Saturday, January 22, 2011

SPL Today: Celtic Face Ancient Regime

Five games, five traditional kick off times.

This is what Neil Doncaster’s ten team SPL could look like if everything is as bad as feared and Sky and ESPN run screaming for the hills.

Celtic v Aberdeen
The last time Aberdeen visited Celtic they were sent home humiliated and robbed of their dignity. Particularly galling for Mark McGhee who had gone from being an apparent contender for the Celtic job to being Neil Lennon’s bitch in a matter of months.

All that now seems a long time ago. Aberdeen have been energised by an elder statesman, undefeated six games into Craig Brown’s reign. You can’t see his side capitulating in the manner of McGhee’s cowardly crew.

Celtic will be aware by kick off time what impact earlier events at Tynecastle have had on the championship race. After the drama of their draw at Hamilton, Celtic should now be refreshed after Hibs had the decency to lay on a training game for them last Saturday.

It is still early days for Craig Brown. He’s still to prove his arrival is going to coincide with sustained improvement rather than what has so far been an impressive quick fix. But a result at Celtic today would be a huge statement that the ancien regime has been wiped out and replaced by a much brighter ancient regime.

I’ll apologise for the ageism of that last attempt at a joke and give Aberdeen a creditable draw in this one.

Inverness v Hamilton
Terry Butcher left Ibrox an angry man on Tuesday after his side lost 1-0. Scheduling issues meant the SPL had left his players “pooped.” The referee had annoyed him. And the league are “bullying” Inverness over their ten team “deconstruction” plans. The “innocents” will suffer in a footballing “armageddon.”

He had a lot to get off his chest. And he did it forcefully, allowing me to wallow in my own wisdom at appointing him this blog’s Manager of the Year.

That said Inverness have stumbled of late, even if they’ve upset the pundits who predicted they might find themselves at the wrong end of the table this season.

Which is exactly where Hamilton currently languish. Billy Reid’s players simply haven’t won enough games to drag themselves from the bottom of the table.

I can’t see that changing today. A home win. And maybe Mr Butcher can finally enjoy a glass of red wine.

Kilmarnock v Dundee United
Kilmarnock’s impressive undefeated league run came to an end after they lost their one goal advantage to a second half Hearts fightback on Tuesday.

United will still be wary of trip to Rugby Park though and endured the drama of extra time and penalties before seeing off Ross County in Dingwall last week.

With games in hand aplenty, United would put a bit of pressure on Kilmarnock’s fourth place with a win today. Six draws in their last seven - including 210 minutes against Ross County - suggest that while more than capable of competing, United are struggling to seal the deal at the moment.

The last time these two met it was 1-1. Another draw today wouldn’t surprise me.

Motherwell v Hibernian
Colin Calderwood made his first signing as Hibs manager yesterday when he took Matt Thornhill, who played under him at Nottingham Forest, on a two and a half year deal.

A big moment for the boss but one that can’t deflect on the despondency around the club at the moment. A perilous league position has been compounded by the cup defeat to Ayr United.

Expect more changes to the starting line up today as Calderwood continues to search for the alchemy that can turn his paupers into princes.

A quick stat attack: in 2010 Hibs won ten SPL games and drew eight. That includes last season’s 6-6 madness at Fir Park and two wins against Motherwell this season.

To lose twice to a Hibs team that have managed only four wins so far suggests that Motherwell are encountering a bogey team today.

That might make for some nerves as Stuart McCall continues to find his feet and Motherwell continue to search for goals having scored only twice in their last five league games. Hibs defence might be just what they need.

Hibs were bad against Ayr at Easter Road, poor again against Celtic and then deservedly dumped by Ayr at Somerset Park. Hard times indeed. Home win.

St Johnstone v St Mirren
St Johnstone have bumbled along this season without really being one thing or the other. A good run now could offer a glimpse of the top six. A bad run and they might find themselves being sucked into a battle of a less pleasant nature.

St Mirren continue to struggle, at times admirable and at times looking to be fully deserving of their spot as relegation battlers.

Goals, of course, win football matches. And neither side has scored enough this season. St Johnstone have managed five at home, St Mirren a barely more respectable seven on their travels.

