Saturday, December 18, 2010

Scottish Goalkeepers Are Rubbish

The powers that be will no doubt remove this video soon. So enjoy it while you can. Craig Gordon's save today as Sunderland beat Bolton 1-0 to move to sixth in the English Premier League.

Not bad, son. Not bad at all.

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McLeish Report Part Two: SPL and SFL

Was it a "muddle, not a fiddle?" Was it just a big fat coincidence?

It seems strange that the second part of the McLeish Report came to exactly the same conclusions about the future of our league structure as those announced by the SPL last week. Odd.

Odd and depressing. The feedback I hear from fans is hardly embracing the idea of two 10 team SPL divisions. The proposals for regional leagues below that don't seem to be massively popular either, perhaps because the details still seem unclear.

The Scottish Football League are, unsurprisingly, against a restructuring that would see their organisation disappear.

I have no sympathy for them. If we are to change Scottish football then there will need to a bonfire of the blazerati. If that starts at the SFL then so be it.

That prize money for winning the first division doesn't stretch to six figures is proof that the SFL can't provide for its members in any meaningful way.

But will these changes spread the wealth? Will they secure the futures of more clubs than the current set up? And will they improve the quality of our professional game?

Both Henry McLeish and the SPL seem confident that they will. But it is a confidence based on assumptions and hope rather than any certainty.

And, crucially, they are proposals that ignore the lifeblood of the game - the supporters. As McLeish acknowledges:

"A Premier League of 14 teams which would be more in tune with what the fans and spectators have been asking for but which would run the risk of some serious financial difficulties and a reduction in the current financial distribution going to the clubs. The quality of the SPL would also be a major consideration."

If, and history suggests that this will happen, a 10 team format becomes stale, repetitive and driven by fear will the fans simply continue to disappear? I'd say that is a certainty.

And what of our broadcast partners. Neither ESPN nor Sky seem to consider the SPL as the pinnacle of their broadcast portfolios.

If the quality drops ever further and they decide to walk away or offer hugely reduced terms the 20 team SPL set up suddenly doesn't look like a financial utopia.

For now this all remains hypothetical. The proposals seem to lack the breadth of support that they need to become a reality.

There are no easy answers. Any restructuring carries risks. Retaining the current set up carries risks.

But there does seem an appetite for change, a realisation that professional football in Scotland is currently dying.

It is yet another tragedy of our national game that both the SPL and Henry McLeish have, after careful consideration, delivered proposals that seem unlikely to take football off the life support machine.

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McLeish Report Part Two: SFA

It takes either bravery or a complete lack of self awareness for an institution to commission an inquiry that will lay bare many of its failings.

So the SFA deserve either ridicule or praise for asking Henry McLeish to deliver a report that concluded the governing body:

"Lacks coherence, focus and a sense of overall purpose, is ill-equipped to deal with current problems and has failed to plan effectively for the future.

"There is little appreciation of the benefits of being more open and transparent...distinct lack of mission, vision, outcomes and objectives."

Fairly damning stuff. And any organisation that lacks "consistency, logic and at times discipline" needs a major overhaul.

But will the SFA learn? Why when responding to the report did SFA president George Peat not announce his immediate resignation? Why is chief executive Stewart Regan not already putting in place the processes required to enact the McLeish recommendations?

Because the SFA is mired in self interest and denial. Because George Peat is a tinpot dictator with no desire to help Scottish football beyond squeezing into his blazer and enjoying some corporate hospitality.

Henry McLeish was never going to be the dynamic champion of change. His affability often seems to border on irrelevance.

But maybe that makes his verdict more persuasive. The quiet man has roared.

The McLeish Report might not be perfect. But it has confirmed what most of already felt. Not only is the SFA not fit for purpose it is actually doing more harm than good. If the SFA is damaging the national game then it has to change.

Just don't hold your breath.

The McLeish Report Part Two

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SPL Today: Irresistible Force v Immovable Object

The winter chill continues, games tumbling by the wayside like Scotland's co-efficient points. Only two matches set to survive in the SPL. Thankfully one of them is the game of the day.

Hearts v Inverness

Scottish football's irresistible force meets our immovable object. Or something. Hearts have won six out of six. Inverness haven't lost away since Mary and Joseph revved up the donkey and began the long trek to Bethlehem.

Somebody's proud record has to give today. Unless it's a draw. Terry Butcher's Inverness have been the "surprise package" of the season and successive draws against the Old Firm suggest that it is no fluke that they find themselves in fourth place.

Hearts are suddenly involved in chasing down second place. A win today sees them go level with Celtic on points. Celtic will have played two games less but there is no denying that Jim Jefferies has built the SPL's form team.

Postponements elsewhere should ensure that this game gets the billing it deserves. Hopefully the players can deliver a memorable match.

