Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Tweetest Thing

Interesting discussion on Radio Scotland's Paper Talk on Monday night. Jim Traynor, Hugh MacDonald, Graeme Bryce and Jim Black were discussing Scottish football's refereeing crisis.

Someone suggested by text that the traditional media "lagged miles" behind social media in reporting the strike. Traynor pointed out that newspapers had to consider legal positions before publishing. Which is true, but not quite the whole story.

We're then told that a lot of stuff on social site is "patently ludicrous and untrue." That's the old "internet is populated by nutcases" argument. How refreshing. Because we all know that without a newspaper byline your views count for nothing in Scottish football.

Fair enough.

Except they're wrong.

It's up to you if you want to get on board with new technology or not. Although to be so vocal does suggest that you revel in the contrariness, that you'd be standing round the fire raging against the invention of the wheel.

There are some nutters on that, there internet. There's been a few in the gaggle of Scottish fitba' journalists down the years as well, mind.

But we're not all nutters. And some of us might even have got exceptionally high marks in our Scots Law for Journalists exams (not that I'm one to brag. But 95 percent, as you're asking.)

I don't pretend to set the news agenda with this blog or with any of my tweets. I'm without contacts, unlikely to ever get a scoop. That's not what this blog is all about, it was never intended to be a comprehensive round-up of Scottish football news. I react to news that interests me.

Of course, every blogger or tweeter will have their own reasons for covering Scottish football. And I'd like to think that most of us can bring something unique to the debate.

Hardly fair then to write us all off as lunatics. I didn't break any big news stories about the referee's strike but nor did I make up any ludicrous rumours. I even went out of my way to argue against some of the taller conspiracy theories.

But, and this is the point that Traynor's merry band of Luddites missed, Twitter did lead the coverage of the strike.

@STV_Andy and @STVGrant, of STV's ever improving football site, were my first call for the increasingly ludicrous and farcical twists and turns over the course of the week. They used the big, bad world of social media combined with some good old fashioned journalism to beat the oppostion on almost every big breaking story.

Not two guys sitting blogging in their mother's spare room. (Well, they might be. But it's not proving too much of a hindrance to them.) Two guys actually working for a real, proper "old media" website but realising that there's more to covering football these days than writing a story and then going on the radio to pontificate. Nothing wrong with a spot of pontification, of course, I regularly indulge myself.

But there is more to covering football now.

If you were waiting for the morning papers to get the latest you were way behind the story.

There is an arrogance in the insular clique of Scottish football journalists. Blogs, Twitter and forums might not be 100 percent reliable but they are changing how we digest our football news.

Someone at STV gets that.

Jim Traynor and his guests don't. And we all know what happened to the dinosaurs.

> You can listen to the programme here

England: Make or Break Month

The Scottish Football Blog, unlike the 2018 World Cup, is going to England. To the land of Manchester's United and City, of Newcastle and Bolton, Chelsea and Blackpool.

Why? Because there's only one Scottish game on this weekend. And because regular English Premier League guest blogger, Mark Briggs is back.

A cracking weekend of EPL action last weekend actually. Much to enjoy. Something of a shame for those who still insist that it is the best league in the world that Saturday and Sunday's goalsfest was overshadowed by the ridiculous brilliance of Barcelona on Monday night. Ouch.

Actually this season has confused me a bit. Sky's bombastic claims of the best league in the world seem at odds with all these experts telling me that this is the worst Manchester United team in the history of the world, EVER.

Sky of course would prefer us to stick with the pretence that football, and thus the whole WORLD, only began in 1992.

So probably United aren't really that bad and the league is going through a bit of a dip. Apply a bit of moderation to your world view and the INEXPLICABLE suddenly become explicable.

Anyway, I'm rambling now. So here's Mark:

Some clubs have set season objectives. A good start or a bad start sets the benchmark for success or failure going into the second half. West Ham will be hoping not to go down, Spurs will be looking for Europe again. But what of the clubs who have snuck under the radar and those whose seasons hang in the balance.

