Friday, December 10, 2010

Snow Joke Anymore: Scottish Football Postponements

Games are falling foul of the foul weather already.

No game for Celtic and Kilmarnock or Dundee United and Motherwell this weekend. Hamilton will find out today if they are OK to host Hibs.

The SPL's Neil Doncaster is "slightly surprised" at the early call offs. The polis have decided though and there's not much clubs or league can do in the face of that.

My own experience this week suggests that even a big thaw over the next 24 hours or so is unlikely to cure Scotrail's massive nervous breakdown this week. And don't get me started on some of the pavements I've had to slide across as the snow melts and freezes on top of compacted ice.

Postponements are unfortunate but probably not surprising.

And certainly not the worst we've ever seen. This from The Mirror:

The record number of snow-related postponements for a single football game was in 1979 when the match between Inverness Thistle and Falkirk was put back 29 times through January and February.

In the notorious freeze-hit season of 1962-63 there were 261 match postponements between December and March. Some of the fixtures were called off 15 times and the third round of the FA Cup took 66 days to finish.

Apparently 1684 was the coldest winter in British history. Maybe somebody could ask Craig Brown just how cold it was that year.

SFL games off so far:

Scottish First Division
Cowdenbeath v Falkirk
Stirling Albion v Raith Rovers

Scottish Second Division
Airdrie United v Dumbarton
Forfar Athletic v Alloa Athletic
Livingston v Ayr United

Scottish Third Division
Albion Rovers v Arbroath
East Stirlingshire v Queen's Park

The Hearts v Aberdeen game goes ahead but snow related issues means there are changes to turnstiles etc. More here, advice is turn up at Tynecastle early to avoid problems.

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Craig Brown To Aberdeen: Motherwell Complain To SPL

As I said last night Craig Brown's departure is a right sair one for Motherwell.

And a sair one they are distinctly unchuffed about. The Motherwell official statement wishes Brown and Archie Knox well. But.

“Separately we do wish to make clear that as a Board we believe that the conduct of the Board of Aberdeen in this matter has been wholly inappropriate and in clear breach of SPL rules as well as basic courtesy. At no point did they inform us or seek our permission to speak to critical employees of our Club and to seek to entice them to leave our employment.

“We realise the desperation they are feeling and the pressure they are under from their fans for their own performance as a Board but to go about their business in this way is a matter of gross discourtesy. It is also conduct which is beneath the integrity we would expect of a Club of Aberdeen’s stature. We hope Aberdeen’s fans will reflect on that and understand our need to do something about it. We have raised this matter with the SPL and will pursue the matter vigorously and by all means.

“To all Motherwell fans everywhere we ask for you to rally round the Club as you always do and we will work together to keep punching above our weight and obtaining the success we all seek. This Club is bigger than any manager and for that matter any Board. As fans we will always be the people who care most about this club for the long term. Loyalty is clearly all too rare in football but we know we have it in ourselves for the club we love. Motherwell is a special club from a special place as anyone touched by us knows well."

We've not heard the end of this one. Grumblings elsewhere about Brown's U-turn over the course of the week. Hard to disagree that an old pro has handled this one badly.

Got to like the "the desperation they are feeling" line in Motherwell's statement though. Touché.

But Motherwell's fans would be best served if this doesn't become a lengthy slanging match. The club need to concentrate on replacing Brown. Follow up any legitimate complaint but don't get bogged down, there's a strong start to the season to be built on.

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Thursday, December 09, 2010

Aberdeen To Finally Land Craig Brown

Not yet confirmed but it looks like Craig Brown is on his way to Aberdeen after all. After saying "no" at first it now looks like persistence has paid off for Stewart Milne and the Aberdeen board.

What you might call a ginormous kick in the nads for Motherwell, who lose a second manager to Aberdeen in as many as years. I'm sure many 'Well fans wish Brown and his assistant all the success that Mark McGhee enjoyed at Pittodrie.

What do Aberdeen gain? At first glance it looks like an appointment aimed more at steadying the ship in the here and now than securing a glorious future. Brown is, after all, now 70. His assistant, Archie Knox, is 63.

But at Motherwell they've shown themselves capable of getting a lot from a small squad, accepting budget constraints and finding loan deals for decent young players.

They'll need to do all of that at Aberdeen. Their most immediate task will be organising a squad that is capable of collapsing to such an extent that they can lose nine goals. Probably not a desperately bad squad, not a great one, but not one that should be losing nine goals.

Some players will need a kick up the arse. Some will need a bit of a cuddle. All need confidence. Grandpaw Broon and Uncle Erchie will need all their man management skills.

And I really believe they have a chance of pulling it off.

I've not always been a huge fan of Craig Brown. In fact I'd once got out of my seat ready to dash across the pitch and challenge him about some some decisions he'd made as Scotland manager before I decided I'd probably drunk too many pints to out sprint the stewards.