So probably not a high scoring extravaganza today. A 1-0 home win.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Hearts v Rangers Preview

There, watching high the least alarms,
Thy rough, rude fortress gleams afar;
Like some bold veteran, grey in arms,
And mark'd with many a seamy scar:
The pond'rous wall and massy bar,
Grim-rising o'er the rugged rock,
Have oft withstood assailing war,
And oft repell'd th' invader's shock

Today’s invaders at Tynecastle might not carry the historical threat of Burns’ Address to Edinburgh.

But how Hearts would like to withstand and repel Rangers in the SPL clash of the day.

Since Hearts' unbeaten run - now stretching to ten SPL games - started to gather pace two clashes have gained ever more importance.

The first arrives at lunchtime when they host the defending champions. The next comes on Wednesday when they travel to Glasgow to face Celtic.

Talk has grown of a sustained challenge to the Old Firm, of Hearts sandwiching themselves between the Glasgow pair or even, whisper it, taking the championship.

I’ve viewed those as unlikely aspirations although, leaving any Capital rivalry or green tinged envy aside, most welcome achievements in the barren landscape of the national game. But I have tempered my pessimism with an addendum: these two games could define Hearts’ season.

Suddenly Hearts would have people believing and maybe, just maybe, the Old Firm looking over their shoulders in disbelief. These two games could provide a springboard to a monumental season and at the very least drive Hearts on towards an Ibrox clash at the start of next month.

That, at least, is the theory. Can Hearts get the job done?

The stage is set. Hearts have momentum and Tynecastle provides the perfect backdrop to the kind of blood and thunder clash that will make people cast down their lunch and take a bit of notice of Scottish football again.

Rangers are now officially deprived of the services of Kenny Miller. Will that impact on the mood of the squad as well as robbing Rangers of this season’s most noticeable goal threat?

Worth remembering that in their last three games Miller has played only once and drew a blank. Rangers still scored eight goals without reply in those matches. As ever with the Ibrox side there are still resources to be drawn on, a thrawness in the face of adversity to rely on.

And even as Rangers remain in their apparent state of penury we can't forget that they signed Nikika Jelavic for big money in the summer. Free of injury now is the time that Walter Smith needs the Croatian to start delivering.

Hearts themselves are contending with injury woes as both Kevin Kyle and Rudi Skacel face late fitness tests. Big players to be missing from big games.

But Hearts were without them against Kilmarnock on Tuesday and came through after going a goal down.

A depth to the squad, ability, belief and a strong manager. Hearts have much going for them this season.

How much? Ninety minutes at Tynecastle today should go some way to telling us. This could be a cracker.

My verdict: Learning's eagle eyes will search in vain for Burns' science in her coy abode in Edinburgh today. But hopefully there will be drama enough to satisfy even a bard's cravings.

A fit Kyle and Skacel would help Hearts’ cause. Even without them they remain a threat, mixing a doughtiness in defence with a dangerous directness and no little cunning. Time for them to prove the challenge is a real one. Guts, passion, goals and a home win should set them up nicely.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Video: Hearts v Rangers

Hearts v Rangers serve up tomorrow's big SPL game. Time for a look back at some clashes over the decades.

1957. Hearts 0 v Rangers 4. Defending Scottish Cup champions are beaten heavily at Tynecastle.

1972. Rangers 0 v Hearts 1. Tommy Murray sits on the ball.

1979. Hearts 3 v Rangers 2. Hearts lead two nil, Rangers rally before Hearts get the winner.

1987. Hearts 2 v Rangers 5. The Souness revolution takes hold as Rangers enjoy a 19 match unbeaten run on their way to the title.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Free For All?

Continued gnashing of teeth over England's lost bid for the 2018 World Cup. It appears that the English bid wasn't beyond the odd bit of deal making though. Including on the issue of free-to-air sport on TV:

The BBC and ITV were set to join forces to battle a secret government decision that could have handed Sky the chance to air the 2018 World Cup. It has emerged that the government guaranteed to football body Fifa that it was prepared to waive listed events regulations for the 2018 tournament as part of England’s failed bid to host the event. Under current rules, the World Cup is on the Crown Jewels TV sports list, meaning that it can only be shown live on free-to-air television. However, at the request of Fifa, England’s 2018 World Cup bid document contained a promise to allow pay-TV companies, such as BSkyB and Disney-owned ESPN, the chance to bid for rights. Neither the BBC nor ITV – which traditionally share coverage of the World Cup – were aware of the guarantee at the time of England’s bid.