Firstly the under the radar section. At the time of writing Bolton sit sixth. I opened up the league table to check some of the details for this article and found Wanderers sitting pretty, just 3 points off a Champions League place.

Capable of playing flowing football (see their second goal against Blackpool at the weekend) but are not averse to knocking it long to the big man Davis up front and playing the old fashioned way. Could it be that a good December will see Trotters beginning to dream?

There is enough about this Bolton squad to suggest this isn’t unthinkable. They have a goalie who, back in the days when his team were lower mid table patrons, was playing beneath himself. Jussi Jääskeläinen

has been one of the most consistent goalkeepers over the last decade. And now in front stands an international centre-back in Gary Cahill.

A fresh and energetic midfield operates behind a spearhead of captain Kevin Davis, a man deservedly called up for England and then overlooked, inexplicably, for Jay Bothroyd. Alongside is the player Bolton thought they’d brought last season as Johan Elmander begins to show his quality. Again I refer you to a goal, this time against Wolves. YouTube should see you right on both counts.

At the other end, shorn of strikers and struggling for goals Everton and Fulham have so far not had seasons they would care to buy the DVD of. Just above them, Aston Villa are also looking over their shoulders.

So to the people whose season hangs in the balance. Namely Newcastle and Blackpool. Trouncing teams while being just as likely to get themselves humped is entertaining to watch but a run of either over the next month would really set their stalls out.

Andy Carroll is obviously the Geordies big hope. A local lad made good, knocking in goals in the big league as he wears the No9 shirt. That’s football like it used to be. Well almost, there is the small matter of some night time brawling and the disgusting issue of the girlfriend beating incident hanging over his head. We might, rightly, have moral issues with this behaviour. But, if it starts to affect his form, however unlikely that seems at this point, Newcastle could be in trouble.

So there we go, these look to me to be the teams to watch over the next few weeks. And with six games coming for most teams in December a loss of form now, or a little run, could make or break this season.

England, Russia, Qatar and FIFA

Russia and Qatar. The 2018 and 2022 World Cups will be going where no World Cup has gone before.

I was fairly unmoved by the whole shebang surrounding the bidding process. Certainly a fair few English noses have been put out of joint.

And many English journalists are now ranting and raving about the power of money and the questionable attitudes of the two countries to human rights and media freedom.

Fair points. But they miss crucial parts of the story.

FIFA now looks to me to be an institution so corrupt it is beyone redemption, certainly it seems beyond the jurisdiction of anyone that might like to heal the sickness that Sepp Blatter and, before him, Joao Havelange have left at its heart.

Of course, money talks to FIFA. It screams in FIFA's face. And FIFA love it.

And FIFA, like the Olympics, is brilliant at what we might call "flingin' a deefie" to anything that might be political. Of course both organisations are among the most political on the planet. And, like all politicians, the movers and shakers are brilliant at ignoring anything that they consider to be the wrong kind of politics.

Few of the journalists acting as bid cheerleaders for England would have been as quick to point out these problems had they got what they wanted. C'est la vie.

And the World Cup makes us all culpable in FIFA’s deceit. We want to watch the football so we ignore everything else. We’ll do the same again in 2018 and 2022.

England probably deserve the World Cup. They'd provide the stadiums and they'd provide the fans. But the bid got off to a bad start. And, nothing to do with media investigations or playing a typically English straight bat, England - all four home nations - just don't have enough friends at football's top table now.

A heady mix of Eton, royalty, politicians and brand Beckham was never going to change that.

And, as far as the football goes, Russia is not a totally crazy choice. It’s a massive country with an appetite for the game. The choice is consistent with others FIFA have made. And, of course, it offers a carnival of capitalism in a market that didn’t exist for FIFA 30 years ago. Growing the game is about making FIFA richer. Russia can deliver on that.

