Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Love Of The Irish

People do strange things during a World Cup. Got sent this last night:

Ireland, although not in the World Cup have a World Cup song! - Corrigan Brothers, the band who had the International hit “There’s no one as IRISH as Barack Obama” have teamed up with Shay Healy writer of Johnny Logan’s Eurovision winner “What’s another Year” to Bring you “WAYNE ROONEY IS OUR HERO”- the song urges Wayne Rooney to Kick Thierry Henry “up the derriere”.



2010 World Cup: Hugh And Cry

I’ve got to point you in the direction of The Record’s World Cup podcast.

An extraordinary rant from Hugh Keevins about the World Cup.

Poor old Hugh. He seems to be living in some sort of colonial time warp and thinks the World Cup should only be played in Europe, and western Europe at that.

Not South America and certainly not Africa.

His point about the massive inequality and the gaps between rich and poor is sound enough – although to some extent that can be levelled at any country.

And he fails to mention the United States.

On his criteria of footballing heritage there is no way the US could host. But, purely in terms of attendance, the 1994 World Cup remains the most successful.

There’s also some discussion about the ways different countries qualify. The suggestion is that an open, global qualification system would rid the tournament of lesser nations like New Zealand.

But surely the point of the World Cup is to have countries from across the world coming together to compete in a showcase event that allows people the world over to celebrate football.

Tweaking qualification would ensure a lot of countries never featured. That’s not the way to grow football. That’s the way to encourage a bloated hegemony amongst the leading teams. Just like the Champions’s League.

Anyway have a listen and see what you think.

Let’s just say that Mr Keevins comes across as vehemently unreconstructed.

Note also that Keevins, along with Jim Traynor and Keith Jackson, are rather critical of the event as a whole. Is it just me or has it not really picked up over the last couple of days?


Friday, June 18, 2010

2010 World Cup: Vuvuzelas

What’s more irritating than the constant drone of the vuvuzela?

Many things.

BBC punditry.

ITV punditry.

Moaning about the new ball.

But most irritating of all, the constant drone of moaning about the vuvuzela.

Apparently over 500 people have complained to the BBC about the sound of vuvuzelas ruining their enjoyment of the games.

Really? I’d have thought low scoring, ultra defensive football might be ruining their enjoyment more. Or commentary and studio analysis that seems to be a less than successful balancing act between total ignorance and casual racism.

I’d propose a national complaints hotline for people to complain about these incessant complainers. Name them, shame them and then stand outside their house with vuvuzelas every night for a month.

I can’t say that the noise hasn’t annoyed me at times. But you get used to it.

And what are these people who pick up to the phone actually saying: “There’s a football tournament going on thousands of miles away and it seems that these locals don’t behave the same way at the games as I do.”

Or, far more likely: “These games don’t sound the same as when I watch Manchester United and Chelsea on Sky Sports.”

And the TV and radio presenters moaning during every link up with studios back here. Get over yourselves. There’s thousands of unemployed, under-employed or underpaid journalists would gladly trade places and put up with some local habits for the chance to be a paid eye-witness to Africa’s first World Cup.

And are the vuvuzelas not striking a little blow against FIFA’s apparent aim to turn football the world over into a Coca-Cola emblazoned franchise played out in sterile modern stadia?

Even Sepp Blatter has accepted that the vuvuzela has a more tyrannical grip on this World Cup than he does.

Imagine that drone as a million voices singing “f*ck off FIFA, f*ck off Blatter, f*ck off corporate land grab of football” in perfect harmony and it begins to sound a lot sweeter.

Now I hear that there is a call to ban them from SPL grounds next season.

Lothians MSP Margo MacDonald said:

"But as is obvious from the mounting level of complaint, I think there is justification for the SPL to consider the matter before it becomes a problem here.

"As well as being really annoying, there is also a possible health and safety aspect, given the noise they make."


Much as I respect Margo, and as a season ticket holder at Easter Road and wife of Jim Sillars we must consider her to be one of our most patient politicians, she misses a couple of points.

Firstly, the last thing the SPL needs is more rules and regulations about what can and cannot happen at matches.

And, crucially, the vuvuzela won’t catch on in Scotland. They will no doubt be much in evidence at the start of the season. Football fans are experts at cracking totally original jokes that only another 5000 people have ever thought of before.

But once that novelty wears off they’ll be as out of place as a ‘See You, Jimmy” hat at the South Africa v Uruguay match.

