Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas


An archive Christmas present from the 1950s. Raith Rovers v Hibs in a 1952 Cup tie. You just don't see enough of women and children clearing snow covered pitches these days.

Merry Christmas, have a good one.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

SPL: Boxing Day Bonanza

A full SPL card on Boxing Day to help you digest the turkey leftovers.

Well, maybe. Weather permitting. At the moment all the games are on. But that's subject to change. Motherwell are working on a burst pipe but are apparently confident the TV game will go ahead. A decision on the Hibs game and Aberdeen's ability to get to Edinburgh is being made tomorrow.

Fingers crossed.

Celtic v St Johnstone
It's nice to be home at Christmas. Even nice to get a win though. Lennon's lads have been lacking at home recently. Poultry related lethargy and poor form will give St Johnstone hope. A home win for me though.

Dundee Utd v Hamilton
United haven't played since 20 November. Hamilton since 27 November. Refreshed or rusty? Home win.

Hibernian v Aberdeen
Hibs capitulation at Pittodrie in October temporarily lifted some of the pressure on Mark McGhee. Aberdeen haven't won a league game since, sit bottom of the league and have a new manager. Can Craig Brown turn it around? Hibs' own revolution under Colin Calderwood has been stuttery. Draw.

Inverness CT v St Mirren
SPL shock troops Inverness host St Mirren who, under Danny Lennon, have been better than some predicted but not strong enough to be safe. Home win.

Kilmarnock v Hearts
Both teams off the back of 1-1 draws, Kilmarnock's at Celtic and Hearts at home to Inverness. It's a measure of both team's season that neither manager seemed happy to settle for a point. They might have to again though. Draw. GAME POSTPONED

Motherwell v Rangers
Will this game go ahead? Possibly. Will managerless spring a surprise? Possibly not. Away win.

SFL Postponements

Matches off on Sunday, 26 December
Scottish First Division
Queen of the South v Dundee
Stirling Albion v Morton

Second Division
Airdrie United v East Fife
Brechin City v Ayr United
Dumbarton v Forfar Athletic
Peterhead v Stenhousemuir

Third Division
Annan Athletic v Berwick Rangers
Elgin City v Clyde

Monday 27, December
First Division
Ross County v Cowdenbeath

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Pigs In Blankets

OK. Allegedly. Our lawyers might be watching etc etc. But Billy Davies and Tommy Sheridan. The mind is boggling.

I've not been to the newsagents. This might be a cracking Photoshop job. Or massively untrue and pulled from the Record's later editions.

But still. It's a right guid story. Allegedly.

First reactions via text: "Yuk, yuk, yuk." "Ha, ha. Even better."

Aye Gail, the people of Scotland send both of you our support.

Middlesbrough v Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day. Best of luck with the chants, Boro boys!

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Scottish Football Blog Awards 2010 - Part One

Time for the 2010 Scottish Football Blog Awards. A meandering look back at the year Spain finally delivered on the global stage, Lennon gave peace a chance at Celtic and Scotland managed not to draw with Liechtenstein.

The Charles Foster Kane Money Can't Buy You Happiness Award: England's footballers. A miserable, morose, monosyllabic group of millionaires at the best of times. Further suffering was heaped on the men who power the world's best league when the World Cup delivered fairly damning evidence that they're just not that good at football.

The Cameron-Clegg Coalition Building Award: Jim Jefferies loves Hearts. But it's a tough, taciturn kind of love. How would Jambo Jim fae Wallyford be able to cope with the idiosyncratic reign of Tynecastle's ruling Romanov dynasty? Pretty well as it turns out. So far.

The Peter Mandelson Spinning A Dead Horse Award: John Hughes was keen to point out that "football people" could see what he was building at Easter Road. They could. So could rugby people and cricket people. He was building a team without a defence, who couldn't win at home and were heading for relegation. Don't call Yogi if you're wanting an extension on the house.

The Julian Assange Electronic Communications Award: Hugh Dallas. The button is delete, Hugh. Not forward.

The JFK Memorial Conspiracy Theory Award: Celtic fans. Apparently the working title of Oliver Stone's next film is "SFA: The Celtic Files."

The Tommy Sheridan Tabloid Titillation Award: Allan McGregor. A clean sheet king on the pitch, off the pitch…no, I'm not going there.

The Geoffrey Howe Award For Being Savaged By A Dead Sheep: The SFA. Henry McLeish has spent much of his political career being not fit for purpose. If even he can seen how woefully inept you are then it is time to make a change.

