gone top last night. Could have, should have. Didn't.

It's not unthinkable that by January 3rd Celtic will be five points behind Rangers having played a game more. An already crucial January will become ever more important. A novice manager will be tasked with putting together a run of wins while at the same time identifying and integrating new signings. And a rejuvenated Hearts - 19 points and six wins from their last eight games - will be relishing a trip to Celtic towards the end of the month.

A month for Lennon to forget about referees and hard luck stories. Let the fans worry about that. Now's the time for Lennon to prove himself as a manager.

Coming Up

Sunday, 26 December 2010
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
Celtic v St Johnstone

Wednesday, 29 December
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
Celtic v Motherwell

Sunday, 2 January
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
Rangers v Celtic

Sunday, 9 January
Scottish Cup
Berwick v Celtic, R4

Saturday, 15 January
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
Hibernian v Celtic

Saturday, 22 January
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
Celtic v Aberdeen

Wednesday, 26 January
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
Celtic v Hearts

Saturday, 29 January
Co-operative Insurance Cup
Aberdeen v Celtic, SF

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

SPL: Spring Break

Another example of Old Firm managers in agreement: Walter Smith and Neil Lennon do not think the current spate of weather related postponements are a valid enough reason to extend the SPL season.

Fair enough. A little ecumenicalism obviously goes a long way.

But don't come bleating to me about a fixture pile up in March. And let's not even mention all that UEFA Cup final hoo-hah from a couple of years ago.

Is this not all a little premature anyway?

The current backlog is not yet at the critical stage. The SPL have pointed out in their discussions of a winter break that the worst month for call offs is January. If we are destined to suffer this cold weather for another four or five weeks we might have a problem.

Knickers would be better remaining untwisted until then.

But all this does allow me to air an intriguing suggestion I heard over a pint or four at the weekend.

Scottish weather being what it is a winter break is going to be very difficult to schedule. So don't.

Instead work a two or three week break in March into the SPL calendar.

If the weather causes a backlog there would be a clear window for games to be played in the, hopefully, less fresh strippingly cold climes of spring. If there is no backlog the clubs get a couple of weeks to recharge their batteries in time for a championship, European or relegation run-in.

Worthy of consideration, surely?

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Another SPL Postponement

Were you champing at the bit to find out how the SPL's general meeting went yesterday? No? I don't believe you.

Here's the SPL statement:

The SPL General Meeting of all 12 clubs, scheduled for tomorrow, has been postponed due to the weather and will now take place on Tuesday 4 January.

Yes, friends. A meeting that was going to discuss the issue of a winter break was postponed due to the winter weather.

I love Scotland.

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Play Off, Play Off And Play The Game

Walter Smith and Neil Lennon appear to have spent much of yesterday singing from the same hymn sheet.

Not Christmas carols at an ecumenical festive service.

More songs of condemnation aimed at Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson.

Thompson has suggested that the SPL should look at play-offs. Not the oft mentioned relegation play offs. No, he's after championship deciding play offs between the top four sides at the end of each season.

Which has induced a certain hysteria among the Old Firm management. "Nonsense," "ludicrous" and "bollocks" sum up the tone of their responses.

Smith and Lennon have probably missed the point. Thompson would probably expect to see blue snow falling on Christmas Day before he sees his plan become a reality.

His aim, I think, is to convey his disappointment at the plans put forward by the SPL and to show that other systems are available. And maybe have some preprandial fun along the way.

He will also have known that he'd be criticised for cooking up a system that damages the integrity of the season long league championship. But he might argue that works at both ends of the table.

If clubs are expected to rubber stamp a play off system that includes play off for the teams finishing second and third bottom, why should the two dominant clubs not also be asked to jeapordise their duopoly at the top?

A valid enough argument, one that I suspect some non-Old Firm fans might be drawn to and a fairly intriguing way for Thompson to make his point.

Certainly it appears that the proposals put forward by the SPL and backed by Henry McLeish look to have no chance of carrying the 11 to 1 majority of SPL clubs that they require.

Back to the drawing board?

Play Off Thoughts

Do I agree with a four team play off at the top of the SPL? No. Because I'm an old fashioned kind of guy and you either win the league or you don't. Simples.

But maybe Thompson is on to something.

In 12 SPL campaigns Rangers and Celtic have finished in top two places 11 times with Rangers finishing third in the 2005/2006 season.

In those 12 seasons they have won 32 of the 36 trophies on offer in Scotland.

So even with a play off system they would still be expected to dominate, with seedings at the semi final stage giving a big chance of an extra, hugely meaningful, Old Firm game at Hampden each season. I've a feeling the broadcasters might like that.

But it is hard to make the argument that the third and fourth placed teams would deserve to be involved.

In the 12 SPL seasons the closest the third placed team has finished behind the second placed team is one point. That was in 2005/2006 when Rangers were breathing down Hearts' backs.

In every other season the Old Firm have filled the top two spots. The closest any side has come to them is the seven point gap achieved by Aberdeen in 2006/2007. That same year Hearts in fourth place were only nine points behind.

In the other ten seasons no team has come closer than 13 points behind whichever Old Firm side has occupied second. In seven seasons the gap has been 15 points or more. In 2002/2003 Hearts in third place finished 35 points behind and fourth placed Kilmarnock were 40 points behind.

The SPL's history suggests that third and fourth placed teams simply don't deserve a play off for the championship.

Can the same argument be made for teams at the other end of the table?

The gap between bottom and second and third bottom tends to be much closer.

In 2001/02 bottom club St Johnstone finished 19 points behind Motherwell, three years later Livingston were 15 points adrift of Motherwell and Dunfermline and Gretna's fairytale ended some 17 points behind Kilmarnock.

