Friday, March 19, 2010

A public announcement

A day for charity this, I reflect, as I catch a glimpse of my stripey red and white Sport Relief socks.

And also when I catch a glimpse of comprehensive Scottish football site Scotzine. They’ve adopted Kick4Life as their charity for 2010:
Football and sport have the power to inspire, to unite and to make a difference. Kick4Life uses this potential to transform the lives of some of the most disadvantaged children in the world. And this is why has selected Kick4Life as is Charity of the Year. We are hoping to raise £1000 for this worthwhile cause and we are asking our readers to donate also.
So there you have it. Find out more at Scotzine and, if you can afford to, please make a donation.

Co-operative Insurance Cup Final

Despite the many compelling and intriguing patterns that Scottish football has managed to weave over the years the business end of our game is essentially a two tone intarsia. The Old Firm win things. St Mirren don't.

Only twice in their history have Rangers lost a League Cup final to anyone but Celtic. 25 times the trophy has gone to Ibrox from 32 finals. St Mirren lost the 1956 final to Aberdeen. And that's pretty much their League Cup history. Hell of a record in the Renfrewshire Cup, mind.

Given the pressure on their manager after a poor, poor run in the SPL and a unseemly and ill judged rammy over bonus payments, St Mirren would seem to be doing their best to turn a very difficult job into an absolutely impossible job.

But this is a cup final and shocks can happen. It's just that they tend not to in Scotland.

So what's the point in turning up to watch this Rangers walkover?

Because we're all football fans and myopic optimism is our stock in trade. And once in a while a result will come along that gives us all a warm feeling inside. A result that leaves people dancing on street of Raith.

I'm not a St Mirren fan but I will be hoping that they can upset the odds on Sunday. I suspect I'll not be alone.

Can they do it? I'd not bet on it. Maybe some of the complacency that seems to be gripping the Rangers support will filter down to the pitch and St Mirren will prevail through greater desire and hardwork. Maybe Rangers will have an off day, won't carry any luck, will lose discipline and shape. Or maybe St Mirren will just be better than them on the day.

I'd say St Mirren need to avoid losing an early goal and give themselves time to settle. They proved in the Scottish Cup at Love Street that they can upset Rangers, although they'll need to take their chances this time.

Rangers have had a couple of tricky encounters with the Buddies this season. If St Mirren can work on that nuisance factor from the start then it might begin to play on a few Rangers minds.

To listen to the head or listen to the heart? Alas I've got to go for the Rangers win, the first leg of what I think will become a treble.

But I'd probably have backed Dundee United in the 1987 Scottish Cup final. And St Mirren will find all the inspiration they need in the memories of that game.

The SPL Weekend Ahead

Did you know that Hibs' John Hughes played under Hearts' John Jefferies at both Berwick and Falkirk? Or that John and Jim both played for, captained and now manage their boyhood teams? Or that Jim and John are good friends but will both be determined to win the Edinburgh derby on Saturday?

If you have answered "no" to any of the above then you have clearly not read any of the previews of tomorrow's Edinburgh derby in the press.

I've read so many of these articles that I now feel that I was actually in that Berwick team.

Still I suppose Yogi was lucky he got away. He could have ended up as JJ's biatch like Gary Locke.

Anyway, they'll be reunited at Tynecastle tomorrow in the third Edinburgh derby of the season.

After watching the heroics and excitement of Fulham last night I must admit the thought of a bore draw derby tomorrow fills me with dread. I think I may settle for coverage on the wireless.

Quick predictions:

  • Hearts v Hibs, away win. Simply has to be a response to the Ross County game.
  • Aberdeen v Dundee United, away win. Can it get any worse for Aberdeen? Yes.
  • Celtic v St Johnstone, home win. Probably. Or maybe not. Not really sure.
  • Hamilton v Falkirk, draw. Wake me up at 4.50pm purlease.
So far: If Motherwell hadn't scored in the 2nd minute and Hamilton hadn't scored in the 92 minute I might have had 3 from 3 last week. But they did. And I didn't. C'est la vie. 54/131.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Home sweet home

Interesting article on The Guardian blog by Gregg Roughley. Apparently back in 1971 Manchester United were forced to play a "home" game at Anfield after crowd trouble at Old Trafford. They beat Arsenal 3-1 in a game that seems to have been wiped from the collective memory of the players. Even Bobby Charlton, who scored, doesn't mention it in his otherwise fairly exhaustive autobiography.

