Saturday, August 27, 2011

Homeless World Cup: Scotland Reach World Cup Final

Stop it. Stop all these good news stories when we're supposed to be wrestling with self loathing over our footballing inadequacy.

But when the Homeless World Cup final kicks off in Paris tomorrow, Scotland will be there.

Their lunchtime quarter final against Ukraine was an 11 goal thriller. But it was Scotland who edged it, six goals to five, to set up a semi final against Kenya.

Another tough one this Parisian afternoon, a big crowd and a big prize.

But it was Scotland, winners in 2007, who claimed the win. A 5-3 victory enough to set up a final against Mexico.

No slouches the Mexicans, they ripped apart the reigning champions Brazil, a 5-1 victory sending them to their first Homeless World Cup final.

As I've written throughout this Homeless World Cup week the taking part, the changing of lives, is what's important.

The winning is secondary.

It's still bloody nice to hear the phrase "Scotland reach World Cup final" though.

Follow the action tomorrow at

> Watch the video of Scotland's Homeless World Cup semi final win over Kenya

> In the Women's Homeless World Cup tomorrow Scotland have a positional play off against Malawi

SPL: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Apparently Alex Salmond’s Scottish Government have rushed through emergency legislation declaring that every football article written must include reference to Scottish football’s darkest hour.

So be it.

Scotland manager Craig Levein assured us yesterday that the Scottish game would bounce back from the trials of Thursday night.

Sadly the squad he’s picked for the upcoming “crucial double header” (Copyright: The world and his dug) includes only four SPL players.

None of them from outside the Old Firm. The revolution might be televised. But it won’t be instant.

A return though for Darren Fletcher. Still very short of game time but proof of how integral to his plans Levein considers his captain.

Not universally loved though. I was surprised at the vitriol that greeted the squad announcement on Twitter.

One seemed to suggest that the inclusion of Fletcher sums up what’s wrong with Scottish football in this week of woe.

Aye, right. A footballer that lacks the talent of some of his more celebrated Manchester United colleagues - although he’s no slouch - who has shown how modesty combined with application, dedication, hard work can allow you to go head to head with some of the best of the world. And often come out on top.

That’s whats wrong with Scottish football? I’d suggest anyone who thinks that should look a bit closer to home to identify our failings.

Lithuania and Czech Republic await. Crucially. Still a round of domestic games to get through first though. Briefly

Dunfermline v Motherwell

The high fliers lost a bit of height against Rangers last week while Dunfermline’s start to the season has suggested that confidence in Fife has not been entirely misplaced. Two away wins on the bounce - we’ll gloss over the midweek defeat to East Fife - and still undefeated. That’ll do nicely thanks.

How will Motherwell rebound from that defeat to Rangers. They brushed past Clyde in the League Cup but today’s a sterner test.


Inverness CT v Kilmarnock

The struggle continues for Inverness while Kilmarnock must be pleased with their progress under Kenny Shiels considering the big rebuilding job he has had to contend with.

Away win.

St Johnstone v Dundee United

A draw. And maybe even a goalless one at that.

Apologies for the unusual brevity. I'm off to shout abuse at Tam Cowan.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Homeless World Cup: A Scottish Football Success Story

One group of well paid men get beaten by another. We wail about the injustice of our well paid men not being paid as much as other groups of well paid men. Even though there’s a group of men who aren’t paid as much as our well paid men doing away just fine over there.

Such is the world of Scottish football, a sport dreamed of on the playing fields from Dumfries to Shetland but ripped asunder on the green, green grass of Slovenia and Switzerland.

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message Fitba Is Deid

It’s not.

It needs a lot of remedial work . The downward spiral has been unchecked too long. Professional football need to re-engage, enthuse, reconnect.

Still a big part of our lives though, our history, our culture, our society.

And it can still inspire, make a difference. Change lives.

It’s happening right now. In Paris, a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower.

The Homeless World Cup. 48 teams. One goal: to change lives through football.

Scotland are there, representing this nation where the hysterical talk of turning their backs on the game. There and on form.

Two defeats in the opening two group stages sees them in the quarter finals. There they’ll face Ukraine, winners of their second round group while the Scots could only finish runners up behind reigning champions Brazil.

Scotland managed four wins from their five second round games, scoring 33 goals while Ukraine’s four wins in a much tighter group brought only 26 goals. In a tournament where there is a premium on high scoring Scotland should fancy their chances.

Not that it’s all about winning.

