Saturday, April 30, 2011

Eddie Turnbull 1923-2011

The attacking football, the flair game, that Hibs fans are said to hold so dear is oft maligned and often frustrates those managers tasked with satisfying the demands of supporters.

That footballing ideal, which perhaps exists more in theory than in practicality, owes itself to two gilded periods.

In the austerity of the 1950s Hibs shone a light across Scotland with a quintet of attacking talent that will be forever celebrated at Easter Road.

Their most worthy successors arrived in the 1970s when a Hibs team packed with quality endeavoured to craft their own legacy in the shadow of Jock Stein's all conquering Celtic.

Two decades are part of Hibs' DNA. And one man blazed his own legend into both eras.

Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Ormond. And Turnbull.

As a player Eddie Turnbull, who died today, was an integral part of the Famous Five, part of the attacking spearhead of a team that won three championships and led British football into European club competition.

As a manager he detoured to Queens Park then brought a Scottish Cup to Pittodrie before returning to Easter Road to build Turnbull's Tornadoes.

Stanton, Cropley, Gordon, Brownlie, Edwards.

Names that roll off the tongue of even this Hibs supporter who never saw them play.

A League Cup win seems a paltry return for their ability. But their talents and achievements are part of the brickwork at even a redeveloped Easter Road.

The true Hibee will know all about that 7-0 win at Tynecastle before they can even talk.

Today's news has taken me by surprise. Eddie was obviously failing. But he had an indomitable spirit that seemed to stand him in good enough stead to beat anything.

Having been away for the last week I was unaware how ill he had become.

The last time I saw him enjoy the spotlight was in October. On being unveiled as an inaugural member of the Hibs hall of fame, Eddie was helped to the stage and supported himself with two walking sticks.

As the crowd rose to acclaim him a healthy chorus of "Glory, Glory..." broke out.

Within seconds Eddie had hoisted both walking sticks into the air and was using them to conduct the impromptu singalong.

It might have brought tears to the eyes if you didn't know that Eddie would dissapprove. He was, every inch of him, hewn from the old school.

That night, as ever, he was difficult to get off the stage. An old man reliving his glory days, he relished a stage and a ready ear to enthral.

More than that he was never short to offer an opinion on modern football. He was so often on the money in his observations that it made you despair that he was essentially lost to football when he left Hibs in 1980, a couple of years before his 60th birthday.

The Eddie I knew, albeit only distantly, enjoyed the acclaim and embraced the fans.

Those who played with him, against him or for him knew a more cantankerous beast. Punters who used to frequent his pub on Easter Road might also have a tale or four to tell about the legendary Turnbull temper.

Mind you, it wasn't that long ago that I saw him get his jacket on and threaten to walk out of a football forum when someone annoyed him with their line of questioning. The fire still burned.

The Famous Five enforcer with the thunderbolt shot. The first player to score a goal for a British club in Europe. Captain of his country at Scotland's World Cup debut in 1958. The hard, hard man who allowed skill, artistry and elegance to flourish in his Hibs team.

The bridge between the two eras that still bring Hibs fans their most unadulterated joy when celebrating their football club.

Fittingly Hibs' next home game is against Aberdeen on the final day of the season.

There will be a space next to Lawrie Reilly in the stand at Easter Road.

Just as Turnbull himself would never be silenced, so his achievements, his character, his memory - which represent a very different but hugely important time in Scottish football - will echo loudly in Leith that day.

But we'll miss him. If Hibs are indeed a family then it's hard not to feel that the club has lost a grandfather today.

SPL Today: Two Up, Two Down

The SPL season heads inexorably towards its conclusion. Did last Sunday decide the destination of the title?


Perhaps not.

All Rangers can do is keep winning, keep hoping and wait for Celtic to slip up. Not much else for it.

Celtic, of course, need to avoid slipping up. And keep winning.

All very simple in a season when we seem to have somersaulted ourselves into positions of needless complexity.

Still, anything can happen. It's not over until the fat woman sings a tasteful, non-sectarian song.

Time aplenty then to read my predictions, get the best betting odds for football, free bets and free betting offers and put your money where my mouth is so frequently wrong.

Motherwell v Rangers

Arguably Rangers toughest fixture of the rump of the season. Having spent a number of months caught betwixt and between alright and awful Motherwell suddenly seem to have forgotten how to lose.

Securing a Scottish Cup final appearance proved their rediscovered verve, last week's three goal comeback at Tynecastle proved their rediscovered spirit.