The Oliver Twist Award: Lovable urchin Wayne Rooney asked for more. Sadly, he got it.

The Arthur Scargill Award For Services To Industrial Relations: The referees had a point but their strike was pretty pointless.

The George Orwell Doublespeak Award: Craig Brown loves Motherwell. Craig Brown loves Aberdeen. Craig Brown's gone down in a lot of people's estimation.

The Prince William and Kate Middleton Romance Of The Year Award: It's not clear if Henry McLeish and the SPL Working Strategy Group took each other up a mountain in Kenya. But it seems they had a chat or two on SPL reconstruction during the post-coital cigarettes. In this particular love triangle it is Scottish football that should be filing for divorce.

The Davey Crockett Backs To The Wall In Ultimately Futile Defence Award: Craig Levein. 4-6-0 against the Czech Republic. And one of the most depressing nights in the history of the national team. And that's a tough list to get on.

The Gordon Brown Why Did I Say That Award: Dougie McDonald. Who still can't accept that lying is wrong. It's not like telling children that Santa is real, Dougie. It's not like that at all.

The Pick Your Fights Like The Klitschko Brothers Award: Neil Lennon. Charging up touch lines like an aggressive drunk on Sauchiehall Street. Not actually doing his team any good though.

The Careful What You Wish For Award: Aberdeen fans. The two Jimmys don't look quite as bad when you're staring up from the bottom of the league. Jimmy Tarbuck probably doesn't look quite as bad when you're 9-0 down at Celtic.

The Vince Cable Why Did I Take This Job Award: Stewart Regan. Will never again moan about how boring cricket is.

The Ann Widdecombe Award For Unlikely Political Reinventions: John Reid. A lying bully wages war on lying bullies. Although I suppose he is used to waging ill defined wars.

The Denis Law What The Hell Is That Accent All About Award: Colin Calderwood. Sounds like he was born and raised on a train shuttling back and forth between Scotland and England.

The Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama Jumping The Gun Award: I've got nothing against David Beckham. I have got a problem with a broadcaster giving a man in his mid-30s a lifetime achievement award as a way of grabbing viewers.

The Eyjafjallajoekull European Misery Award: Hibs, Motherwell, Dundee United and Celtic left our co-efficient battered like a Scottish Mars bar.

The Derek Trotter Award for Salesmanship: Sir David Murray. How long before he's trying to sell Ibrox from the back of a van at the Barras.

The James Corden Award for Annoying Buffoonery: George Peat. What is the point of you, George? What is the point? Still the joke's on us after all that clowning around with the dinosaur yesterday. TOTAL TOSSER.

The Adrian Chiles Grass Isn't Always Greener Award: Kris Boyd. Loving it at the Riverside.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

SPL Play-Offs: What If...

In one of the more predictable developments of this Scottish football December, perennial third placers Hearts have backed calls for the top four SPL teams to be involved in a championship play off competition.

I can't figure out the appeal for third placed Hearts at all.

Again, I don't think Dundee United's Stephen Thomspon was being genuine with his proposal. He was using it to get the message across about how unhappy certain clubs are with the SPL/McLeish Report stitch-up of last week.

But, just for fun, I thought I'd see which teams would have benefited from a top four play off over the 12 years of the SPL. Unsurprisingly Hearts come out on top.

I've estimated earnings based on an equitable four way split of crowd attendances from the three games totalling four million pounds. I still award all championships to either Celtic or Rangers as no team has beaten either side of the Old Firm in a Scottish Cup semi final in the same year that they have finished third or fourth in the SPL.

The most risible reaction to Thompson's plan is that it would result in more teams winning the championship. It almost certainly wouldn't, given the Old Firms dominance of all three of our national trophies.

Only Hearts and Dundee United have finished in the top four of the SPL and won the Scottish Cup in the same year, neither of them playing the Old Firm in the semi finals or final. So it's not a great leap to imagine that play offs over the last 12 years would have resulted in the same two sides winning the championship.

Here's the list:
Hearts 6 top 4 finishes = £6 million
Aberdeen 5 top 4 finishes = £5 million
Hibs 4 top 4 finishes = £4 million
Kilmarnock 3 top 4 finishes = £3 million
Motherwell 2 top 4 finishes = £2 million
Dunfermline, St Johnstone, Dundee United, Livingston 1 top 4 finish = £1 million each

Now, again, this is all hypothetical. But what a difference this money - even based on my simpleton accounting - would have made to these clubs.

