Saturday, May 15, 2010

Scottish Cup Final: Dundee United 3:0 Ross County

So Goliath emerged unscathed, David was sent back to the Highlands licking his wounds.

Congratulations to Dundee United. They were below par. But they managed to keep their heads and they were deserving winners. Three good finishes as well, from Goodwillie and twice from Conway.

The game itself was a disappointment. The first half especially seemed oddly flat. United looked nervy at being favourites and resorted to a long ball game that doesn't play to their strengths.

County also seemed unsure of themselves. Were they overawed by the occasion? Perhaps, but they would also be aware that the surprise factor disappeared when they beat Celtic. They remained underdogs but now they had the weight of expectation as well, they were known giant-killers.

Whatever the reason they failed to perform, couldn't find their natural game. When United emerged for the second half they had more confidence, suddenly they looked like they felt they had less to fear and they dominated. You always felt that it was only a matter of time.

And that was to be expected. There is a big gulf between these two teams, United 3rd in the SPL and County only 5th in the First Division.

You'll struggle to find a United fan who cares about the quality of the game. They'll be celebrating, a cup win and their emergence as the current holders of the "third force" crown. Now they'll be looking at the board to keep the team - and manager - at Tannadice.

It feels patronising to say that Ross County did well just to get there. But they did and that, rather than a poor performance today, should be the memory they take from their run. Judging by the way they stayed, even at 3-0 down, to applaud the players they are already thinking that way.

Nor did United want County to dominate the "romance of the cup" stories. Lee Wilkie led the team out and helped captain Andy Webster raise the trophy. Chairman Stephen Thompson was obviously thinking of his late father Eddie as he celebrated.

Lots of stories. A good day. Not an Old Firm team in sight and two teams that can look back on seasons to be proud of.

It niggles now that game didn't deliver as we would have liked. That will soon be forgotten.

This season - for both teams and their fans - won't.

Dundee United 3 v 0 Ross County
Goodwillie 61
Conway 75, 86

Scottish Cup Live

Dundee United v Ross County
Scottish Cup Final, Hampden

Follow the Scottish Cup Final in real time using Twitter - The Scottish Football Blog will be tweeting all afternoon @ScotFootBlog.

Have your say: use the #scottishcup hashtag on Twitter

Just seen this (via Twitter): Dingwall's Wikipedia entry as of five minutes ago:

Scottish Cup Final Preview

Time to look ahead to the game.

Dundee United or Ross County. Ninety minutes from destiny.

County will have a lot of support, including what seems to be an extraordinary exodus from the Highlands, as the underdogs.

Others will just be delighted that a different name will be on the cup by the end of the day. On BBC Radio Five this morning an interviewer asked Peter Houston if people were a bit fed up of the Old Firm dominance.

You could say.

As a neutral (I'm a sucker for romance but there's cockle warming tales aplenty from both sides) I'm hoping for that old cliche - a darn good game.

At the moment I'm backing United to sneak it. But not by much.

We know by now the qualities of this United team. And in finishing third with relative ease in the SPL they have shown their spirit and determination. I can't see this United freezing today.

But County too have shown their guile. Don't expect them to get stage fright. The Celtic game (for which, even now, I feel they have not been given enough credit) was proof of their appetite for the big games.

Good managers involved too. Derek Adams has managed above accusations of nepotism and is now mentioned as one of the bright young things in Scotland.

Peter Houston has stepped out of Craig Levein's shadow (tittle-tattle apart) to take this team further than Levein himself ever managed.

So the stage is set for a enthralling match. And, yes, it looks like being much better than the FA Cup showdown at Wembley on their crappy pitch. Ha!

My prediction remains United for glory. But I think, and hope, it will be close. Maybe the odd goal, maybe extra time. Maybe even a spot of penalties.

That would be fitting on the 20th anniversary of this:

Dundee United v Ross County online

The sun, at least is this part of Scotland, is shining, the Staggies are descending and no doubt Desperate Dan has already donned his United replica shirt.

First thing about Dundee United v Ross County in the Scottish Cup final today: this is the competition for fairytales. I pointed out earlier that, much as I'm happy for their fans, Portsmouth in the "other" cup final is not the place for romance.