It’s about players like Deradjat Ginandjar Koesmayadi from Indonesia:

“This is beyond a dream. It’s hard in my country for people like me. I’m criminalised for my lifestyle. Here, I can represent my country. And it’s not just about football. It’s about what we can change through football.”

Or Jeffrey Guelas of Philippines:

“Every time I play I see people surrounding me. We feel so happy to have this support and that we are carrying the fight of our nation in such a fantastic atmosphere.”

Football changing lives. Without rancour.

And Scotland are doing well. Doing more than just playing well: giving the Homeless World Cup its founder, Mel Young, and a base at Easter Road.

It’s football and it’s something to be proud of. Who’d have thought it as the recriminations flew last night.

Follow the tournament - and donate - on the Homeless World Cup website

Quarter Finals

All 48 men’s teams remain involved throughout but the quarter final draw for the Homeless World Cup trophy is:

Nigeria v Mexico
Kenya v Chile
Brazil v Indonesia
Ukraine v Scotland

Women’s Homeless World Cup

In their debut tournament the Scottish women’s team overcame a tricky start to progress to the quarter finals and a clash with Brazil.

2-1 ahead at half time Scotland held out thanks to goalkeeper Faye Logan before conceding the equaliser that took the game to penalties.

Alas it was the Brazilians who triumphed in the shoot-out.

A fine effort from Scotland though especially when set against those early losses.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

SPL in Europe: The Worst Night of Football in the World Ever?

Things are never as bad as they seem. In 1882 The Sporting Times declared English cricket dead.

Right now England are the number one team in the world, holders of The Ashes that once symbolised their demise.

Sport has peaks and sport has troughs.

But this was a grim night for Scottish football.

So often in the past our poor European form has been given a slightly more becoming cosmetic sheen by progress made by one or both of the Old Firm.

Not tonight. With Hearts already out, Celtic lost a man, a goal and much hope within a minute against Sion. Rangers fell to the modern European curse of slipping from two competitions before August is out.

Grim indeed.

The worst ever?

Comparisons are tricky given the rejigging of these European competitions.

The 1991/92 season was hardly a roaring success. That year Rangers fell at the first hurdle to Sparta Prague in the European Cup, GKS Katowice knocked Motherwell out in the first round of the Cup Winner's Cup and Aberdeen's UEFA Cup campaign disintegrated at the first time of asking to Copenhagen's B1903.

Celtic did get past Germinal Ekeren in the first round of the UEFA Cup but there ended the dream as they lost 5-2 on aggregate to Switzerland's Neuchatel Xamax.

There would have been soul searching aplenty that year. Fan's with typewriters asking if this was the "worst ever," "the lowest of the low." Different mediums, same dire predictions.

The 1990s as a whole were hardly a picnic. The only decade since the 1960s when no Scottish team progressed to a European final.

Look at the teams from that 1991/92 season, teams from Switzerland, the old Eastern bloc, Denmark. Hardly traditional powerhouses.

Or 1994/95 when only Motherwell got through the opening round of European competition. Rangers, Aberdeen and Dundee United were sent packing by teams from Greece, Latvia and Slovakia. Motherwell won the privilege of being knocked out by Borussia Dortmund by beating a team from the Faroe Islands.

We were falling over ourselves to bemoan our lack of standing among the elite as Tottenham Hotspur steamrolled Hearts last week.

But that was never the comparison that mattered. It's results that have cropped up consistently - perhaps this year they are more concentrated - that better crystallise our decline.

Take a look at the 2009/10 season. True we had Celtic in the Europa League group stage and Rangers in the Champions League.

But by the end of that October Scottish teams had lost games - if not two-legged ties - to sides from Lichtenstein, Wales, Romania, Israel and Albania.

21 games into the 2009/10 European season our clubs (six from the SPL that season) had combined to win five games and keep two clean sheets at home.

Tonight's unseemly predicament has competition as the worst ever.

Perhaps it feels worse, combined as it is with the national team's prolonged absence from a major tournament and the general fug of financial despondency, but a night such as this is no surprise.

It's been coming a long time. Fans of clubs who have suffered this season will identify their own faults, vent their own anger, point to their own men to blame.

Surely though this is a night that hammers home the long term failings of the Scottish game.

A game that has been allowed to decline by governing bodies that have not been fit for purpose, by short term fixes, by brave words being backed up by powder puff actions, by a parochialism that allows us forget the European humiliations as the domestic season progresses.