It’s not a part of our football culture, not - to borrow Blatter’s rather overblown phrase - part of the rhythm of Scottish football.

We all worried that South Africa’s World Cup would be out of reach of the local fans. Unfortunately that seems to have been the case but South African football fans have still found a way of giving it a unique local atmosphere. What’s wrong with that?

80 years it took us to take the World Cup to Africa. In return we have got vuvuzelas for a month. Are we really the ones who should be complaining?

> Are we just scared of the unknown? The sound has been variously described as "a stampede of noisy elephants," "a deafening swarm of locusts," "a goat on the way to slaughter" and "a giant hive full of very angry bees." I’m no David Attenborough but do those four things necessarily sound the same?


2010 World Cup: Anybody But Bougherra?

England v Algeria offers some SPL interest tonight in the shape of Madjid Bougherra.

He certainly shouldn't be feeling the strain of a long season after his less than strenuous efforts for Rangers over the course of the last campaign. Good player, apparently much coveted, and he'll be anxious to impress against players that he'll be hoping to face next season.

I don't like the guy though. I don't like the fact that he plays for Rangers, don't like his attitude on the pitch, don't like his attitude off the pitch with the extended international breaks and pathetic excuses.

I mention this because it brings the Anyone But England stuff into focus for me. As regular readers will know I'm an ABE neutral. Not supporting them, not supporting their opponents.

Last week for England v USA almost everyone in the pub was a Hibs fan. When Dempsey shot and Green blundered there was much cheering and clapping.

Will that happen if Madjid Bougherra scores tonight? And, if we must pick sides, would it not be more natural for me to pick the team that doesn't contain a player that I actively dislike and who plays for a rival of my club?

Should I not support the team that contains a succession of players that I have no affinity for, a couple who I dislike because of what I have read about them in the papers and a few I admire?

Is the truer footballing instinct for me, and - without wanting to speak for anyone else - all non-Rangers fans in Scotland, not be to cheering against Bougherra's Algeria tonight?

Possibly. On the other hand the Scotland v England rivalry is, as we're always reminded, about more than just football.

It's historical.

It would have to be as we've not played them for a decade.

In which case I should probably reserve judgement until I have the relevant genealogical information on which of the England players ancestors fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie.

And, by extension, I should really be clued up as to which of Craig Levein's players are drawn from the Scottish stock that marched with Cumberland at Culloden so that I can roundly boo them during Scotland's next game.

And, yes, I know it's all supposed to be a bit of fun. And that's fine. But I fear the conceit of the joke wears ever thinner with every tournament we fail to qualify for. As I've said before 12 years is a long, long time. Watching England, watching anyone, is becoming more about a gnawing sense of jealousy and despair than about "fun."

On the whole I think I'll stick with the position of interested neutrality. I'll greet all events with my best attempt at an enigmatic smile.

I'm sure there will be plenty of others to get excited if Magic rises above the England defence to nod home the winner.

> Actually that enigmatic smile was replaced with bewildered confusion when the USA scored. I wasn't looking at the screen at the time. As with all major tournaments you know there's about to be a goal when you see that I've diverted my attention away from the TV.


2010 World Cup: England v Algeria

Craning my neck over the garden fence again.

Seems them next door had a spot of bother last week with some of their former tenants turning up and doing their best to spoil the party.

The problem with high expectations is that the pain is so much greater when things don't quite go to plan. A 1-1 draw with the United States was not a disaster for England. It was hardly a 3-1 defeat to Peru.

But anything short of a five or six goal win was never going to be enough for the media. Given their World Cup record it amazes me that the press still think England should be winning every tournament. I keep thinking that one day they will realise that the weight of evidence suggests 1966 was a golden one off rather than a magnificent confirmation of England's status in this competition.

But no, they never do.

England were mediocre - and certain individual performances were unlikely to make anyone Green with envy - but they remain where they were before a ball was kicked: in amongst that group of nations that might be considered in the second tier of favourites for the title.

They are better than America but they weren't the only team to be sucked into a dull opening game where deficiencies were more evident than skill. And they avoided defeat, they remain alive and kicking in a weak group.

The Robert Green situation is interesting but I'm convinced Capello will have decided to keep him in the team. One mistake doesn't make him a bad goalkeeper. And what are the options if he's dropped?

Play David James. Fine, but he's shown before that he can throw in the odd gaffe of his own. If he did that tonight then where would Capello go next?

Throw in the rookie Joe Hart for a potentially decisive final game against Slovenia? That's not a gamble he's likely to take.