So I'm glad to see Matt Slater taking the same view on the BBC site. As he says "some romance."

The prize for historical triteness of the day goes to the The Guardian and The Scotsman and many, many others for talk of a "Highland Clearance."

No, it remains only a football match. Credit, then, to Graham Spiers for talking instead of a "Highland invasion."

It wasn't until the 1970s that Dundee United first made a Scottish Cup final at which point they embarked on a remarkable losing sequence. Inside Left has United's Scottish Cup history covered.

And, showing a BBC like dedication to neutrality, they've also got the lowdown on Ross County in the cup: including the news that in County's only previous win over United current manager Derek Adams scored both goals.

Adams is profiled in The Times and opposite number Peter Houston is given the same treatment in The Daily Telegraph.

Elsewhere Scotzine reports on Houston's admirable decision to let Lee Wilkie lead the team out and The Daily Record has Jim McLean's Scottish Cup heartache and Ivan Golac's moment of glory.

Alex Smith is staying neutral but another man with links to both sides, Craig Brewster, is County or nothing in his role as assistant manager.

Cup final songs are a tradition that should be abolished but We Know SFA has the inside track on this year's, er, tracks. No opinions offered, I refuse to listen. That's opinion enough.

1922 and all that

The glitz and the glamour of Scottish Cup final.

Ye cannae whack it, right enough.

As is my wont I've been doing some serious historical research/mucking about on YouTube to mark the occasion.

And I've managed to find out a bit more about the 1922 Scottish Cup final.

If you are looking for omens then this might be one for the minnows (via Greenock Morton Supporters' Trust):
However, the clubs greatest achievement was reserved for April 1922, when Morton football club won the Scottish cup. On the way to the final Morton disposed of:

Vale of Leithen (h) 4-1
Clydebank (after replay) – (h) 1-1 & (a) 3-1
Clyde (h) 4-1
Motherwell (a) 2-1
Aberdeen (semi-final) – 3-1 - Dens Park

Before defeating Rangers 1 – 0 in the final at Hampden park, Glasgow.

Morton survived an early round scare in the match against Clydebank at Cappielow, being somewhat fortunate to gain a replay which they won 3-1.

The goal heroes in the semi-final against Aberdeen were Alex McNab and George French (2 goals) and it was a severe blow to Morton when French was ruled out of the final because of injury. However, on 27 April, 1922, in front of 75,000 spectators, Morton won the Scottish cup for their one and only time, when a Jimmy Gourlay goal, from a free-kick in the 11th minute, brought the cup to Greenock.

The 11 heroes on the day were:

Edwards, McIntyre, R. Brown, Gourlay, Wright, McGregor (captain), McNab, McKay, Buchanan, A. Brown, McMinn
After the game Morton had to rush away to play a friendly against Hartlepool, only after that could 10,000 fans descend on Cappielow to celebrate with their heroes.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stewart stews

The list of the types of people that annoy me is quite long. But people who are needlessly aggressive, the kind of person that always seems a step away from unfathomable anger, is near the top.

You'll see them all the time. They walk around town aggressively, looking for something to get annoyed with, a statue to have an argument with. They're in pubs and you probably sit next to them at the cinema.

And you meet them at the football. For some reason football grounds attract them, it's like a weekly convention of the needlessly pissed off.

I find myself wanting to say "calm down, get over it, smile."

Psychologists would no doubt explain the underlying reasons for the unhappiness that manifests itself as this anger at the whole world. I tend to just think: "Grow up, twat." Which, on reflection, might make me as bad as them.

Anyway the reason I relate this meandering internal monologue is that it immediately sprang to mind when I heard the news that Michael Stewart was set to leave Hearts.

I don't know the exact details of what forced Stewart to walk away from his boyhood club for a second time. But for some reason he was stripped of the club captaincy and Jim Jefferies felt the need to freeze out his top scorer for the last few games of the season.

All the stranger when you consider that it was Stewart's crucial goals that won Hearts enough points to make the top six and the semi final of the League Cup.

But all this is just following the pattern of his career. From the fisticuffs in the dressing room at Nottingham Forest through the run-ins with John Collins at Easter Road to the latest departure from Hearts. Find a good thing then self destruct seems to be the Stewart way.

