Saturday, October 22, 2011

Scottish Cup: Latapy Rises In The East

Edinburgh City v Irvine Meadow in the Scottish Cup today.

And, it seems, a City debut for Russell Latapy.

A remarkable signing. A union, fittingly, sealed in an Edinburgh nightclub.

Follow @scotfootblog for updates from the game.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Hearts: Community Stadium, Civil Strife

"Hearts are to work with City of Edinburgh Council to look into the feasibility of a community stadium, the football club have revealed." (BBC Sport)

And the alarm bells start ringing.

Yes, I'm a Hibs fan.

And many Hibs fans will recoil at the very suggestion - and at this stage a suggestion is all it is - that the City of Edinburgh Council should get involved in a Hearts stadium scheme.

But that's not the motivation for my concern.

There are obvious benefits to Hearts leaving Tynecastle. It would end a chapter of Scottish football history - Hibs have plenty of bad memories and a few good ones to remind us of trips across the city - but it seems clear that the old ground is now too restricted for development.

If a move was to make Hearts stronger then it would be up to the rest of us to try and match them.

It might also ease whatever financial pressures continue to swirl around Gorgie. There would have to be - in the sensible execution of local government - questions asked if the council was to play a role in soothing those maroon economic ills.

That should probably not detain us right now. I'm certainly not a Hibs fan who sees any direct benefit in financial catastrophe befalling our nearest rivals.

The very idea of a community stadium should appeal to my politics and my ideas of a healthy civic life.

For a good few years I was of the opinion that Hibs and the local authority should have worked together on the redevelopment of Easter Road in tandem with the redevelopment of Meadowbank.

I now think I was wrong. And I worry that any joint moves by Hearts and the council would be folly on a grand scale.

A football stadium can - perhaps should - be a community hub. But that doesn't mean council funds should be appropriated. I'm convinced that source of funding would fail, especially in a city of Edinburgh's size.

Maybe my views have been tainted by reading Dave Zirin's Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love.

The book is a Zirin polemic and one that features the worrying American trend of sports franchise owners turning the hunt for public money to build new "ball parks" into an Olympian pursuit. (For UK reference see the grappling over the London 2012 stadium).

But he does tell us that the idea of council funds being used to lift Hearts from Gorgie and dropping them elsewhere in Edinburgh - inevitably and unimaginatively pitched as an exercise in regeneration - would likely fail.

Researchers at the University of Maryland and the University of Alberta looked at thirty years of evidence and "failed to discover a single example of a sports franchise jump-starting the local economy."

Not that Hearts would be a franchise dropped from a great height. But location would be everything.

Even more so with a "community" stadium that would necessarily have to act as a multi-sport and leisure hub for the whole city. Where would it be? What facilities would be lost elsewhere? Would people travel? Or would participants - young, old, serious, just-for-fun-ers - be lost to sport?

As an Edinburgh resident, as a council tax payer, I'd want answers to those questions.

But that wouldn't be my biggest concern.

Edinburgh has a council that is morally bankrupt, teetering on the financial brink, possibly criminally corrupt and too often indulgent of incompetence.

What confidence should anybody - Hearts, Hibs or football hater - have in that council to make the right decisions on the location or construction of a football stadium?

I'm not sure how many people in Edinburgh would accept that these councillors or their officials have either the moral authority or the basic ability to make those decisions.

We have a right to expect better. We also have a right, I'm afraid, to expect that the council won't build a stadium - for Hearts, for Hibs, for the Scottish Rugby Union - at the same time as they're handing out compulsory redundancies.

It would take a hell of a business plan - complete with every social contingency for every area of the city that might feel knock on effects - to convince me that this partnership could work.

Anything else would feel like a stab in the dark. Mr Romanov has always struck me as a man appreciative of the legend of Hannibal. White elephants are probably not his thing.

Hearts would be advised to ca' canny.

Jump into bed with just anyone and they might suddenly find that Scotland's monkeys wear many a different disguise.

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Hibs: Rod Petrie Counts The Cost

"Verily I say unto you, no prophet is accepted in his own country."

There's different levels of prophecy. My meandering mumblings on the accounts of Hibernian Football Club wouldn't have made Luke pick up his quill.

It's also easier - especially in this world of Scottish football - to herald the arrival of bad news than to proclaim the happy-clappy joys we yearn for.

So there's little pleasure in being right. But I was. About Hibs. Horribly so.

Negative? Yep, that was me. More doom laden than Private Frazer? Hands up.

Hibs, you see, were the paragons of financial virtue that ducked the SPL trend.

Our football often went a bit wobbbly. But we had seven years of profit and a board that knew what they were doing with their prudence, their training centre, their new East Stand.

"But," I said, "the football's become so bad, the sell-on value of the players dissipated so much, the attendances dropped so alarmingly, the thudding march of apathy so insistent, that our economic excellence is under threat."

Too miserable. That was me.

Yet here we are. Hibs, the footballing spinster neighbour who lives a frugal life before leaving the local cat and dog home a million pounds, have posted losses of £900,000 for the financial year.

That news has been delivered slowly. The board, the Iron Chancellors of Easter Road, have sat on bad tidings.

But financial statements must be released, AGMs must be held.

Wait, hold your breath, hope.

But if no good news comes you'll have to deliver the bad tidings eventually.

Big earners have gone, money has been snaffled for Sol Bamba and Anthony Stokes, innocent people have been made redundant, fans have been asked to pay prices they can ill afford.

