Saturday, March 27, 2010

Bits and pieces

Neil Lennon, The Scottish Football BlogAlthough I seem to have done a load of blogging this week I've missed a couple of things out.

Most notably there's been no predictions because, unfortunately, real work simply must get in the way sometimes (much as I try to avoid this happening.)

Anyway I'll give you my full time predictions:

Hearts v Rangers: 4-1 Rangers (I'll concede to an element of cheating here)
Celtic v Kilmarnock: Home win, 2 or 3 nil.
Dundee United v Motherwell: Home win
Falkirk v Hibs: Away win
Aberdeen v St Mirren: Home win
Hamilton v St Johnstone: Draw

Elsewhere I also missed blogging about the second episode of STV's Greatest Team, a series I am enjoying after slating it before it started. (I'll stand by all I said about Lorraine Kelly though).

They're miles ahead on Left Back In The Changing Room where they've already named their final eleven, please check it out and leave your thoughts.

Friday, March 26, 2010

On a wing and a player

Top Gun, The Scottish Football Blog
Iceman: You can be my wingman any time.

Maverick: Bullshit! You can be mine.
Wingers. You thought they were a relic consigned to a simpler age of football, did you?

Well, suddenly they are everywhere. Not perhaps in the tanner ba' players of a thousand Scottish football cliches, but in the more modern and adaptable role of the "inside out winger."

You can read more at When Saturday Comes, Left Back In The Changing Room and for a comprehensive look at the topic in Jonathan Wilson's Guardian blog.

Mostly these discussions revolve around English football. So let's find out more about the Scottish wingers.

Who is your favourite winger of all time? And who are the greatest exponents of the art in Scotland just now?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Once upon a time...

And so an era ends at Celtic.

I'll tell you a little story.

Some years ago now. Maybe 2004 or perhaps 2005. Anyway, I was a young and bright eyed student (not that young, not that bright eyed but, come on, this is my story).

So, showing the initiative of the fearless investigative journalist that I was never going to be, I arranged to interview the high flying young manager of a not insignificant SPL team.

We spoke. I asked my questions fearlessly. He, after arriving late, gave them the somewhat boring answers that they deserved. True to form he spiced up the mundane with much talk of his philosophy, of looking into the eyes of young players, of football as it should be played.

When our interview had finished we took a brief tour of the bowels of the stadium. Through the tunnel we went. Suddenly we stood, shoulder to shoulder, in the very centre circle of that famous old ground.
"Ever been on the pitch before, Tim?"
Brought up, not dragged up, I smiled serenely and fought the urge to say 'Tom, not Tim, definitely Tom.'
"Actually, yes, I have been on the pitch before. I was a mascot once, got out here, quick warm up with the players, called the coin toss, trotted off. All the usual."

"Great, brilliant experience for a young kid that. What was the score?"

"Ah, well, that's the rub. Great experience. Lucky mascot and all that. Unless you lose 4-0 to St Mirren. Then it's a bit rubbish."

"[Inaudible: sounded very like 'rucking fell'] I'll tell you something, if that ever happens on my watch, Tim, I'll walk. You've got my word on that."
Funny how things turn out.

Clued up

Last week Walter Smith said:
We have a cup final to play on Sunday. But we have a whole load of cup finals to play if we are going to succeed this season. When you see today’s game, you see the difficulties that you have to overcome if you are going to win a Treble.

I feel just now that talk of winning a Treble, people saying we’ve won the league because we’ve got a gap, is really premature.

I know everyone is saying I’m just playing at it when I say that. But this shows that it’s not the case. I’m making a realistic appraisal of what we have to do between now and the end of the season if we are going to succeed.

We now find ourselves in a really tough replay at Tannadice — and we might still have to go there twice in the championship. So the assumption that everyone is making is, in my view, not taking into account what we will have to do between now and the end of the season.
On Tuesday I said:
I think, and I'm probably not alone, that Rangers delivered the first leg of a treble at Hampden.
This, probably, is why Walter Smith is a successful football manager. And I'm just an arsehole.

Congratulations to Dundee United for having the belief to keep going in both the first match at Ibrox and again last night.

They won't be underestimating Raith Rovers. But I'm sure they'll already be dreaming of a May final at Tannadice.

Semi Final draw in full:

  • Celtic v Ross County (Saturday 10th April, Sky @ 12.15pm)
  • Dundee United v Raith Rovers (Sunday 11th April, 3pm)

Fighting talk

The Guardian's Joy of Six series this week features footballing brawls.