And, oddly enough, the press hysteria at the mistake is likely to have done more damage to Green's confidence than the mistake itself. With friends like these... (See update at the bottom of the post.)

Gareth Barry's return will give England a better shape and more of a platform to bring Wayne Rooney into the game, an imperative of any English game plan but one that seemed beyond them on Saturday. It says much about England's midfield superstars that it's the relatively unsung Barry who has become the key figure in coaxing performances of sustained cohesion.

Is Capello bracketing Jermain Defoe with the new World Cup ball as a diversionary tactic to focus the press away from his real thoughts?

Possibly. But maybe he also has a concern over Rooney. The Manchester United striker spoke earlier in the week of being a bit knackered after a long season. For a man who tends to revel in perpetual motion that would have been worrying for the coaching staff.

If Capello has the slightest concern about Rooney's ability to perform tirelessly for 90 minutes then Defoe might be an attractive option. Emile Heskey is many things but he's hardly a goalscorer. Defoe could be better placed to share that burden with Rooney while also providing a bit more finesse for the Algerian defence to deal with.

I don't know. The only thing I'm convinced of is that Fabio Capello won't be panicking. And, I suspect, that will probably be enough for England to get past Algeria tonight.

> So, what do I know? Absolutely nothing. The Guardian reports at 09:44 that:

David James is set to be handed a shock recall to England's starting line-up for this evening's critical Group C fixture against Algeria after Fabio Capello decided against selecting Robert Green following his costly error against the United States.

The veteran Portsmouth goalkeeper is to replace Green at the Green Point stadium after the England manager opted for experience in a fixture that the national team can ill afford not to win. Capello had been impressed by the manner in which Green recovered his poise following his handling mistake against the US, which presented Clint Dempsey with an equalising goal, but he remained concerned that his defenders' faith in the goalkeeper had been significantly eroded.

Furthermore, Green appeared nervous in front of the media at open training at the ground yesterday, fumbling two shots from Ray Clemence in one of the early drills.

I think that's a mistake. And it kind of shafts my theory that Capello won't be panicking. England will still win though.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

SPL 2010/2011 Fixtures

SORRY FOLKS. THIS BLOG POST HAS BEEN UPDATED TO TELL YOU ABSOLUTELY NOTHING ON THE STRICT INSTRUCTION OF NET RESULT ON BEHALF OF DATA CO LIMITED ON BEHALF OF THE SPL. 


TO EVEN SHOW THE FIRST WEEK OF FIXTURES WITH LINKS TO THE FULL FIXTURE LIST ON THE SPL SITE WOULD COST ME OVER £4000. THIS IS MODERN FOOTBALL:


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More information here.

Is the World Cup too far away to properly dullen the senses with its succession of awful football matches?

Fear not, the SPL is on its way back.

The fixture list was announced this morning.

Yet again ignoring my advice about allowing teams to play home and away on alternate weekends. I'm beginning to get a complex.

We kick off on 14 August. (I presume I am I allowed to mention this date but I'm awaiting confirmation)

Full fixture list here. Club by club key fixtures at the Daily Record. Full fixture list for Irn Bru First, Second and Third Division here.

Remember, folks, all dates subject to change. Got a problem with that? I suggest you take it up with the ghost of John Logie Baird.


Shoes 4 Life

Way back when, in those giddy days before we'd ever heard of the Jabulani, I mentioned the good people at www.soccerpro.com.

So I'm happy to turn this post over to Lauren Bradley of that parish to promote their fantastic Shoes 4 Life campaign:
The World Cup being hosted in South Africa is a big step forward for the nation of South Africa and the entire continent of Africa. Billions of South African Rand are entering the country, and it is getting a lot of media exposure. The World Cup is a great celebration that unites the world.

Soccer equipment retailer SoccerPro.com is celebrating in their own way. They're raising awareness of those who are less fortunate in Africa (and throughout the world) who do not have shoes. When a family barely has enough more to eat and provide shelter, the purchasing of shoes can be missed if funds aren't available. The lack of shoes can lead to injuries and infections which are amplified by the poor ground conditions and lack of urgent medical treatment.

SoccerPro.com has launched their Shoes 4 Life charity to raise money to buy shoes for those in need. $1 buys one pair of shoes. But the pair of shoes gives more than just foot protection: it prevents future health risks, expands the potential of the individual to get more done, and it provides hope. Please think about donating.

In return to those who donate, SoccerPro is giving away free soccer shoes. There will be multiple winners who get free shoes of their choice over the next four years.