And that's before we look at his disciplinary record.

He's the angry young man stomping about town let loose on the training pitch, the inexplicably irate supporter transferred from the terrace to the field.

You get the impression that left alone in an empty room he would find a way of sparking World War 3.

And that temperament has undoubtedly damaged his career. Since 1998 he has played only 179 senior games for five different clubs.

He was perhaps never going to live up the potential that saw him sign for Manchester United as a teenager but he has shown, albeit far too briefly, that he could be an influential and admired player in the SPL.

Maybe the experience of coming so close to superstardom at Old Trafford soured him. I don't know and that's all getting a bit too close to amateur psychology for my liking. Whatever the reasons he too often gives the impression of being unable to control a temper that has done real damage to his career.

By all accounts he is an intelligent guy who can speak knowledgeably and with real passion about the game. Refreshingly he doesn't have an agent and deals with that side of things himself (we can but guess how that went down with Mr Romanov).

Yet for some reason there is something that causes him to seek out trouble. On the pitch, with his own players, his managers, his chairmen. He is capable of displaying a snarling hatred of them all.

It now looks like he is going to continue his career with Turkish side Genclerbirligi. It will be interesting to see how he fares in some of Turkey's more tempestuous stadiums.

I wish him good luck but I fear a career is being wasted. Sadly that's robbed us of a player who could rise above the mediocre average of the SPL.

But it's most damaging for Michael Stewart himself. A footballer is a long time retired. And when it's all over there is nobody to get angry with but yourself.

Don't rate Stewart? You need technique and skill to score a goal like this:

Predicting the worst

The season is drawing to a close. The Scottish Cup final (more on that later - looking forward to it though) and play-offs apart our job is almost done.

A summer in our now familiar role of spectators beckons, the wallflowers at the school disco as the World Cup begins in South Africa.

I love the World Cup (more on that later too) but it is getting a bit tiresome not being there. I remember just after we failed to qualify for Euro 2000 a friend saying that he thought we'd probably enjoyed a golden period of Scottish football when we were growing up.

10 years on and it looks as if, as far as qualification is concerned, he was bang on the money.

Which brings me neatly to the thorny issue of predictions.

It was way back on the 15th of August, when I was but a twentysomething innocent, that I started doing my (almost) weekly SPL prediction posts.

I thought it would give the blog a certain continuity and structure. In fact it has made me look like a bloody idiot.

Over the course of the season (there was something of a dip during the bad weather of the winter) I have pontificated on the outcome of 177 matches.

I've predicted only 70 correctly. A strike rate of 40%. A full 11% worse than the win ratio that got Tony Mowbray sacked.

It's been a struggle. I console myself with the knowledge that the paucity of class teams in the SPL makes it difficult to know how games are going to go.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Still I've given a few people (especially the St Johnstone cabal that seem to have colonised Twitter) a laugh. And if you can't share some laughter, what can you do?

So I might pick up again at the start of next season. I might even put my money where my mouth is and do a "Bet of the Week."

They can't make people with no money bankrupt, can they? The experience of Rangers would suggest not.

Anyway, to send you on your way here's one last prediction for the season:

The World Cup will not be won by England, Spain, Argentina or North Korea. Fact.

The Lennon conundrum

Old tribal instincts die hard.

Earlier in the week it suddenly looked like there might be a chance of a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Just as suddenly John Reid materialised on the news channels, ensconced in Westminster and on a mission.

Clearly he was finding a marriage of inconvenience with Nick Clegg hard to stomach. More than that, the thought of Alex Salmond playing the Camilla Parker Bowles to Clegg’s Diana went against every belief he’d ever held in that big old head of this.

This episode illustrated two things.

Firstly it confirmed that, whatever else awaits the country, the “new politics” of enforced consensus was beyond the ken of a man who has always mistaken his pretend hard man persona as a refined mastery of the political arts.

And secondly it proved that Celtic’s ongoing search for a new manager has not yet reached the stage where, as Chairman, Reid needs to be actively involved.

I’d say that leaves Neil Lennon as the Gordon Brown of the saga. Still in post, still theoretically in with a shout at holding on but, more realistically, faced with the realisation that this is not his time.