In no other season has there been more than ten points between the bottom club and the second bottom club and only twice has the gap between bottom and third bottom been ten points or more.

The SPL is tighter at the bottom than it as at the top. That, rightly or wrongly, makes a relegation play off easier to justify than a championship play off.

The teams in second and third bottom are likely to have spent the season looking more like relegation candidates than the teams in third and fourth place have looked like champions.

> In 2001/02 Celtic won the SPL with 103 points. Rangers in second had 85 points. Livingston were third with 58 points, Aberdeen fourth with 55.

It is difficult not to accept Lennon and Smith's arguments that league tables like that are so conclusive that giving Livingston and Aberdeen and even second placed Rangers the chance to take the title after two extra games is a bit odd.

Odd. But probably also quite amusing if you don't happen to be a Celtic fan.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Scottish Goalkeepers Are Rubbish

The powers that be will no doubt remove this video soon. So enjoy it while you can. Craig Gordon's save today as Sunderland beat Bolton 1-0 to move to sixth in the English Premier League.

Not bad, son. Not bad at all.

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McLeish Report Part Two: SPL and SFL

Was it a "muddle, not a fiddle?" Was it just a big fat coincidence?

It seems strange that the second part of the McLeish Report came to exactly the same conclusions about the future of our league structure as those announced by the SPL last week. Odd.

Odd and depressing. The feedback I hear from fans is hardly embracing the idea of two 10 team SPL divisions. The proposals for regional leagues below that don't seem to be massively popular either, perhaps because the details still seem unclear.

The Scottish Football League are, unsurprisingly, against a restructuring that would see their organisation disappear.

I have no sympathy for them. If we are to change Scottish football then there will need to a bonfire of the blazerati. If that starts at the SFL then so be it.

That prize money for winning the first division doesn't stretch to six figures is proof that the SFL can't provide for its members in any meaningful way.

But will these changes spread the wealth? Will they secure the futures of more clubs than the current set up? And will they improve the quality of our professional game?

Both Henry McLeish and the SPL seem confident that they will. But it is a confidence based on assumptions and hope rather than any certainty.

And, crucially, they are proposals that ignore the lifeblood of the game - the supporters. As McLeish acknowledges:

"A Premier League of 14 teams which would be more in tune with what the fans and spectators have been asking for but which would run the risk of some serious financial difficulties and a reduction in the current financial distribution going to the clubs. The quality of the SPL would also be a major consideration."

If, and history suggests that this will happen, a 10 team format becomes stale, repetitive and driven by fear will the fans simply continue to disappear? I'd say that is a certainty.

And what of our broadcast partners. Neither ESPN nor Sky seem to consider the SPL as the pinnacle of their broadcast portfolios.

If the quality drops ever further and they decide to walk away or offer hugely reduced terms the 20 team SPL set up suddenly doesn't look like a financial utopia.

For now this all remains hypothetical. The proposals seem to lack the breadth of support that they need to become a reality.

There are no easy answers. Any restructuring carries risks. Retaining the current set up carries risks.

But there does seem an appetite for change, a realisation that professional football in Scotland is currently dying.

It is yet another tragedy of our national game that both the SPL and Henry McLeish have, after careful consideration, delivered proposals that seem unlikely to take football off the life support machine.

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McLeish Report Part Two: SFA

It takes either bravery or a complete lack of self awareness for an institution to commission an inquiry that will lay bare many of its failings.

So the SFA deserve either ridicule or praise for asking Henry McLeish to deliver a report that concluded the governing body:

"Lacks coherence, focus and a sense of overall purpose, is ill-equipped to deal with current problems and has failed to plan effectively for the future.

"There is little appreciation of the benefits of being more open and transparent...distinct lack of mission, vision, outcomes and objectives."

Fairly damning stuff. And any organisation that lacks "consistency, logic and at times discipline" needs a major overhaul.

But will the SFA learn? Why when responding to the report did SFA president George Peat not announce his immediate resignation? Why is chief executive Stewart Regan not already putting in place the processes required to enact the McLeish recommendations?

Because the SFA is mired in self interest and denial. Because George Peat is a tinpot dictator with no desire to help Scottish football beyond squeezing into his blazer and enjoying some corporate hospitality.

Henry McLeish was never going to be the dynamic champion of change. His affability often seems to border on irrelevance.

But maybe that makes his verdict more persuasive. The quiet man has roared.

The McLeish Report might not be perfect. But it has confirmed what most of already felt. Not only is the SFA not fit for purpose it is actually doing more harm than good. If the SFA is damaging the national game then it has to change.

Just don't hold your breath.

The McLeish Report Part Two

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SPL Today: Irresistible Force v Immovable Object

The winter chill continues, games tumbling by the wayside like Scotland's co-efficient points. Only two matches set to survive in the SPL. Thankfully one of them is the game of the day.

Hearts v Inverness

Scottish football's irresistible force meets our immovable object. Or something. Hearts have won six out of six. Inverness haven't lost away since Mary and Joseph revved up the donkey and began the long trek to Bethlehem.

Somebody's proud record has to give today. Unless it's a draw. Terry Butcher's Inverness have been the "surprise package" of the season and successive draws against the Old Firm suggest that it is no fluke that they find themselves in fourth place.

Hearts are suddenly involved in chasing down second place. A win today sees them go level with Celtic on points. Celtic will have played two games less but there is no denying that Jim Jefferies has built the SPL's form team.

Postponements elsewhere should ensure that this game gets the billing it deserves. Hopefully the players can deliver a memorable match.

Who to back? I've never denied being a coward. And a calendar year without an away defeat would be a fine achievement for Inverness. Hearts look strong but I'm going to sit on the fence: draw.

Kilmarnock v Hibs

Written off by many before the start of the season Mixu Paatelainen has enjoyed a solid start to his career at Kilmarnock. Predicted to be in a relegation battle they sit comfortably in sixth place, winning both plaudits and some big games.