Who to back? I've never denied being a coward. And a calendar year without an away defeat would be a fine achievement for Inverness. Hearts look strong but I'm going to sit on the fence: draw.

Kilmarnock v Hibs

Written off by many before the start of the season Mixu Paatelainen has enjoyed a solid start to his career at Kilmarnock. Predicted to be in a relegation battle they sit comfortably in sixth place, winning both plaudits and some big games.

Hibs remain inconsistent although there have been glimpses of improvement. Still a lot of work to do though.

Neither of these sides have played since 27 November so difficult to know how the players will react to their unscheduled winter break.

Hibs have been struggling to keep clean sheets and will find Kilmarnock's Alexei Eremenko and Conor Sammon difficult to cope with. So the away side will need to find some attacking intent of their own. This one is a home win for me.

Postponed matches so far:

Scottish Premier League
Aberdeen v Motherwell
Hamilton v Celtic
Rangers v St Mirren
St Johnstone v Dundee Utd

Scottish Football League Championship First Division
Queen of South v Morton
Raith v Cowdenbeath
Ross County v Dunfermline

Scottish Football League Championship Second Division
Ayr v Forfar
Brechin v East Fife
Dumbarton v Peterhead
Stenhousemuir v Livingston

Scottish Football League Championship Third Division
Albion v Annan
Berwick v Montrose
Clyde v Arbroath
Stranraer v East Stirling

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

SPL Tonight: Motherwell v Hearts

I am not really privy to such information but I believe that Queen's Don't Stop Me Now was a bit of a favourite with Hearts fans as they celebrated winning the Scottish Cup in 2006.

They must be feeling something similar now with Jim Jefferies' side on a five match winning streak. That includes a derby win and a win over Celtic. It also includes five clean sheets. Impressive stuff.

Impressive enough to spark a bit of debate on Twitter last night about the lesser spotted Old Firm splitting SPL side.

Not that a man with Jefferies' countenance is given to getting carried away. He'll also be looking at a busy few weeks of football that begins at Fir Park tonight, continues against away specialists Inverness at Tynecastle on Saturday and runs right through to an Old Firm double header towards the end of January.

Credential testing fixtures.

And SPL arithmetic shows us that as much as Hearts have a chance to narrow the gap on Celtic in second place they could also find themselves in a three way tie in third place and nine points off the pace by the end of the weekend.

This is not the time to take the foot off the pedal.

How will Motherwell be affected by Craig Brown's dithering and eventual departure last week? It's bound to have some impact and, unfortunately, I can't help feeling that a managerless Motherwell takes a bit of the shine off a game that I had been looking forward to.

Of course we can point to examples of a manager leaving and the caretaker delivering some excellent results. Equally there are examples of an abrupt departure leading to a loss of form. There's no science to it.

It will be the reaction of the Motherwell players, as much as the input of Motherwell temp Gordon Young, that dictates how quickly the pain of the loss of Brown is soothed at Fir Park.

Tough ask tonight though. David Templeton and Rudi Skacel continue to excite for Hearts and those five clean sheets suggest that there is a solid foundation for this current run of form.

Even with Brown at the helm Motherwell have displayed a certain inconsistency even as they've made an impressive enough start to the season.

Can they spring an ambush on Hearts tonight. Tempted to back a draw. But, no. Hearts are the league's form side. Away win.

> History repeating? Motherwell youth supremo took charge of one game when Jim Gannon left Fir Park. The result? A 1-0 defeat to Hearts. An omen?

> Motherwell are refusing to rush into a permanent appointment. No doubt I'll return to the subject later. But names that will definitely be mentioned: Gus McPherson and John Hughes. Yawn.

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SPL Reconstruction: Everything Changes, Everything Stays The Same

Much more to write on SPL reconstruction when I get the time. Unscientific in the field polling suggests that Rangers' Martin Bain loves the proposals he helped write. Derek Longmuir of the Scottish Football League doesn't like them and doesn't think his clubs will either.

Many fans seem to think the new proposals are a bit of a muddle that fail to address the real issues. "Rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic" and "Revolution? I suppose you can revolve backwards" are a flavour of the comments I've heard so far.

A couple of quick points: when people (like me) argued for a streamlining of football administration in Scotland they probably weren't advocating the SPL land grab that these proposals would deliver.

Why the rush? Surely the SPL didn't want to get their ideas out before the second part of the McLeish Report delivers a different set of findings based on much wider consultations? We'll see.

And given the state of many of our SPL clubs and their rickety finances why are their chairmen and chief executives the best people to decide the future of the national game? It's like making Bernard Madoff chancellor.

Right, that's enough for now.

But no apologies for pointing you in the direction of a couple of articles on the Scottish Football Archive:

Scottish Top Division Reconstruction: Championships

Statistically, in terms of non-Old Firm dominance, the 9 year period of the 16 team format between 1946-47 and 1954-55 was the best.