The article's well worth a read, along with the comments thread, for the way it exposes how the rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United, at its current intensity, is a fairly modern conceit borne from changing fortunes, Alex Ferguson's "fucking perch" comment and Sky's need for a million compelling narratives each season.

Anyway it got me thinking to ground sharing or temporary swapping in Scotland. Obviously we've had Celtic at Hampden, Gretna at Fir Park and Inverness at Pittodrie. In one off games we've seen Hearts play in Europe at Hampden and Raith take on Bayern Munich at Easter Road, a ground that's also acted as home to South Korea.

The favourite one I've found is Firhill hosting Sweden's Djurgardens in a European Cup quarter final against Hibs. The Swedish league had shut down for winter and so Partick Thistle's floodlights illuminated a little bit of history in the inaugural European Cup.

(Actually that's a lie: my favourite ever was when Melchester Rovers had to play at Wembley as Mel Park recovered from the fabled earthquake.)

Clearly Rangers and Celtic will have swapped "homes" for semis and finals when Hampden was out of commission and Hearts and Hibs, Dundee and Dundee United have also played semis on the other side of town.

But have any of Scotland's bitter rivals ever had to play home league games at the home of the other? And what other strange "home" ties have Scottish ground's hosted? If anyone has any ideas let me know. It will interest me, even if nobody else you've ever told has seemed remotely bothered.

Kennedy benefit planned

SFA in doing the right thing shock! Stop the press!

Nice to hear in The Herald that the SFA and Celtic are in discussions to hold some kind of benefit match for John Kennedy. The tragic way his career was cut short playing in a meaningless international fixture has probably affected everybody who followed his struggle to recover over the next couple of years.

Scotland manager Craig Levein is apparently keen to help out - and he knows better the most the pain of having to call it a day before you are ready.

Plans being discussed at the moment include a game between Celtic and Scotland the day after the Scottish Cup final with the SFA said to be keen to get a strong Scotland squad assembled for the match.

I'm sure that most of the players would be happy to turn out. Even in the bubble that they inhabit there must be times when players think "there but for the grace of God."

Not really a fan of most testimonials these days - a throwback to a simpler and more deserving time - but the case of John Kennedy is certainly worthy of exception.

Gordon and Rupert sitting in a tree...

Although I have no particular insight into Gordon Smith's finances I suspect he was on quite a good earner in the years that he worked for the BBC.

Strange, then, to hear him turning into Rupert Murdoch's lapdog.

The old argument over which sporting events should be free to air has reared its ugly head again. And Smith has come out fighting. The SFA need Sky's cash so Scotland's home games must be on pay TV. "Simple as that" says Gordon. The supporters? "Let them watch cack."

Sky are currently shelling out some £55 million for a four year deal with the SFA that starts next season. Smith's argument is that if Sky are out of the market the way is open for the BBC to offer a paltry amount that will still be more than their competitors at STV could afford.

Fair enough. But this overlooks the fact that right now Sky can offer more than the BBC can justify spending. A monopoly is fine as long it's the monopoly Gordon Smith wants.

We might also ask what the SFA is doing if its Chief Executive is basically openly admitting that the governing body of the national game is now entirely prostituted to Murdoch's millions:
To ignore the financial implications of this is extraordinary. For the SFA, our television deal is by far our biggest and most important source of income. If our matches were to become listed, then we would almost certainly end up in a situation where the BBC were the only bidders. As it stands, STV are just not in the market.

I used to work for the BBC and have no axe to grind with them. But why would they pay us the kind of money we are getting at the moment when they didn't have to? If this is pushed through by the government,the SFA believe we could see our level of broadcasting income halved after our current deal ends in 2014. It would impact badly on our work in football at every level, from the grassroots right through to the senior international side.
Smith might have no axe to grind with the BBC but I'm guessing he'll get a lot of positive coverage in a media market that most certainly does for this brave stance. Not that he'd have been thinking of that of course.

Indeed The Scotsman notes that the panel asked to review the list of listed events contained former or current BBC employees David Davies, Colin Jackson and Dougie Donnelly. True. But it strangely fails to mention that Davies was also a big cheese at The FA in England or that Donnelly has worked tirelessly for Scottish sport in a number of positions over the years and also works on pay TV golf coverage. The Daily Mail actually calls Davies a former BBC "bigwig" a fairly generous description of a career that took in a few years as an education correspondent and a breakfast tv sports presenter. And not even one that got on Strictly.