Hibs remain inconsistent although there have been glimpses of improvement. Still a lot of work to do though.

Neither of these sides have played since 27 November so difficult to know how the players will react to their unscheduled winter break.

Hibs have been struggling to keep clean sheets and will find Kilmarnock's Alexei Eremenko and Conor Sammon difficult to cope with. So the away side will need to find some attacking intent of their own. This one is a home win for me.

Postponed matches so far:

Scottish Premier League
Aberdeen v Motherwell
Hamilton v Celtic
Rangers v St Mirren
St Johnstone v Dundee Utd

Scottish Football League Championship First Division
Queen of South v Morton
Raith v Cowdenbeath
Ross County v Dunfermline

Scottish Football League Championship Second Division
Ayr v Forfar
Brechin v East Fife
Dumbarton v Peterhead
Stenhousemuir v Livingston

Scottish Football League Championship Third Division
Albion v Annan
Berwick v Montrose
Clyde v Arbroath
Stranraer v East Stirling

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

SPL Tonight: Motherwell v Hearts

I am not really privy to such information but I believe that Queen's Don't Stop Me Now was a bit of a favourite with Hearts fans as they celebrated winning the Scottish Cup in 2006.

They must be feeling something similar now with Jim Jefferies' side on a five match winning streak. That includes a derby win and a win over Celtic. It also includes five clean sheets. Impressive stuff.

Impressive enough to spark a bit of debate on Twitter last night about the lesser spotted Old Firm splitting SPL side.

Not that a man with Jefferies' countenance is given to getting carried away. He'll also be looking at a busy few weeks of football that begins at Fir Park tonight, continues against away specialists Inverness at Tynecastle on Saturday and runs right through to an Old Firm double header towards the end of January.

Credential testing fixtures.

And SPL arithmetic shows us that as much as Hearts have a chance to narrow the gap on Celtic in second place they could also find themselves in a three way tie in third place and nine points off the pace by the end of the weekend.

This is not the time to take the foot off the pedal.

How will Motherwell be affected by Craig Brown's dithering and eventual departure last week? It's bound to have some impact and, unfortunately, I can't help feeling that a managerless Motherwell takes a bit of the shine off a game that I had been looking forward to.

Of course we can point to examples of a manager leaving and the caretaker delivering some excellent results. Equally there are examples of an abrupt departure leading to a loss of form. There's no science to it.

It will be the reaction of the Motherwell players, as much as the input of Motherwell temp Gordon Young, that dictates how quickly the pain of the loss of Brown is soothed at Fir Park.

Tough ask tonight though. David Templeton and Rudi Skacel continue to excite for Hearts and those five clean sheets suggest that there is a solid foundation for this current run of form.

Even with Brown at the helm Motherwell have displayed a certain inconsistency even as they've made an impressive enough start to the season.

Can they spring an ambush on Hearts tonight. Tempted to back a draw. But, no. Hearts are the league's form side. Away win.

> History repeating? Motherwell youth supremo took charge of one game when Jim Gannon left Fir Park. The result? A 1-0 defeat to Hearts. An omen?

> Motherwell are refusing to rush into a permanent appointment. No doubt I'll return to the subject later. But names that will definitely be mentioned: Gus McPherson and John Hughes. Yawn.

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SPL Reconstruction: Everything Changes, Everything Stays The Same

Much more to write on SPL reconstruction when I get the time. Unscientific in the field polling suggests that Rangers' Martin Bain loves the proposals he helped write. Derek Longmuir of the Scottish Football League doesn't like them and doesn't think his clubs will either.

Many fans seem to think the new proposals are a bit of a muddle that fail to address the real issues. "Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic" and "Revolution? I suppose you can revolve backwards" are a flavour of the comments I've heard so far.

A couple of quick points: when people (like me) argued for a streamlining of football administration in Scotland they probably weren't advocating the SPL land grab that these proposals would deliver.

Why the rush? Surely the SPL didn't want to get their ideas out before the second part of the McLeish Report delivers a different set of findings based on much wider consultations? We'll see.

And given the state of many of our SPL clubs and their rickety finances why are their chairmen and chief executives the best people to decide the future of the national game? It's like making Bernard Madoff chancellor.

Right, that's enough for now.

But no apologies for pointing you in the direction of a couple of articles on the Scottish Football Archive:

Scottish Top Division Reconstruction: Championships

Statistically, in terms of non-Old Firm dominance, the 9 year period of the 16 team format between 1946-47 and 1954-55 was the best.

The league has been through twenty reconstructions and this is only the 113th season and both stability and change have shown varying degrees of success in terms of breaking the Old Firm dominance over the league - but the Old Firm dominance appears to be something that Scottish football fans have to live with, while hoping for brief periods of change.

Scottish Top Division Reconstruction - Attendances

Four of the seven seasons after a reconstruction, the attendances have dropped.

So, as well as highlighted in the earlier post than the 9 year period of the 16 team format (30 games a year) were the best for non-Old Firm dominance, that 9 year period was also one of the most successful for attendances.

It would also point towards the fact that less games (only 30 in a 16 team format) actually causes higher attendances, in terms of simple supply and demand perhaps?

Lied, damned lies and statistics? Possibly (and I'm quoting selectively but I think give a flavour of their findings) but some interesting theories nonetheless. Football, and society, have changed to such an extent that comparisons can only tell us so much. But it does provide a counter argument to the idea that a ten team league has delivered our nearest brush with footballing utopia.

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Morrisons v FIFA: More Moaning For Less

Most of us can accept that FIFA is - I'll not say corrupt - lacking a certain transparency in its decision making processes.

