Saturday, May 08, 2010

Big Bairns don't cry

The relegation post.

Don't like writing these. Always feel like it's intruding on private grief. Or tempting fate for next season.

But it has to be done.

So farewell Falkirk. Unable to repeat last season's final day heroics, a no scoring draw with Kilmarnock sealed their fate.

Some of us feared for them from the start of the season. The appointment of Eddie May was an admirable move by a club that likes to reward its own and craves stability. But it was also the cheap move. It proved costly.

May had neither the experience nor the funds to solve the problems that saw Falkirk sink into the relegation battle last season.

37 goals was enough for 38 points and third bottom a year ago. 31 goals was enough for only 31 points and relegation this year. How fitting that it was a goalless draw that tipped them over the edge.

Let's not leave May shouldering all the blame. He hardly inherited a world beating squad from John Hughes and key players were allowed to leave without the resources for adequate replacements.

When May bowed to the inevitable the club turned to Steven Pressley. He brought more cohesion and his outspoken attacks on anyone and everyone brought the bunker mentality that was needed.

But here was another untried manager trying to turn things around. It was a risk. In both appointments the Falkirk board might have pointed to the presence of Alex Smith as a wise head to help bring stability. It seems that neither May or Pressley were quick to seek his counsel.

So it has come to this. The more I write, the more I feel a depressing inevitability to the whole thing. I'm sure some Falkirk fans will feel the same.

No matter how pretty the passing, how pure the ideals, a team as blunt as Falkirk will always struggle. Last season was the warning. Someone at the club chose not to listen.

So now they find themselves stuck in the First Division. Where to from here? League reconstruction might yet save them.

If not they'll be looking to win a competitive league with an even tighter budget and a still relatively untried manager.

I wish them good luck. I suspect they'll need it.

Splitting feathers

A tale of two leagues.

Or the same league that just isn't really a league.

This is what I don't like about the SPL split. It's actually an affront to the very idea of a "league."

Imagine that Wednesday's 12 goal thriller piqued interest in the SPL elsewhere. So today people are looking out for SPL results and table: what do they see?

The team in seventh with more points than the team in sixth.

Are they going to take the time to find out that we have a split for the last five games? Or are they just going to come to the conclusion that we're all mental and run a mile?

All will be put right, of course, if Hearts beat Celtic tomorrow.

(Thanks to @madsainty for the screengrab of the As It Stands table.)

Happy Days

As Kilmarnock and Falkirk square up in the big relegation battle today, a quick look back on their last big clash.

I always remember this is a being a cracking day. Although it would have been only the second or third cup final day that I marked with quantities of lager so my memories might be slightly askew.

I do remember wanting Falkirk to win (I wasn't upset that they lost, Scottish Cup disappointment is part of my DNA) and that Andy Gray (not that one) was man of the match.

Losing manager Alex Totten remains a Falkirk legend. Winning manager Bobby Williamson went on to eat. A lot.

Survival Saturday

The penultimate Scottish Football Blog prediction post of the SPL season. And, as the title suggests, it's Survival Saturday.

With so much to play for at Rugby Park today, Kilmarnock and Falkirk have been promoted to the big, big SPL slot of 12.30 on a Saturday lunchtime.

This, of course, is progress. In my day you only got Saint and Greavsie with your Heinz Spaghetti Hoops. Now you get the two worst teams in the SPL battling out to discover which is less bad over your rocket and organic goat's cheese focaccia.

Kilmarnock v Falkirk

A win for either side will be enough. A loss will probably mean some new kind of financial hell visited on one of our oldest clubs. Unless there's an SPL extension in the summer. How handy would that be?

A draw would be enough for Kilmarnock but given their cavalier attitude to football this season I'm sure they'll go straight for the jugular. Isn't that right, Mr Calderwood?

Seriously though. As a football fan you have to sympathise. One of these teams, and more importantly, their fans are going to have a totally shit day. And that's not nice.

Us neutrals on the other hand. Well, we can sit back and enjoy the drama and tension. Maybe not the fitba' but certainly the drama and the tension. It'll be like election night all over again.

Prediction: I dunno. I'm leaning towards Kilmarnock. But Falkirk pulled it off last year. So I'll back them to do it again this year. Away win.

St Johnstone v Hamilton

Who needs relegation battles. This is the big one. The battle for seventh place. And the chance of finishing on more points than the team in sixth place. But still finishing seventh.