During that strange old run when Stuart McCall first took over at Fir Park Motherwell managed to lose 6-0 to Rangers and beat Celtic.

Is their another sting in the Motherwell tail, can they still provide a twist to the title tale?

Four games to go for Rangers. Four wins needed. That still might not be enough. No room for error though.

The stakes being so high, I'll back Rangers. But I'll not be surprised if they get a fright today.

Kilmarnock v Hearts

Life after Mixu has not been more a bucket of warm spit than a magnum of champagne for Kilmarnock.

Hearts too have floundered a bit of late, the surrendering of a three goal lead last weekend providing the most illuminating example of a tailing off form over the past couple of months.

So spot the form team at Rugby Park today.

Based on little more than a hunch I'll pick a home win.

Aberdeen v Inverness

A word of warning for any newly weds, famous, infamous, royal or proletarian. The ending of a honeymoon period can be painful.

Craig Brown's arrival at Aberdeen sparked an upturn in form, a new enthusiasm and left that septuagenerian manager giddy with the possibilities of pastures new.

Now the malaise seems to have returned. Once again it seems that even getting out of bed is a sair fecht up Pittodrie way.

Inverness started brightly enough to give us a glimmer of optimism in this SPL season. A slump dashed their top six chances but they are showing form enough to be favourites to finish seventh. The best of the rest of the rest.

Away win.

Hibernian v St Johnstone

Hibs have confirmed that ten out of contract players will be allowed to depart this summer. Question marks remain over Derek Riordan and Liam Miller.

The cynic in me predicts that Riordan will be offski but a premature announcement might just provoke a backlash that could nudge season ticket wavererers away from the Easter Road ticket office.

My own view is that Derek and Hibs have reached the end of the road. The talent remains, new horizons might offer him the best chance of unleashing it more consistently.

All of which is something of a diversion as I search in vain for ways to describe how unenthused I am by this meaningless fixture between two side who would be better packing up and going on their summer jaunts to Blackpool, Skeggy and the Costa del Tennents.

A home win. If anyone can be bothered.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

SPL: Twelve Probably Won't Become Ten

The SPL's dream of a ten team top league seems ever further away after Dundee United's board confirmed their decision to vote against the proposal.

United chairman Stephen Thompson said:

"We had a board meeting today and as far as we're concerned we're unconvinced that this is the way forward for Scottish football.

"There are a lot of good things in the proposals but we don't believe that a top league of 10 is the way forward." (Courier)

No tears shed on this blog of course.

I've been consistently, repetitively and boringly anti the ten team proposal.

Not because I'm an enemy of change. But because it is clear that the fans don't want a top flight of ten and that the SPL were unwilling or unable to offer proof that extra TV money would be forthcoming.

Faced with the need for change the clubs seemed happy to sleepwalk into a solution that further alienated supporters and offered no real guarantees of revenue increases.

That always seemed daft.

I suspect United won't be alone, making the 11-1 vote in favour of change impossible.

At a supporter's forum last week I heard both Davie Provan and Craig Patterson arguing that a move to ten teams was the best solution for the Scottish game.

I disagree with them. But at least they were trying to make an articulate argument for the change and offering proper footballing reasons - if not hugely convincing ones - to make their point.

That's something the SPL have failed to do. Most noticeably it is something the SPL's chief executive, the underwhelming Neil Doncaster, has failed to do.

Doncaster has been the most visible and most vocal advocate of the ten team league. He's certainly not about to embark on a career as TV evangelist any time soon.

If he fails to deliver that, fails to deliver backing within his own organisation, then his usefulness has surely been spent.

We all want change. But we want positive, inclusive, thoughtful change.

Many of us hope that George Peat's exit from the SFA this summer will help that body address some of Scottish football's problems.

Maybe the SPL should also be considering Doncaster's position.

They've spent too much of this past year locked in what appears now to be have a futile debate.

It might now be time to prove that they're slightly more than an army of sheep led by a donkey.

> I missed this earlier but the BBC are reporting that Inverness will also vote against the ten team proposal as it currently stands.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

SPL Today: Hibs v St Mirren

A bit like taking to the stage at the Sands Casino an hour after Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack have taken their leave.

Sunday games aren't always that popular at Easter Road. A bottom six clash against the second bottom team, served up after a televised Old Firm game, on the back of a defeat to the team at the bottom of the league has all the appeal of regurgitated Easter eggs.

If nothing else last week's win for Hamilton will provide a bit of an edge to this one, reminding St Mirren that until the maths says otherwise anything can happen.