It’s the 2022 decision that is more interesting. This is a change in FIFA’s selection policy. Yes, Qatar delivers a new market and takes the tournament to the Middle East for the first time.

It’s the size thing that amazes me. World Cups have got bigger and bigger. That’s not always a good thing. But it makes the idea of a country with less than half population of Scotland hosting the tournament all the more remarkable.

There also seems little football heritage. The national team is ranked 113th in the world, 16th in Asia and have managed to beat only Yemen in their last five games. They have never played in a World Cup. It's not hard to make the argument that FIFA have been influenced by a reasons outwith football.

It’s an intriguing bid and it obviously caught the imagination of the suited and booted middle aged men who run world football. A victory, as Zinedine Zidane has said, for the Arab world.

Qatar have guaranteed that the heat will not be a problem, that stadiums will be climate controlled. They’re even likely to allow alcohol for thirsty fans.

Changing the temperature. Changing laws. FIFA have a long list of demands on any host country. A small country like Qatar, complete with an absolute monarchy, can offer complete compliance with every FIFA whim. This apparent leftfield choice could become the blueprint for the future.

But as strange a choice as it seems it reflects badly on us to dismiss it, 12 years out from the tournament, as a moment of FIFA madness.

Yet cynicism persists. FIFA are committed to breaking new footballing frontiers. The hope is that the World Cup doesn't get lost in the desert.

> An irony in attacking the BBC, and others, for highlighting corruption concerns at FIFA and attacking Russia for having a questionable on press freedom.

> David Beckham could teach many involved in the England bid a thing or two about diplomacy with his dignified reaction to defeat. Those that are throwing their toys out of the pram and attacking FIFA should be prepared to answer questions about why they were prepared to spend so much money trying to host the World Cup. FIFA’s problems don’t begin and end with Thursday’s voting.

> Let's not all turn into international relations experts. But 2022 is a long way off. Situations change, tense situations worsen. Could Qatar's defence concordat with Iran cause FIFA problems in the next decade? The combined concerns about the Qatar bid might explain the Australian's dignified acceptance of defeat - if Qatar can't host the 2022 World Cup I'm sure the Aussies will be waiting in the wings.

Friday, December 03, 2010

One Person, One Vote

Vote here

It will soon be time for what the film industry calls the awards seasons. In fact I think it might have started already as it does seem to drag on.

Vote Scottish Football Blog

It seems that Andy Muirhead, editor of, didn't fancy his chances of getting an invite to the Oscars but still wanted an excuse to look out the fancy frock.

And so the Top Ten Scottish Football Web Awards were born. The TTSFWAs as they’ll soone be calling them.

Vote Scottish Football Blog

Anyway someone saw fit to nominate the Scottish Football Blog which is, of course, lovely and very much appreciated by everyone involved in the making of this production.

So if you're of a mind, please take a digital trundle over to Scotzine and cast your vote for Scottish Football Blog.

Vote Scottish Football Blog

You will, of course, be mentioned amidst the tears of my acceptance speech should enough of you be kind enough to go to the effort of depressing your mouse button next to my name. Which, in the list, is Scottish Football Blog if you were still wondering.

Somebody suggested I try a spot of subliminal marketing to get your votes. I'm convinced that doesn't work though.

Vote Scottish Football Blog

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Winter Games

It's snowing outside. Time for a comforting old pattern. The media are obsessed (tip: don't waste time watching the news tonight, just look out the window for five seconds and you'll get the main thrust of the day's events). The country's transport infrastructure creaks, groans and ocassionally grinds to halt.

Already this evening the SPL have announced a weekend shut down. And that, my friends, is a rare example of proactive decision making in Scottish football. Whatever next?

So Scottish football gets to indulge in two of its favourite debates. Summer football and a winter break. OK, so neither are that exciting. But they beat talking about referees again.