And we can probably accept that Sepp Blatter, to quote Rob over at Left Back In The Changing Room, "is a fucking clown."

But how many of us thought that it would be the supermarket chain Morrisons that would grasp the sword of truth and attempt to slay football's governing dragon?

A Morrisons spokeman has announced:

"On behalf of our customer we are disappointed that the merits of the bid were not recognised by Fifa, which clearly was intent on locating the 2018 World Cup in an emerging country.

"As we think the decision-making process was unfair, we have instructed lawyers in Switzerland to examine our options under Swiss law.

"We hope Fifa will do the right thing and offer £1m to be invested in grass-roots football."

Good luck with that one, chaps.

Quick question to Morrisons though. Why not spend the money on grassroots football in the first place?

The, ahem, "intricacies" of FIFA's bid process were hardly a secret before England launched their bid. I'm guessing Morrisons would have been happy to ignore these concerns if the English bid had succeeded.

Nor is the 2012 Olympic project a shining example of England's ability to articulate how a major sporting event will have direct grassroots benefits.

And, come to think of it, how did the 10 year old school children who benefited from the legacy of Euro 96 fare in South Africa this summer?

I'm sure Morrisons think this is a nice PR campaign. Unfortunately, like many in the FA, they are now coming across as unbelievably naive or like terribly bad losers.

Time to move on.

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Blogging Craig Brown

After their weekend capitulation to Hearts, Craig Brown started his first official day as manager of an Aberdeen side badly in need a lift on Monday.

What better way to mark the new era than to welcome back an old blogger? Seb Gevers, once of Inside Left (maybe still of Inside Left, kind of) appears to have launched The Red And The White: A Year In The Life Of Aberdeen FC.

And, strangely out of character, he has launched it with some enthusiasm for the new regime.

Well worth bookmarking to see how Seb charts the travails and triumphs of yet another new era at Pittodrie.

> Noticed a comment on Twitter today, and I hope I didn't miss the context, questioning what sort of working relationship Craig Brown and Archie Knox would be able to build with Willie Miller at Aberdeen.

My guess would be that the three all know each other well. Knox coached the great Aberdeen side that Miller captained, Brown was involved in the Scotland set-up when Miller was a regular.

I would think the relationship with Miller will have been fairly decisive in persuading Brown and Knox from Motherwell rather than putting them off. Whether it all works out as well as that remains to be seen.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

SPL Reconstruction: 10 out of 10?

The "r" word surfaces again in Scottish football. Not referees. Reconstruction.

The BBC reports that:

Proposals for a two-tier Scottish Premier League of 10 teams each are to be put to clubs next Monday.

As part of the reconstruction, play-offs would be introduced, the season would start earlier and a winter break would be built in.

The leagues beneath the top two would be regionalised if the plans put forward by the SPL's Strategic Working Group are ratified.

It is anticipated any changes would be introduced the season after next.

We have all discussed reconstruction as being a way of improving the league. The jury remains out on whether or not that will actually work. Myriad changes through the decades have left us in the position we're now in.

I think some form of reconstruction is now inevitable. Is this the model most of us would have chosen?

Possibly not. But most of us don't have a say.

The proposals need to carry at least 11 votes under the SPL's strange governance rules. An earlier start, a winter break and fewer games might be welcomed by some. But there are alternative systems that would achieve similar outcomes.

Regional lower leagues would seem to make sense. I'm sure the idea of SPL clubs playing reserve sides in the lower leagues will spark some debate.

Not had time to properly digest all the reported proposal. If I was to leap without looking I'm probably in the "No" camp on this idea.

So unconvinced by the detail. But applauding a move to addressing some of the issues that many of us have been shouting about for years.

Progress of sorts. Although we did start out with a 10 team SPL all those years ago.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Snow Joke Anymore: Scottish Football Postponements

Games are falling foul of the foul weather already.

No game for Celtic and Kilmarnock or Dundee United and Motherwell this weekend. Hamilton will find out today if they are OK to host Hibs.

The SPL's Neil Doncaster is "slightly surprised" at the early call offs. The polis have decided though and there's not much clubs or league can do in the face of that.

My own experience this week suggests that even a big thaw over the next 24 hours or so is unlikely to cure Scotrail's massive nervous breakdown this week. And don't get me started on some of the pavements I've had to slide across as the snow melts and freezes on top of compacted ice.

Postponements are unfortunate but probably not surprising.

And certainly not the worst we've ever seen. This from The Mirror:

The record number of snow-related postponements for a single football game was in 1979 when the match between Inverness Thistle and Falkirk was put back 29 times through January and February.

In the notorious freeze-hit season of 1962-63 there were 261 match postponements between December and March. Some of the fixtures were called off 15 times and the third round of the FA Cup took 66 days to finish.

Apparently 1684 was the coldest winter in British history. Maybe somebody could ask Craig Brown just how cold it was that year.

SFL games off so far:

Scottish First Division
Cowdenbeath v Falkirk
Stirling Albion v Raith Rovers

Scottish Second Division
Airdrie United v Dumbarton
Forfar Athletic v Alloa Athletic
Livingston v Ayr United

Scottish Third Division
Albion Rovers v Arbroath
East Stirlingshire v Queen's Park

The Hearts v Aberdeen game goes ahead but snow related issues means there are changes to turnstiles etc. More here, advice is turn up at Tynecastle early to avoid problems.

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Craig Brown To Aberdeen: Motherwell Complain To SPL

As I said last night Craig Brown's departure is a right sair one for Motherwell.

And a sair one they are distinctly unchuffed about. The Motherwell official statement wishes Brown and Archie Knox well. But.

“Separately we do wish to make clear that as a Board we believe that the conduct of the Board of Aberdeen in this matter has been wholly inappropriate and in clear breach of SPL rules as well as basic courtesy. At no point did they inform us or seek our permission to speak to critical employees of our Club and to seek to entice them to leave our employment.