It was proof too for Hibs that much remains to be done, the comedy of errors and the frustration as they chased the game pointing to remaining deficiencies in both defence and attack.

So today St Mirren will be out to reaffirm their safety and Hibs, no doubt on the end of a week of managerial ear bashing, will be hoping to show their fans that the remainder of the season can offer more than a succession of lame duck matches.

All fine in theory. The reality might offer something a touch less inspiring.

Home win. Just.

Rangers v Celtic: Destiny Calls

Old Firm matchday number seven. Rangers v Celtic. Old friends never get tired of meeting up.

By any footballing standards today’s Easter clash provides drama enough. To the winner, it looks, goes the league title and a tilt at the Champions League.

Sadly Scotland in 2011 relies not on footballing drama alone.

We had already seen the cranking up of the rancour surrounding Old Firm games this season. We had seen the police raise their concerns.

We had seen protagonists fail to acknowledge that increased pressure, that heightened scrutiny, and lose their heads in the heat of the moment.

We had seen the furrowed brows of politicians, of Rangers and Celtic along with the great and the good of Scottish football being summoned to an Edinburgh summit.

But none of that prepared us for the news that Neil Lennon was among those being targeted in a letter bomb campaign.

So today the SPL hosts the one fixture in its calendar that garners some attention outside our borders. But the world, unaware of subtleties and fed only headlines, will now associate this game, this showpiece match, with an attempt to kill the Celtic manager.

There better be lot of people, in a lot of roles, in a lot of organisations asking themselves how it has ever come to this.

In the immediate aftermath of the story breaking I saw a few muted comments about cancelling today’s game or playing it behind closed doors.

The glib answer is that not playing today would be to allow this madman and his twisted hatred to win.

The truth is football is a remarkably resilient beast, unerringly able to march on in the face of outside interference, adept at turning a blind eye to situations it would rather ignore.

There was never any doubt that this game would go ahead today.

But it will go ahead under quite unparalled scrutiny. I suspect that the rational reaction to the week’s events – to adopt a position of reconciliatory calm – will pass certain elements by. Instead I fear some will see today as an even better excuse to display their defiance, indulge their more hysterical tendencies.

We’ll do well to get through this game with people commenting only on the football.

That’s a shame because this is one of the climatic events of the season, a season where both Celtic and Rangers have wobbled, recovered, impressed at times and simply got the job done at times.

Different seasons, different distractions, different styles. But they’ve stayed knotted together in the race for the title. Today one of them will take a massive step towards glory.

A point behind and a game in hand, Celtic have a slight advantage. The widely held view is that Celtic have the harder run in, with more away games.

That argument doesn’t always hold in Scottish football though, as evidenced in a week when both Rangers and Celtic converted potentially tricky away ties into 4-0 routs.

Even being visitors today is not a hammer blow. Both sides have felt the pain of Old Firm defeats at home this season. But Celtic are yet to lose a match at Ibrox.

Yet it was Rangers, so chastened in being tactically trumped at New Year, so off the pace in the league at Parkhead and so snarlingly impotent in being knocked out of the Scottish Cup, who took the first silverware of the season.

That day at Hampden Rangers got a lot right and Celtic barely even got started. It proved again, if proof was ever needed, that Rangers have a dogged resistance to being reduced to the role of also rans.

Proof also that this exciting Celtic side, very impressive when playing and attacking with pace and stuffed full of performers who can make the opposition squirm, are not without weaknesses and still lack the gritty experience of some of this Rangers squad.

And how Rangers would relish it if their own attacking force was to perform today. Nikika Jelavic seems to be hitting form and his presence should at least partially soothe feelings of attacking inadequacy when Rangers eye up Celtic’s abundance of options.

Celtic can afford to draw and win their remaining games to take the title.

A draw for Rangers will leave them reliant on Celtic slipping up.

That, along with their strength in depth and their greater ability to relentlessly turn the screw when they get ahead or begin to dominate, makes me consider Celtic favourites.

But the league table shows how little there is between them over the course of a long season.

Will Rangers greater need to win tempt then into a gameplan that suits Celtic by giving them space to exploit?

Will the league cup final performance haunt Celtic or inspire them to guard against complacency?

There’s an interesting ninety minutes ahead. Whoever wins, whatever the result it would be nice if it was the football that people are talking about this evening.

Prediction: Always hard to call these games. Celtic to win 2-1. Might happen. Might not.