Saturday, February 26, 2011

SPL Fixtures: A Mirthless Farce

Hibs play Inverness at Easter Road today.

I hope the fans enjoy it. They'll need the memories to sustain them, the next time they see their heroes in Leith will be when Hearts come calling at the start of April.

A whole calendar month without a home fixture.

As we hopefully usher in some milder weather, as the season stretches towards the business end of the split, Hibs are banished from their own backyard.

There are cup games to be played, international fixtures to cram in. But Hibs have three games in March.

That not one of those is at home seems to me to be madness.

This is football making it hard for the fans to attend. We constantly hear that football now has to compete for our attention. By divesting the ritual of going to games from all semblance of routine or habit the SPL is failing in its duty to attract that attention.

"It's the computer." Utter rot. "It's TV." Pure codswallop.

It is a failure from the authorities to listen to their "customers," a failure that suggests they can't be trusted not to further damage the game as they rush headlong into their ill defined revolution.

Alternate home and away games can be easily planned. And they can be planned to allow for teams sharing cities and for TV schedules.

As an excercise in logistics this is not up there with planning the Normandy landings. It's a simple step that could do the game a lot of good and make it easier for fans to support their team. Which seems to be exactly the kind of step the SPL do not like to take.

As Hibs fans who don't travel to away games are dragged along Princes Street over the next few weeks they might ponder the way the SPL run the game. They might think about quality of football they pay the privilege to see when the whim of a fixture spewing computer gifts them that chance.

And perhaps they'll come to the sorry conclusion that the SPL is pulling off the sorry feat of being an army of donkeys led by donkeys.

> Other clubs may be in the same boat but it was the Hibs situation that caught my eye. There are other considerations.

Pubs, snack shops and sundry other businesses that contribute to the match going experience are put under tremendous strain by a fixture list designed as an after thought at a chimpanzee tea party.

No point complaining though. It will fall on deaf ears. Football leadership in this country is an arrogant cabal of the unqualified and the uncaring.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

SPL Today: The Blogger's Curse

Work is the curse of the blogging classes.

Been feeling a bit detached from the blog this week and noticing one or two established bloggers and podcasters calling it a day recently.

Is it worth doing if it becomes a drag, if you feel you should be updating rather than writing because you want to or if you really are struggling for time?

Anyways, we fight on. Another weekend fit to burst with the kind of exhilarating action that SPL really excels at.

And more predictions, the curse of this classless blogger.

Aberdeen v Hearts

An early kick off at Pittodrie might not be ideal for travelling Hearts fans but there is incentive aplenty as Jim Jefferies’ side eye second place in the SPL with Rangers’ not in action until Sunday.

Aberdeen have their own reasons to be cheerful having taken six points over the course of the last week and diving right back in to the concertinaed pack chasing top six places.

Their is a resilience about this Hearts side. They showed that in beating Rangers in a game the Ibrox side dominated, they’ve shown it in bouncing back from away defeats to the Old Firm siblings and it was on display again last week as they beat Dundee United.

That contrasts with Aberdeen who, impressive as their resurgence has been, remain a work in progress under Craig Brown.

Aberdeen captain Paul Hartley might make a start against his old club to add another little layer of interest to what I think should be an intriguing match and a diverting match-up as Brown and Jefferies lock horns.

I expect Aberdeen to be spirited and to score. But I’m backing Hearts to close out the away win.

Hamilton v Dundee United

Abandon hope all ye who enter New Douglas Park? Hamilton’s misfortune is to be trapped at the foot of the table with their eventual relegation looking more and more inevitable.

That’s a horror of a place to be, a vortex of misery that offers little chance of escape.

They can’t win games. And that’s a gargantuan problem for a football team. The season has many a meandering twist to take but it would take a seasoned collector of spotter’s badges to work out exactly where Hamilton’s points are going to come from.

United were aggrieved in losing to Hearts last weekend and claimed a point against St Johnstone in midweek. It’s not the form of champions but it’s hardly a litany of failure from a team that remain eminently capable.

Three points today will please Peter Houston. I expect he’ll get them as the Accies nightmare continues.

Hibs v Inverness

Three wins out of three for Colin Calderwood’s rebuilt Hibernian. Some managers would mark that achievement with a song and dance routine. Calderwood makes do with becoming a smidgeon less ponderous in press conferences.

He’s made of stern stuff is Calderwood and last week’s last gasp win in a desperately poor game against St Mirren suggests he’s achieving some success in his attempts to instill the resolute gruffness in his players.

Inverness also had cause for celebration last weekend as they halted what had become a lengthy slump with a win over St Johnstone.