The winter break I dismiss. I saw my first snow shower of our recent weather woes last Friday, the 26th of November. But earlier this year, the last week in March, I had to cancel a camping trip because it was snowing. And I had a poisoned foot, but that's less relevant here.

A three or four week break is almost impossible to plan without still suffering some problems with the weather. And, this being Scottish football, it would be odds-on to snow at every point during the winter except when we were on our shutdown.

The idea of a winter break might be a good one as far as resting players goes but it's not a way of coping with the weather.

So summer football? I don't have a traditionalist's anguish at the very thought. But we need a proper discussion about the benefits and, crucially, plenty of consultation to see how the majority of fans feel.

Timings would also be important in a "summer" season. A ten month season would still take in February and November. Which are not the most summery of Scottish months. Of course we could reduce the number of games. But that's opening a whole new can of worms.

Artificial pitches will also be mentioned and I think it's time that Scottish clubs began to look seriously at that option. The technology has moved on, the surfaces improved. They are also a way of earning revenue and placing clubs at the heart of communities again. We can't write them off as being a stupid idea any longer.

All these solutions offer certain benefits to the game. We should be giving them more consideration than just having the same conversation every time it snows.

And, this being Scottish football, any changes will come slowly.

I'm interested to hear your views though. Is there a workable way of bringing in a winter break? Is summer football an affront to the traditions of the game? Are you still scarred by the memories of Dunfermline's artificial surface (or literally scarred if you ever played on it)?

Comments in the usual way. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

El Clasico: Makes You Think

Summer football? Honest referees? The McLeish Report?

If anybody's got the answer to how Scottish football gets anywhere near the kind of performance we saw from Barcelona last night, please let me know. And just getting anywhere near would be a massive improvement.

And yes, changing youth football would be a start.

Cross Blog Promotion

A little moonlighting on the

My Team & I: Hibs. A ramble through my life and times as a Hibs supporter:

The stadium is complete, the training ground resplendent. Unfortunately the players aren’t fit for purpose. Colin Calderwood needs time to shape his own squad. The recruitment of Derek Adams as assistant manager impressed me. A period of stability is required and hopefully they are the men to deliver it.

You’ll note I’ve not yet mentioned Scotland’s oldest cup competition and the much ridiculed Hibernian jinx. In a country where winning a league title is beyond all but two clubs, the cup remains the holy grail. We’ll never give up on the dream. But, a jinx is a jinx. I prefer not to discuss it for fear of extending an already ridiculously long curse.

Please have a read and check out Scott's other great work on the blog. And Twitter @thefootyblognet

Monday, November 29, 2010

Referee Crisis: Dougie McDonald's Retirement Statement

The world is watching. What damage can today's newspapers do?

Apparently even Barack Obama has told aides to forget about Wikileaks and bring him the latest missives from Scottish football's very own diplomatic crisis.

The newly retired Dougie McDonald has released a statement.

Imagine that we, Scottish football, are Margaret Thatcher. Dougie McDonald is our Geoffrey Howe.

The key point - for those of us who are of the opinion that Scottish football's survival is tied up in the ability to actually play games - is that another strike will happen.

Or at least that is Dougie's opinion.

In no particular order, seven talking points from Dougie's diatribe:

1. The SFA don't come out of Dougie's parting shot all that well. The strike is due, in part, to the "the lack of support they [referees] have received from the SFA General Purposes Committee in recent years."

2. Hugh Dallas has been hard done by, a victim of "appalling treatment" by the SFA. (Making Dallas a unique victim of Celtic, the Catholic church and the Scottish football establishment. Depending on who you listen to.)

3. Aiden McGeady and Peter Houston are mentioned by name for attacking referees. "Every club" is at fault, managers, players and directors. "The only difference being the degree and tenor of the criticism and the inferences from it."

4. Media pressure has become "intolerable."

5. McDonald's actions at Tannadice have "clouded" the refereeing issue:

"Now is the time for all of Scottish football to move on.

