Friday, July 02, 2010

Fans For Everything

Scottish First Division side Stirling Albion have become the first British senior club to be owned by their fans.

The Stirling Albion Supporters Trust has agreed a £300,000 deal to clear debts and make a one-off payment to Peter McKenzie, chairman for 26 years.

McKenzie, 84, has agreed to write off the £1.2m loan that was due to him.

I was waiting patiently for an announcement about the future of the club on Stirling Albion's official site but the BBC seem to have beaten them to it.

"'Buy Stirling Albion' campaign spokesperson Paul Goodwin said: "We are absolutely delighted to have reached an agreement to acquire Mr McKenzie's majority shareholding in the club.

"Throughout the negotiations Mr McKenzie made the wellbeing of the club and its position in the community key factors in any agreement he made.

"This acquisition has the potential to be a landmark moment for the future of Scottish football as it marks the first senior Scottish football club to come under the direct control of its fans' supporters trust.

"Everyone knows that there are severe pressures on football at all levels just now and we are under no illusion, and no-one else connected with the club should be either, that there is a very challenging future ahead."

"The Trust is absolutely committed to supporting the management and the team, developing the club's role and presence in the wider Stirling community and undertaking some innovative commercial activity in order to generate new income."

It's certainly going to be interesting to see how this goes. Good as the news is it does still have the feeling of an experiment about it. A case of "that's the hard bit done, now lets get started on with the harder bit."

All that's for later. For now it's a simply a case of well done and good luck.

> Omens? Definitely. Andy Murray is a member of the Stirling Albion Supporters Trust. That has to bring him good luck today and the club good luck in the future. Murray's grandfather, Roy Erskine, played for Stirling Albion in the 1950s.

2010 World Cup: Holland v Brazil

A few early videos this Friday to get us in the mood for this afternoon's World Cup quarter final.

Much as I've enjoyed a lot of the football I'm still feeling that the 2010 World Cup hasn't really caught fire on the pitch.

Maybe Brazil v Holland is the game to do it.

I'm finding it difficult to see who can beat Brazil and how they can be beaten. Give Dunga all the stick you want but it appears to be a system that is working.

Holland have had a fairly simple time of it so far, wandering through the group stage and coasting through the second round.

If the can move through the gears today we could be in for a cracker.

1974: Holland win, Brazil don't go in for the beautiful game.

1994: 2-0 Brazil, 2-2, 3-2 Brazil. Good game, good game.

1998: Ronaldo, Kluivert. But Taffarel was the hero as Brazil won on penalties.

2010: I'm predicting a Brazil win. But I'll not be heartbroken if my usual prediction luck kicks in and Holland snatch it.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

A Quiet June

A not completely uneventful but largely dull June for Scottish football. As interpreted by me for Albion Road, anyway:

It’s a strange thing being stranded outside the World Cup. We watch, we’re interested, we have our heroes, we relish our villains. But we’re not involved. And it hurts.

Maybe it’s been made worse this year by a dearth of stories in Scottish football. It’s been one of our quieter summers so far.


A tale of two Lennons and a delayed Finnish.

Neil Lennon was finally unveiled as Celtic manager. The appointment was pretty much an open secret but the process was remarkably protracted. After such a lengthy courtship a less besotted bride than Lennon might well have walked away.

The stakes are high for Celtic and Lennon remains a novice. It will be interesting to watch. But only time will tell if this is a gamble that will pay off.

Mixing It With Mixu

Debt stretching to £11 million. 14 players in the senior squad. Finished second bottom of the SPL last season.

Not much that's joyful about Kilmarnock's blues right now.

The 2010/11 season is about survival. Scrapping for every point on the pitch, scraping every penny together off the pitch.

In such circumstances there are probably worse people than Mixu Paatelainen to have in the dugout.

Mixu, opposing defenders will remember, was a rumbustious centre forward. Fans knew that they'd get a whole hearted performance even if they didn't get a goal.

Going from player to coach at St Mirren he looked to be building a solid managerial CV as he won a title with Cowdenbeath and took TPS in Finland to third place in the league.

Then came Easter Road. Leith might not be a managerial graveyard but a spell in charge of the "Cabbage" has certainly stalled a few promising careers.

Mixu came a cropper for his reliance on a utilitarian style of play that fell foul of the footballing ideals so beloved of the Hibs fans. There is a fine line between sticking to long held philosophy and just being precious. Sometimes the Hibs faithful cross that line.

Finishing sixth in the SPL for two seasons running wasn't enough for either the support or the Hibs board. A parting of the ways with Mixu became inevitable.