We're all celebrating the World Cup in our own unique ways. Donating to Shoes 4 Life is just one way to be able to feel good about yourself and make a real difference in the world - and who knows, even win some free gear.
Thanks to Lauren and good luck to everyone involved with campaign.


2010 World Cup: Rain On Spain?

So, as discussed yesterday, not a vintage start to the 2010 World Cup.

Dismay has been expressed at the performance of a number of big teams: Brazil and Holland in winning their games, England, France, Italy and Portugal in their draws.

Germany were impressive (although Australia looked poor) and Argentina drew some muted plaudits and confidence from a win against a shaky Nigeria.

But it was in the final game that one of the "big" nations fell victim to a big shock. Spain were big favourites, darlings of the pundits, and had lost only once in 47 games.

Make that twice in 48. A great defensive performance from Switzerland who came with a plan and carried it out to the letter to get a 1-0 win.

With Chile beating Honduras by the same score it makes the group a lot tighter than Spain might have expected.

Probably nothing more than an aberration.

But - and prepare yourself for a stat attack - they do seem to have left themselves with a mountain to climb.

No team has ever lost their first game and gone on to win the World Cup. Only two teams, England in 1966 and Italy in 1982, have failed to win their first game and won the tournament.

The idea that teams that start slowly tend to excel is also proved to be a nonsense. Actually I think this myth has partly been propagated by the English media either because they view 1966 as the template for all World Cups or to console themselves after England's traditionally poor starts. Whatever, the winners tend to start by winning.

This is all probably meaningless although it does suggest Spain now need to conquer history if they are going to win the World Cup.

But I guess they already knew that.

World Cup Winners And Their First Game Results

2006: Italy beat Ghana 2-0
2002: Brazil beat Turkey 2-1
1998: France beat South Africa 3-0
1994: Brazil beat Russia 2-0
1990: West Germany beat Yugoslavia 4-1
1986: Argentina beat South Korea 3-1
1982: Italy drew with Poland 0-0
1978: Argentina beat Hungary 2-1
1974: West Germany beat Chile 1-0
1970: Brazil beat Czechoslovakia 4-1
1966: England drew with Uruguay 0-0
1962: Brazil beat Chile 2-0
1958: Brazil beat Austria 3-0
1954: West Germany beat Turkey 4-1
1950: Uruguay beat Bolivia 8-0
1938: Italy beat Norway 2-1
1934: Italy beat United States 7-1
1930: Uruguay beat Peru 1-0


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

2010 World Cup: Get This Party Started

So 16 games down and the first round of group matches complete.

Time to call the 2010 World Cup a disaster? No. People probably will but it's still to early to write off the entire tournament.

A few random thoughts:

Lack of goals: The lowest ever number of goals for the first 16 games of a World Cup - and a dearth of exciting fixtures.

Not that it has been without merit. Germany were impressive in demolishing a poor Australian side. North Korea - suddenly everyone's favourite rogue state - served up a treat against Brazil in a fascinating clash of tactics. Spain and Switzerland did much the same this afternoon.

Why? Maybe the tactics have been too negative, teams too scared of losing the first game. Certainly a lot of players have looked nervous and the uniformity of tactics is bound to result in more stalemates than we would want to see.

There is, of course, a difference in playing to your strengths and being overly cautious. Thus North Korea and Switzerland can thrill us with their defensive game while Italy and England just look jittery and dull, mistaking caution for a reliable gameplan.

There's only so many variations on 4-5-1 with worried looking players you can endure before you ask yourself why you're wasting the summer watching extravagantly rewarded players pretending to be in the SPL.

Maybe throughout football there is now an imbalance between the fear of losing and the desire to win, it's just concentrated at the World Cup.

Over the course of the next two games we'll see which of the big teams can shake off the torpor and start to perform. That should liven things up.

The Ball: Shut up about the ball. As Chris Waddle said on Radio 5 Live this evening it remains a football. Not square, not a rugby ball. Not a balloon. Most of these players have been training with it for the best part of a month or longer. Stop moaning. If it was as bad as they say surely it would favour attackers. The lack of goals suggests the ball is not the problem.

The Hosts: Spaces in the stadiums are not pleasant to watch. Anecdotally it sounds like South Africa is getting behind the World Cup. But actually going to the games is too expensive for the majority. That's a problem that FIFA should have addressed. So far the predictions of anarchy and rampant crime seem wide of the mark. South Africa isn't letting anyone down.