Financially that will mean a lot to both these clubs (and was probably not budgeted for) so it is not without importance.

I'd hope for a decent game. Party time in Perth. A celebration of a decent season. A home win.

St Mirren v Aberdeen

If Aberdeen win this one and Kilmarnock beat Falkirk then St Mirren will finish second bottom. That's the kind of stakes we're playing for here. I'd guess both teams will just want this to be over. Draw.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Time to decide

So the polling stations are open. The talking, the talking about the talking and the talking about what the talking has done to the opinion polls is over.

Still undecided?

Why not base your vote on sport?

A pure footballing choice: Gordon Brown is a Raith Rovers fan, man and boy. David Cameron is a Villain - his uncle, Sir William Dugdale, was Aston Villa chairman. Nick Clegg, I'd guess, professes to support his local team in Sheffield. Or maybe both of them. Alex Salmond is Hearts through and through.

Here's Frank Keating:
Our imminently erstwhile prime minister Gordon Brown is at least a genuine copper-bottomed football man, his devoted apprenticeship honed as a regular Saturday schoolboy programme-seller outside Raith Rovers' stark and windy Stark's Park. Did I read somewhere that of all his duties as premier, Brown's proudest moment was being asked to unveil the handsome bronze statue in the Fife mining village Hill of Beath of the late, great Jim Baxter, Raith's most fabled football son?

Putting aside all considerations of competence or cock-up, it has been some sort of relief at least to have had an authentic sports lover at the helm of late, especially as sport to Brown's dreaded predecessor never meant anything more than a hey-look-at-me grin and a photo opportunity. May we be in for some more of that after tomorrow's vote? For David Cameron seems sportingly neuter, his people keeping mum about their boy's apparent lifetime love of Aston Villa since it was revealed that it was only because his uncle, Sir William Dugdale, had been the club chairman.
The most popularly unpopular English rugby player in Scotland, Brian Moore, argues for none of the above:
Any party that prioritised sport and promised to and did remove the swathes of unnecessary administration like the above and shredded large amounts of the red-tape surrounding sport might get my vote; but there isn’t one.
Not quite as simple as that, responds David Conn:
Those claims remain to be tested, but the facts, after 13 years, are clear. Unlike the Conservatives, who came to the 1997 election having overseen a ransacking of school and community sport, Labour arrives at this landmark election with a record of investment and improvement to defend.
Still finding it hard to decide? Then why not follow the advice given over at We Know SFA and just say Nope!


Time, I think, to regain a degree of objectivity, to look at last night's game through the eyes of a neutral.

Even as my tears land forlornly on the keyboard.

It was a cracker, almost beyond description. I've spoken to people in the last four or five hours who I can honestly say I've never discussed Scottish football with before.

But it was that kind of result. The kind of result that makes people sit up and take notice.

You also have to pay tribute to Motherwell. They recovered from their own defensive madness to turn the screw when Hibs collapsed.

And in Lukas Jutkiewicz they had a player who not only refused to give up but who had the presence of mind to perform a little act of genius as late as the 93rd minute. I'm not sure I've seen a better goal in the SPL this season.

I bet those Motherwell fans who left at 6-2 are regretting it now. Not that they'll admit their early exit.

Let's hope that the kids who got in for a £1 are now smitten. It goes downhill from here, of course, but once you've got the bug that's you.

There's few better placed than the Motherwell manager to be the judge of the match and its place in the annals of the game. Here's Craig Brown:
It was pretty much the most amazing game I've been involved in as a manager.

They tell me there was a game here before between Motherwell and Aberdeen that finished 6-5 and the goalkeepers were Jim Leighton and Andy Goram. So it's not uncommon here. But I can't recall anything like it.

When I was coach of the (Scotland] Under-21s we were 4-1 down against Germany and won 5-4 in a quarter-final but I can't recall a game quite like this one.

I can't comment too favourably on the defending. Our goalkeeper didn't have a save to make and couldn't be faulted for any of the Hibs goals. The defenders in front of him could be.

At 6-2, I thought it was gone for us. I did tell the players at half-time, though, that a losing lead is dangerous psychologically. If you start losing a big lead in any sport, anything can happen. I have to commend the character of my team. I'm very proud of them. Many teams would have chucked it at 6-2 down.

If there had been another five minutes to play, I think we would have won the game. Hibs were out on their feet. I had told our players that Hibs tend to lose goals late in matches.