I don’t know what discussions are taking place within Celtic at the moment. More importantly I’ve got no idea of the thought processes of a certain Irish millionaire.

But whatever Dermot Desmond and his acolytes are planning, I’m increasingly drawn to the conclusion that it’s going to involve a firm handshake and a “thanks, but no thanks” for everyone’s favourite baccy chewing former midfielder.


Ross County game aside (although that remains, in my view, a big consideration) Lennon has done well. He transformed Tony Mowbray’s collection of losers into a team that could win games, albeit at the fag end of a season that had already slipped out of reach.

If Mowbray had moved Lennon to a more central coaching role earlier things might have been different. Celtic could have regained some equilibrium, at least made a show of the title fight, be looking forward to a Scottish Cup final and Mowbray might still be in place.

A longer, more successful Mowbray reign, would have helped Lennon’s cause. More experience, either inside or outside Celtic Park, would have made him the heir apparent.

But then if more people had voted Labour Gordon Brown would still be Prime Minister.

And, to pummel this political nonsense to death, Mowbray is the Tony Blair casting his shadow over Lennon’s Brown.

I know there are Celtic fans thinking Lennon is now the favourite because his end of season run gives legitimacy to the fact that he’s the cheapest candidate.

That’s fair enough, but it’s only partly true. There is no doubt that the Celtic board have had their hands burnt by the expense of luring Mowbray then getting rid of him, of his misadventures on the transfer market and the last ditch gamble of paying Robbie Keane’s weekly wage.

Yet the team does need new faces and there are players that need to be shipped out. No manager can be a guaranteed success on the transfer market but there will be candidates out there that can point to previous experience of delivering value for money and success on the pitch.

At the moment Lennon can’t. I’m sure he can talk about identifying players, unearthing hidden gems. He’ll already have let the board know the players that need to be moved on, told them of the budget he’d like and the budget he could live with.

I don’t think any of it will be enough. Celtic can’t afford another season like this – another season of watching a debt ridden and constrained Rangers romp to the title, of big money flops, of a manager lost when the pressure really mounts.

If Lennon is given the job and found wanting when spending the board's cash then he is no longer the best available cheap option but another expensive mistake.

The board have a big call to make. Whatever they do will be a gamble. But they have to try and manage risk. And Lennon remains a bigger risk than a manager with more experience.

Sadly for him I think that means he is now just marking time until his replacement is appointed.

When I was writing this I asked Celtic fans on Twitter for their opinions

@atom_man: I think he will get the job. He turned around an inconsistant team. He's passionate. And we won't need to pay compensation.

@SubSceneRecords: we laughed at the thought of McCoist as Rangers manager, with Lennon as boss the joke could be on us

@SubSceneRecords:I don't think he is manager material, prob good coach but manager I doubt. We need a good experienced manager. Trappatoni?

@Tyrebhoy: if walter leaves and mccoist gets the job I think it's definately Lennons job. Neil v Ally next year would be compelling.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

One Golac was enough

Any talk about Dundee United's Scottish Cup win over Rangers in 1994 always throws up a couple of Scottish football's great unanswered questions.

How did they fail to win the trophy in the Jim McLean era? And how did anyone ever expect McLean and Ivan Golac to enjoy a stable working relationship.

The first might be put down to nothing more than a footballing hoodoo. They can happen.

The second is more interesting. Golac, the Serbian manager who liked his players to stop and smell the flowers, and McLean, the gruff manager turned chairman who could kill a whole rose garden with a sideways glance.

That really was an uneasy coalition.

Yet it survived long enough to bring the Scottish Cup to Tannadice for the first time. And nobody knew better than McLean the magnitude of that feat: six times over the course of three decades he'd led the club to defeats in the cup final.

The intriguing Golac was somewhat miscast in the Scottish football of the early 1990s and his tenure was brief. He went on to manage a chocolate factory in Belgrade.

It's probably safe to say that was never one of Jim McLean's ambitions.

United's Winning Team: Guido van de Kamp, Maurice Malpas, Gordan Petrić, Brian Welsh, Jim McInally, David Bowman, David Hannah, Alex Cleland, Christian Dailly, Craig Brewster, Andy McLaren (Jerren Nixon).