The TV Coverage: Awful. The BBC remains ahead - especially online - but winning with a team that includes the smug Gary Lineker, the lazy Alan Hansen and the irritating John Motson is a fairly hollow victory. It's probably not cheering anyone up when they realise how hugely well paid Adrian Chiles has been for committing career suicide in moving to ITV. Radio 5 Live remains a cut above.

What's Next?: Hopefully less moaning. Time for a lot of teams to get over the nerves, shed the negativity and do something. That should mean that the football improves. If it doesn't then we might see some surprising teams in the second round. Either way it's going to be more interesting than the first six days would suggest.

South Africa v Uruguay this evening is the perfect place to find the spark we need.


On This Day In World Cup History...

56 years ago today the great adventure began.

On 16 June, 1954 Scotland embarked on their World Cup journey. Perhaps a journey marked more by bouts of travel sickness than any enjoyment of our eventual destination. But a journey nonetheless.

Zurich’s Hardturm Stadium was the venue, 30000 supporters were in attendance and Belgium’s Laurent Franken was the referee.

Austria, another team to sit out the 2010 World Cup, provided the opposition as Scotland sank to a 1-0 defeat thanks to a 33rd minute goal by Rapid Vienna’s Erich Probst.

Probst – who scored 107 times in 112 appearances for Rapid - would go on to score six goals and lead Austria to third place.

Scotland would go on to lose seven goals in their match against Uruguay.

West Germany won the tournament although many would still argue that Hungary were the dominant side. The final incidentally was played in Berne. In the Wankdorf Stadium.

That 7-0 loss to Uruguay, who returned to haunt us in 1986, remains the heaviest defeat in Scotland’s history.

Strangely our record of two games played, two games lost, no goals scored and eight conceded wasn’t enough to condemn to 16th place from the 16 teams competing.

That honour went to South Korea who managed to let 16 goals slip by in their two matches.

> More on Scotland in 1954 here.

> Brazil also kicked off their 1954 competition on 16th June with a rather more welcome 5-0 win over Mexico.

> Also on 16th June: 1998 Scotland draw 1-1 with Norway, 1990 Scotland beat Sweden 2-1.

> Perhaps fittingly 16 June is also the anniversary of the rollercoaster. It was on this day in 1884 that Coney Island set in motion the sequence of events that now sees you paying £1 million to get a family of four into Alton Towers.

> The Scotland Team v Austria, 16 June 1954:
1 Fred Martin
2 Willie Cunningham
3 John Aird
5 Tommy Docherty
6 Jimmy Davidson
7 Doug Cowie
8 John Mackenzie
12 Willie Fernie
11 Neil Mochan
10 Allan Brown
13 Willie Ormond


2010 World Cup: Honduras

Honduras kick off their 2010 World Cup campaign against Chile at lunchtime.

Not a team with much World Cup history, their debut came in 1982 when draws against Northern Ireland, Spain and defeat to Yugoslavia condemned them to a first round exit.

Their international debut came in 1921 wheny the slumped to a forgettable 10-1 defeat to Guatemala.

Strangely, however, Honduras are one of the few countries to have become embroiled in a war after a football match.

Actually things aren't quite as simple as that. Issues of immigration, land reform and economics had led to simmering resentments between Honduras and El Salvador for years.

But matters came to a head in 1969 when the two teams met in the qualifiers for the 1970 World Cup. Honduras won 1-0 at home. This result led teenage football fan Amelia Bolanios to shoot herself through the heart. She became a martyr in El Salvador and a symbol of the battle against Honduran oppression.

The return leg in San Salvador saw the Honduran flag burnt and a dirty rag raised on the stadium's flagpole in its place. The tensions were now at breaking point. El Salvador won the return match meaning a play off was scheduled for 27th June in Mexico City.

On the 26th of June El Salvador broke off all relations with Honduras. They won the play-off 3-2 but the result was immediately followed by border skirmishes between the two countries and talk of widespread reprisals against Honduras' large, often illegal and increasingly oppressed El Salvadoran immigrant community.

The situation gradually worsened. On the 14th of July El Salvador launched an air and land assault on Honduras sparking a four day conflict that has become known as the Football War.

By the time the United States stepped in and demanded a ceasefire Honduras had lost around 100 troops and 2000 civilians. El Salvador lost 900 troops and 300000 El Salvadorans were forced to flee Honduras and become unwelcome refugees in their homeland.