Hughes and Cry

Was it only yesterday that I wrote that things could be a lot worse for Hibs fans?

Might not feel like it just now.

I suppose being 6-2 up and losing 7-6 might be worse. At the moment that doesn't feel like much of a distinction. As crumbs of comfort go it's like being told that your lost lottery ticket would only have won you £3 million pounds rather than the £4 million you thought.

Nor would you find reassurance in the news that your team might have set a world record:
Motherwell came back from 6-2 down to draw 6-6 against Hibernian in the Scottish Premier League on Wednesday evening to equal the highest scoring draw in any top division in the history of world football.

As far as we can ascertain within a short time period, it appears to be highest scoring score in professional football history regardless of division, although we welcome extra information from around the world to the contrary. The game was the definitely the highest scoring game in SPL history.

The last time a 6-6 draw happened in the professional game was on Saturday 7 August 1999, when Genk – then the Champions of Belgium – opened their title defence in the 1999-2000 season with a 12-goal thriller against Westerlo. (via Sporting Intelligence)

Being told that you made headline news in Germany and Australia, that the result was a top UK trending topic on Twitter (knocking Spurs v Man City and even Brown v Cameron v Clegg into the also-ran category), that you reached the front page of None of that is likely to provide a haven from the anguish.

In your search for some explanation you might think of turning to your manager, surely the most likely conduit for your feelings of grief.

Here's what John Hughes said:
It's mixed emotions. It's very disappointing, there is positives, though to come to this place and score six goals.
Remarkably upbeat that. But then Hughes is a man with a sunny disposition, more happy than sad. Half-wits often are.

And what light can this former centre half shed on Hibs' capitulation?
I felt at 6-2 up my strikers stopped working. That's where you start defending, from the front. We then started sitting too deep and inviting Motherwell onto us.
So there we have it. Three strikers score six goals between them. And that's still not enough.

There's a gulf between Hughes and the fans. Tonight widened it. I'm no longer sure how capable he is of bridging it.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Things could be a lot worse

I've barely been able to sleep these past few nights, my peaceful nights ripped asunder by the gnashing of teeth as Hibs fans digest yet another derby defeat.

John Hughes has claimed 100% backing from the fans. I suppose this is in much the same way that Peter Mandelson might claim 100% backing from the electorate.

But amid the doom people should remember that things could be a lot, lot worse.

So why not try and break the cycle of insomnia with some masochism?

Hibs fans: a mid season collapse is not the end of the world.

Falkirk and Kilmarnock: this is what you're playing to avoid on Saturday.

Tonight's SPL action

After last night’s phoney war, and Lee McCulloch should be taking a bow for managing to get a red card in the last minute of one of his club’s most meaningless games of the season, there’s more tangible rewards on offer in the SPL tonight.

Relegation won’t be decided tonight but Falkirk and Kilmarnock will be out to get a win before Saturday’s head to head. Motherwell can guarantee fourth spot with a win over Hibs, while Hearts can get level with Hibs in the race for fifth.

Interesting times.

Top Six:

If Motherwell win they finish in fourth place. If Hibs win and Hearts fail to win, Hearts cannot finish higher than sixth.

Hearts v Dundee United: Hearts will have enjoyed their win over Hibs but they really need to win both their remaining games to guarantee Europe. With a cup final in mind, are the United players holding something back or fighting for their places? The first half against Rangers suggested the former, the second half pointed towards the latter. I think they’ll do enough for at least a draw tonight.

Motherwell v Hibs: Hibs lurch from defeat to defeat, looking more like a collection of punch drunk strangers than a cohesive football team. But still they are only a point behind Motherwell who seem to have snuck into third place without replicating the form they showed earlier in the year. The stakes are high for this one and you have to back Craig Brown to get more of response from his team than John Hughes. Home win.

Bottom Six:

Aberdeen v Kilmarnock: Kilmarnock will take hope from Hamilton’s humiliation of the Dons at the weekend. Mark McGhee will demand improvement. Will he get it? I can’t see the homeside capitulating like they did on Saturday. Draw.

Falkirk v St Johnstone: Having squandered home advantage against St Mirren on Saturday Falkirk could really do with producing something here before they travel to Ayrshire. It won’t be easy. Away win.