That doesn't mean Mixu was a failure at Easter Road. At times he was naïve. Often his touchline spats were a needless distraction. The stubbornness of that barrelling centre forward was too near the surface as he took to long to adapt tactics and make changes in games.

But he inherited a squad that had suffered the bizarre exit of John Collins, the loss of big players and the internecine warfare of dressing room factions.

That was a steep learning curve for a young manager who had benefitted from a core of full time players at Cowdenbeath and a generous owner at TPS. But he did the job pragmatically and avoided the periodic plummets that Hibs have endured over the years.

If sixth place wasn't enough at Easter Road it will be more, much more, than enough at Rugby Park.

Stubborness, even the ability to ignore the aesthetics and revert to the long ball, will be plus points for Kilmarnock next season. Where touchline arguments were a distraction at Hibs they might, if they're well chosen, prove an inspiration in Ayr.

At times it might not be pretty but it might be effective enough to save Kilmarnock. At least they know their manager won't be going down without a hell of a fight.

> Mixu will be assisted by Kenny Shiels who has left Tranmere to join him at Rugby Park. Kenny's son Dean was a player at Easter Road under Mixu.

Scotland and England: Failing Together

Craig Brown thinks Scotland would have progressed at least as far as England at the World Cup if they had qualified for the finals this summer.

"Having seen the England games, I genuinely believe that," said the Motherwell manager.

"Had Scotland been there, we would have done at least as well with the team we have at the moment and the manager we have, Craig Levein."
I commented on an article about this over on Inside Left.

It is, frankly, a load of codswallop.

Leave aside Craig crediting this Scotland squad, and their untried manager, with more ability than they have yet proved themselves to possess.

And we'll also have to ignore the basic flaw of this theory. If we were in South Africa George Burley would still be our manager.

But he's right that there are teams in South Africa who haven't looked great. And there are teams ranked below us in the world rankings (although I don't believe the world rankings are an indicator of anything at all).

Unfortunately Craig ignores history.

When we reach the big tournaments we fail. We might have hard luck stories and we might have felt cheated in the past but we fail.

Eight times we've failed to get past round one.

Much mockery of England and their players from Scotland after the German rampage on Sunday.

But I believe the English are victims of a British disease. We're not immune.

We share a footballing heritage. We're both proud of that and it leads both nations to expect great things.

England have more players than us, a more glamorous and successful domestic game and qualify for big tournaments more often.

So our aspirations and ambitions diverge. They expect to be a top four nation. We imagine we could reach the last 16 or even the last eight.

The reality: twice in 13 attempts have England reached the last four. Never in eight attempts have Scotland made it beyond the first round.

Our consistency lies in our ability to underwhelm. Both Scotland and England have taken talented squads to big tournaments but the results rarely reflect that.

Something goes wrong. Is it technical? Is it psychological?

It's probably a combination of both.

So sorry, Craig. You're wrong. England's exit was actually pretty consistent with their record. There's absolutely no evidence that we would have been ready to better our record.

There are a lot of things that divide us. But when we're not embroiled in bringing The Jocks and The Geordies to life we might see that there's even more that binds us.

And sadly, in international football, our propensity towards being crap is our most enduring bond of all.

> England should do better because they're bigger than Scotland? Yes. And they do. But in Slovakia, Uruguay and Paraguay we saw three teams with similar or smaller populations to our own make the last 16 or better. Being small is a handy excuse but it's not a good enough reason for our failings of the past few years.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

2010 World Cup: Spain v Portugal

Strange approach from Portugal last night. Carlos Queiroz and his "let's not attack" tactics seemed odd.

David Villa to be the man of the tournament? Could be.

But the red card. What was that about?

First impression: Joan Capdevila should be suspended for the quarter final.

Second impression: Did Ricardo Costa actually elbow him before jumping for the ball? Was this the best refereeing decision of the tournament?

Third impression: I don't know. Despite all the cameras in the stadium. Bring on the technology. Makes things a lot clearer right enough.

Opinion: It's a harsh red card. Maybe there was a raised arm but contact? The intent remains debatable. Can't wait to see what FIFA do about it. Nothing. Probably.

Spain deserved to win though. I'm still not convinced they can win the World Cup. But Spain v Paraguay in the quarter final? Spain are in the semis.

Are these pictures of the moment elbow hits ear area? I'd not bet my house on it:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Love thy neighbour

How sweet to be listening to another nation in the throes of a footballing identity crisis.

That's not gloating by the way.

A lot of England's problems are the same as ours:

A certain difficulty in bringing quality youngsters through. Check.

Glaring technical deficiencies. Check.

Soul searching over importing a manager. Check.