All of which means today is a clash between two teams hoping that the green shoots of recovery are more than a mirage but also, hopefully, playing with less of the fear that has hampered them recently.

It would be nice think to that could lead to a game of ebullient, carefree football. But I’m sure the Hibs will accept the stuffy, scrappy three points I expect them to get.

Kilmarnock v St Mirren

Just a few short months ago if you’d heard that Aberdeen and Kilmarnock had finished 5-0 you would have nodded appreciation of Mixu Paatelainen’s Kilmarnock and wondered how low Aberdeen could sink.

All of which made Kilmarnock’s tonking at Pittodrie last week  more difficult to fathom. They have not become a bad side and Paatelainen’s revolution remains admirable.

Unfortunately they do not have the depth or quality of squad that would allow them to cope with the loss of key players or the loss of confidence. A hammering at Pittodrie is a painful way to learn that lesson.

St Mirren’s sorry search for consistency continues. Offering little against Hibs on Sunday they bounced back to beat Motherwell on Wednesday. That might continue to flummox Danny Lennon but it has been enough to see them shift clear of Hamilton in the struggle to avoid the drop.

What reaction will Kilmarnock show today? And which St Mirren will turn up? While I wait to see how those questions resolve themselves I’ll predict a draw.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Friday, February 25, 2011

Friday Video: Davie Cooper

I've been thinking about the greatest ever Scottish players for a project on another site that you might be hearing about in the coming weeks.

Davie Cooper is one name that would always appear in my list. Next month marks the 16th anniversary of his death.

Here's some memories:

And, on its own, the goal that many a Rangers fan will recall with great fondness:

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Rangers: Europa League Dream Survives

Pinch yourself, February is just about out and we're celebrating a good night for Scottish football in Europe.

I missed the Sporting Lisbon v Rangers clash but Walter Smith will be delighted that his team gave a display of their defiance and resoluteness in Portugal.

Another European draw but enough to clinch the away goals victory. Maurice Edu's equaliser was last gasp. And probably all the sweeter for it to the watching Rangers fans.

And, hold on to your hats, some co-efficient good news. Thanks to Aiden McGeady.

Seems the former Celt's goal for Spartak Moscow that eliminated Basel was enough to see us sneak ahead of Switzerland in UEFA's ever complex rankings systems.

The result is an additional Champion's League place in the 2012/13 season.

People more adept at complex algorithms than I am suggest that this might be only temporary. Still, poor form to ruin the fun.

Best just to enjoy a rare burst of sunshine amid the black dog depression of our footballing existence.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

EPL: Newcastle v Bolton

I'm jumping ship this weekend.

Off to Newcastle to see Owen Coyle's Bolton take on the Toon in what some people call the best football league in the world.

That last time I was at St James' Park a chubby young scamp called Paul Gascoigne was playing for the home side. I was, obviously, extremely young at the time.

I'm indebted to Robert McCracken (one of the voices of The Commentary Box podcast) for providing a black and white preview of what I can expect:

Bolton visit St James’ on Saturday and in doing so they visit the team sixth in the Premier League form table. The Magpies will no doubt be looking to overtake Bolton, and if Everton do us a favour, Sunderland too.

I’m confident that the three points will be staying at St James’ and Bolton will be going home empty handed. After 6 games without a win the Birmingham result last week was vital. It was the first win since the 5-0 mauling of West Ham (Leon Best with a hat-trick?!) and although there were 3 draws in there too a win was a must to keep the Toon train rolling.

If Newcastle have aspirations of a top half finish and going by current form they should, then this game is a big one. Bolton will be in and around the positions that Newcastle will hope to occupy so snatching the points is a priority. The visitor’s away form isn’t the best, but it depends on the Newcastle side that turns up on the day – hopefully not the one that conceded 5 at the Reebok earlier this season.

Jonas proved himself as the player we all know he is with two superb assists against Birmingham and he could be vital in getting the result. His ability to get behind the full-backs and supply the killer ball is one of the biggest threats Bolton will face especially if he’s up against the aging Paul Robinson. Leon Best will be looking to make it 6 goals in 7 starts and with his run of form I wouldn’t back against it.

Kevin Nolan and Cheik Tiote have an important role to play in the middle of the park. Their ability outshines anything Bolton have in the middle of the park and they’ll need to use their presence and physicality to stop Bolton playing football in the midfield area. If they don’t do this then Newcastle will be easily foiled.