And still:

  • Loss for the year of £0.9m
  • Staff Costs remained static at £4.8m - representing a ratio of 69% to Turnover
  • Turnover reduced by £0.1m to £7m
  • Operating Costs were £3.4m
  • Net Asset position reduced to £14.4m
  • Net Debt of £5.9m, positive Cash Balance of £2m

£900,000 lost. All but 70 percent of turnover spent on wages.

Worth it?

Never a club to hide when financial successes are there to be hailed, Hibs' official website is the only place you'll find comment now.

Rod Petrie:

"In the current difficult economic conditions ['Always said Fred Goodwin was a Jambo'] every household faces pressure on its domestic budget and on discretionary expenditure. This, in turn, has an adverse effect on the Club's finances.

"Of course we are very mindful of the obvious fact that the lack of success on the field had a direct bearing on the level of turnover. The sporting outcomes for the Season were not what any of us would have wished. The team exited two competitions before the change in management ['This remains the fault of John Hughes'] and suffered the disappointment of an exit from the third competition in early January before new Manager Colin Calderwood was able to refresh the squad ['Poor Colin, defenceless little lamb'].

The board and Mr Petrie are blameless. They've always given the impression that we should tolerate their footballing stumbles and simply embrace their financial prowess. The finances have faltered. So it's time to blame other people.

Even if we're to read between the lines as Mr Petrie wants us to - if we're to accept John Hughes caused a football club to stumble on to a fault line - who was it that gave him the job?

Mr Petrie, if he cared, might realise that shirking responsibility doesn't appease supporters.

What next?

Colin Calderwood remains, looking for all the world like a dispirited accountant who's got lost on the commute home to Swindon. And remain he must.

How can he be sacked? What questions would the removal of Calderwood raise about the merry band of (handsomely) remunerated board members?

Did they not stubbornly refuse to countenance his departure in the summer when compensation offers were tabled?

They blame John Hughes. But they stand by Colin Calderwood. Stand by his 24 percent win rate.

Stand by a performance against Motherwell last weekend that pointed less to a manager turning the corner and more to a manager losing a torturous game of snakes and ladders. And losing it badly.

A Rod for their own backs?

A managerial change, we're told, contributed to this bout of financial pain.

A roll of the dice: cut your losses and admit you got the Calderwood call wrong? Or risk ever decreasing crowds and an increase in the apathy that's emptying the stands and muting the boos that greet a manager who can't inspire a team that hardly seems to care?

This board has been flung a shovel.

And they've dug and they've dug and they've dug.

I hope I'm wrong. But I can't see Calderwood turning this season on it's head.

That might not mean relegation but it means uncomfortable times.

Sack him and the board prove themselves footballing incompetents.

Keep him and the disconnect between club and supporter grows ever deeper.

You can choose either option and next year's financial results will still turn out even worse.

A rock and a hard place. A situation of entirely their own making.

Duck and take cover.

Because there's always one prediction that's safe to make: whatever happens next it won't be Rod Petrie's fault.

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Blogathon: Alzheimer Scotland

The Scottish Football Blog's first ever 24 hour blogathon takes place on 19 November.

Both the charities I'm fundraising for are close to my heart. One of them, Alzheimer Scotland, I've chosen for particularly personal reasons.

To see dementia take hold of someone you love is horrific.

To see loving, engaged, active, funny, understanding, generous people gradually robbed of their vitality, their spark, their ability to function is heartbreaking.

To see the anguish of relatives who have to come to terms with this decline in loved ones while wrestling with the myriad issues surrounding care is agonising.

There are two losses. There is death, funerals and mourning. Before that there is the loss of the person you knew, the loss of the chance to talk, share, laugh and cry with people who had always been there for you.

Families across Scotland face this trial everyday.

And this remains an illness without a cure.

Here's some information:

  • Dementia is an illness which affects the brain, causing a progressive loss of mental powers.
  • It is the fourth biggest killer for women in Scotland and the ninth for men.
  • Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementias are the most common forms of the illness, but there are many other conditions which can also cause dementia.
  • Between 58,000 and 65,000 Scots have dementia and this number is increasing as people live longer.
  • By 2031, more than 100,000 people in Scotland will have dementia.
  • Almost everyone knows someone who is affected - it may be a relative, friend, neighbour or workmate who has the illness or who is caring for someone.
  • People with dementia gradually lose their memory and their understanding. They become confused and often frustrated as they cannot do things they used to do. Bit by bit, they become less able to look after themselves and have to rely on others to help. Eventually, even dressing, eating or going to the toilet may become impossible without help.

Alzheimer Scotland provide invaluable support to both sufferers and carers:

  • Provide practical services such as day care and home support, helping people with dementia retain their skills for as long as possible and giving carers a break from caring
  • Run support groups for carers and people recently diagnosed with dementia
  • Speak out for the rights and concerns of people with dementia and their carers
  • Support groups of people with dementia and carers to speak out for themselves

This is a common illness. But sufferers and their loved ones often feel alone. Alzheimer Scotland offers reassurance, understanding and advice.

I'm proud to be helping that work in a small, small way.

There are also footballing reasons for my choice of Alzheimer Scotland.

One of the most moving accounts of dementia that I've read recently is in Tony Smith's account of the last years of his dad Gordon.

That's Gordon Smith of Hibs, Hearts and Dundee. The record breaking superstar of the 1940s, 50s and 60s. This illness doesn't respect genius, it cuts down even our sporting giants.

And Alzheimer Scotland is involved in a unique partnership with the Scottish Football Museum.

Their Football Reminiscence Project brings volunteers together with football fans with dementia. The volunteers talk fitba' with the fans and stimulate memories using our frustrating, beguiling game.

Just another example, amid all the nonsense that goes on, of how football does have a real power to achieve great things.

Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011