Both countries suffered years of economic hardship and El Salvador's lengthy civil war was an eventual consequence of the conflict. Honduras' military regime saw its grip on power strengthened by the war and the country wouldn't enjoy democratic elections until 1981.

Football wasn't the cause of the Football War but it was the spark that lit the existing tensions and the short conflict scarred both countries for years.

No doubt we'll be treated to ITV's normal disdainful treatment of "little" Honduras.

I'd hazard a guess that few countries in South Africa have the game so emblazoned in their national identities, or are so aware of the tragedies that can unfold because of 90 minutes of football, as the Hondurans.

> For more please listen to Professor Anthony King's More Than A Game: The Football War


On The March With Alzheimer Scotland's Tartan Army

Lots of talk at the moment of how football can, if not change the world, at least symbolise a changing world.

A nice example of the positive power of the game from closer to home on Guardian.co.uk yesterday:

Researchers at Glasgow Caledonian University have found that looking at football programmes, photographs and memorabilia of the relevant era could stimulate the memories of many people with dementia, offering respite from this debilitating condition for themselves and their families.

In their report into the year-long football reminiscence project in Stenhousemuir, which was instigated by the Scottish Football Museum, authors Irene Schofield and Debbie Tolson from the university's school of health recorded one dementia patient being moved to tears of pleasure by the reminiscence, while the wife of another was amazed by the change in her husband: "That is the old guy back again," she told them.

Schofield lists a wide range of positive benefits for the men who took part: "The men with dementia were more confident, calmer, more talkative within the group and, after attending the group, more communicative with their spouses."

The onset of dementia can create a vicious circle in which the condition may inhibit those diagnosed from doing things, which in turn worsens the effects. "The experience of dementia can be very disempowering," says Schofield. "One of the problems of people with dementia is that they can be in a position where they lack stimulation, and this is likely to have a disabling affect by lowering their abilities. This is a really important reason for offering appropriate activities."

Football, as the national sport, acts as the thread that runs through the lives of many men in Scotland, tying together important events in a fan's life. "The football reminiscences trigger significant life events. Memories of supporting or playing for a local football club lead on to significant early friendships, first jobs or war service. Being a football supporter can be a key part of some men's social lives," she says.


Alzheimer Scotland have now taken the project on:

Alzheimer Scotland wants to build on the impressive results of the pilot by taking over the short term funding of the project; working in partnership with the team to ensure that enough support is secured to roll this initiative out across Scotland. Furthermore, all monies raised via our Charity of the Year partnership with the Scottish Football Association will go towards funding this project.

Henry Simmons, Chief Executive of Alzheimer Scotland, said:

Our vision is simple. There are thousands of football fans across the country with dementia, who have stood on terraces from Pittodrie to Palmerston Park and felt the joy and the pain that football brings. They have burned with the passion that we Scottish supporters are famous for. These are special memories and football has a language that transcends all cultures and, I think, dementia too.

There are also thousands of people across the country who are decent, kind, gentle and committed football enthusiasts. Many of whom will never have thought about volunteering or engaging in anyway with people with dementia. We are going to speak to these people. We want to use their passion for the game and their personal values in a way that improves the lives of people with dementia and their families.


A brilliant scheme and one that brings me back to our clubs playing an active role in their communities again.

If you'd like to volunteer visit Alzheimer Scotland here or contact Kirsty Jardine on 0131 243 1453 or kjardine@alzscot.org


On The Robbie

I was going to write a post giving my verdicts on the TV coverage of the World Cup so far. But I'll save that for now. (Sneak preview: poor.)

Instead I'll just ask: "Robbie Earle, what the hell were you thinking?"

Long, if not particularly distinguished, playing career leads to what is shaping up to be a long, if not particularly distinguished, punditry career.

It's all going right. If ITV use focus groups then they obviously have a bizarre preference for nervous looking former Wimbledon players with a fine line in studious blandness.

Still he looked effortlessly handsome next to Gareth Southgate, a man who first brings to mind the word equine and then various phrases involving knacker's yard and glue factory.

Anyway Robbie's blown it. And how:

"Following claims by Fifa that official 2010 World Cup tickets may have been used for ambush marketing, ITV has reviewed its entire ticket allocation for the tournament," said ITV in a statement.

"Immediate investigations indicated that a block of ITV tickets would appear to have been used for unauthorised purposes during the Holland v Denmark match," it added.

"Further enquiries have revealed that a substantial number of tickets allocated to Robbie Earle for family and friends have been passed to a third party in breach of Fifa rules."