Seems it wouldn't have extended to the whole tournament. But it does show that for all the moaning and outrage that followed Fifa's decision the English bid team and the government were not completely naive about how these things work.

And they were prepared to dilute one of the country's great sporting shared experiences to get their way.

You can find an interesting analysis of all this on Twohundredpercent.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Kenny Milne's Wicked Wiki

Bizarrely enough Kenny Milne, once of Hearts, Cowdenbeath, Partick Thistle and Falkirk, is given the full Wikipedia treatment.

The entry begins:

Milne endured a difficult upbringing in life and was raised and looked after by a pack of wolves in the Scottish Highlands. The wolves are meant to be the only remaining one who still remain in Scotland and the bond created between the wolves and Milne was said to have stunned the experts who continued to watch this amazing real life Jungle Book story until they felt it was safe to remove Milne from his adopted parents and move him onto human parents. Nicknamed Mowgli by the adoption centre he was taken to, Milne was adopted to a married couple and began a normal upbringing in Alloa, although some people thought he would have been safer being left in the wild with the wolves. Each year Milne would spend a week back in the Highlands with the wolves until the passing of the mother wolf in 2001, the father wolf was never seen again and to this day has never been found.

More here.

Thanks to @loveandgarbage

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

SPL: Banging The Drum For A Top Ten

Patrick Kavanagh on The Drum website has an interesting blog in favour of a ten team SPL, comparing it to the idea of "contraction" in US sport where the number of teams is reduced to increase the talent on show.

I don't agree with his theory or some his arguments and I'm not sure his idea of complete parity in the share of TV revenues will ever happen.

But it's healthy to get a different view and this is a more articulate argument that I've heard Neil "it just is better, right" Doncaster make. Kavanagh is a sports marketer and he has interesting points to make on the SPL brand:

Now is the time for change, to contract the league and increase the talent pool for fewer teams, to make the Scottish Premier League more competitive. But they need to do more than this: they need to promote the league beyond The Old Firm. They need to look beyond their shores and see how whole leagues are promoted, not how to promote individual teams. There is a raw beauty to the Scottish game, it’s a bit throwback, and this needs to be conveyed. There is a market for good honest football; there is a market for Scottish football.

There also needs to be greater community development, as it’s no secret that there is a reduction in street football in Scotland. And as it is in many other sports, this is needed to create skilled players. If we look beyond the borders again, we have Canadians playing street hockey, Caribbean people playing baseball in the sandlots, and Americans tossing the ‘pigskin’ anywhere and everywhere. Community outreach and areas for accessible participation in the sport are necessary.

Scotland needs to fall in love with football again, and the SPL and the Scottish FA need to be partners in making this happen. They need a strong community marketing strategy, a brilliant and strong league from top to bottom and to reinstate that chest thumping pride. And hopefully this contraction will be step one.

Read the full article.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Walking In The Ayr

Having fallen into the football supporter's trap of self obsessed navel gazing it's time to redress the balance.

Amid the fun or pain to be had, depending on your persuasion, of watching Hibs suffer a massive, institutional mental breakdown, we shouldn't forget the role that Ayr United played last night.

It was a strong, organised performance. Yes, Hibs had chances but Ayr weathered the storm to emerge victorious after 180 minutes against a side two divisions above them. And they deserved it.

Kudos to to Mark Roberts. A veteran journeyman of the old school who left Ian Murray and Liam Miller, internationals both, with twisted blood in scoring the decisive goal.

Not Just Scottish Football has an appreciation of the evening from an Ayr United perspective. Have a read to remind yourself of the romance of the cup. Not sure the joyous pitch invasions of the past would have required pre-planning on Facebook though.