Newcastle have proven there is life after Hughton and Carroll, whether as fans we like it or not. A result against Bolton is never going to be season defining but Newcastle need to beat the teams round about them if they expect to be at the business end of the table. Pardew has the team playing with the same character and spirit that Hughton did – much to my surprise – so I’d be very disappointed if they didn’t bring Bolton back down to earth and end their winning streak. Let’s just hope the boys in black and white bother to turn up this time.

Follow Robert on Twitter @RMcCracken91

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rangers: McCoist The Manager

Now we know.

We suspected, surmised, accepted. But now we've had the official unveiling.

Ally McCoist will lead Rangers into the 2011/12 SPL season.

Probably. Unless someone comes along to buy the club and decides that this is no time for a novice.

"No time for a novice." A line from an ultimately futile political speech.

Yesterday's announcement, the cynic in me screams, owed a lot to politics. This was an essay in deflection.

The good news story to deflect from a club in financial dire straits, a team on the back foot and a incumbent who has, once again, mistimed his departure.

It's a hell of a job for McCoist. This, clearly, was the role he wanted from the moment his career went from ex-player and pundit to ex-player and coach.

One can only imagine what Bill Struth would have made of an ex-chat show host becoming Rangers manager. If Struth could have comprehended what a chat show was.

But Ally's Rangers credentials are good. A novice, but his is a time served apprenticeship at the feet of Walter Smith, a man who can tell a story or three about managing Rangers.

If he dreamt - as surely he must have - about managing his club, McCoist could surely never have imagined that it would be in such straitened times.

The premature confirmation suggests that a takeover is no closer. It might still happen but existing debt and that tax question remain, making the odds on a benevolent knight arriving ever longer.

The team needs an overhaul, key players from Smith's second era are already gone or look to be heading for the exit door. Age has caught up with David Weir, financial necessity will probably spell the end for Madjid Bougherra and others.

Becoming Rangers manager at any time is a massive challenge. In the present circumstances it seems McCoist is about to tackle the north face of the Govan Eiger.

A glance across the city shows another novice transformed from playing hero to manager. Neil Lennon had even less experience than McCoist when he got the Celtic job.

But Lennon has benefited from an extremely effective scouting system and a board that has a firm direction in mind.

Rangers seem to have neither. Many people might have claims on the club, all might have the best interests of it functioning as a going concern at heart.

But vested interests and differing opinions lead to a boardroom tension - if not an internecine war - that robs Rangers of momentum off the pitch.

Even more crucially it seems that McCoist will not enjoy Lennon's number one luxury of weakened Old Firm opposition, a dose of good fortune that has given the Celtic manager time to find his feet.

There will be some in the Rangers support who welcome the appointment, there will be others who bemoan McCoist's coronation.

He is the most available, most economical choice. That's how Rangers have to operate at the moment.

It's impossible to tell how good or bad he will be.

But when Smith takes his leave in May McCoist will have a fairly lengthy to-do-list.

He needs to rebuild his side, he needs to do that on a budget. He needs to try and ensure that the rebuilding process is quick enough to allow him to keep pace with a Celtic side who might - just might - be heading into the new season with the confidence of a newly won treble behind them.

And all that has to be done while coping with the distraction of a club in a state of confusion off the park - a malaise that the courts and HMRC might make even worse.

It's quite a task. Achieve it all and never will the 'Super Ally' tag have been so deserved.

Achieve just some of it and the myriad powers that be at Rangers might still think they've found the right man.

It could be that Rangers are preparing - silently, without fanfare - for a period where trophies are less important than re-establishing financial safety.

If so, then a hungry new manager - we can hardly call McCoist young - with a passion for the club might be exactly the man they are looking for.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Monday, February 21, 2011

Cowdenbeath: Ghosts of Good Times

A difficult Saturday afternoon for Cowdenbeath, shipping three goals and losing their derby with Raith inside the first half hour.

There have been better times though.

As Daniel Gray writes in Stramash:

“Central Park is a relic that binds. If its pensionable walls could speak, they would talk of 1920s glory days and mention the first team of miners that won promotion in 1924 and the following season finished fifth in Division One.”

The medal above is from that promotion campaign and was won by a goalkeeper called David (Davie) Stevenson.

Stramash suggests that John Falconer kept goal in the First Division season so I’m not sure if Stevenson remained with Cowdenbeath or not.

Certainly he was also signed for both Hibs and Hearts, his Hibs career beginning in 1913 and resuming after World War One. His player registration form shows that he was with Hearts during the 1921/22 season.

Another forgotten name from Scottish football’s cast of thousands.

But he did make enough of an impact at Cowdenbeath to be celebrated in song:

We have a dandy goalkeeper,
Davie Stevenson is his name;
He has been tried and tested,
At this awfu’ fitba’ game

See the album below for the rest of the song, documents and a picture of Stevenson in Cowdenbeath garb.