It is understood that between 35 and 40 tickets allocated to Earle ended up in the hands of the marketing company said to have orchestrated the ambush marketing effort on behalf of the beer brand Bavaria via a third party.

Thirty-six women in orange mini dresses were ejected from Soccer City during yesterday's match when Fifa officials decreed they were part of an organised ambush marketing scheme. They were questioned for several hours until after the match had finished. Bavaria denied the women had any links to its campaign.


Robbie's been sacked with immediate effect.

He denies knowledge of what happened, blaming a "friend." Who was no doubt a big boy who then ran away.

And what the hell are ITV doing giving Robbie Earle 35 to 40 tickets for a game?

When I first read about Bavaria's ploy I was quite impressed. But then you hear that a marketing company was behind it all.

I bet these guerilla marketing men think they're quite the cool cats. But taking one corporate shilling to try and steal another corporate shilling is not all that, is it? It's hardly the stuff of Robin Hood.

One thing we have learned is that Robbie Earle is a prized tit. That will be why he fitted in so well in that ITV studio.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rangers Off The Market

Another of the SPL's interminable sagas would appear to be over. For now at least.

In a statement released today Rangers have announced they are no longer for sale:

"MIH has received interest in its controlling stake from a number of parties. At this time, however, the board of MIH has not been able to secure an offer which it considers to be in the best interests of the Club, its shareholders and its fans.

Following on from the success of winning the 2009/10 SPL title and thereby securing participation in the group stages of the Champions League during 2010/11, the Club recently announced that the football management team had signed new contracts. At the same time the board of directors of the Club announced improvements in its financial position compared to the previous year stating:

"We believe the outcome of our recent positive discussions with the bank gives us a real platform for operational stability at the Club and we thank Lloyds for their support. We have a clear business plan in place and will continue to maximise efficiencies and endeavour to increase our non-playing income."

"The board of directors of MIH therefore considers that the interests of stakeholders are presently best served by providing the football management team and board of directors with an opportunity to implement its business plan which is supported by Lloyds Banking Group. In these circumstances, MIH hereby announces that it is no longer actively marketing its controlling stake in the Club for sale."


The statement was signed by Sir David Murray. Bad news, then, for those Rangers fans who wanted him out.

Clearly the bank are also happy enough that their interests will be better served by the devil they know. As the old saying goes: "Owe the bank £5000 and you've got a problem, owe the bank £30 million and they've got a problem."

And questions will remain: Will those interested parties just walk away? What lies ahead with the tax investigation? What money will be available for transfers? Has this healed the apparent boardroom rift that opened up during the protracted efforts to find a buyer? Where do the fans groups who had aimed so much of their ire at Murray go from here?

But the immediate future would seem to be clear. Rangers head into next season owned by David Murray and managed by Walter Smith.


2010 World Cup: Makana FA

Neck and neck between ITV and the BBC in the Cliche World Cup.

Safari, townships, vuvuzelas.

Package those three things as many ways as possible and hope the viewers don't notice how lazy you're being. Or that they're too stupid to realise you're patronising both them and an entire continent.

The nadir might have been reached when Kelly Cates kicked of ITV's coverage of England v USA at Rorke's Drift. Shame the England players decided to play like Michael Caine in Escape To Victory rather than summoning the spirit of Gonville Bromhead.

So it was a pleasant surprise to see Gaby Logan's report on the Makana FA last night.

Makana FA was the football league created by Nelson Mandela's fellow prisoners on Robben Island in 1966.

Sport, especially football, gave the prisoners something to cling to amid the bleakness of their existence in the jail:

The MFA is said to have developed into an outlet and symbol of the prisoners’ passion and commitment to discipline. The film’s synopsis describes the MFA as a “training ground not only for the body but for the political soul, where the principles of negotiation and dialogue [were] practiced and entrenched.”

Speaking to GoingPlaces.co.za, Suze who was imprisoned on Robben Island for 15 years and was also one of the founding members of the MFA, echoes this sentiment when he speaks of the stone quarry that became the centre of every prisoner’s life.

“Everything happened at this quarry – this was our communal life. Lessons took place; the soccer games reviewed and teams decided upon; and if there was any disciplinary action needed for the players, this is where it was decided. Even political differences were resolved.”


'We played soccer on Robben Island with such passion and such detail - it was another way of survival,' said Suze. 'Somehow we found a Fifa book there and played according to Fifa rules. In a situation that sought to undermine us, it gave us hope. It is amazing to think a game that people take for granted all around the world was the very same game that gave a group of prisoners sanity and in a way glorified us.'