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Hibs: Playing The Blame Game

Another night of misery for Hibs. Failure in the Scottish Cup is nothing new in Leith. But falling to a Second Division side last night increased the woes of a season already so mired in incompetence that mediocrity has become an aspiration.

Who is to blame? Ask three Hibs fans and you might get three different answers. The players? The manager? The board?

Certainly it seems incredible to think it was barely twelve months ago that there was talk of Hibs splitting the Old Firm.

The fall has been dramatic. But not, perhaps, surprising. Even at their best this was a Hibs team whose house was built on sand.

So our first culprit is the previous incumbent. John Hughes has to take his share of the blame. He was the man who built this squad. And the most evident truth is that he recruited too many average players.

Colin Calderwood admitted at the weekend that he does not have what he considers a first team. That is Hughes' legacy and that is the straitjacket that Calderwood is operating in. The chopping and changing of the team that has marked his reign is a search for answers.

What eleven players in that squad can he rely on? Rely on not to make Hibs unbeatable, simply eleven players who can compete. That is the depressing reality that leads to a more depressing realisation: at the moment he does not have eleven players good enough to do even that.

Calderwood is not blameless. Some of the changes he has made have been difficult to fathom. I would also have expected him to have made more of an effort to connect with the fans. The whole club, including the supporters, needed leadership when he arrived. I don't think he has made enough of an attempt to offer that.

I certainly wouldn't sack him. Hibs have had enough chopping and changing. He deserves a chance to try and weather this storm and then set about the rebuilding process that is so sorely needed.

A rebuilding process that will inevitably involve a massive turnover in players. I've written before that a number of players in the Hibs squad would fit into a number of SPL squads. They are not all diabolically bad footballers, they're mainly just average.

Every squad has average players. But Hibs have pulled off the bamboozling trick of having a squad consisting almost entirely of average players. With no leadership, a lack of creativity and few options in key areas. The result of that shambolic recruiting policy is evident every time the team takes to the pitch.

There is also the strange scenario of having more than a dozen of the first team squad at the end of their contracts. I've not known a situation like this before.

It presents Hibs with a dilemma. It makes the rebuilding process in the summer easier. But it also means that the majority of any given starting eleven know their future at the club is decided and that the manager would replace most of them tomorrow if he could.

It can't be a coincidence that they are playing like dead men walking. Why try any harder when they are at a club that doesn't want them? Grit, determination and graft are too often overrated attributes in British football.

But if, as seems likely, Hibs are involved in a bottom six relegation battle they could become precious commodities. Right now they are in short supply at Easter Road.

It is, of course, the board that have allowed this situation to develop. Rod Petrie has delivered financial stability to Hibs. He's delivered a training ground. And he's delivered a finished stadium.

All great achievements that deserve to be applauded. But he has failed to deliver the footballing side of his remit.

The turnover of managers, the profitable syphoning off of players and the general level of inconsistency over the past few years can't be ignored. And the board, and Rod Petrie in particular, must take a generous share of the blame.

However much the bank manager likes the policy of selling big and buying low it typifies a lack of investment on the footballing side that is now haunting Hibs. And, ironically, Hibs are one of the few SPL teams who could afford to never be in this position with just a little, managed, investment in players.

Increasingly I feel that the summer's rebuilding, which might still be in preparation for a promotion push, should begin with a new man in charge of the boardroom.

That is not to belittle everything that Petrie has done for Hibs. But it might just be time to start afresh.

So there we have it. To differing extents we can blame John Hughes, Colin Calderwood, the players and Rod Petrie. The result of their mistakes is an unseemly mess, a situation that is increasingly desperate.

For now all the fans can do is watch and wait.

And hope.

Rod Petrie's Statement On Hibs' Problems

Not always the most loquacious of men Rod Petrie today released a statement on recent events. Not convinced a "wall of sound" will make up for the more glaring playing deficiencies:

"Supporters have been in touch with the Club directly today, and over the past few weeks, expressing their frustration about recent performances and results. This feedback is not ignored, nor dismissed, but responded to as quickly as possible.

The pain of another early exit from the Scottish Cup is real and lasting. Every supporter feels it. The players and coaching staff feel it. The Manager feels it. And the Board feels it. We are Hibernian and we are all in this together.