Brewster's winning goal is always worth a look, United extracting a modicum of revenge on former Motherwell 'keeper Ally Maxwell:

Those lost finals

1973/74 0-3 v Celtic
1980/81 1-4 v Rangers (Replay)
1984/85 1-2 v Celtic
1986/87 0-1 v St Mirren
1987/88 1-2 v Celtic
1990/91 3-4 v Motherwell
2004/05 0-1 v Celtic (United manager was Gordon Chisholm)

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

States of soccer

I remember Alan Hansen saying during the 1994 World Cup that he hoped football never caught on in the United States. The reason: they'd end up being better than us.

We might have reached that point. The US are preparing for their sixth World Cup on the bounce. Scotland are missing out for the third time in a row.

2010 will be the tenth US appearance at the finals, we've only made eight. Three times they've escaped the group stages. You know the rest...

But the impression lingers that the US somehow doesn't get football. We retain a certain aristocratic aloofness when we look at their attempts to "do soccer."

We should reassess. They have a decent national side, a strong grassroots and - my anecdotal evidence would suggest - have a thriving network of bloggers and other media spreading the word.

In the Scottish Football Blog's first guest post, and with the World Cup only weeks away, Annette Lyndon looks at the growth of football in the States:

The 2010 South African FIFA World Cup is fast approaching. Fans from all over the globe will be flocking to South Africa to watch their countries compete. Excitement is building as the opening match approaches (June 11th). Football, or soccer, is the world’s sport, and mounting anticipation can only be expected. However a high level of enthusiasm is coming from an unlikely nation this year, the USA.

While sports are an integral part of American culture, soccer never really gained popularity as a primary spectator sport. For many years soccer was accepted as a popular team sport for youths and never caught on in the mainstream arena. But recently soccer has taken flight and is becoming more than recognized as part of the American sports lineup. Major League Soccer (MLS) was founded in 1993 and today has 16 major league teams. The sport has also attracted a large number of individuals from many backgrounds. Soccer teams and clubs are increasing in popularity in US inner cities. Role models, like Cobi Jones from the LA Galexy, have demonstrated minority involvement within the sport and are encouraging youths from different ethnicities to adopt playing it as well. Soccer has also developed as an important sport for women. In the US, 35% of all soccer players are female, one of the highest percentages of women participants around the world. Soccer in America is helping to cross racial, as well as gender, lines.

While the United States has their own teams, fans are broadening their horizons and watching international play as well. Many American soccer fans have begun to follow popular foreign teams like Spain’s Real Madrid and England’s Manchester United. Yet, when the World Cup begins, you can be sure that the majority of the country will be supporting the USA.

As of March 31st, the USA ranks 16th out of the total 204 world teams who entered to take part in the games and qualified for the tournament. The USA is scheduled to play its first match against England on the 12th of June. An overwhelming number of American fans are traveling to South Africa to see the US play. It is reported that Americans stand second after South Africans as primary ticket holders for the tournament.

While American fans may have to fly overseas this year to attend the festivities, in the future they may not have to leave their own backyard. The United States is being considered as the host country for the 2018 World Cup. Former President Clinton’s top counselor, Doug Band, has accepted an invitation to join the Board of Directors as a member of the USA Bid Committee in an attempt to bring the World Cup to the US in 2018 or 2022.

Adding him to the committee should increase the chance that the U.S. has at winning the bid since Doug Band is known worldwide for his international philanthropic initiatives, thus improving the relationship the U.S. has with over 170 foreign countries. Ultimately, the hope is that the committee effort will continue to boost soccer enthusiasm in the US and bring the nation to the forefront as a serious contender for the bid to host the 2018 or 2022 World Cup.

Annette is a contributing writer at Your Source 4 Sports and Sports A La Mode.

County must escape shadow of history

Ross County won't just be playing Dundee United on Saturday at Hampden they'll be playing history.

Sorry, of course they will just be playing Dundee United. But, aborted cliche apart, the size of the task does look unenviable.

We've become used in the last few years to the Scottish Cup throwing up romantic tales of derring-do from lower league sides.

Ross County are the third side from outside the top flight to contest the final in the last five years and the fifth side in the last 16 finals.

(Starting with Airdrie in 1994/95, we've had Falkirk in 1997, Gretna in 2006 and Queen of the South in 2008.)