"My decision will therefore remove that issue from the debate and ensure that the next day of action – which, in my opinion, will undoubtedly come if the football community does not have a massive change of heart – will result in media coverage being concentrated on those who engage in referee bashing and those who condone it."

6. Cynics among us might say that Dougie's statement is a touch self important. He doesn't entirely dispel that feeling by referring to himself in the third person. But he also stresses that recent events aren't just about Celtic:

"It is also important to make clear that just as this issue is not about Dougie McDonald alone, nor is it about Celtic Football Club alone."

7. Things need to change. And clubs need to pay the price (through point deductions?):

"If things are to change for the better, clubs need to ensure their employees leave referees to do their job and the SFA has to deal strongly with those clubs who find it impossible to focus on the football. The current leniency of the SFA and the system of paltry fines and ineffective bans are proven to have zero impact.

"If the clubs are genuinely concerned about relationships with referees – and hopefully they are after this momentous weekend - and they want to make changes, they should have no fear in signing up to a disciplinary system that will see more stringent penalties and ones that have more direct impact on clubs, rather than their errant employees."

So there we have it. McDonald feels the referees have established a position of strength this weekend. That may or may not be the case. Still, at least now we have a name for the strike the next time it happens: "Day of action."

I'm not sure the statement (full version at STV) moves us on at all. Not a mea culpa. A threat of more action to come. But is he speaking for himself or for all referees?

Defending Hugh Dallas doesn't do McDonald any favours. An attack on the SFA is hardly earth shattering. It seems that the only consistency you get from the SFA is that everybody finds it a ridiculous organisation.

McDonald feels hard done by. He's had his say. He's told us nothing new.

But he's right. We do need to move on. A brief resignation statement would have helped us do that more than a diatribe.

And he is also right that this is about more than him. More than Celtic. It's about our game in crisis. Our game becoming ungovernable. We need to do something about that.

It's time to talk. It's time to get this sorted.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Referee Crisis: Dougie McDonald Retires

Well, isn't this the story that just keeps on giving. News this evening that Dougie McDonald has retired as a Category One referee.

McDonald was, of course, the referee at Tannadice for the Dundee United v Celtic match. He gave Celtic a penalty and then changed his mind. He did all that within the rules and probably made the correct decision in the end.

But then he chose to lie about. And triggered off a sequence of increasingly hysterical events that have led to this week's farce.

It was impossible to defend McDonald's position. The minute he lied to Celtic the game was up. Difficult to fight accusations of dishonesty in refereeing when a leading referee has been caught being dishonest.

Hugh Dallas and Dougie McDonald are both now gone. The pound of flesh, probably rightly, has been delivered.

Time for the SFA to reassert their own authority and make sure the refereeing system is properly modernised and the referees themselves are properly protected.

So, now we move on. Hopefully.

Sky on the story:

Controversial Scottish official Dougie McDonald has retired as a category one referee with immediate effect.

The 45-year-old announced his decision in a statement on Sunday night following the first ever Scottish football referee strike this weekend.

McDonald has come under criticism after admitting he had misled Celtic boss Neil Lennon over his decision to rescind a penalty he initially awarded to the Hoops in their league win over Dundee United in October.

Referee Crisis: Time Out

The stereotype of a Scottish football fan. Get pissed before the game, shout abuse for 90 minutes, have a fight, get a bit more pissed.

Unfair and outdated. Mostly.

Especially this week.

Since the news of the referee’s strike broke I'm amazed at some of the discussions I’ve had, all of them inspired by the beautiful game.

What makes a strike official? Are freelance staff governed by the same rules as permanent employees when it comes to their right to withdraw labour? And, if the strike is only loosely defined, what constitutes strike breaking?

When is a joke a joke? What are considered acceptable subjects for humour? Is an email linking the Pope and Catholic church with child abuse a satire on the problems of the church or an attempt to make people laugh about child abuse? Does sending such an email immediately make the sender a sectarian bigot?