Hamilton v St Mirren: ESPN have really picked their televised game well tonight! Both teams are safe, there are more important games going on elsewhere. Home win.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Old Firm Preview

Is an Old Firm match ever meaningless. I'd dare say that fans of both teams would say this is a game that always matters. And I'm sure Rupert Murdoch's Sky Sports will be doing their best to press every last drop of drama out of their build up tonight.

The rest of us might being left shrugging our shoulders and asking a weary "so what?"

Walter Smith has already noted that he thinks tonight will be lacking "an edge" while Neil Lennon has been quick to say that this is not a match that should be viewed as the most important component of his job interview.

You can understand their motivation for playing it down.

Smith know that his players are tired, the hard work is done, an away game at your biggest rivals might be a big ask. Lowering expectations makes sense.

Lennon wants the Celtic job. But he knows that to succeed he needs more than a run of league wins. He has to prove he is winner. At Celtic that means winning semi finals and beating Rangers. He's already failed part one of that audition so if he can reshape the way his reign is defined he's got more chance of passing part two.

Where does all this leave the game? It would be nice if it was an end of season classic. I somehow doubt it will be. Maybe it will be an enthralling spectacle but I don't hold out much hope.

My hunch is it will be quite tight, fairly bad tempered but lacking in some of the usual "atmosphere" that often makes these games as watchable as they are distasteful.

Ah, well. If it's a rubbish game we can all look forward to them doing it all again in Boston. Not so much an Old Firm anymore as a combined Harlem Globetrotters with added festering and misguided historical hate. Nice.

The Scottish Football Blog prediction: Rangers to nick it by the odd goal.

Ha! I've got through that without mentioning a certain manager of a certain team that might be waiting in the wings to take over at a certain club team at a certain point in the future that has yet to be announced.

This is how it feels

The universal misery of being a football fan.

I picked this up from - no links back on there so I'm afraid I don't know where this first appeared online.

Grimsby's fate is not yet decided - if both results go their way they could stay up at the expense of Barnet:
Now I’m as optimistic as anyone when it comes to this twát of a football club, but after this afternoon’s latest capitulation it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee – we’re f***ed. Down. Goners. Non-league. To be honest I didn’t know how it would affect me, it’s not like it hasn’t been coming, but tonight I just feel absolutely deflated. Absolutely f***ing devastated.

I can’t get away from these emotions, I just want the whole world to just f*** off and leave me alone. To help me come to terms with this whole mess, I’ve decided to compile a list of everyone and everything I want to f*** off most of all.

For starters, work can f*** off. If they think I’m going to be there on Monday morning they’ve got another thing coming. No way am I going in to spend time dealing with c***s that I can barely stand being with when I’m in a good mood, let alone this crushing feeling of anger, frustration and outright metaphorical-kicked-in-the-bóllocks-ness.

Plastic Premier League fans can f*** off. I just spoke to my Manchester United supporting neighbour (who incidentally, has been to Old Trafford before – twice) about Town’s predicament. You know what he said? “I know how you feel; it’s like when we failed to win a trophy in ‘95”. NO IT F***ING WELL IS NOT!

He no longer has a face.

The girlfriend can definitely f*** off. Her best attempt at consolation – “I don’t know why you’re bothered; you knew they were s*** anyway”. Yes love, but they’re MY s*** team. They’ve been MINE for pretty much as long as I’ve been able to wipe my own árse, and they’ll be MINE for as long as I’m alive (or at least, until I’m no longer able to wipe my own árse). Truth is, watching my team win does things for me that no woman can. If push comes to shove and I’m horny, I can always have a w***.

Barrow can f*** off. I’ve been all over the country and beyond to watch my team, but frankly I just don’t have the stomach to visit any town which makes Scunthorpe look like f***ing St. Tropez.

Dad, you can f*** off. This is your fault. Your idea. You introduced me to this shower of s***. “Come with me to Blundell Park”, you said, “Come and support the boys”. What could I do? I was f***ing four, what choice did I have? Why not get me hooked on Heroin whilst you were at it? I could have gone with mum shopping for bras and knickers at British Home Stores, but no, you knew best.

Granted, I’d have probably grown up a homosexual but surely even being simultaneously búggered two guys named Seth and Quentin couldn’t hurt like this.

Seeing as we’re on the subject of homosexuality, Gok Wan can f*** off. No particular reason, I just plain don’t like the annoying, goggle-eyed mealy mouthed buffon.