The Hibernian support at Somerset Park was noisy and vocal and supported the team to the final whistle. It was all that the players could have wished for and we thank those that made the trip last night.

Professional sport is brutal - the margin between success and failure can be the width of a post, or a ricochet in the penalty box where the ball falls kindly for the opposing team.That brutality makes it compelling, and an emotional roller coaster.

We need to harness our emotions to create a positive environment for the team to perform.That's why the travelling support at Somerset Park and, indeed, the Singing Section at Easter Road Stadium have been an inspiration.That support is vital now as we gear ourselves up for a demanding second half of the Season.

The Board remains focused on our core principles. We will continue to listen to and consult with supporters through forums, meetings and on match days. We are committed to continuing the excellent work of the Academy in developing young players. And we will do what we have always done and continue to support the Manager to the very limit of our resources in bringing new players to the Club and shaping the squad the way he wants it.

We have been working consistently with Colin since he arrived to identify how we can improve things in this Transfer Window and again in the Summer. The lack of new faces so far is not a 'policy decision' or the lack of effort from the Manager and his coaching staff or willingness and resource from the Board. This is a difficult window in which to make changes and things tend to happen towards the end of the window rather than at the start of it. We've done it before and we will do it again.

Scott Lindsay and I had our regular, scheduled meeting with the Manager and Scouting Co-ordinator earlier today to review progress on the many enquiries which have been made so far. While your Club always seeks to go about its business in a quiet and professional way, you should not mistake this for a lack of effort, commitment or activity. We will re-double our efforts to add some fresh faces in this window for the fight ahead.

Make no mistake, it will be a fight. We have missed out on the Scottish Cup Final but we now have a number of 'cup finals' in the league programme ahead. Silky football or ugly football, it is getting points that matters. It is points that will now define our Season.

We all need to play our part to win that fight. That means turning Easter Road Stadium into a fortress both on and off the pitch. It needs to be a wall of sound, supporting those privileged enough to wear the green and white - no matter what the score - from the first to the final whistle.

The players want to win. The fans want to win. The Board wants to win. We all want to be competing at the top of the SPL, in the latter stages of the Cups, and in regular European competition. We are all passionate about Hibernian, the club that means so much to us all. Together we are stronger. Pulling together we can get back to winning ways."

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

SPL Tonight: Kilmarnock v Hearts

Kilmarnock v Hearts

Two of this season’s SPL’s success stories go head to head. Big game for Hearts this as they look to pick themselves up from their Scottish Cup disappointment before a potentially season defining double header against the Old Firm.

Jim Jefferies’ anger at the defeat to St Johnstone must have been partly fuelled by his frustration that this could be a team on the verge of achieving something special. What they can’t afford is too many slip ups, too many bad performances.

A tough game in store tonight though against a Kilmarnock side who will have their own frustrations at being brushed aside by Rangers in the Cup and then losing a late equaliser to St Johnstone at the weekend.

Hearts are nine games undefeated in the league since Kilmarnock rolled them over 3-0 at Tynecastle. Killie themselves are in the middle of a six game unbeaten run in the league.

A big game between two form teams. Could be a very interesting game this one. I’ll back Hearts to take the points and set themselves up for the challenges to come. Away win.

Rangers v Inverness

Terry Butcher was less than pleased at the scheduling of this game but Rangers, apparently now relieved of the services of a Bursapor bound Kenny Miller might not be relishing the visit of an Inverness side that have won plaudits aplenty since their SPL return.

There were signs over the Christmas period that Inverness were going off the boil a bit and it's now seven games since they beat SPL opposition, although that run includes draws with Rangers, Celtic and Hearts.

Rangers were impressive in demolishing Kilmarnock in the Cup and made short work of Hamilton on Saturday. A fourth home game in a row gives them the chance to move just two points behind Celtic with two games in hand.

I’d expect Butcher to translate his anger into another obdurate display but I’m not sure that will be enough. Rangers to win and set up a rather tasty old affair at Tynecastle on Saturday lunchtime.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Scottish Cup: Sky's Vultures Circle Hibs

Ayr United v Hibs

The Sky Sports cameras will be at Somerset Park tomorrow night. Not, I think, to savour the surroundings or in anticipation of a cracking game of football.