“We realise the desperation they are feeling and the pressure they are under from their fans for their own performance as a Board but to go about their business in this way is a matter of gross discourtesy. It is also conduct which is beneath the integrity we would expect of a Club of Aberdeen’s stature. We hope Aberdeen’s fans will reflect on that and understand our need to do something about it. We have raised this matter with the SPL and will pursue the matter vigorously and by all means.

“To all Motherwell fans everywhere we ask for you to rally round the Club as you always do and we will work together to keep punching above our weight and obtaining the success we all seek. This Club is bigger than any manager and for that matter any Board. As fans we will always be the people who care most about this club for the long term. Loyalty is clearly all too rare in football but we know we have it in ourselves for the club we love. Motherwell is a special club from a special place as anyone touched by us knows well."

We've not heard the end of this one. Grumblings elsewhere about Brown's U-turn over the course of the week. Hard to disagree that an old pro has handled this one badly.

Got to like the "the desperation they are feeling" line in Motherwell's statement though. Touché.

But Motherwell's fans would be best served if this doesn't become a lengthy slanging match. The club need to concentrate on replacing Brown. Follow up any legitimate complaint but don't get bogged down, there's a strong start to the season to be built on.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Aberdeen To Finally Land Craig Brown

Not yet confirmed but it looks like Craig Brown is on his way to Aberdeen after all. After saying "no" at first it now looks like persistence has paid off for Stewart Milne and the Aberdeen board.

What you might call a ginormous kick in the nads for Motherwell, who lose a second manager to Aberdeen in as many as years. I'm sure many 'Well fans wish Brown and his assistant all the success that Mark McGhee enjoyed at Pittodrie.

What do Aberdeen gain? At first glance it looks like an appointment aimed more at steadying the ship in the here and now than securing a glorious future. Brown is, after all, now 70. His assistant, Archie Knox, is 63.

But at Motherwell they've shown themselves capable of getting a lot from a small squad, accepting budget constraints and finding loan deals for decent young players.

They'll need to do all of that at Aberdeen. Their most immediate task will be organising a squad that is capable of collapsing to such an extent that they can lose nine goals. Probably not a desperately bad squad, not a great one, but not one that should be losing nine goals.

Some players will need a kick up the arse. Some will need a bit of a cuddle. All need confidence. Grandpaw Broon and Uncle Erchie will need all their man management skills.

And I really believe they have a chance of pulling it off.

I've not always been a huge fan of Craig Brown. In fact I'd once got out of my seat ready to dash across the pitch and challenge him about some some decisions he'd made as Scotland manager before I decided I'd probably drunk too many pints to out sprint the stewards.

Sadly hindsight now suggests that Brown was working miracles all along with Scotland. And with the national side he proved that he could organise and inspire a team to be greater than the sum of its parts.

What other candidate offered Aberdeen that?

I am surprised that Brown and Knox seem set to accept. I thought Motherwell was a good fit for them and they seem to have been relishing the challenge.

We'll hear a lot in the next few days about restoring Aberdeen to their rightful place in Scottish football - and Archie Knox was there when the Dons won the Cup Winner's Cup. Wherever that rightful place is, and we could debate that for that days, it's certainly not 11th place in the SPL. Former glories might be beyond Aberdeen - restoring some pride certainly should not be.

So it seems that two old dogs haven't been able to resist the lure of one more big challenge. It won't be easy.

The ideal for Aberdeen is that they get club back on an even footing over the next couple of seasons. They might also be charged with training someone from within the club to take over as manager when the time comes.

That will be the plan. As I say, it won't be easy. But I've found something refreshing about watching Brown's reinvention as an SPL club manager. He's taking a lot of experience to Pittodrie. He'll need it all.

And, having watched McGhee pass through stages of denial and belligerence over the past few months, it will at least be fun to see a septuagenarian bring some enthusiasm to the job.

STV report that Brown has confirmed his resignation from Motherwell with immediate effect

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Albert Stubbins: Beatles Icon

As these articles are required to begin: “It was thirty years ago today...”

Thirty years since John Lennon was killed in New York.

Football and Music has more on the relationship between The Beatles and football - turns out they weren’t all that bothered. Although there is also a suggestion that Brian Epstein told them not to make their allegiances clear to avoid upsetting the red or blue sides of Liverpool.

But one Liverpool player has enjoyed Beatles immortality. And, apparently, because Lennon liked his name.

Albert Stubbins was one of the 70 personalities chosen to grace the cover of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as one of John Lennon’s choices.

Stubbins’ career began at Newcastle in the late 1930s just before the Second World War deprived Britain of official football leagues. The war meant that Stubbins’ prolific goal scoring for his hometown club came mainly in unofficial competitions and matches.

In the 1945-46 Northern League Stubbins scored 39 goals for Newcastle, some 25 more than his Geordie colleague Jackie Millburn, and cemented his reputation as the country’s top goal scorer during the war years.

Liverpool then forked out £13,000 for his services - a sum he repaid with 24 goals and a league championship in his first season at Anfield.

Another six seasons - and 83 goals in all competitions - followed at Liverpool. Stubbins was what we now call an 'old fashioned centre forward', with an imposing physique. "Always robust, but never unfair."

And then, 14 years after Stubbins had left the club, John Lennon remembered his name, a name that apparently amused him as a child. And so Albert Stubbins took his place on arguably the most iconic album cover of all time.

He’s said to have enjoyed his link with The Beatles. Paul McCartney - whose own footballing choice of Dixie Deans didn’t make the final cut - sent him a copy of the record and a note:

"Well done, Albert, for all those glorious years of football. Long may you bob and weave."