The F.A. can f*** off. Not for supplying us, week-in, week- out, with inept referee after inept referee, but for imposing sensible financial rules on all clubs in League Two. How many clubs in this division have been into administration this season? Not one. How many points deducted? Not one. How the f*** else are we supposed to avoid relegation – footballing merit? We didn’t have to last season, so why spoil the fun now?

The World Cup can f*** off – I don’t care anymore.

My local pizza shop can f*** off. I ordered a 12” Pepperoni over an hour ago, and where the **** is it? Are they trying to f***ing fly it to me or something?

Sky Sports can f*** off. Nothing personal, but there’ll be little need for me next season with no Town to be found anywhere. Ooh, Bolton versus Wolves, LIVE. I think I’ll pass...

The radio can f*** off. On my way home from the match, whilst driving down the M180, I caught three completely separate stations playing ‘Down’ by Jay Sean at the exact same f***ing time. The song’s the best part of a year old, how the f*** does that happen by coincidence!?

My nan’s old lucky Buddha that used to sit in her front room can f*** off. When I was a kid I held it in my hands and wished for Town to be in the Premier League. I meant the proper one you fat mealy mouthed buffon, not the one occupied by Histon, Eastbourne and for f***’s sake, Ebbsfleet, wherever that is.

Tonight can f*** off. I’ve had enough of trying to cope with my emotions; the time has come for oblivion. I haven’t kept any booze in the house since an occasion known only as ‘That Night’ by myself and the missus, but suffice to say that the toilet duck and luminous blue mouthwash are looking like stronger propositions by the minute.

Most of all though, the last 10 years can f*** off. In that time I’ve watched my team fall from the top of the Championship into non-league nothingness. We’ve gone from one great big f*** up to the next without even coming up for air, and today is just the big, f*** off cherry on top.

One thing I’m sure of though is that we WILL be back. When it comes down to it, a football club is basically just a set of supporters, and frankly what I’ve learned in the last few years is that this one has some of the best. We’ve had to put up with some s***, haven’t we boys, but in spite of all of that the future is still bright – it’s f***ing black and white.

Grimsby ‘til I die...

Monday, May 03, 2010

Murdo's A True Blue

What to make of the news that Murdo McLeod has hit the campaign trail and given his support to the Tories?

Not the natural party of Scottish football, you wouldn't think.

As @WeKnowSFA pointed out to me on Twitter though, it could be a the lasting impact of this that's to blame:

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Buckie Thistle: Champions at last

This blog is guilty of ignoring the Highland League. That's because of geography, time and, frankly, ignorance.

But congratulations to Buckie Thistle for ending their long, long wait to be crowned champions. I gather the celebrations have been hearty and are ongoing.

Here's how the Buckie Thistle website reported the news:
The 52 year wait is over as the jags win against a very good wick side with a championship winning performance with goals from MARTIN CHARLESWORTH (2) and DAVID MACRAE (penalty).

The jags fans provided tremendous support throughout the match, the team played really well and the scenes at the end of the match as both fans and supporters celebrated on the pitch were tremendous.

All the players have now become legends in the town as has jags manager GREGG CARROL in what is a magnificent achievement for the club and buckie. The celebrations have begun and will continue through the weekend and beyond ,AWAY THE JAGS !!!!!!!!!!.

Up and down

This blog is no place for another man's wet dreams.

But I'll point you in the direction of Inside Left's latest post anyway.

Seb - along with dreaming of Aberdeen winning the SPL - has been looking at promotion and relegation over the years.

It dovetails nicely with my post on Old Firm dominance and shows that clubs have struggled to retain their SPL status when promoted.

One of the things that struck me was that Inverness have this year become the first club since Hibs - inspired by Russell Latapy and Franck Sauzee, memories are indeed made of this - to get relegated and bounce straight back up.

I'd say that gives some indication of the strength of the First Division and nudges us towards the idea that an extension of the SPL wouldn't lead to a reduction in quality. (Quality in this instance being an entirely relative term.)

Still disagree with the Inside Left stance on the split, mind!

- In my comment on Seb's post I mention the stadia requirements for the SPL. With clubs struggling to fill their stadiums in the SPL is there not an argument to remove these restrictions to give the whole of the First Division a chance to aim for promotion?

I know this is harsh on the clubs who have had to scrimp, save and pile up debts to develop their grounds. But that argument doesn't change the fact that it is a rule that needs to be rethought. And if scrapping the rule means we save a few more clubs from racking up the kind of debts that would make Colin Hendry weep then that must be a good thing.