What is an unacceptable use of a workplace email account? Should unacceptable use result in instant dismissal? Is a high profile employee entitled to the same confidentiality during an internal investigation that you or I would expect?

What role does religion play in modern Scottish society? How far should religious groups be prepared to go influencing the affairs of other organisations?

And that’s just a flavour of the subjects that have cropped up.

Many of these questions are so far reaching that most politicians would be scared of tackling them.

Some of them throw up additional questions that resonate throughout Scottish society and raise issues about just how modern in outlook “modern Scotland” actually is.

A few of them, I fear, will never be resolved because the opposing views are too entrenched.

Now, I love a robust debate as much as the next man. And I enjoy the idea that football can raise questions that make us look at ourselves and the world around us in a different light.

But enough is enough. My head is starting to hurt, the will to live is seeping away.

Can everybody please calm down. Take a deep breath, take a step back. And remember that this is a game of football. Sport. Not life. Not death.

Important, yes. The national game, an integral part of our history over the last 100 years or so.

But a game. An often silly game, played by often silly men for the benefit of other often silly men and women. And yes, sometimes refereed by silly men and governed by silly men.

But still a game.

And a game needs to be played.

We’ve somehow got a full SPL fixture list this weekend. Not for the first time the lower division sides have been royally shafted. But the referees did what they thought was the unthinkable and we’ve survived.

The refs will still have their demands. Hugh Dallas still needs replaced. The SFA, SPL and SFL need to sit down with every club and every referee and make sure this never happens again.

But I’d like the next week to be all about the games at the weekend rather than a bizarre reenactment of a particularly bitter university debating society.

Football can be a powerful force for good. But I can guarantee that it’s unlikely to provide the answers to some of the more complex societal and philosophical questions that I’ve heard put in a footballing context this week.

At times, and I include myself in this, it’s felt like everyone with a passing interest in the game has been halfway through writing a rather ill-informed undergraduate thesis on issues political, religious or sociological.

And, alas, while we’ve been locked in this ever decreasing circle of navel gazing, the world has been watching. And many of them have been pissing themselves at the farce. Not intrigued by some of the more serious issues we’ve been discussing. Pissing themselves that we’re shipping in referees from any country that would return our phone calls.

So please can we get back to the game. Just football. Even in Scotland surely the football provides drama enough without the added baggage it’s been lumbered with this week.

This is a heartfelt plea.

I expect to be disappointed.

And I am prepared to go on strike if my demands aren’t met.

> My tipping point probably came on Twitter yesterday morning.

I was following a conversation, or a barrage of abuse, that included a number of people suggesting to Graham Spiers that the Hugh Dallas email confirmed the anti-Catholic (and thus anti-Celtic) bias in the Scottish football establishment.

Then a Rangers fan informed me that Celtic were now guaranteed preferential treatment from the SFA because chief executive Stewart Regan was an old friend of his opposite number at Celtic, Peter Lawwell.

I’m amazed I can even type this. Because it was at that exact moment that my head exploded.

Referee Crisis: Nothing New

Interesting chat on Twitter tonight about bringing in foreign referees for Old Firm games. I say "no". Although I can see the benefit of a formal exchange programme covering all SPL games a few times a season.*

Anyway, seems this is nothing new. Expecting a "passionate" Old Firm encounter the SFA shipped in an Englishman to officiate a game in 1905.

Scotland on Sunday has the full story:

"Scottish league football is not new to foreign referees. Indeed the Scottish League and the SFA first used one more than a century ago.

"While researching a book on classic Old Firm matches I came across the strange story of Fred Kirkham, the Englishman imported to referee a potentially explosive match between Celtic and Rangers."

The match was actually a play off for the championship - the only time it has ever been decided that way. Celtic won 2-1.

So not even this week of madness is particularly original. A century of progress.

* Cheers @terracepodcast @scotzine @thefootyblognet