Albert Stubbins died in 2002. Obituaries at The Guardian and The Independent.

> Another player with a career disrupted by the Second World War provides a second Beatles footballing link. The lyrics to Dig It (Let It Be album) include the lines:

Like the FBI and the CIA
And the BBC--BB King
And Doris Day
Matt Busby
Dig it, dig it, dig it

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Hit For Six

Bit of Twitter chat about winter breaks and bad weather. Someone suggested a break could mean the return of the Tennents' Sixes. If only.

Footage above the last tournament in 1993 - will the Jags ever get to defend their title?

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Monday, December 06, 2010


A video that I hadn't seen before, so apologies if you have.

Quick tour of the museum at Hampden and a bit about both Queen's Park and Third Lanark. Worth a watch.

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Now Is The Winter Of Our Discontent

Is summer football going to become a bugbear of mine? Probably not. But there is a problem with our schedule. And that's mixed in with my traditional moan: our inexplicable problem with scheduling home-away-home-away games for clubs.

Do we want to make it more difficult for fans to watch Scottish football? It seems so.

Here's an exert from The Scotsman today:

The scheduled SFL game of the day at the weekend was in Falkirk, with Raith Rovers supposed to be the visitors. A crowd in excess of 5,000 had been anticipated; that figure is unlikely to be matched if the teams play on the rearranged date of 14 December. Hospitality packages purchased with Saturday in mind will suffer an inevitable drop-off for a Tuesday night; all in all, it is a costly process for the home club.

"It's a funny one because normally we would have moved heaven and earth to make sure the game went ahead," said Falkirk's managing director George Craig.

"We had everything in place - gritters, snow ploughs and the like but we had to take a view. Even if we managed to get the game on, what would have been the possibility of people being prepared to travel?

"People have struggled to get the schools and their work all week, were they then likely to come out for the football on a Saturday? With that in mind, it was probably one of the easiest decisions we have had to make. And that's not even taking into account the pitch, which is sitting with ten inches of snow on it just now."

The balance sheet, though, will feel the impact of Falkirk's current situation. "We are not due to have a home Saturday game until 18 December," Craig added. "That will mean a six-week gap between them. When you are in the SFL, gate receipts basically are your income."

As The Scotsman points out Alloa's game against Peterhead went ahead, the artificial pitch proving its worth.

But a fake surface wouldn't really have helped Falkirk this week.

Clubs are being crippled by winter weather. Dare I say that we're also not seeing our players at their best because we ask them to play at the wrong time of the year.

Major leagues in Europe don't have winter breaks or summer football. Well, we're not a major league. We need to do everything we can to improve the quality of our football and maximise our earning potential.

Summer football or a total (three month?) shutdown? I've said it before and I'll say it again: it's time for a serious discussion.

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Kids Are Alright

A bleak weekend, the SPL gone for a burton. Only Alloa and Peterhead surviving in the SFL. What to do?

Well, how about thinking about Scotland, Craig Levein and our ongoing search for qualification to a major tournament?

I'm delighted to welcome guest blogger Euan Wishart to the Scottish Football Blog stable.

Euan's debut is about all things national team and how Levein might be able to build something for the future.

And don't worry, Euan's not two months behind everyone else - I was tardy in getting this posted. Anyway, have a read and let us know your thoughts:

It is now 12 years since Scotland and the Tartan Army graced a major tournament. This season’s defence v attack style match in Prague against the Czech Republic, where Scotland managed ZERO shots on target, only heightened the levels of disenchantment with the national team.

Much has been made in recent times about teams ‘building for the future’ and ‘blooding younger players’. Across the border there is a similar malaise and Fabio Capello was tasked with those very issues after the perceived failure of the England team at the World Cup.

While Capello adhered to these values in the pre qualifying friendlies, come business time Wilshire & Gibbs found themselves back in the under 21’s.

Under Craig Levein Scotland appear to have gone down a similar route. Experience counts. Levein has recalled David Weir, Lee McCulloch and Paul Hartley, not to mention his attempts to lure Barry Ferguson out of retirement. All of whom are the wrong side of thirty and can’t be seen as long-term players.

But what of ‘building for the future’?

Both Scotland and England have been urged to follow Spain’s blue print for success. The much-praised Spanish team have a squad nucleus with an average age in the mid twenties yet most of the squad have vast international experience.

Similarly, the Germans under Joachim Lowe overhauled their aging squad and built their team around a nucleus of younger players. In South Africa the Germans with Ozil, Muller, and Neuer et al dazzled and won many plaudits and are now seen as serious contenders for the Euros in 2012.

Both Levein and Capello can argue that the ‘bread and butter’ is to qualify for tournaments. Football is after all a result driven business. But what happens if Scotland actually qualifies for the Euros? Will Weir, Hartley and McCulloch be able to perform at that level? And what of the next qualifying campaign?

There is a solution to the dilemma Levein and Capello have, a way of balancing off the immediate aims with the future gains.

Taking the match in Prague as an example, Levein commented that he had watched the Czech’s on a number of occasions and knew in advance how he wanted to set his team up and, barring injury, most likely which players he wanted to select: McGregor, Hutton, Weir, McManus, Whittaker, Caldwell, Fletcher, Morrison, Dorrans, Mackie & Naismith.

He also knew which players he would use to change the game with, in the Czech game, Miller, Iwelumo and Robson in mind.

Perhaps add a defender and a keeper: Berra and Gordon. That makes 16 players likely to get any form of game time. So what of the other members of Levein’s 23 man squad?

Why have players such as Maloney, Fletcher, Bardsley, Marshall or whoever sitting in the stand? This provides the manager with the perfect opportunity to look to the future and start building towards it.