Always enjoyable to hear David Coleman's outraged reaction to Chile v Italy at the 1962 World Cup. A fine example of the British officer class coming face to face with the Latin temperament and ending up completely scunnered.

Celtic's Intercontinental Cup battle with Racing Club makes the list. This was the game that denied Jock Stein a knighthood and which, oddly enough, inspired this piece of poetry:

The playoff game in Montevideo
Was not a game for the heart & soul,
As Racing Club took to an act of war,
Were the referee lost all control,
The game started of quite smoothly
Until Johnstone got the ball
And the Uruguayans, who sat as neutrals,
Saw murder in every tackle.

Racing Club knew every trick
As Celtic learned from every kick,
A frustrated Johnstone took an early bath
Using his elbow as a weapon, he received the red card.
Then Lennox got his marching orders
That the referee could not explain,
And then the dismissal of big John Hughes
Left Celtic down to 8 men.

Big Tommy Gemmell, who scored in Lisbon,
A man who played with pride,
Lost control and chased a Racing player
And put his boot up the Latin player’s backside.
A 1-0 game was won by Racing
With Cardenas scoring the winner,
The Argentine’s drank cheap wine
And celebrated in Buenos Aires.

The Celtic squad returned back home
Their pride was black and blue
A fine was imposed on the red card offenders
Who took part in the Montevideo duel,
But as the headline later read
From the magazine, Miroir du Football
It proclaimed “Racing Club of Buenos Aires,
Champions of Violence, Treachery and Theatricals.

Graeme Souness has probably never been considered for a knighthood but he did instigate my own pick of the Scottish football brawls when his competitive debut as player-manager of Rangers lasted all of 35 minutes at Easter Road. He has since admitted that this was his most humiliating moment in football as he sparked a mass brawl and had to do the walk of shame in his home town.

The odd thing is that Souness got the wrong man. He was after Stuart Beedie but it was George McLuskey's thigh that was left scarred by the mustachioed one's studs.

So what's your own most infamous football fight?

Tony, Tony what's the score?

The Scotsman gets it wrong, The Scottish Football BlogSt Mirren 4 - 0 Celtic

Even in this desperate season for Tony Mowbray's Celtic, this was a big result.

A result that might yet see the manager emptied, a result that ended any misplaced hooped hopes of dragging Rangers into a battle for the Championship.

So you would expect The Scotsman, Scotland's national newspaper, to get the score right. You would, wouldn't you?

Ground control

Another cracking post from Inside Left with a fairly idiosyncratic guide to the stadium's of the SPL.

The links to Google Street View for each ground are interesting but it's the accompanying text that I enjoyed the most:

Dundee United
I’ve never liked Tannadump; you can’t fucking park anywhere, the away end is tucked away in some stupid corner where you can’t see anything and whenever I’ve been there to see Aberdeen play we always lose

It looks like being one of those stadiums that you find in every town planner and Chief Constable’s wet dream, to wit: out of sight, out of mind. What a dump. And it’s brand new anaw.

The Main Stand, designed by Archibald Leitch is one of the few remaining examples of classic stadia construction in Britain. It certainly is something to keep your mind off the urine and other assorted bodily fluids raining down on you from the top deck of the Broomloan Stand while your team is being slaughtered on the park.

The Spice of Life stand. Yes. It’s true. Bad name, dull stadium. Like St Mirren Park, the back of the main stand at New Douglas Park looks like the regional headquarters for a small to mid-size furniture chain.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A picture's worth?

I'm sure it was a Celtic supporter who once sang "every picture tells a story, don't it?"

Holding his head tonight, surely Tony Mowbray will be holding his P45 in the next couple of days.

Losing 4-0 to St Mirren is not acceptable. This, remember, is a team that looked like they'd never score again on Sunday afternoon. Suddenly Celtic are shipping four goals to them.
I'll take responsibility for the substitutions we made, we tried to be attack-minded, and left some young defenders pretty exposed.
We tried to be positive and we lost four goals. It's not the first time we've lost four goals this season.
We brush ourselves down for the next one, but I'll take responsibility for the way we asked them to play.
An admission of guilt from Mowbray. Who would bet on him getting the chance to "brush" himself down for the next one though?

Cup, cup and away?

League reconstruction. One of Scottish football’s most durable arguments. There’s rarely a season goes by when we don’t have a debate about it. They probably discussed it on the coach (and horse) ride back to Edinburgh the last time Hibs won the Scottish Cup.

My own take: league reconstruction on its own is just fiddling while Scottish football burns. If we were actually to have a serious – and by serious I mean something not involving Henry McLeish – look at the game and decide that league restructuring is part of the solution then we should go for it.