A little anecdotal evidence of my own. My preferred haunt for watching Sky only games was a bit quiet for Craig Levein's debut match in charge. In fact there were five of us. And I know that a lot of the regulars don't have Sky. They just didn't care enough to watch the game. There was a lot of empty seats at Hampden that night as well.

So if the nation loses interest - partly because they're starved of live action and partly because the team is so so poor - Sky will eventually walk away. At which point I guess Smith will go running to the BBC.

Ask yourself how seriously we can take the professed loyalty of an organisation that subjects us to the dream team of Jim White and Charlie Nicholas for every game?

I don't back Smith on this. The fall in revenue worries me. But I think it points once again to the massive mismanagement of football in Scotland by men like Gordon Smith. I think that's the more salient point to take from his latest litany of whimpering complaints rather than a conspiracy of BBC loving, lily-livered liberals.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chick gets Walter to lay an egg

Old 'uns but good 'uns.

Having been nice(ish) about Chick Young in the last post it's time to redress the balance. So sit back and enjoy as Chico gets owned by Walter Smith.

Given some of the questions Chick asks I'd be amazed if more footage like this doesn't exist elsewhere. All links gratefully received.

I'm sure there's also a story about Alex Ferguson attempting to throttle Archie Macpherson just minutes after Aberdeen had won the title. I believe this took place in the tunnel at Easter Road so I doubt it was filmed but we can but hope.

NB: Walter's language makes it unlikely that you'd want to watch them at work with the sound turned up. On a similar theme I'd suggest a Google image search for "Chick Young" with safe search turned off might not be that safe for work. I feel quite flushed just thinking about it.

When the Saints

A live blog on Sunday to mark the first national final of the season. If only to chart the time it takes for Chick Young to explode as both his teams battle it out at Hampden.

Actually Chico has quite a readable blog on the BBC site about St Mirren's propensity for self destruction. Even if we must question a man with his (alleged?) loyalties writing the following with a straight face:
Unite and realise that days like Sunday - national finals - are collector's items for clubs like ours.
Bonus rows always annoy me before big games like this. A total kick in the face to fans who are paying big money to go and support their team. And, yes, Gus McPherson is struggling in the league at the moment. But this is a cup final. The fans should at least fall in behind the manager - their most successful for years - until the big match is out of the way.

A full preview to follow but a depressing statistic for St Mirren. Rangers haven't lost a league cup final to anyone but Celtic since 1989/90. Aberdeen beat them 2-1 in that game with a Paul Mason double enough to overcome a Mark Walters penalty after extra time.

Before that it was Dundee in 1951/52. So they've got a bit of form going into this one.

I was actually hit by a wave of nostalgia when I saw the teams that Aberdeen and Rangers started with back in 1989:

Aberdeen: Theo Snelders, Stewart McKimmie, Alex McLeish, Willie Miller, David Robertson, Bobby Connor, Eoin Jess, Jim Bett, Brian Grant, Charlie Nicholas, Paul Mason

Rangers: Chris Woods, Gary Stevens, Richard Gough, Terry Butcher, Stuart Munro, Trevor Steven, Ian Ferguson, Ray Wilkins, Mark Walters, Ally McCoist, Mo Johnston

Charlie Nicholas also played a role the last time either of the ugly sisters lost the League Cup final to a non Old Firm side. On that day in 1994/95 he was playing against Raith Rovers.

Scotland's Best

"It's the oldest pub debate in football. When two or three fans are gathered together, talk will always turn to who would be in the starting 11 for the greatest Scotland team of all-time?"
OK, so it's not the oldest pub debate in football. Pubs came before football, so I'd imagine the oldest pub debate in football would be about who could be arsed to go out and start playing the game. It's also not a debate I find myself having with any regularity.

But we've all written cheesy opening lines to press releases before so let's not damn STV's Greatest Team before it starts.

And tempting as it is let's not write it off because it's being promoted in conjunction with The Scottish Sun. STV and The Sun, it's like the ultimate tag team of media crapness. In my nightmares this programme will be the bastard offspring of The Hour and Smeato: The Column That Sets Aboot Ye.