The league has been through twenty reconstructions and this is only the 113th season and both stability and change have shown varying degrees of success in terms of breaking the Old Firm dominance over the league - but the Old Firm dominance appears to be something that Scottish football fans have to live with, while hoping for brief periods of change.

Scottish Top Division Reconstruction - Attendances

Four of the seven seasons after a reconstruction, the attendances have dropped.

So, as well as highlighted in the earlier post than the 9 year period of the 16 team format (30 games a year) were the best for non-Old Firm dominance, that 9 year period was also one of the most successful for attendances.

It would also point towards the fact that less games (only 30 in a 16 team format) actually causes higher attendances, in terms of simple supply and demand perhaps?

Lied, damned lies and statistics? Possibly (and I'm quoting selectively but I think give a flavour of their findings) but some interesting theories nonetheless. Football, and society, have changed to such an extent that comparisons can only tell us so much. But it does provide a counter argument to the idea that a ten team league has delivered our nearest brush with footballing utopia.

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Morrisons v FIFA: More Moaning For Less

Most of us can accept that FIFA is - I'll not say corrupt - lacking a certain transparency in its decision making processes.

And we can probably accept that Sepp Blatter, to quote Rob over at Left Back In The Changing Room, "is a fucking clown."

But how many of us thought that it would be the supermarket chain Morrisons that would grasp the sword of truth and attempt to slay football's governing dragon?

A Morrisons spokeman has announced:

"On behalf of our customer we are disappointed that the merits of the bid were not recognised by Fifa, which clearly was intent on locating the 2018 World Cup in an emerging country.

"As we think the decision-making process was unfair, we have instructed lawyers in Switzerland to examine our options under Swiss law.

"We hope Fifa will do the right thing and offer £1m to be invested in grass-roots football."

Good luck with that one, chaps.

Quick question to Morrisons though. Why not spend the money on grassroots football in the first place?

The, ahem, "intricacies" of FIFA's bid process were hardly a secret before England launched their bid. I'm guessing Morrisons would have been happy to ignore these concerns if the English bid had succeeded.

Nor is the 2012 Olympic project a shining example of England's ability to articulate how a major sporting event will have direct grassroots benefits.

And, come to think of it, how did the 10 year old school children who benefited from the legacy of Euro 96 fare in South Africa this summer?

I'm sure Morrisons think this is a nice PR campaign. Unfortunately, like many in the FA, they are now coming across as unbelievably naive or like terribly bad losers.

Time to move on.

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Blogging Craig Brown

After their weekend capitulation to Hearts, Craig Brown started his first official day as manager of an Aberdeen side badly in need a lift on Monday.

What better way to mark the new era than to welcome back an old blogger? Seb Gevers, once of Inside Left (maybe still of Inside Left, kind of) appears to have launched The Red And The White: A Year In The Life Of Aberdeen FC.

And, strangely out of character, he has launched it with some enthusiasm for the new regime.

Well worth bookmarking to see how Seb charts the travails and triumphs of yet another new era at Pittodrie.

> Noticed a comment on Twitter today, and I hope I didn't miss the context, questioning what sort of working relationship Craig Brown and Archie Knox would be able to build with Willie Miller at Aberdeen.

My guess would be that the three all know each other well. Knox coached the great Aberdeen side that Miller captained, Brown was involved in the Scotland set-up when Miller was a regular.

I would think the relationship with Miller will have been fairly decisive in persuading Brown and Knox from Motherwell rather than putting them off. Whether it all works out as well as that remains to be seen.

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

SPL Reconstruction: 10 out of 10?

The "r" word surfaces again in Scottish football. Not referees. Reconstruction.

The BBC reports that:

Proposals for a two-tier Scottish Premier League of 10 teams each are to be put to clubs next Monday.

As part of the reconstruction, play-offs would be introduced, the season would start earlier and a winter break would be built in.

The leagues beneath the top two would be regionalised if the plans put forward by the SPL's Strategic Working Group are ratified.

It is anticipated any changes would be introduced the season after next.

We have all discussed reconstruction as being a way of improving the league. The jury remains out on whether or not that will actually work. Myriad changes through the decades have left us in the position we're now in.

I think some form of reconstruction is now inevitable. Is this the model most of us would have chosen?

Possibly not. But most of us don't have a say.

The proposals need to carry at least 11 votes under the SPL's strange governance rules. An earlier start, a winter break and fewer games might be welcomed by some. But there are alternative systems that would achieve similar outcomes.

Regional lower leagues would seem to make sense. I'm sure the idea of SPL clubs playing reserve sides in the lower leagues will spark some debate.

Not had time to properly digest all the reported proposal. If I was to leap without looking I'm probably in the "No" camp on this idea.

So unconvinced by the detail. But applauding a move to addressing some of the issues that many of us have been shouting about for years.

Progress of sorts. Although we did start out with a 10 team SPL all those years ago.

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