No. The Honest Men are hosting Sky because they scent an upset. The vultures are circling ready to feast on the corpse of Hibs’ season.

Totally shiteing oneself would be the vernacular description of the trepidation the Hibs fans will be feeling this evening. Hibs were poor, and probably lucky, in drawing 0-0 with Ayr at Easter Road. They were as bad in losing 3-0 to Celtic on Saturday.

Ayr might fear that they’ve missed their chance. But they’ll be equally aware that a Hibs team stuffed full of men who look like they rue the day they ever became professional footballers are hardly going to be looking at this trip with much enthusiasm.

Ayr looked capable of both frustrating Hibs and springing a surprise two of their own against a now almost permanently shaky defence. That’s a dangerous mix.

On paper Hibs should have enough to get through. But, as the saying goes, football isn’t played on paper.

This could be a long night for the SPL side. Penalties wouldn’t surprise me. And that’s the closest I’ll get to making a prediction.

Morton v Airdrie United

Not a replay this one, but a rescheduled Fourth Round tie. When the game was originally scheduled I backed the draw. Still tempted. But Airdrie’s defence seems porous at the moment. Home win.

Stenhousemuir v Stranraer

Stenhousemuir finally got past Threave Rovers in their much postponed Third Round replay last week. Tough tie tonight though with The Warriors struggling in the Second Division and Stranraer top of the Third Division. Both enjoyed wins at the weekend. We might see this one head back to Stair Park.

Dunfermline v Montrose

An exciting old game at Links Park with Montrose snatching a late draw. A game against Aberdeen awaits the winner. I suspect Dunfermline will get the job done at home tonight.

Falkirk v Partick Thistle

I backed a draw in the first game and got that one right. (It does sometimes happen.) Different preparations for the replay though with Thistle enjoying a 6-1 win over Stirling Albion and Falkirk shipping three goals at home to Queen of the South. Will that make any difference tonight? The Jags to edge another close one.

Peterhead v St Mirren

St Mirren’s season to revolve around the odd good result followed by a run of poor results. Consistency is no friend of Danny Lennon’s side this season. Peterhead warmed up for this one by thumping Livingston 3-0 at home but they too have had a season of fluctuating fortunes. A shock on the cards at the Balmoor Stadium tonight? I think there could be.

Ross County v Dundee United

Had he been more follically blessed Peter Houston might have been tearing his hair out at the various off-field distractions he is enduring. It’s unclear if top scorer David Goodwillie will play any part tonight and I also hear whispers of big boardroom changes.

Ross County have proved before that they relish welcoming midweek SPL visitors to Dingwall. They might fancy another scalp tonight despite their struggles in the league. I suspect United will be able to get the job done with a minimum of fuss though. Away win.

East Stirling v Buckie Thistle (Wednesday)

Another of the rescheduled Fourth Round clashes. My original preview:

It’s the Highland League champions against the second worst team in the Scottish Football League on Sunday. This game could become the rallying call of the pyramid system supporting masses. Stirling haven’t played since they beat Spartans 2-1 in the last round. Which might be better preparation than Buckie have enjoyed after being smashed 7-0 by Deveronvale last Monday. An intriguing one this though, one to keep an eye or ear out for.

They both won last time out though with East Stirling climbing to third bottom of the Third Division. I still fancy Buckie to give them a game. Draw.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

The SPL's Blue Monday: 10 Plus 12 Equals The Future

Blue Monday. The most depressing day of the year.

Fitting that it was today we heard another version of the SPL’s grand new plan for Scottish football.

Forget the two ten team leagues idea of a couple of weeks ago. The head honchos have listened to the near universal condemnation of that plan.

And come up with a top league of ten teams and an SPL 2 of twelve teams. A magnificent response to the weight of public opinion:

The Scottish Premier League (SPL) clubs today reaffirmed their commitment to the work of the Strategic Review Group to develop a structure for the whole of Scottish football.

Broad support was given to progressing a 10-team Premiership and a 12-team Championship at the top of a pyramid for Scottish football as the preferred option.