And each season they come back to us, holding out the begging bowls and asking for just that little bit more that will make things better.

They've failed us.

It hurts. Hurts if your club have been sent home to think again before these European jamborees have even properly started.

Hurts if you take even a passing interest in Scottish football and know that part of our history that tells us we could once compete with the very best of them at this level.

But a night of doom that kills Scottish football? Hardly.

Listen to the Hearts fans at White Hart Lane tonight and be in no doubt that there's enough passion here to sustain the game in these dark hours.

Rebounding won't be easy. It's going to involve a lot of toil. There might be more nights like this along the way.

If nothing else, tonight should convince us that we need to have the patience to see through the massive structural changes that our game needs. Real action on the McLeish Report - I don't agree with it all, most of it ain't rocket science but it's a start - has to be pushed through.

We face a choice: wallow in self-pity or vow that a repeat of tonight simply won't happen in 15 years time?

The changes we need are unlikely to return us to the elite. The European game has been transformed, Scotland won't be able to redress the inequality that has cast us adrift.

But there are nations out there that we should at least be able to hold our own with.

For two decades we've struggled to do that. And results over the past twenty years as much as results this season prove that. Teams that we hadn't heard of in 1970 embarrassed us in 1991 and do so again in 2011.

There's our inspiration right there. Why can't we make the gradual improvements that other countries have made? What marks us Scots out as being singularly incapable of adapting to modern football?

The worst ever? I've heard it all before.

Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. That's just a label, a convenient shorthand to express our gloom and our disgust. When it's been bandied about before we've failed to react.

If we're similarly inactive now then our next worst night ever will be lurking just around the corner.

> 1990s facts and figures from

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Football on the Fringe: Bob Doolally Live and Half-Cut

Susan Boyle, Roseanna Cunningham and Deirdrie "off the Tennent's lager can."

All "close personal friends" of Bob Doolally, the football pundit's pundit making a fleeting Fringe appearance at the Stand Comedy Club.

The act remains much as it always was, that introductory roll call hint that a scattergun approach, devoid of subtlety, is the order of the day.

I had reservations before the show started. I feared this was a comedy grotesque who doesn't move us much beyond the disastrous recent Only An Excuse Hogmanay specials.

And certainly, if carefully constructed satire is your thing, then Bob Doolally ain't yer man.

On the other hand Scottish football is packed full of characters so ridiculous that it doesn't take a Wildean wit to call them out as numpties. This is particularly effective when he turns his attention to the senders of letterbombs.

And the audience, mostly but not completely male, seem to be full throttle in their appreciation. It's material Only An Excuse wouldn't dare use and it's all the better for it.

Ashley Cole, Derek Riordan, John Leslie, Gordon Brown, Alex Salmond, Sue Barker, Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter, David Beckham. All of them get the Doolally treatment. It's a list that seems to prove that some of this material is increasingly dated.

There's also time for an enjoyable stab at recreating the almost artistic way certain Scots can use what I think the Americans have started calling f-bombs and c-bombs to replace almost any other word in their vocabulary.

This remains an act that embraces the "off colour" joke as a badge of honour and, although the buffoonish Doolally persona helps it avoid a descent into naked nastiness, patrons should leave any notions of political correctness at the door.

Unfortunately I couldn't help but think that there was nothing new here.

There was a horrible BBC phrase kicking about earlier this year regarding the search for "blue collar comedy."

I suspect this is it.

But you can hear variations on many of these jokes in stadiums and pubs across the country.

I'd say they work better au naturel, without the forced conceit of the Doolally character.

Perhaps that can be countered by saying that this is a show that connects the Fringe with "ordinary" punters more effectively than any number of Oxbridge revues can. The raucous laughter that greets his every utterance might support that argument.

Yet I'm not sure there is a strong enough character here to step outside a fairly limited stand up routine. The question and answer session at the end didn't quite click although it should be a gift for character driven stand up.

There's comedians doing it better than this across the city right now.

Most of them, of course, aren't dealing with Scottish football. And that's the selling point that delivers Doolally's audience.

Alas the hour reflects Scottish football rather too successfully. Workman-like, full of honest endeavour, perhaps fleetingly impressive.

But ultimately unsatisfactory.

Homeless World Cup: Scotland's Success Brings New Challenges

Heard about the Scotland team going to a World Cup and turning in a series of high scoring, winning performances?


You might not have because there's little coverage over here but this footballing anachronism is happening right now in Paris.