The register of members’ interests: David Stevenson was my great, great uncle.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Gissa Job

A job in fitba'?

What could be better.

I'm holding out for George Peat's job myself. If you think that dictatorial dinosaur is bad wait till you see how the tyrannical Tyrannosaurus rolls.

Convinced football is your calling? is a good place to start:

One of the keys to being a successful and productive employee is to be motivated. But most of us have experienced at least one job in which we saw little to excite us and motivate us, dealing with subjects which we are not all that interested in. Which is fine in principle, after all we all need jobs.

However, most people also have a dream job of their own, working in an area that really does excite them, making every working day a happy occasion. For some that dream role is music, others it's travel. As our name suggests, we at cater for people like you - people who love football.

There are a wide variation of roles in the football world. Every football club still needs it's "regular" staff that you find in most companies, Human Resources, Hospitality, Ticket office staff etc, all made better by being involved in a football club, along with any bonuses that come their way, in the form of tickets.

But there are also a number of more specific roles. Football journalism is a demanding but hugely satisfying field to work in, with the opportunity, once employed with one of the bigger media names, to go to games, to interview big name footballers, and with the job specification to watch a lot of football. It's not an easy, and not easy to break into professionally, but if you work hard enough at it, and gain enough experience, it is achievable.

Working in Public relations can be extremely exciting in the football world, with the need to inform members of the press about the latest goings-on at your club, being the main contact between local and national press, and the football club.

Other roles in football also excite - football scouting is hard to get into, but with a good eye for a player, excellent observational skills and dedication, you can get into this hugely rewarding field. This role is not just reserved for ex-footballers, and especially if you are flexible about where you work, and if you possess other language skills, the dream job of watching football for a living comes true, and who knows, you could spot the next Messi.

Finally, football coaching is another rewarding job, where if you have a good tactical knowledge of the game, you can help children of different ages reach their full potential. With a clear set of qualifications upto UEFA A standard, there is a real career progression for highly driven coaches, who could end up coaching at football clubs.

The variation of jobs in football is massive, but what is for sure is that although demand can be high in such jobs, someone has to get them, and often it is those willing to work extra-hard, and go the extra mile.

To find out more about jobs in football, or to look at the latest football jobs listed, just visit

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The SPL Weekend: Dirty Dozen

One word from a dozen managers to sum up the SPL this weekend:

Aberdeen 5 v 0 Kilmarnock

Craig Brown: “Pleasing.”
Mixu Paatelainen: “Farcical.”

Hearts 2 v 1 Dundee United

Jim Jefferies: “Determination.”
Peter Houston: “Cruel.”

Inverness 2 v 0 St Johnstone

Terry Butcher: “Effort.”
Derek McInnes: “Disappointed.”

Motherwell 1 v 0 Hamilton

Stuart McCall: “Huge.”
Billy Reid: “Conned.”

Celtic 3 v 0 Rangers

Neil Lennon: “Fantastic.”
Walter Smith: “Deserved.”

St Mirren 0 v 1 Hibs

Danny Lennon: “Choke.”
Colin Calderwood: “Gritty.”

I might try this again in the couple of weeks. See how often the same managers use the same vocabulary to describe their team’s performance.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

SPL Today: St Mirren v Hibs

The SPL scoots from the east end of Glasgow to Paisley when the Old Firm is done and dusted. How the other half live.

How the other have live.

Eleventh versus twelfth in the SPL sounds like a relegation clash and both teams will be treating it as such.

In the last few weeks though I think the fear of the drop has been lifted from these two sides. There seems to be an air of inevitability about Hamilton’s demise. You get the feeling that no matter how badly Hibs or St Mirren play, the Accies will contrive to play even worse.

Leith and Paisley are not havens of comfort and security just yet. But they are getting there.

Two wins on the trot for Colin Calderwood’s side has left some fans greedily eyeing the top six. Best not to break into a Usain Bolt impression before you’ve proved you can walk but the victories have brought a discernible lift to Easter Road.

St Mirren can also be reasonably happy with their last two outings, last week’s 3-3 draw at Inverness following a professional cup win against Ayr.

It says much about Danny Lennon’s season though that scoring three goals at home is enough to secure only a point.

When these two met a couple of weeks ago in Edinburgh there was some surprise at the lack of fight St Mirren showed while losing 2-0.

Lennon will be determined that the same doesn't happen today.

The blunt truth is that both these teams are in the bottom three for very good reason. Neither of them have been good enough this season.

Their aim has to be moving far enough away from Hamilton to guarantee safety and then consolidate with an eye on next season.