Restructuring for its own sake is a kneejerk reaction that probably won’t work.

Glenn Gibbons had a good take on this in The Scotsman a couple of weeks back:
Now that the domestic game is failing to generate the revenue anticipated when the SPL was formed by the secessionists from the Scottish Football League a dozen years ago, the Champions League has become as necessary to the Old Firm as benefits to the unemployed. These are causes and effects which no amount of tinkering with numbers will change for the better.

If, as a random example, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Dunfermline Athletic were to play each other at this time of year while in, say, 12th and 14th place respectively in the SPL, would it be any more profitable as a fixture than contesting one of the top places in the First Division?

Increasing the membership would certainly give these presently marginalised clubs (Dundee and Partick Thistle would be other examples of medium-sized organisations now in reduced circumstances) the opportunity once again to play the Old Firm. By then, however, mass disillusionment will have put paid to the gates.
So don’t rush in. But as I lay awake last night (even in Leith the sound of chortling coming from Gorgie was loud enough up to be disruptive) I found myself thinking.

The negative reasons for restructuring are well aired: our poor form in Europe, poor national team, SPL teams playing each other too often, little competition, the ridiculous split, too many games and on, and on, and on.

On the positive side we’ve got the competitive nature of the First Division. And we’ve also got the Scottish Cup.

Ross County and Raith Rovers have made the semi finals this year. By my reckoning that’s eight teams from outside the top flight in Scottish Cup semis in the last five years. Queen of the South and Gretna have both made the final. We’ve also seen St Mirren, Falkirk and Dunfermline reach Hampden while struggling in the SPL, with Dunfermline making the final the year they were relegated.

This might mean nothing more than our SPL clubs being as bad in the cup as they are in the league.

But a less cynical view might be that it points to a depth of competition in Scotland that is offered little chance to prove itself by a 12 team top flight operating a near closed shop, one-in and one-out policy. Certainly teams from outside the SPL are finding success too often for it to be called a fluke.

We’ve all spent the last few seasons saying the cup has lost its magic. Maybe it’s actually being trying to tell us that there is more to Scottish football than a 12 team, 38 game SPL.

Hair hair

A delve into the archives reveal a couple of 1980s crackers from Sportscene.

The first is from 1980, when football has to share top billing with Archie and Dougie's hair and the draw for a bowls tournament ("which proved so popular last year") and the second is from 1985.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Are Hibs ready for a ding-dong in Dingwall?

Yes, there was a real disappointment on Saturday but we have to get on with it, we still have it all to play for. It's going to be a test or our resolve and character. Okay, there was doom and gloom but I've asked the boys if we feel sorry for ourselves or take the bull by the horns.

We've got a quarter-final to look forward to, the chance to go to Hampden and a couple of wins will take us right back up that there. That's why I am delighted with what the boys have done, getting ourselves into this position and now we have to refocus and get ourselves over that finishing line.

It won't be easy, we will be playing against teams who are going for the same as we are but also clubs who are fighting relegation battles but we can't let anything faze us.
Falkirk fans will be familiar with John Hughes taking a belligerently optimistic stance at this stage of the season. Last season he was saying that if he kept them up and won the cup it would be one of the most successful seasons they'd ever had. In the end he delivered survival and a cup final before taking his leave.

The stakes are slightly different this year, but the Hibs fans are being delivered a familiar mantra. Third place and the cup - the holy relic of Hibs' annual, futile pilgrimage - are still on the table, stick by me as we weather the current storm.

After a toothless and spineless derby display - a Hearts supporting friend watching in London told me he was stunned by Hibs' apparent lack of interest - has cranked up the pressure on tonight's replay against Ross County. Those hardy Hibs fans making the long trip to Dingwall are waiting to be impressed. They're unlikely to be forgiving of failure.

In truth Hibs should already be out. An early goal and the composure of Derek Riordan earned them a draw that their display did not deserve. Like Hearts at Tynecastle on Saturday, Ross County turned up at Easter Road with more desire than their opponents.

Passion is not something that Hughes himself has ever lacked. It must worry him, as it undoubtedly worries the fans, that at the moment he seems unable to instill it in his players.

With a few key players not quite firing, the attacking, passing mantra that Hughes is so keen to preach is failing his team. In such circumstances a team has to find the desire and fight that will see them through the lean times. Too often recently Hibs have failed. Even the Hibs fans, so often held up a paragons of a utopian brand of football that harks back to the halcyon days of Smith, Lawrie et al, appreciate hard graft. At times like this they would take a team of Ian Murrays.