With the first group stage of the 2011 Homeless World Cup now complete Scotland's men can reflect on a job well done.

Wins yesterday over Romania and Germany rounded off Scotland's business in Group G. And they finished with only one defeat.

Unfortunately that penalty shoot-out loss to Indonesia, the match finished 8-8, robbed us of first place in the group.

That means we enter the secondary group stage - 48 teams and one week of matches requires a creative format - in Group C.

Joining us are Brazil, Croatia, Philippines, Poland and Portugal.

Poland and reigning champions Brazil are the two first round group winners in Group C. That guide to form suggests a daunting task for Scotland in their first game - we're up against the Poles in our only match today.

A bit of history in that fixture - the Poles, a real humdinger of a Polish side, were one of the great successes of the Edinburgh Homeless World Cup back in 2005.

Another first or second place finish in the secondary group stage will take Scotland into the quarter finals, nudging ever closer to the Homeless World Cup final.

Probably best if we don't get ahead of ourselves though, just try and fling a healthy dose of positive vibes across the channel.

> In the Women's Homeless Cup Scotland have endured a tough start to their debut tournament.

But they did manage their first ever win yesterday beating Paraguay 10-5. The women are in action against Holland today.

> Follow the action and find out more about how a one week football tournament in Paris can change lives around the world on the Homeless World Cup website

Football on the Fringe: How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup

"Well, that was the most boring thing you've ever taken to me."

The harsh verdict of a boy of around ten on How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won The FA Cup. Proving, if nothing else, that this play might not be for everyone. And that Edinburgh's public school production line of precocious little bastards continues apace.

The play is an adaptation of JL Carr's 1975 comic novel about the footballing impossible actually happening. A village team fighting their way through to an FA Cup final in the 1950s.

It couldn't happen today. It couldn't actually have happened then.

The premise of this footballing fantasy allows for not just an exploration of a lost world of football but a lost England. An England of village pubs, of outward respectability hiding secrets and lies, of class structures and a society wondering if their Prime Minister was right when he told them they'd "never had it so good."

Issues that a novelist can luxuriate in exploring. The canvas is narrower in Paul Hodson's stage adaptation.

Given such a rich cast of characters the idea of a one man play is a heavy burden for the actor. It's one Mark Jardine carries lightly.

The Hungarian academic who devises an untouchable footballing masterplan, the farmer-chairman of the club who runs the parish and keeps two wives at home on the farm, the star player turned teacher turned coach quietly driven by personal tragedy, the enthusiastically verbose local newshound who provides a love interest, the gawkily eager to please local vicar cum tricky winger.

Jardine delivers them all with an impressive enthusiasm and enough humour to engage the audience, thus Steeple Sinderby is colourfully populated. Colourfully enough to have us rooting for the team throughout their magical FA Cup mystery tour.

Jardine even pulls off the trick of an English actor in a most English play raising a Scottish laugh with a passable impression of Matt Busby leading his Manchester United side through the mud to play at Sinderby's home ground.

Unfortunately the central character of club secretary Joe, dealing with his own demons by slipping into village obscurity in Steeple Sinderby and ending up as our vicarious witness to extraordinary events, doesn't quite convince.

And that, coupled with the need to cram an entire season of footballing miracles into an hour or so of theatre, results in a show that often amuses but can't quite shake a certain air of flatness.

The most boring thing "ever?" Not a bit of it, there's humour aplenty here, a wistful trip to a lost world, perhaps a world that never existed and world full of larger than life characters.

A shame then that the play never quite seems fully realised, like a cup run ending at the semi-final stage. There's plenty to enjoy but also the regret of a missed opportunity.

How Steeple Sinderby Won the FA Cup is at Gilded Balloon Teviot until 29th August

How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the F.A.Cup is another of the many titles to be called "the best football book ever written." I certainly got enough from this adaptation to put that claim to the test.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

SPL: Welcome Home

After the party, the hangover. The fear. The self loathing.

Rangers thought they'd pulled the good looking girl only to see her disappear into the bedroom with a handsome stranger.

Celtic were ignored most of the night, left to stand in the kitchen nursing a lukewarm can of Skol.

And Hearts? Well, poor Hearts, they lost their invite and got kicked up and down by the bouncer when they tried to get in.

Never has a banging Euro hardcore soundtrack delivered such a poignant reminder of Scotland's footballing frailty.

But what did we learn from this week of European misadventure?