Sadly hindsight now suggests that Brown was working miracles all along with Scotland. And with the national side he proved that he could organise and inspire a team to be greater than the sum of its parts.

What other candidate offered Aberdeen that?

I am surprised that Brown and Knox seem set to accept. I thought Motherwell was a good fit for them and they seem to have been relishing the challenge.

We'll hear a lot in the next few days about restoring Aberdeen to their rightful place in Scottish football - and Archie Knox was there when the Dons won the Cup Winner's Cup. Wherever that rightful place is, and we could debate that for that days, it's certainly not 11th place in the SPL. Former glories might be beyond Aberdeen - restoring some pride certainly should not be.

So it seems that two old dogs haven't been able to resist the lure of one more big challenge. It won't be easy.

The ideal for Aberdeen is that they get club back on an even footing over the next couple of seasons. They might also be charged with training someone from within the club to take over as manager when the time comes.

That will be the plan. As I say, it won't be easy. But I've found something refreshing about watching Brown's reinvention as an SPL club manager. He's taking a lot of experience to Pittodrie. He'll need it all.

And, having watched McGhee pass through stages of denial and belligerence over the past few months, it will at least be fun to see a septuagenarian bring some enthusiasm to the job.

STV report that Brown has confirmed his resignation from Motherwell with immediate effect

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Albert Stubbins: Beatles Icon

As these articles are required to begin: “It was thirty years ago today...”

Thirty years since John Lennon was killed in New York.

Football and Music has more on the relationship between The Beatles and football - turns out they weren’t all that bothered. Although there is also a suggestion that Brian Epstein told them not to make their allegiances clear to avoid upsetting the red or blue sides of Liverpool.

But one Liverpool player has enjoyed Beatles immortality. And, apparently, because Lennon liked his name.

Albert Stubbins was one of the 70 personalities chosen to grace the cover of Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band as one of John Lennon’s choices.

Stubbins’ career began at Newcastle in the late 1930s just before the Second World War deprived Britain of official football leagues. The war meant that Stubbins’ prolific goal scoring for his hometown club came mainly in unofficial competitions and matches.

In the 1945-46 Northern League Stubbins scored 39 goals for Newcastle, some 25 more than his Geordie colleague Jackie Millburn, and cemented his reputation as the country’s top goal scorer during the war years.

Liverpool then forked out £13,000 for his services - a sum he repaid with 24 goals and a league championship in his first season at Anfield.

Another six seasons - and 83 goals in all competitions - followed at Liverpool. Stubbins was what we now call an 'old fashioned centre forward', with an imposing physique. "Always robust, but never unfair."

And then, 14 years after Stubbins had left the club, John Lennon remembered his name, a name that apparently amused him as a child. And so Albert Stubbins took his place on arguably the most iconic album cover of all time.

He’s said to have enjoyed his link with The Beatles. Paul McCartney - whose own footballing choice of Dixie Deans didn’t make the final cut - sent him a copy of the record and a note:

"Well done, Albert, for all those glorious years of football. Long may you bob and weave."

Albert Stubbins died in 2002. Obituaries at The Guardian and The Independent.

> Another player with a career disrupted by the Second World War provides a second Beatles footballing link. The lyrics to Dig It (Let It Be album) include the lines:

Like the FBI and the CIA
And the BBC--BB King
And Doris Day
Matt Busby
Dig it, dig it, dig it

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Hit For Six

Bit of Twitter chat about winter breaks and bad weather. Someone suggested a break could mean the return of the Tennents' Sixes. If only.

Footage above the last tournament in 1993 - will the Jags ever get to defend their title?

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Monday, December 06, 2010


A video that I hadn't seen before, so apologies if you have.

Quick tour of the museum at Hampden and a bit about both Queen's Park and Third Lanark. Worth a watch.

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Now Is The Winter Of Our Discontent

Is summer football going to become a bugbear of mine? Probably not. But there is a problem with our schedule. And that's mixed in with my traditional moan: our inexplicable problem with scheduling home-away-home-away games for clubs.

Do we want to make it more difficult for fans to watch Scottish football? It seems so.

Here's an exert from The Scotsman today:

The scheduled SFL game of the day at the weekend was in Falkirk, with Raith Rovers supposed to be the visitors. A crowd in excess of 5,000 had been anticipated; that figure is unlikely to be matched if the teams play on the rearranged date of 14 December. Hospitality packages purchased with Saturday in mind will suffer an inevitable drop-off for a Tuesday night; all in all, it is a costly process for the home club.

"It's a funny one because normally we would have moved heaven and earth to make sure the game went ahead," said Falkirk's managing director George Craig.

"We had everything in place - gritters, snow ploughs and the like but we had to take a view. Even if we managed to get the game on, what would have been the possibility of people being prepared to travel?