But Yogi arrived at Easter Road with a plan to entertain and thrill the purist. His extensive transfer dealings were confined to building on that dream. With Plan A failing he seems to be flailing around in his search for a Plan B.

The derby defeat will have hurt the manager more than most. But tonight is an even sterner test. The building work continues at Easter Road. In Dingwall tonight we'll discover if John Hughes' Hibs Mark One are anything more than a house built on sand.

Prediction: Ross County in 90 minutes or Hibs on penalties. Or fence sitting as it's sometimes known.

The cup is half empty

Many of us predicted a Rangers win in the Co-operative Insurance Cup final. We got that. The tale ended as we suspected it might but few of us could have dreamt up the narrative.

We didn't expect St Mirren to dominate. We couldn't have predicted that Rangers would have finished the game with nine men. And we wouldn't have expected that Kenny Miller would grab the winner with, in this observer's eyes at least, one of the finest finishes of his career.

A cup final with drama and incident when we expected so little.

So why, now the dust has settled, has it left me feeling so depressed.

It's not the repetitive drone of Rangers winning another trophy. You expect that. It's a cause of lingering irritation, resentment even, but not depression. Rather it was the nature of the game itself.

I think, and I'm probably not alone, that Rangers delivered the first leg of a treble at Hampden. And they did it while being outplayed. This is a team cantering to the league title yet they are capable of playing as badly as this. What does that say about the SPL?

Rangers were so poor that yesterday that I thought it was going to be difficult to single out one player as the sinner-in-chief. But that is to under estimate Kevin Thomson's ability to make a total erse of himself.

Sent off for stupid tackle that he made because he lost his temper. At 25 Thomson should be over these bouts of petulance. It says much for his inflated sense of his own importance that he's always likely to explode when he doesn't get his own way. 25 years old. No longer a kid, but apparently without a single sign of any maturity. And the red card merely provided the final act of an entirely anonymous display. Thomson's career is passing him by and he seems powerless to stop it.

And what of St Mirren. Brave St Mirren. Written off before the game but united in a belief and a desire that almost saw them through. Bollocks to that. Yes they dominated for long spells. But, amazingly, football is still about scoring goals. And they couldn't get close.

Even if their performance in the first hour had something admirable about it we've got to look at the simple facts. They dominated but couldn't score against 11 men and then imploded when they enjoyed a numerical advantage.

It's not even that they took time to adapt to Rangers' handicap. They actually got caught shorthanded in defence for the goal. Against nine men. Hard not to escape the conclusion that St Mirren are exactly where they deserve to be in our threadbare league.

St Mirren withdrew Billy Mehmet, who'd worked tirelessly while all the while looking like he'd still struggle to score if Cynthia Payne took him in as a lodger, and replaced him with Craig Dargo. Who hasn't scored in 19 games.

When the camera cut to the a young St Mirren fan in the crowd, tears streaming down his face, it was hard to escape the conclusion that this is a team undeserving of any such emotional attachment.

And, yes, I am aware that I could stand accused of kicking St Mirren when they are down. Guilty and it's easy to hurl abuse, sitting here with nothing more than a laptop and head full of opinions. But I'd say that losing a cup final that you've dominated to nine men is unprofessional, a whopping insult to those fans and, sorry Gus, an indication of a team that is crying out for better leadership.

Sunday then was a poor game lifted by a few moments of real drama, only one of which had anything to do with quality football. So, after everything, we probably got the final that this season has deserved.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Looking back

A blast from the past, the last time St Mirren were in a Hampden cup final. Archie Macpherson has control of the microphone:

Re-discovering Alan Gilzean

Alan Gilzean, the Scottish Football BlogGreat to see Alan Gilzean included on the shortlist of strikers in STV's Greatest Team programme.

Gilzean has become one of the forgotten greats of Scottish football despite a career that took in Dundee's only championship win and over 100 goals for Spurs. Such was his contribution at White Hart Lane that Jimmy Greaves describes him as "the greatest player I played with. I thought the world of him."

And please also take a look at BackPage Press. Their book In Search of Alan Gilzean: The Lost Legacy Of A Dundee And Spurs Great by James Morgan hits the shops this October. Follow BackPage Press On Twitter for more updates.

Ready to read more?

Co-operative Insurance Cup Live

Coming up from around 2.30 toaday, live coverage of the Co-operative Insurance Cup as St Mirren and Rangers meet in the first of this year's major Scottish cup finals.

See ya soon!