Does it not make more sense to select seven younger players? Adding the likes of Danny Wilson, John Fleck, Paul Hanlon, David Wotherspoon & David Goodwillie would provide them with the stepping stone into the international arena. Getting them accustomed to the squad, it’s rituals, the media pressure.

Rather than give a thirty something ten minutes at the end of the game why not blood one of the new generation and use them as subs?

The SFA & FA could lead the way and ensure the make up of the national squads represent a 15:8 or 16:7 split with senior players and younger players under twenty-three. A reversal of Olympic football whereby teams are made up of under twenty-three players and have a quota of senior players to supplement this.

Adopting this approach would provide Levein and Capello’s England with a conveyor belt of talent making the gradual step into international football while not sacrificing the immediate aims of qualification and could return Scotland and England to the forefront of international football as pioneers for the future.

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Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Tweetest Thing

Interesting discussion on Radio Scotland's Paper Talk on Monday night. Jim Traynor, Hugh MacDonald, Graeme Bryce and Jim Black were discussing Scottish football's refereeing crisis.

Someone suggested by text that the traditional media "lagged miles" behind social media in reporting the strike. Traynor pointed out that newspapers had to consider legal positions before publishing. Which is true, but not quite the whole story.

We're then told that a lot of stuff on social site is "patently ludicrous and untrue." That's the old "internet is populated by nutcases" argument. How refreshing. Because we all know that without a newspaper byline your views count for nothing in Scottish football.

Fair enough.

Except they're wrong.

It's up to you if you want to get on board with new technology or not. Although to be so vocal does suggest that you revel in the contrariness, that you'd be standing round the fire raging against the invention of the wheel.

There are some nutters on that, there internet. There's been a few in the gaggle of Scottish fitba' journalists down the years as well, mind.

But we're not all nutters. And some of us might even have got exceptionally high marks in our Scots Law for Journalists exams (not that I'm one to brag. But 95 percent, as you're asking.)

I don't pretend to set the news agenda with this blog or with any of my tweets. I'm without contacts, unlikely to ever get a scoop. That's not what this blog is all about, it was never intended to be a comprehensive round-up of Scottish football news. I react to news that interests me.

Of course, every blogger or tweeter will have their own reasons for covering Scottish football. And I'd like to think that most of us can bring something unique to the debate.

Hardly fair then to write us all off as lunatics. I didn't break any big news stories about the referee's strike but nor did I make up any ludicrous rumours. I even went out of my way to argue against some of the taller conspiracy theories.

But, and this is the point that Traynor's merry band of Luddites missed, Twitter did lead the coverage of the strike.

@STV_Andy and @STVGrant, of STV's ever improving football site, were my first call for the increasingly ludicrous and farcical twists and turns over the course of the week. They used the big, bad world of social media combined with some good old fashioned journalism to beat the oppostion on almost every big breaking story.

Not two guys sitting blogging in their mother's spare room. (Well, they might be. But it's not proving too much of a hindrance to them.) Two guys actually working for a real, proper "old media" website but realising that there's more to covering football these days than writing a story and then going on the radio to pontificate. Nothing wrong with a spot of pontification, of course, I regularly indulge myself.

But there is more to covering football now.

If you were waiting for the morning papers to get the latest you were way behind the story.

There is an arrogance in the insular clique of Scottish football journalists. Blogs, Twitter and forums might not be 100 percent reliable but they are changing how we digest our football news.

Someone at STV gets that.

Jim Traynor and his guests don't. And we all know what happened to the dinosaurs.

> You can listen to the programme here

England: Make or Break Month

The Scottish Football Blog, unlike the 2018 World Cup, is going to England. To the land of Manchester's United and City, of Newcastle and Bolton, Chelsea and Blackpool.

Why? Because there's only one Scottish game on this weekend. And because regular English Premier League guest blogger, Mark Briggs is back.

A cracking weekend of EPL action last weekend actually. Much to enjoy. Something of a shame for those who still insist that it is the best league in the world that Saturday and Sunday's goalsfest was overshadowed by the ridiculous brilliance of Barcelona on Monday night. Ouch.

Actually this season has confused me a bit. Sky's bombastic claims of the best league in the world seem at odds with all these experts telling me that this is the worst Manchester United team in the history of the world, EVER.

Sky of course would prefer us to stick with the pretence that football, and thus the whole WORLD, only began in 1992.

So probably United aren't really that bad and the league is going through a bit of a dip. Apply a bit of moderation to your world view and the INEXPLICABLE suddenly become explicable.

Anyway, I'm rambling now. So here's Mark:

Some clubs have set season objectives. A good start or a bad start sets the benchmark for success or failure going into the second half. West Ham will be hoping not to go down, Spurs will be looking for Europe again. But what of the clubs who have snuck under the radar and those whose seasons hang in the balance.

Firstly the under the radar section. At the time of writing Bolton sit sixth. I opened up the league table to check some of the details for this article and found Wanderers sitting pretty, just 3 points off a Champions League place.

Capable of playing flowing football (see their second goal against Blackpool at the weekend) but are not averse to knocking it long to the big man Davis up front and playing the old fashioned way. Could it be that a good December will see Trotters beginning to dream?

There is enough about this Bolton squad to suggest this isn’t unthinkable. They have a goalie who, back in the days when his team were lower mid table patrons, was playing beneath himself. Jussi Jääskeläinen

has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers over the last decade. And now in front stands an international centre-back in Gary Cahill.

A fresh and energetic midfield operates behind a spearhead of captain Kevin Davis, a man deservedly called up for England and then overlooked, inexplicably, for Jay Bothroyd. Alongside is the player Bolton thought they’d brought last season as Johan Elmander begins to show his quality. Again I refer you to a goal, this time against Wolves. YouTube should see you right on both counts.

At the other end, shorn of strikers and struggling for goals Everton and Fulham have so far not had seasons they would care to buy the DVD of. Just above them, Aston Villa are also looking over their shoulders.