Travelling to a World Cup with misguided expectations. Check.

Aye, we've been there.

But the SFA should be thinking of making a few quid out of English discomfort.

They're calling for a root and branch review of the game.

And we've got one ready made. Gathering dust in George Peat's drawer, tucked away under the whisky bottle.

Let's sell them the McLeish Report. It's not doing any good here.

Obviously they'd need to change certain things and give it a bit of time. And we'd need to send someone else down to do the deal. After all, would you buy an unused review of the national game from For Peat's Sake?

Remember though: In six months time, when the Prescott Report is launched at Wembley and Peat slinks off to the Bahamas lighting his cigar with a £50 note, you read it here first.

I've not actually been reading too much of the immediate England post mortem around the press and blogs.
But I enjoyed Stuart Maconie in yesterday's Mirror. And Rob Marrs has gone all forensic with an interesting Autopsy.

Dave, David, Hibs and politics

So David Cameron endured the "exquisite agony" of watching England crash out of the World Cup in the company of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Any football fan who supports Aston Villa because their grandfather was once the chairman will know exactly how he feels.

He’s also in favour of goalline technology. Because it works in cricket and tennis. That’s me sold.

As the Prime Minister showed solidarity with football fans in defeat Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, was opening up old wounds with a misinformed comment about Hillsborough.

He’s apologised. But he either has a worrying lack of knowledge or he retains a particularly old Tory view of the game. It doesn’t inspire confidence.

Should we be surprised?
The Conservatives launched a manifesto for sport before the election. They seemed keen to offer football fans a reassuring hug:

Enabling football fans to get involved in running their clubs

We support the moves towards fan ownership that have been made at clubs such as AFC Wimbledon, Brentford and Exeter City and on a more limited scale at countless other clubs.

This model allows fans to invest in ownership stakes in their clubs, giving supporters more influence over clubs’ activities, while in turn allowing clubs to attract equity to raise capital rather than relying on debt. This helps to create a more sustainable financial footing and to prevent some of the severe debt problems some clubs have faced.

In recognition of the benefits of this approach, we will:

Reform the football governance arrangements so co-operative ownership models can be established by supporters, as part of a wider package of reform of football finance and governance.
It is certainly symbolic of the strange relationship between football and politics that a Conservative manifesto pledges a commitment to "co-operative ownership models."

Time will judge their dedication to this pledge.

But the past few days might offer some evidence that this is not much more than window dressing.

It’s not often that an internal Conservative Party appointment piques the interest of football fans.

But eyebrows were raised at Easter Road when David Rowland was announced as the new party treasurer.

Could David "Spotty" Rowland, former tax exile and son of a scrap metal dealer, be the same David “Spotty” Rowland, Monaco resident and son of a scrap metal dealer, who came so close to selling Hibs into oblivion?

It appears so.

Rowland's involvement in the deal that installed David Duff - then a shady businessman, now a convicted fraudster - as chairman of Hibs brought the club to the brink of oblivion:
[David Duff] also talks freely about the links between him and Monaco-based multi-millionaire Mr David Rowland, who lent him the necessary further £800,000 to finance the buyout of Hibs, and who later received a gift of 30% of Hibs from Mr Duff in return for his ''expertise''.

This was transferred via a Panamanian-registered company owned by Mr Rowland and his family, and was worth about £1.2m as the club was then valued at £4m, Mr Duff tells reporter George Hume, of BBC Scotland's investigative programme Focal Point.

It was another of Mr Rowland's companies, Monaco, that lent Mr Duff's Highmace Ltd the original £800,000. This was paid back, with interest at commercial rates, when Hibs plc went public.

Fans bought 62.5% of the available shares at that time, and £2m was raised for the new company. Since then, Hibs - who were looking for new investments in the leisure business - had the "great good fortune" to hear about a chain of hotels and wine bars in the South-west of England.

They bought the company, Avon Inns, for £4m in cash and about #1.6m worth of Hibs shares. The money was raised by a rights issue and Avon Inns were on the books of one of Mr Rowland's companies, Inoco, as a non-performing loan.
Rowland’s willingness to sell that 30% stake to Wallace Mercer gave the Hearts chairman the incentive he needed to pursue his ultimately doomed takeover bid in 1990.

Despite the vociferous and emotional Hands Off Hibs campaign Rowland could not be persuaded of the historical and emotional resonance of Hibs’ place in Scottish football.

Other board members, Rowland’s wife Sheila among them, conceded that the display of spirit from the Hibs fans, the mobilisation of the Hibs community in Leith and beyond, persuaded them to vote against Mercer's bid. But Rowland wouldn’t budge.