Interesting to see that Thompson's Dundee United would only have benefited once in the 12 years of SPL football.

As for a gap closing device to reel in the Old Firm? Doesn't work as both would have earned at least twice what any other had managed.

* Quick bit of research after a question on Twitter. I think I've checked right back to the Second World War and the only time another side has won the Scottish Cup after the Old Firm have been kept apart in the semi-finals is Aberdeen in 1983.

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Neil Lennon's Awfully Big January

Dominating possession, the lion's share of corners and attempts at goal but with nothing to show for it. Then a weakness in the face of counter attacks was exploited and suddenly Celtic found themselves scrambling for an equaliser against Kilmarnock last night.

Familiar failings. The cracker-jack start to the season seems a long way off now. The first eight games brought eight wins and 24 points for Neil Lennon. The following eight games have brought only 12 points and three wins.

I wrote after the Old Firm game that Lennon was displaying a worrying habit of losing big games as manager. He was failing the critical tests. He's been failing more than that recently. Losing at Tynecastle might not be the end of the world but failing to beat Inverness, Dundee United and Kilmarnock in successive home games hints at bit problems for a club where winning everything really is everything.

Clearly the defence needs strengthening and Lennon confirmed last night that there would be new arrivals in January. That might also include a striker after Gary Hooper's serious looking injury.

But Lennon has already made a number of signings. And the team continues to struggle. The board have no option but to back him for now but they might be feeling ever more queasy as they do.

That Celtic are still only two points off the pace shows that Lennon is not involved in a duel with an invincible Rangers side. The situation is not yet an almighty disaster.

But the "I told you so" brigade (of which I will be accused of being a member) will see that the warnings of the inexperienced Lennon's unsuitability for the job are beginning to look fairly accurate.

Even his undoubted passion for the club hasn't brought the desired results. Lennon wanted fire. His run-ins with the refereeing authorities - some justified, some not so justified and often with a dose of over-reaction thrown in - have looked at times to be engineered to generate that fire.

But it is in the white heat of this refereeing row that Celtic have come unstuck. A young manager's attempt at mind games becoming a distraction? It's an easy argument to make from the outside.

Celtic could have gone top last night. Could have, should have. Didn't.

It's not unthinkable that by January 3rd Celtic will be five points behind Rangers having played a game more. An already crucial January will become ever more important. A novice manager will be tasked with putting together a run of wins while at the same time identifying and integrating new signings. And a rejuvenated Hearts - 19 points and six wins from their last eight games - will be relishing a trip to Celtic towards the end of the month.

A month for Lennon to forget about referees and hard luck stories. Let the fans worry about that. Now's the time for Lennon to prove himself as a manager.

Coming Up

Sunday, 26 December 2010
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
Celtic v St Johnstone

Wednesday, 29 December
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
Celtic v Motherwell

Sunday, 2 January
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
Rangers v Celtic

Sunday, 9 January
Scottish Cup
Berwick v Celtic, R4

Saturday, 15 January
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
Hibernian v Celtic

Saturday, 22 January
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
Celtic v Aberdeen

Wednesday, 26 January
Clydesdale Bank Premier League
Celtic v Hearts

Saturday, 29 January
Co-operative Insurance Cup
Aberdeen v Celtic, SF

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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

SPL: Spring Break

Another example of Old Firm managers in agreement: Walter Smith and Neil Lennon do not think the current spate of weather related postponements are a valid enough reason to extend the SPL season.

Fair enough. A little ecumenicalism obviously goes a long way.

But don't come bleating to me about a fixture pile up in March. And let's not even mention all that UEFA Cup final hoo-hah from a couple of years ago.

Is this not all a little premature anyway?

The current backlog is not yet at the critical stage. The SPL have pointed out in their discussions of a winter break that the worst month for call offs is January. If we are destined to suffer this cold weather for another four or five weeks we might have a problem.

Knickers would be better remaining untwisted until then.

But all this does allow me to air an intriguing suggestion I heard over a pint or four at the weekend.

Scottish weather being what it is a winter break is going to be very difficult to schedule. So don't.

Instead work a two or three week break in March into the SPL calendar.

If the weather causes a backlog there would be a clear window for games to be played in the, hopefully, less fresh strippingly cold climes of spring. If there is no backlog the clubs get a couple of weeks to recharge their batteries in time for a championship, European or relegation run-in.