The SPL clubs have asked the executive team to further develop aspects of these proposals and to update the Strategic Review Group's report.

The SPL will now consult with the Scottish FA and the Scottish Football League and its clubs before a final decision by the SPL clubs.

STV report that Inverness, Hearts and Kilmarnock were the only clubs to vote for the 14 club compromise model.

So there we have it.

To listen to Neil Doncaster, SPL chief executive, this is the model that will have stadiums full to bursting, TV companies locked in a multi-million pound bidding war and the quality of football reawakening thoughts of a Scottish football golden age. And no doubt a number of postponements causes by blue snow.

It’s unclear how he expects this to happen. Nor does he seem to be able to adequately address the fears of the sheer boredom of watching your team play against the same nine clubs four times each season.

Doncaster says a new relegation model will keep the league refreshed. He ignores concerns that it will lead to clubs playing a dismal, safety first brand of football, petrified by the fear of relegation.

The only benefit of a 12 team “championship” would seem to be to deliver the SPL a majority of Scotland’s professional sides. That will make it much harder for the SFL to prevent a “merger” with the SPL.

If the 12 “championship” sides are also going to be playing each four times a season the idea of relegation/promotion play offs to keep the top flight refreshed seems disingenuous. Surely those extra eight games will favour the top flight teams going into the play-offs.

The SFA would seem pretty powerless to do anything about all this after the review they commissioned backed a ten team league. Henry McLeish has been utterly discredited by the way in which he allowed the SPL to hijack his report. Trusting a man who couldn’t run his own office expenses to save the national game was a mistake.

What will a pyramid system involve? Surely that's not just been tagged on to the proposals because it's something that a lot of people have been calling for. How is it going to work? What financial assurances will be in place for those clubs that don't make the final cut of 22?

Do we even know if this is the model that teams in, for example, in the current Third Division or in the non-professional leagues will see as the best for them to secure their futures.

And the SPL clubs?

Rod Petrie backs a ten team SPL even as he watches his Hibs side implode. It would break my heart but deliver some form of justice to this most non-footballing of men if Hibs were to start this brave new dawn in the lower division.

Peter Lawwell backs a return to the dark days of a ten team top league even as Celtic wage a war of modernisation against the SFA.

Martin Bain backs a ten team SPL even as Rangers continue to wade through a financial mire that may or may not include tax evasion.

These are just some of the people of influence who are prepared to ignore the views of the fans to chase a short term financial gain that nobody can be sure will materialise. The usual suspects with their usual blend of arrogance, self preservation and blind optimism in a get-rich-quick scheme.

I rather suspect that these men reply to emails that offer money transfers from bank accounts in Nigeria.

As someone pointed out to me today it is unusual to have such a widespread appetite for change in Scottish football. And yet somehow the SPL come up with a scheme that seems to appeal to nobody except Neil Doncaster, Ralph Topping, Henry McLeish and eight or nine SPL chairmen and chief executives.

They are prepared to fly in the face of public opinion to pursue a course of action that they are either unable or unwilling to properly explain to the fans.

We shouldn't be surprised that we are ignored. Football chairmen have being doing it for decades. But the idea that our opinions are forged in ignorance, that none of the counter proposals were championed out of a love for the game and a desire to see Scottish football improve is sickeningly arrogant and stubborn.

I don't believe fans should stop supporting their teams. I don't believe a boycott of clubs over league restructuring is necessarily a good idea.

But prices won't drop in the SPL's new era. The kick off times will still be awkward. The pressures of life will continue to crowd in on the football going habit. And I am concerned that the prospect of repetitive Premiership with tactics borne out of fear will see fans continue to drift away.

Standing at the crossroads Scottish football has, I suspect, chosen to travel up a dead end. Extricating ourselves from that folly might be beyond us.

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Nat Lofthouse

I'm fascinated by the history of football in the 1950s. When one club players were less than handsomely paid for entertaining tens of thousands of fans every week. It was in this period that Hibs had plans afoot to increase the capacity of Easter Road to 98,000. Unthinkable now.

Nat Lofthouse, who died yesterday, was an icon of that time. A 14 year career with Bolton and 30 goals in just 33 games for England.

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