Even a year later, with Hibs £7 million in debt, he refused to cede control to Tom Farmer. Only when the club went into receivership was Rowland finally ousted.

What was that pledge?

"Giving supporters more influence over clubs’ activities, while in turn allowing clubs to attract equity to raise capital rather than relying on debt."

If we’re to judge David Cameron by the company he keeps I suspect we shouldn't hold our breath.

David Rowland is not unknown to politics. Here's an Early Day Motion from 1991:

That this House is concerned that Hibs, the famous Scottish football team, is in difficulties; notes that lawyer David Duff and shady financier David Rowland involved the club in loss-making deals, although they made millions; realises that the Hibs shares are virtually worthless, despite substantial backing from the working-class community in Leith and Edinburgh; believes that the fans should conduct their own inquiry into recent wheeling and dealing; and supports a rescue plan which recognises that football is a sport and not a plaything of big business.

Tory Party Treasurer isn't a job you really apply for. Details of Mr Rowland's position clinching, and eye watering, donations to the party here.

I got the heads up on this from

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Football trivia

A bit of help required.

Every so often my local pub asks me to fling together a pub quiz. This time it's to take place before the World Cup final, with a World Cup theme.

As I'm astonishingly lazy intrigued by the possibilities of crowd sourcing I'm asking for trivia questions.

Questions on football in general and the World Cup in particular are welcome.

I'll also post the completed quiz here before the World Cup final on 11th July. Highest scores (no cheating please) will win a couple of football books drawn from the pile on my bedroom floor my extensive personal library.

You can post questions in comments, contact me here or DM me on Twitter.


They think it's ball over

Can't resist it.

The Uruguayan Mauricio Espinosa and the Azerbaijani Tofik Bakhramov now represent the ying and yang of linesmen in English football.

Back in 1966 Germany couldn't immediately call for goal line technology. Instead they settled for exacting their revenge over 44 years. An exquisitely cold banquet of vengeance.

Still, 44 years apart, two goals show why football doesn't need technology, the pain and the glory, the costly errors and generous benefits of a bad call, it's all here.

Football's triumph and football's horror encapsulated in two bounces off the crossbar:

NB: The post title is stolen off various Twitter sources. Thanks.

Crossing the line

Well, I called that wrong.

4-1 to Germany. A tanking. A tonking. An Anyone But England believer's wet dream.

At 2-0 it could have been 5-0. At 2-1 it should have been 2-2.

At the end it was an embarrassment for England.

The papers tomorrow will make interesting reading. I rather fancy the referee, linesman and Fabio Capello should look away now.

And the players? Wayne Rooney, John Terry, Frank Lampard et al have hardly cemented their reputation as world class players. Too many fluffed lines on the biggest stage.

The post mortem won't be pretty. It will take some time. We might be best to leave them to it. Gloating is unbecoming at the best of times. After that annihilation it would just be cruel.

The immediate reaction is likely to focus on the use of technology. No doubt the marital status of Sepp Blatter's parents is going to be loudly questioned.

And the FIFA supremo's comments about goal line technology being too costly deserve to be ridiculed.

But I'm actually on his side on this.

Would we stop at goal line technology? Because if we start with that then the calls will be louder for the use of replays elsewhere.

Penalty decisions? That would rule out the two penalties England won against Argentina at recent World Cups.

Offside decisions? Fouls? Pass backs? Hand balls in World Cup play-off games?

All these decisions can turn games, referees and linesmen can get them all wrong. Technology in one area of the game will lead to a clamour to get technology in every area of the game.

Technology is quick and simple. Is it? My experience of rugby suggests that it's not. Baffling decisions like today's might be reversed after one replay. But tighter decisions will require careful study by a TV official under as much stress as anyone else. It will break the pattern of the game.

But, and I hate myself for saying this, Blatter is right when he talks about a human aspect to football. Ultimately human error is part of the game.

Referees, players, managers. They all make mistakes. If they didn't football would be perfect. But it is the imperfections that add to the excitement of the game.

They madden us, infuriate us, frustrate us. But they keep us coming back for more.

England were the victims today. They'll be on the right side of wrong decisions in the future, as they have been in the past.

It might a societal thing, this demand for everything to be 100% correct all the time. But we're not all 100% correct all the time. Football reflects us, for better or worse.

So a no to technology. And a definite no to technology being pushed in on the back of that one goal.

You'd need to be Dr Sam Beckett to discover how it might have changed the game. 2-2 at half time is very different to 2-1 at half time.

But Germany deserved their win. 4-1 possibly didn't do their superiority justice. Goal or no goal, England needed more than technology today.