Worthy of consideration, surely?

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Another SPL Postponement

Were you champing at the bit to find out how the SPL's general meeting went yesterday? No? I don't believe you.

Here's the SPL statement:

The SPL General Meeting of all 12 clubs, scheduled for tomorrow, has been postponed due to the weather and will now take place on Tuesday 4 January.

Yes, friends. A meeting that was going to discuss the issue of a winter break was postponed due to the winter weather.

I love Scotland.

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Play Off, Play Off And Play The Game

Walter Smith and Neil Lennon appear to have spent much of yesterday singing from the same hymn sheet.

Not Christmas carols at an ecumenical festive service.

More songs of condemnation aimed at Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson.

Thompson has suggested that the SPL should look at play-offs. Not the oft mentioned relegation play offs. No, he's after championship deciding play offs between the top four sides at the end of each season.

Which has induced a certain hysteria among the Old Firm management. "Nonsense," "ludicrous" and "bollocks" sum up the tone of their responses.

Smith and Lennon have probably missed the point. Thompson would probably expect to see blue snow falling on Christmas Day before he sees his plan become a reality.

His aim, I think, is to convey his disappointment at the plans put forward by the SPL and to show that other systems are available. And maybe have some preprandial fun along the way.

He will also have known that he'd be criticised for cooking up a system that damages the integrity of the season long league championship. But he might argue that works at both ends of the table.

If clubs are expected to rubber stamp a play off system that includes play off for the teams finishing second and third bottom, why should the two dominant clubs not also be asked to jeapordise their duopoly at the top?

A valid enough argument, one that I suspect some non-Old Firm fans might be drawn to and a fairly intriguing way for Thompson to make his point.

Certainly it appears that the proposals put forward by the SPL and backed by Henry McLeish look to have no chance of carrying the 11 to 1 majority of SPL clubs that they require.

Back to the drawing board?

Play Off Thoughts

Do I agree with a four team play off at the top of the SPL? No. Because I'm an old fashioned kind of guy and you either win the league or you don't. Simples.

But maybe Thompson is on to something.

In 12 SPL campaigns Rangers and Celtic have finished in top two places 11 times with Rangers finishing third in the 2005/2006 season.

In those 12 seasons they have won 32 of the 36 trophies on offer in Scotland.

So even with a play off system they would still be expected to dominate, with seedings at the semi final stage giving a big chance of an extra, hugely meaningful, Old Firm game at Hampden each season. I've a feeling the broadcasters might like that.

But it is hard to make the argument that the third and fourth placed teams would deserve to be involved.

In the 12 SPL seasons the closest the third placed team has finished behind the second placed team is one point. That was in 2005/2006 when Rangers were breathing down Hearts' backs.

In every other season the Old Firm have filled the top two spots. The closest any side has come to them is the seven point gap achieved by Aberdeen in 2006/2007. That same year Hearts in fourth place were only nine points behind.

In the other ten seasons no team has come closer than 13 points behind whichever Old Firm side has occupied second. In seven seasons the gap has been 15 points or more. In 2002/2003 Hearts in third place finished 35 points behind and fourth placed Kilmarnock were 40 points behind.

The SPL's history suggests that third and fourth placed teams simply don't deserve a play off for the championship.

Can the same argument be made for teams at the other end of the table?

The gap between bottom and second and third bottom tends to be much closer.

In 2001/02 bottom club St Johnstone finished 19 points behind Motherwell, three years later Livingston were 15 points adrift of Motherwell and Dunfermline and Gretna's fairytale ended some 17 points behind Kilmarnock.

In no other season has there been more than ten points between the bottom club and the second bottom club and only twice has the gap between bottom and third bottom been ten points or more.

The SPL is tighter at the bottom than it as at the top. That, rightly or wrongly, makes a relegation play off easier to justify than a championship play off.

The teams in second and third bottom are likely to have spent the season looking more like relegation candidates than the teams in third and fourth place have looked like champions.

> In 2001/02 Celtic won the SPL with 103 points. Rangers in second had 85 points. Livingston were third with 58 points, Aberdeen fourth with 55.

It is difficult not to accept Lennon and Smith's arguments that league tables like that are so conclusive that giving Livingston and Aberdeen and even second placed Rangers the chance to take the title after two extra games is a bit odd.

Odd. But probably also quite amusing if you don't happen to be a Celtic fan.

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