So it works out roughly as a lower division side once every three years. Big deal?

Perhaps, but before Airdrie in 1995 you have to go all the way back to East Fife in 1938 to find a lower division side in the final, a feat they'd also managed in 1927.*

We're living in a golden era for Scottish Cup minnows. And that's nice because there's not much else golden about at the moment.

The problem for Ross County is translating the romance of the road to Hampden into glory. How to convert the goodwill into a win?

In the long history of the cup only that 1938 East Fife side that has gone to the final from the lower divisions and left with the Scottish Cup.

The Fife drew 1-1 with Kilmarnock before winning the replay 4-2 in front of more than 92000 fans:
A crowd of 91,710 turned out for the replay on Wednesday 27th April. After the Fifers had managed to hold out during an early Killie onslaught, McKerrell unleashed a fierce shot at the other end of the park to put the ‘underdogs’ ahead. Within six minutes, however, the First Division club had turned the match around and went in at half-time 2-1 ahead.

Despite further pressure from Kilmarnock early in the second half, East Fife managed to square the match once again just before the hour-mark, when McLeod scored with an overhead kick. When the final whistle sounded, the score was still level at two goals apiece and the match went into extra time. As the additional 30 minutes progressed, East Fife slowly gained the upper hand using the wings to great advantage and soon had the Kilmarnock goal under severe pressure.

Sensing that the underdogs were about to have their day, the crowd roared encouragement and, with ten minutes remaining, Miller scored to send the black and gold bunnets high in the air. With the Fifers in total control as the light began to fade, McKerrell scored a fourth to put the result beyond doubt and the Scottish Cup was on its way to Methil!
Omens for Ross County? Like Dundee United, Kilmarnock knocked Rangers out on the way to the final.

And like Ross County, East Fife's cup run caused them to run out of steam in the league. Like County they ended up finishing fifth and missing out on promotion.


Well, maybe not. But when you're playing against the weight of history and Dundee United (slipped the cliche in after all), you'll take all the help you can get.

*Queen's Park weren't in the top flight when they beat Celtic in the 1892/93 final. But nor were they a lower division club. Having refused to join the league set-up Queen's Park were more like a specialist cup side!

Spring cleaning

Is May too late for spring cleaning? Probably not. And if there is snow outside then it's maybe even too early.

Anyway, as the season draws to a close - and the World Cup looms ever closer - time for a bit of a dust around the corners of the blog.

A Scottish Football Blog Facebook page is under construction. I'll let you know when it's ready - if you've not all deleted your accounts by then.

I've been toying of doing a flit across to WordPress. I'm in two minds about this. I feel more comfortable with Wordpress but I'm not sure I can stand the hassle of a move. Blogger also seems to be offering more of late so I might stay put and experiment a bit here.

If anybody's got an easy guide to either a Blogger to Wordpress migration or a simpleton's guide to Blogger then feel free to let me know. Content and writing is my thing (no guffawing, now) and I lack a bit of expertise in the webby side of things.

Also I've been updating the links section. It's now called Fitba' Links as you'll see if you keep your eyes moving across the page at the end of this sentence.

If I've missed your site out let me know. If you've missed my site out, then reciprocal links much appreciated.

I'm also thinking about doing a regular feature along the lines of a "site of the week." I think this would work better if I had a quick intro about the site in question written by someone involved with that site. So, again, get in touch if you're interested.

You might also have noticed that Scotland will not be at the World Cup. I'll still be covering it because it remains a global event that I'm interested in. But if your country has made it and you'd be interested in doing a guest blog or two on their prospects and progress then please let me know.

On the subject of guest blogging - if you've got something to say about football that is interesting and reasonably inoffensive then just holler and I'll endeavour to get back to you and see what we can work out.

That it? Yes. I think so.

Contact here or just shout on Twitter.

I'd like to thank you for your cooperation and patience in sticking with this rather dull post.


State visit

Humour me. Allow me one last moment of politics. Just one last moment, before we all roll up our sleeves and volunteer for the coalition's Big Society. It's all in the national interest.

David Cameron has promised to govern Scotland with "respect" and will travel north of Hadrian's Wall within the week, carrying a whopping, Calman sized gift.