"People have struggled to get the schools and their work all week, were they then likely to come out for the football on a Saturday? With that in mind, it was probably one of the easiest decisions we have had to make. And that's not even taking into account the pitch, which is sitting with ten inches of snow on it just now."

The balance sheet, though, will feel the impact of Falkirk's current situation. "We are not due to have a home Saturday game until 18 December," Craig added. "That will mean a six-week gap between them. When you are in the SFL, gate receipts basically are your income."

As The Scotsman points out Alloa's game against Peterhead went ahead, the artificial pitch proving its worth.

But a fake surface wouldn't really have helped Falkirk this week.

Clubs are being crippled by winter weather. Dare I say that we're also not seeing our players at their best because we ask them to play at the wrong time of the year.

Major leagues in Europe don't have winter breaks or summer football. Well, we're not a major league. We need to do everything we can to improve the quality of our football and maximise our earning potential.

Summer football or a total (three month?) shutdown? I've said it before and I'll say it again: it's time for a serious discussion.

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Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Kids Are Alright

A bleak weekend, the SPL gone for a burton. Only Alloa and Peterhead surviving in the SFL. What to do?

Well, how about thinking about Scotland, Craig Levein and our ongoing search for qualification to a major tournament?

I'm delighted to welcome guest blogger Euan Wishart to the Scottish Football Blog stable.

Euan's debut is about all things national team and how Levein might be able to build something for the future.

And don't worry, Euan's not two months behind everyone else - I was tardy in getting this posted. Anyway, have a read and let us know your thoughts:

It is now 12 years since Scotland and the Tartan Army graced a major tournament. This season’s defence v attack style match in Prague against the Czech Republic, where Scotland managed ZERO shots on target, only heightened the levels of disenchantment with the national team.

Much has been made in recent times about teams ‘building for the future’ and ‘blooding younger players’. Across the border there is a similar malaise and Fabio Capello was tasked with those very issues after the perceived failure of the England team at the World Cup.

While Capello adhered to these values in the pre qualifying friendlies, come business time Wilshire & Gibbs found themselves back in the under 21’s.

Under Craig Levein Scotland appear to have gone down a similar route. Experience counts. Levein has recalled David Weir, Lee McCulloch and Paul Hartley, not to mention his attempts to lure Barry Ferguson out of retirement. All of whom are the wrong side of thirty and can’t be seen as long-term players.

But what of ‘building for the future’?

Both Scotland and England have been urged to follow Spain’s blue print for success. The much-praised Spanish team have a squad nucleus with an average age in the mid twenties yet most of the squad have vast international experience.

Similarly, the Germans under Joachim Lowe overhauled their aging squad and built their team around a nucleus of younger players. In South Africa the Germans with Ozil, Muller, and Neuer et al dazzled and won many plaudits and are now seen as serious contenders for the Euros in 2012.

Both Levein and Capello can argue that the ‘bread and butter’ is to qualify for tournaments. Football is after all a result driven business. But what happens if Scotland actually qualifies for the Euros? Will Weir, Hartley and McCulloch be able to perform at that level? And what of the next qualifying campaign?

There is a solution to the dilemma Levein and Capello have, a way of balancing off the immediate aims with the future gains.

Taking the match in Prague as an example, Levein commented that he had watched the Czech’s on a number of occasions and knew in advance how he wanted to set his team up and, barring injury, most likely which players he wanted to select: McGregor, Hutton, Weir, McManus, Whittaker, Caldwell, Fletcher, Morrison, Dorrans, Mackie & Naismith.

He also knew which players he would use to change the game with, in the Czech game, Miller, Iwelumo and Robson in mind.

Perhaps add a defender and a keeper: Berra and Gordon. That makes 16 players likely to get any form of game time. So what of the other members of Levein’s 23 man squad?

Why have players such as Maloney, Fletcher, Bardsley, Marshall or whoever sitting in the stand? This provides the manager with the perfect opportunity to look to the future and start building towards it.

Does it not make more sense to select seven younger players? Adding the likes of Danny Wilson, John Fleck, Paul Hanlon, David Wotherspoon & David Goodwillie would provide them with the stepping stone into the international arena. Getting them accustomed to the squad, it’s rituals, the media pressure.

Rather than give a thirty something ten minutes at the end of the game why not blood one of the new generation and use them as subs?

The SFA & FA could lead the way and ensure the make up of the national squads represent a 15:8 or 16:7 split with senior players and younger players under twenty-three. A reversal of Olympic football whereby teams are made up of under twenty-three players and have a quota of senior players to supplement this.

Adopting this approach would provide Levein and Capello’s England with a conveyor belt of talent making the gradual step into international football while not sacrificing the immediate aims of qualification and could return Scotland and England to the forefront of international football as pioneers for the future.

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