At first the men played covertly in their cells using balls made of paper, cardboard and rags. Then in 1965, after sustained lobbying, the authorities allowed prisoners to play outside on Saturdays. The teams built their own goals and threw off their prison uniforms to put on team colours.


The league, former prisoners say, was operated in three divisions — A, B and C, based on players' abilities — complete with trainers, managers, referees and coaches from the prison population of as many as 1,400 men. Games were played on Saturdays for almost nine months a year; the league shut down in summer. Eventually, prisoners competed in track and field those months.

The league had several standing committees to deal with a range of issues, including discipline and maintenance.


A remarkable story. And a reminder that even as we moan about poor quality games and a ball that might be too round, this World Cup is more than the sum of its parts. It's a tribute to the people who sacrificed so much to defeat oppression. Football gave them hope.

If nothing else we should see South Africa's World Cup as football's way of honouring their struggle.

> Fifa gave the Makana FA honorary membership in 2007.

> The story of the Makana FA has been chronicled in the book More Than Just a Game: Football v Apartheid which was also turned into a film.

> More on the BBC site.


Terrible Defending

Alan Hansen on top form last night as he was sneeringly patronising about New Zealand. His failings as a pundit are being highlighted this year by the excellent performance of new BBC signing Clarence Seedorf.

Seedorf is everything Hansen could have been, maybe once was, if he hadn't settled for the lazy route of interminable banter with Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer. Their aim seems to be to turn the Match of the Day studio into the smuggest place on TV.

They're succeeding frightfully well.

Time for a reminder of New Zealand's last World Cup. When they scored two against a Scotland team that managed to concede eight goals in three games.

A Scotland team that included an ever present Alan Hansen at centre half.

And what would Hansen the pundit have to say about his collision with Willie Miller in the crucial final game against the Soviet Union?



True Blue Brazil?

I can imagine this is going to go down like a lead balloon in certain quarters of Scottish football:

Donald Findlay, who was forced to resign as vice-chairman of Rangers in 1999 after he was filmed singing sectarian songs at a supporters function, last night returned to football when he was named the new chairman of Cowdenbeath.



Not a minefield that I have much interest in wading through. I've no time for Donald Findlay, abhor what he did. But, as he himself would no doubt argue persuasively in court, is everyone not deserving of a second chance?

The bigger story, one that will probably be buried beneath the Findlay headlines, is that Cowdenbeath seem to have come back from the brink:

The club's position was stabilised by promotion to the First Division and the active involvement of the Cowden Action Group of fans which led to last night's announcement of a new board of ten directors including five supporters' representatives.

They need to act quickly to appoint a manager who can prepare them for what I suspect will be an arduous season ahead. But they do at least have a season to look forward to, that didn't look like it might be the case a few months ago.


Monday, June 14, 2010

A Lot Of Balls


Much discussion, as ever, about the World Cup ball.

It's a four year tradition to have goalkeepers, strikers, pundits, coaches and player's grannies moaning about how frightfully unfair Fifa and Adidas have been.

Thus far you have to say that it's more than the ball that has contributed to some of the rather poor football we've seen.

Anyway, a handy graphic from the New York Times on the evolution of the World Cup ball. You wonder how today's players would react to playing with a different ball in each half as happened back in 1930.


Show Your Support For Scotland

Finally a chance to support Scotland at the 2010 World Cup.

This year's Homeless World Cup takes place in Rio from 19th September.

Show your support with the official Scotland replica jersey, manufactured by Nike and made from recycled plastic bottles.

Apparently demand has, eh, outstripped supply so Nike are beavering away to get more manufactured.

Elsewhere in Homeless World Cup news the Scotland squad for 2010 tournament has been announced: (1) David Stone 40 - Glasgow (2) Matthew Brannan 36 - Glasgow (3) Ian Glaister 25 - Alloa (4) Martin Begley 26 - Greenock (5) Ryan Wilson 21 - Cambuslang (6) Graham Linklater 36 - Inverness (7) Liam Forbes 22 - Edinburgh (8) Barry Ritchie 19 - Dundee

They'll again be coached by David Duke who was first selected as a player in 2004 and has been involved ever since, turning his life round in the process.

Scotland have a fine record having won the event in 2007 and finishing fourth three times.

More information at the Homeless World Cup website

To find out how to get your hands on a Scotland strip visit Colin Campbell Sports