So to the people whose season hangs in the balance. Namely Newcastle and Blackpool. Trouncing teams while being just as likely to get themselves humped is entertaining to watch but a run of either over the next month would really set their stalls out.

Andy Carroll is obviously the Geordies big hope. A local lad made good, knocking in goals in the big league as he wears the No9 shirt. That’s football like it used to be. Well almost, there is the small matter of some night time brawling and the disgusting issue of the girlfriend beating incident hanging over his head. We might, rightly, have moral issues with this behaviour. But, if it starts to affect his form, however unlikely that seems at this point, Newcastle could be in trouble.

So there we go, these look to me to be the teams to watch over the next few weeks. And with six games coming for most teams in December a loss of form now, or a little run, could make or break this season.

England, Russia, Qatar and FIFA

Russia and Qatar. The 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be going where no World Cup has gone before.

I was fairly unmoved by the whole shebang surrounding the bidding process. Certainly a fair few English noses have been put out of joint.

And many English journalists are now ranting and raving about the power of money and the questionable attitudes of the two countries to human rights and media freedom.

Fair points. But they miss crucial parts of the story.

FIFA now looks to me to be an institution so corrupt it is beyone redemption, certainly it seems beyond the jurisdiction of anyone that might like to heal the sickness that Sepp Blatter and, before him, Joao Havelange have left at its heart.

Of course, money talks to FIFA. It screams in FIFA's face. And FIFA love it.

And FIFA, like the Olympics, is brilliant at what we might call "flingin' a deefie" to anything that might be political. Of course both organisations are among the most political on the planet. And, like all politicians, the movers and shakers are brilliant at ignoring anything that they consider to be the wrong kind of politics.

Few of the journalists acting as bid cheerleaders for England would have been as quick to point out these problems had they got what they wanted. C'est la vie.

And the World Cup makes us all culpable in FIFA’s deceit. We want to watch the football so we ignore everything else. We’ll do the same again in 2018 and 2022.

England probably deserve the World Cup. They'd provide the stadiums and they'd provide the fans. But the bid got off to a bad start. And, nothing to do with media investigations or playing a typically English straight bat, England - all four home nations - just don't have enough friends at football's top table now.

A heady mix of Eton, royalty, politicians and brand Beckham was never going to change that.

And, as far as the football goes, Russia is not a totally crazy choice. It’s a massive country with an appetite for the game. The choice is consistent with others FIFA have made. And, of course, it offers a carnival of capitalism in a market that didn’t exist for FIFA 30 years ago. Growing the game is about making FIFA richer. Russia can deliver on that.

It’s the 2022 decision that is more interesting. This is a change in FIFA’s selection policy. Yes, Qatar delivers a new market and takes the tournament to the Middle East for the first time.

It’s the size thing that amazes me. World Cups have got bigger and bigger. That’s not always a good thing. But it makes the idea of a country with less than half population of Scotland hosting the tournament all the more remarkable.

There also seems little football heritage. The national team is ranked 113th in the world, 16th in Asia and have managed to beat only Yemen in their last five games. They have never played in a World Cup. It's not hard to make the argument that FIFA have been influenced by a reasons outwith football.

It’s an intriguing bid and it obviously caught the imagination of the suited and booted middle aged men who run world football. A victory, as Zinedine Zidane has said, for the Arab world.

Qatar have guaranteed that the heat will not be a problem, that stadiums will be climate controlled. They’re even likely to allow alcohol for thirsty fans.

Changing the temperature. Changing laws. FIFA have a long list of demands on any host country. A small country like Qatar, complete with an absolute monarchy, can offer complete compliance with every FIFA whim. This apparent leftfield choice could become the blueprint for the future.

But as strange a choice as it seems it reflects badly on us to dismiss it, 12 years out from the tournament, as a moment of FIFA madness.

Yet cynicism persists. FIFA are committed to breaking new footballing frontiers. The hope is that the World Cup doesn't get lost in the desert.

> An irony in attacking the BBC, and others, for highlighting corruption concerns at FIFA and attacking Russia for having a questionable on press freedom.

> David Beckham could teach many involved in the England bid a thing or two about diplomacy with his dignified reaction to defeat. Those that are throwing their toys out of the pram and attacking FIFA should be prepared to answer questions about why they were prepared to spend so much money trying to host the World Cup. FIFA’s problems don’t begin and end with Thursday’s voting.

> Let's not all turn into international relations experts. But 2022 is a long way off. Situations change, tense situations worsen. Could Qatar's defence concordat with Iran cause FIFA problems in the next decade? The combined concerns about the Qatar bid might explain the Australian's dignified acceptance of defeat - if Qatar can't host the 2022 World Cup I'm sure the Aussies will be waiting in the wings.

Friday, December 03, 2010

One Person, One Vote

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It will soon be time for what the film industry calls the awards seasons. In fact I think it might have started already as it does seem to drag on.

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It seems that Andy Muirhead, editor of, didn't fancy his chances of getting an invite to the Oscars but still wanted an excuse to look out the fancy frock.

And so the Top Ten Scottish Football Web Awards were born. The TTSFWAs as they’ll soone be calling them.

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Anyway someone saw fit to nominate the Scottish Football Blog which is, of course, lovely and very much appreciated by everyone involved in the making of this production.

So if you're of a mind, please take a digital trundle over to Scotzine and cast your vote for Scottish Football Blog.

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You will, of course, be mentioned amidst the tears of my acceptance speech should enough of you be kind enough to go to the effort of depressing your mouse button next to my name. Which, in the list, is Scottish Football Blog if you were still wondering.

Somebody suggested I try a spot of subliminal marketing to get your votes. I'm convinced that doesn't work though.

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