Might I be so presumptious as to suggest a destination?

As a keen football fan (he's a Villain!) Mr Cameron will know that this weekend sees Ross County and Dundee United contest the Active Nation Scottish Cup Final.

What better way to bring his message of hope to the people of Scotland? A nation, at this stage, still to share in the Cameroonian love.

And there's a precedent that would go down well in the Tory heartlands. He'd be making a pilgrimage in the footsteps of dear old Margaret.

She handed over the trophy to Celtic captain Roy Aitken in 1988. I'm sure David would love to unite both sets of supporters at the national stadium just as Mrs Thatcher did 22 years ago.

In one voice, Celtic and Dundee United supporters saluted her

See you there, Dave!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The not so merry-go-round

A couple of different takes on Gus MacPherson's departure from St Mirren:

Manager's have a shelf life and need to move on, or be moved on, when it becomes clear that the club is no longer moving forward.


By getting them to the SPL, keeping them there and throwing in a cup final for good measure, MacPherson had done a decent job in tricky circumstances.

I'm not sure. Sometimes maybe we're too keen to blanket management, and the exponents of the managerial art, with a theory about what makes a "good manager."

Different clubs require different things. But maybe we are too quick to chop and change.

Look at the 12 SPL clubs on the final day of last season:

Rangers: Walter Smith
Celtic: Gordon Strachan
Hearts: Csaba Lazlo
Aberdeen: Jimmy Calderwood
Dundee United: Craig Levein
Hibs: Mixu Paatalainen
Motherwell: Mark McGhee
Kilmarnock: Jim Jefferies
Hamilton: Billy Reid
Falkirk: John Hughes
St Mirren: Gus MacPherson
St Johnstone (Promoted): Derek McInnes

And the start of this season:

Rangers: Walter Smith
Celtic: Tony Mowbray
Hearts: Csaba Lazlo
Aberdeen: Mark McGhee
Dundee United: Craig Levein
Hibs: John Hughes
Motherwell: Jim Gannon
Kilmarnock: Jim Jefferies
Hamilton: Billy Reid
Falkirk: Eddie May
St Mirren: Gus MacPherson
St Johnstone: Derek McInnes

And now:

Rangers: Walter Smith
Celtic: Neil Lennon (Caretaker)
Hearts: Jim Jefferies
Aberdeen: Mark McGhee
Dundee United: Peter Houston
Hibs: John Hughes
Motherwell: Craig Brown
Kilmarnock: Jimmy Calderwood
Hamilton: Billy Reid
Falkirk: Steven Pressley
St Mirren: Vacant
St Johnstone: Derek McInnes

Now not all of these are sackings. But by my reckoning that's five changes over the last close season and a further seven changes between the start of the 2009/10 season and today. Since April 2009 19 different men have tried their hand at managing in the SPL.

Motherwell, Celtic and Falkirk can take a special bow for two changes in that time.

At least nine clubs will start next season with a different manager than they started this season with.

In a 12 team league that is a hell of an attrition rate.

Look at this season's success stories. Rangers won the title, both Hamilton and St Johnstone pleasantly surprised. They stuck with their managers.

And Inverness, relegated last season, stuck with Terry Butcher. They bounced right back up.

Dundee United lost their manager but made a seamless transition by giving Peter Houston a chance at the job, not panicking when it went badly and then reaping the benefits of third place and a Scottish Cup final.

Stability won't always bring success. Changing managers is sometimes unavoidable. But I'd argue that when 75% of SPL clubs lose a manager (or two) over the course of not much more than a season, we're doing something wrong.

Bradford remembered

I wanted to post about this in more detail but unfortunately time simply got away from me.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the Bradford Fire. 56 people lost their lives at Valley Parade on 11 May 1985.