As for today?

It could be another tight one. I’m going to back Hibs. That might not be the neutral view but I’ve been impressed with a couple of Calderwood’s signings and it seems the players are learning how to play as a team again.

St Mirren shouldn’t lack in effort but I suspect a Hibs side with the confidence just starting to creep back will have enough to win it.

My prediction from last Sunday still stands: 2-0 away win.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Old Firm: El Hadji Diouf, Pele and 123 Other Great Footballers

Mention on Twitter yesterday of Pele’s view of his fellow Braziliant Brazilian Ronaldo. Seems Edson doesn’t rate him as highly as others do.

Someone then mentioned Pele’s FIFA 100 list.

You might remember that, back in 2004, the governing cartel asked Pele to list the 100 greatest living players to mark their centenary celebrations.

Showing the kind of numeracy skills that have marked his business career, Pele returned with a list of 125 players.

I revisited the list to remind myself of who was on it.

And lo! Were my eyes playing some king of cruel trick? Surely it couldn’t be?

But yes. There he was.

Of the 50 active players included on his list Pele had chosen one El Hadji Diouf.

The blue mohicaned, gold jeep driving Diouf. Much reviled public enemy number one.

Now, it is very important to remember that Pele’s list was, essentially, utter bollocks.

Many of the choices appeared for reason’s of political expediency rather for pure footballing ability. See for yourself here the way in which the great man offers a slightly more geographically even selection than many of us might have chosen.

Still, it is proof that Diouf is a football player. And a not an untalented one at that.

Let’s hope he remembers that today.

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed

Old Firm Preview: The Neutral View

I like custard. When I know I’m going to be having custard I am happy. I look forward to my custard experience.

And then the custard arrives. And it’s lumpy. This disappoints me.

Too often in the past Old Firm games have been like lumpy custard. You look forward to the big event and then you are treated to a dish about as appetising as cat vomit.

Thankfully at Ibrox a couple of weeks ago Rangers and Celtic just about lived up to hype. It was 90 minutes of cup football that Scotland had no need to be ashamed of.

Rangers and Celtic as ambassadors? With a couple of those Ibrox goals they were spoiling us.

There is, I suppose, also a danger that eating custard all time - even if it is the best custard in the world - would get a bit dull.

All of which runs through my jumbled mind as I preview act four of this season’s Celtic v Rangers seven part epic.

Old Firm supporting friends are forever telling me that each and every Old Firm game matters. But this one might just matter more than most.

The league table doesn’t lie. But it can lead you down a blind alley. The table shows Celtic at the top with Rangers' two games in hand giving the Ibrox side a predicted one point lead.

Doesn’t feel like that though. Since the January 2nd Old Firm clash the momentum has shifted inexorably towards Celtic, an impression that the Scottish Cup draw at Ibrox did little to dispel.

Celtic seem to be playing the better football with a more resilient and more adaptable squad. They have fewer fears over fixture congestion and they don’t have the added distraction of financial shenanigans that would make an Enron accountant blush.

And yet.

Are we really ready to write Rangers off? Would this not be typical of the Ibrox side, to travel to Celtic Park and mug the league leaders in their own back yard.

The better side doesn’t always win these games. And what a boost Rangers would get from winning this and halting what is beginning to look like a Celtic procession to the title.

The importance of the game will dictate Rangers’ tactics. I don’t think this is a game they can afford to lose. Walter Smith’t team will be set out to be difficult to beat. That’s the main aim. Anything else is a bonus.

Neil Lennon could spring a surprise and play both Anthony Stokes and Gary Hooper but he’ll be acutely aware of the need to guard against being caught on the counter so I’d expect him to start with just one up front.

Oddly home advantage has proved redundant in the games so far this season with Rangers coming back to steamroller Celtic in the second half of the first Parkhead clash and Celtic twice outplaying Rangers at Ibrox.

What outcome can we expect? Undoubtedly this has the prospect of being hugely interesting. Will Scott Brown and El Hadji Diouf pick up where they left off a fortnight go? Has this creaking Rangers’ squad got one last push left? How will Celtic’s young squad - and their still inexperienced manager - cope with the weight of expectation?

It could be a cracker. Even if it’s not it should be, at the very least, intriguing.

Earlier in the week I backed Celtic to win this 2-1. I’ll stand by that although I now disagree with myself.

If it’s going to be that close I think Rangers will nick it. If not then I think Celtic will win it more comfortably.

It is always dangerous to read too much into one game. But I think this one defines the season. It’s that important.

Hold on to your hats.

The Celtic view
The Rangers view

The Scottish Football Blog News Feed