But no, let's not judge before the series kicks off tomorrow night. Not even when we hear that the presenters are Kelly Dalglish (STV's website has dropped the Cates to signpost her credentials), Sanjeev Kohli, John Gordon Sinclair and Lorraine Kelly.

Lorraine Kelly? Aside from wanting to hurl a brick through the TV every time I see her, I've got nothing against Lorraine Kelly. But I've no more desire to see her wittering on about football than I have to see Archie Macpherson sitting on a breakfast TV sofa discussing cervical cancer.

Still let's be generous. Even when we hear that it's only going to pick a greatest team kind of. Because anyone who was capped before 1 January 1967 isn't eligible. Thus the archive footage of Wembley 1967 and all that can be used at length. The grainier images of the Famous Five, the Iron Curtain or memories of the original Wembley Wizards are disqualified.

Strikers, midfielders, defenders and goalkeepers each get their own show. Viewers will be asked to vote on a shortlist that has been selected by an expert panel to select the Greatest Team With Players Scotland Have Had In The Last 43 Years And Three And A Bit Months That Fit A 4-4-2 Formation. I should point out that Gordon Smith chaired the panel so Celtic fans should feel free to boycott STV from 9pm tomorrow night.

This is the kind of filler programme that works well when the country is gearing up for World Cup fever. I'm not convinced that we really need it when we're preparing for a summer of staring on gormlessly from the sidelines.

And STV have done it before. As recently as 1998 they got Alex Ferguson to pick his greatest 11 before the World Cup in France. It would be interesting to see how the viewer's final selection compares to Fergie's but I'm guessing that won't happen because it might suggest STV are recycling old ideas.

But despite all my small minded pettiness I'll be watching tomorrow night. And I'm sure I'll have discussions about it in the coming weeks so I suppose we could call that press release self prophecy.

They've set their own challenge to find the Greatest XI across on Left Back In The Changing Room and they've already named their 'keeper and back four. Feel free to visit them to argue the case and get in the mood for shouting at the box tonight.

St David's Day?

What are we now, 92 or 93 days out from the World Cup?

If this week's hysteria over David Beckham's injury is anything to go by then we can rest assured that the English media is gearing up for another mammoth bout of hype, triumphalism and, ultimately, retribution and recrimination this summer.

What joy for those of us looking on across Hadrian's Wall.

Do I want England to win the World Cup? No. Will I be kissing my "Anybody But England" t-shirt and leaping to my feet in celebration when they lose? No. Will I be trying to avoid all contact with the English media and watching their games with the sound down? Most definitely yes.

In fact I'm fairly numb to the whole thing. This is the third time England will have played in the World Cup when we've been sat at home. That's a more depressing thought for me than how England will fare. (My prediction incidentally would be semi finals, although a drunken wager made in a Krakow pub would see me take home a few quid if Capello can somehow get past their deficiencies and win the thing.)

But for Beckham, without all the hype, I feel sympathy. Despite all the trappings of fame and the madness that surrounds him, here was a guy simply trying his hardest to get on that flight to South Africa. And Beckham, perhaps one of the most famous men on the planet, would have gone on that plane and not complained if his involvement was to amount to nothing more than five minutes in a group game.

I think that suggests a certain honourable commitment to his country. Despite it all he never forgot the kid dreaming of playing for his country. Despite it all the power of football still invaded his dreams.

Running the normal gauntlet of compliments and criticism, the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy saw fit to pen a few lines on Beckham's snapped tendon. Trivialisng the position by dabbling in the celebrity culture? Or reacting to an event that appeared to have the whole nation talking and attempting to make both her role and poetry relevant to a much wider section of society? I'd go for the latter but maybe I'm just a romantic old fool. Anyway nice to see somebody having a go at mixing football with poetry.

Achilles, by Carol Ann Duffy

Myth's river — where his mother dipped him, fished him, a slippery
golden boy flowed on, his name on its lips.

Without him, it was prophesised, they would not take Troy.

Women hid him, concealed him in girls' sarongs; days of
sweetmeats, spices, silver songs...

But when Odysseus came, with an athlete's build, a sword and a
shield, he followed him to the battlefield, the crowd's roar,

And it was sport, not war, his charmed foot on the ball...

But then his heel, his heel, his heel...