We learnt that within every Scottish football fan lurks a doomladen Private Frazer.

Other than that we learnt nowt. Not a thing.

Rangers and Celtic endured their own frustrations but the results are not yet fatal to their chances of progressing.

And few of us would have argued that either half of the Old Firm were without flaws going into Thursday night.

We should also have accepted that a clash between the best of the rest in England and the best of the rest in Scotland was going to highlight a glaring gulf in quality.

We might have hoped that Tynecastle wouldn't witness quite such a massacre but nor should we have been surprised at what happened.

The disparity in skill reflects the disparity in available resources. The apparent disparity in fitness - "who's the little fat man chasing Gareth Bale?" asked one tweet - and basic technical ability raises different questions but, again, should be no surprise to those who watch both Scottish and English football.

It's also important to note that this Spurs team have won big in their own league before. The inequality that afflicts football has not chosen Scotland as its sole victim.

Depressing. For sure. Surprising. Not so much.

Maybe the truth is we should disregard our European results for the next few years. While they can provide a valuable yardstick they also lead to kneejerk reactions.

From the recriminations and the phonecalls to The Samaritans comes only the window dressing of the inconsequential quick fix.

The sort of reaction that left us with the early SPL kick off, an ineffectual gimmick so confused and mishandled it delivered resentment without any benefits.

The work has to be done in getting our own house in order. Without that the SPL's international forays will forever be doomed to play out like latter day Darien schemes, bringing our once great footballing reputation to its knees.

Don't tell me that we're doing something that will help "save the co-efficient" next season. I won't believe you.

Show me the five year plan that will allow SPL footballers to convince that they are actually "footballers" in the modern, world game sense of the word. Then I'll have something to buy into.

Anyways, our remaining Euro representatives are concentrating on domestic duties today:

Motherwell v Rangers

A top of the table clash to while away a Sunday afternoon.

Are Motherwell the team to take the challenge to the might of the Old Firm this season?

Is Alistair Murdoch McCoist trapped in an Ibrox nightmare, pining for the days of witty banter with Sue Barker as the realisation dawns that he is the worst manager in the history of Rangers?

Asking either of those questions this early in the season is an act of total muppetry.

Motherwell have impressed, Ally has toiled.

Such is the way of the early season. Anything else is wild conjecture, premature hysteria or the construct of a media that has to find something to talk about even when nothing is happening.

It would be nice if we could leave all that to one side and just enjoy the game. A game against a Motherwell side who have started strongly and a Rangers team still searching for its rhythm. That could make for an appealing spectacle.

Score draw.

Celtic v St Johnstone

Frustrated by drawing a blank against Sion on Thursday night, Celtic return to the SPL and give St Johnstone a right old spanking?

We've seen it happen before.

Or St Johnstone set out to frustrate the hosts, ride their luck but don't concede and an increasingly desperate Celtic can't find a way through?


But I'd lean towards the first outcome.

Home win.

Kilmarnock v Hearts

How do a chastened Hearts side recover from Thursday night?

By hitting Ayrshire and proving that they very much intend to remain the third force in Scotland, whatever ills beset them in Europe.

Kilmarnock, of course, will be pure buzzing after essentially doing unto the Hibs defence what Spurs did to Hearts last week.

There was much to be impressed by in a flowing, clinical Killie performance. But we must also concede that this is a Hibs side very much there for the taking.

So Hearts will be wary of a Kilmarnock side with the ability to take emphatic advantage of failings in the opposition.

Any lingering flatness or tiredness in the Hearts team is likely to be punished.

Much will depend on how well Paulo Sergio has rallied his troops.

Home win.

Homeless World Cup: Scots Draw Old Rivals

The draw for the Homeless World Cup has been made and Scotland's men find themselves in Group G with Indonesia, Romania, Kyrgyzstan, Ireland and Germany.

As two of the most established Homeless World Cup sides a meeting between Scotland and Ireland, the group's highest ranked side, can normally be relied on to enthral.

Scotland's debutant women's team have landed in Group A with Colombia, Haiti, Mexico, Netherlands, Paraguay, France and Kenya.

The Scottish women's first ever Homeless World Cup match will be against Mexico and kicks off at 13:20 this afternoon.

The men take their 2011 bow against Kyrgyzstan, the match kicking off at 14:35.

What does the Homeless World Cup do? Watch Scotland manager David Duke's story to find out more:

You can follow the action live on the Homeless World Cup website