Here's an excerpt from an article that Two Hundred Percent republished today (please follow this link and read the full post):
On the 11th of May 1985, there was something of a party atmosphere around Valley Parade. Bradford had been crowned the Third Division champions a few days beforehand, and their captain, Peter Jackson, was prevented with the trophy before the kick-off. The crowd of a shade over 11,000 people was their best of the season, and more than double their average for the season. The match itself seemed to be taking second place to the celebrations. Just before half-time, though, Yorkshire TV commentator John Helm spotted smoke coming from one end of the stand. Within minutes, the stand’s bitumen and tar roof had caught fire, and the whole construction had become engulfed in a flash fire. Many of the crowd had already come onto the pitch, several of them on fire. The majority of deaths came at the back of the stand, where fans had rushed for the fire exits, only to find them locked to prevent people without tickets from getting into the ground. Fifty-six people died.
It is often referred to as the "forgotten" football tragedy. Perhaps it is. For most football fans the day is seared into the memory, along with the other tragedies that have shaped our shared experience of doing nothing more than supporting our clubs.

This is an excerpt from Sporting Reflection's post:
Today, 25 years to the day after the fire which devastated the community, memorial services are being held at Bradford's Centenary Square, Bradford Cathedral and at the Valley Parade ground.

More complete details of the tragedy, along with stories and tributes, are plentiful both online and in the broadcast media today. If you are not familiar with the events, they are worth a look, if only for a reminder of how far stadium safety has progressed in the past 25 years.

For those of us who are old enough to recall the images and emotions associated with that tragic day, the mere mention of the Bradford fire is more than enough. We remember.
Football has changed a lot. It had to. But we can never forget the darkest moments.

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

Summer sacking number one

A league cup final and 10th place in the SPL haven't been enough to save Gus MacPherson at St Mirren:

Gus MacPherson, the league's longest serving manager, is parting ways with St Mirren after almost seven years as manager with the Paisley club.
The Buddies avoided relegation to finish this season in 10th place in the Scottish Premier League.

A club statement read: "We would like to thank Mr MacPherson for all his work and the improvement in the club's league standing since his arrival.

"The board feel that the relationship had run its course and that the club requires a change of direction." (BBC)
A wind of change at the club?

This comes 24 hours after Gordon Scott left the board, with only the must cursory of explanations:
This afternoon Club Director, Gordon Scott resigned from the Board of St Mirren Football Club.

The Board of Directors would like to thank Gordon for all his efforts during his time on the Board and they would also like to wish him the best of success for the future.
The club website also refers to the outgoing manager as "Angus." Surely a first?

Interesting times ahead for St Mirren fans.

Sunday, May 09, 2010


Spot the difference.

Whatever the final table, we're now done.

Rangers have their trophy, Falkirk are relegated.

Spare a thought for Motherwell: anybody would think nine goals in the final two games would be enough to wrap up fourth place. Not quite.

Instead Hibs finally won a game to steal past Motherwell at the death.

I'll revisit my start of season predictions - and my laughable attempts to predict the outcomes of games - over the course of next week.

Our next big SPL fixture? Tomorrow. What will the clubs decide at their end of season gathering? Stay tuned.

The end

That's almost that then.

The season has been far from vintage. From European disasters to SFA cock-ups, bad pitches to managerial casualties, a one sided championship race to a third place challenge that never happened.

Aye, we're all doomed, Captain Mainwaring.

The final match day throws up the top six clashes, the creme de la creme. A nation yawns.

What's left to play for? Hibs and Motherwell - fresh from that game - are still locked in the battle for fourth. And Hearts need a result to finish on more points than the team below them in the league.

Can't wait.

Dundee United v Hibs

It had been said that Hibs struggled to hold on if they were a goal ahead. Now they can't limp to full time with a four goal lead.

Dundee United will be looking for a decent send off before heading to Hampden. Home win.

Hearts v Celtic

Neil Lennon's on-the-job job interview continues. I'm still not convinced by his prospects but I think he'll heap more pressure on the board today. Away win.

Rangers v Motherwell

We arra party people. The trophy is delivered back to Ibrox. Time to enjoy an afternoon without talk of managerial resignation, takeovers, tax debts and financial black holes.

Motherwell need only match Hibs at Tannadice to clinch fourth. A defeat should be enough. Home win.

Keep an eye on today's goalscorers. If Anthony Stokes can get a couple at Tannadice and Kris Boyd draws a blank at Ibrox, Hibs' striker could finish the season as top scorer. He'd be the first player outside the Old Firm to claim that honour since Tommy Coyne's 16 goals took Motherwell to second place in 1994/95 (the last season that the big two finished outside the top 3.)