Saturday, November 05, 2011

Welcoming Football Memories

Our football memories might just save football from itself. Or, at the very least, preserve something of its soul and heritage.

A goal, an away trip, a European jaunt? Or maybe the footballing memory helps frame a memory about friends or family.

Regular readers will know that the Scottish Football Blog is quite the fan of such anecdotal diversions.

So I'm already fascinated by Football Memories, a new site launched by Alzheimer Scotland where fans - the famous, the not-so-famous and the not-famous-at-all - can share their own football stories.

Have a browse, nod in appreciation as someone else's memory brings a favourite memory of your own flooding back and enjoy.

While you're there check out the story behind the site and Alzheimer Scotland's wider Football Reminiscence project.

The project - which is already producing admirable results - helps people with dementia by using football to stimulate memories.

A superb example of football's unique power being used to change lives.

> Alzheimer Scotland is one of the charities I'm raising money for with the Scottish Football Blog blogathon on 19 November.

If you can please donate and help support the great work Alzheimer Scotland does

SPL: Since Alex Ferguson Said Goodbye

Four games in the SPL today.

But I'm distracted by Sir Alex Ferguson's upcoming 25th anniversary as manager of Manchester United. A phenomena. From Govan.

The SPL didn't even exist 25 years ago. We must have had football though, whatever they try and tell us.

Must have had it because I'm sure Alex Ferguson left a top flight Scottish club to take over a top flight English club 25 years ago.

But how could he have? Because football didn't exist in England 25 years ago either.

It's all very confusing.

Anyway, to celebrate here's today's match previews abbreviated to a Fergie-friendly 25 words.

Hibs v Dunfermline

Puzzlingly enigmatic riddlers clash with the plummeting new kids on the block. Hibs look to turn a corner, Dunfermline to find a parachute. Home win.

Kilmarnock v Inverness

Bruised but victorious at Tynecastle, Kilmarnock host table propping Highlanders. Can they pass Butcher’s boys to destruction? Intense Shiels stares down angry Terry. Home win.

Rangers v Dundee United

Table topping despite titillating with slow moving financial tease, Rangers try denying Celtic the oxygen of hope. Can redeemed Houston inspire tangerine heroics? Home win.

St Mirren v Hearts

Unpaid, overpaid, out of here? Visitors seek Paisley sanctuary as hosts hold tight to Lennon’s football karma. Goal gluttony afficianados should gawp elsewhere. (Tight) Draw.

How much is one Sir Alex Ferguson worth? Part One

Stability, wisdom has it, is the key to football success. Exhibit A is Sir Alex Ferguson himself.

Armed only with a bargain from Leeds and an Australian media tycoon with deep pockets he invented soccer as we know it. Or something.

Not every club is so lucky.

Here's a look at a quarter of a century on the merry managerial carousel endured by the eight clubs involved in SPL action today.


Then: John Blackley
Now: Colin Calderwood

In between: Alex Miller, Jocky Scott (sustained run as caretaker), Jim Duffy, Alex McLeish, Franck Sauzee, Bobby Williamson, Tony Mowbray, John Collins, Mixu Patalainen, John Hughes

Total: 12


Then: Jim Leishman
Now: Kenny McIntyre

In between: Iain Munro, Jocky Scott, Bert Paton, Dick Campbell, Jimmy Calderwood, David Hay, Jim Leishman, Stephen Kenny

Total: 9


Then: Eddie Morrison
Now: Kenny Shiels

In between: Jim Fleeting, Tommy Burns, Alex Totten, Bobby Williamson, Jim Jefferies, Jimmy Calderwood, Mixu Paatelainen

Total: 9


Then: not a Scottish League side
Now: Terry Butcher

In between (since joining SFL in 1994): Sergei Baltacha, Steve Paterson, John Robertson, Craig Brewster, Charlie Christie, Craig Brewster

Total: 7


Then: Graeme Souness
Now: Ally McCoist

In between: Walter Smith, Dick Advocaat, Alex McLeish, Paul Le Guen, Walter Smith

Total: 7

Dundee United

Then: Jim McLean
Now: Peter Houston

In between: Ivan Golac, Billy Kirkwood, Tommy McLean, Paul Sturrock, Alex Smith, Paul Hegarty, Ian McCall, Gordon Chisholm, Craig Levein

Total: 11

St Mirren

Then: Alex Miller
Now: Danny Lennon

In between: Alex Smith, Tony Fitzpatrick, David Hay, Jimmy Bone, Tony Fitzpatrick, Tom Hendrie, John Coughlin, Gus MacPherson

Total: 10


Then: Alex Macdonald
Now: Paulo Sergio

In between: Sandy Jardine (co-manager), Joe Jordan, Sandy Clark, Tommy McLean, Jim Jefferies, Craig Levein, John Robertson, George Burley, Graham Rix, Valdas Ivanauskas, Anatoly Korobocha, Stephen Frail, Csaba Lazlo, Jim Jefferies (includes caretakers who were in charge for a month or more)

Total: 16

Conclusion based on the eight SPL games being played today:

One Sir Alex Ferguson equals 81 Scottish club managers.

Science says so.

Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011

Thursday, November 03, 2011

SPL: Get with the programme

It seems club programmes in the SPL might be about to endure a rather brutal re-invention.

The league, in its new found spirit of consultation, is canvassing opinion on the future of individual club programmes.

The endgame might see the disappearance of programmes as we know them and the advent of a league-wide SPL matchday magazine.

To which I say: "Meh."

There are, as ever, financial reasons behind the change. The Sunday Post first covered the proposals in March, with Motherwell's Alan Burrows saying:

"The clubs have been talking about this issue for the last 18 months or so.

"We’re very much in the camp of regretfully wanting to scrap them.

"It probably takes up two full days of my working week and it’s just impossible to justify that now.

"Sales of the programmes are dreadful, and from speaking to colleagues amongst the other clubs, I know it’s the same across the board."

With club websites offering behind the scenes access and competing with hundreds of online football outlets the matchday programme might be anachronistic.

Yet I don't buy the programme - and I do at every game I go to - to read about games happening elsewhere.

There's a risk, perhaps, of the SPL looking at supporters as a homogeneous consumer group. We're not. And we don't have any affinity to the SPL brand.

If there was a market for a one-size-fits-all SPL magazine it would probably be available in newsagents and supermarkets.

Supporters who are already paying princely sums to watch games and enjoy bad pies don't necessarily represent a receptive captive market for an SPL magazine. Even one with Neil Doncaster on page three.

But it seems the humble programme - a football fixture since the 1880s - is under threat.

Unless the fans vote to keep things as they are. And the SPL chooses to listen to its customers.

A footballing tradition threatened? Time to wallow in some nostalgia with a scattergun tour of the evolution of Hibs' programme over the last 50 or so years.

1959: An Austere Welcome

September 1959. Britons, they'd been told by a paternalistic Prime Minister a couple of years earlier, had never had it so good.

But Lady Chatterley's Lover was still kept well away from wives and servants, The Beatles were still The Quarrymen and Philip Larkin had time on his hands.

A certain austerity cast a shadow over Hibernian Football Club's official programme.

The visit of Kilmarnock on 26 September saw Hibs hail a returning hero as Bobby Johnstone made his return to Easter Road.

Johnstone had been part of Hibs' lauded Famous Five forward line before moving down south where, with Manchester City, he became the first player to score in consecutive FA Cup finals.

His return, at the age of 30, would help propel Joe Baker to 42 goals in 33 league games that season. But the programme took a decidedly low key approach to the prodigal.

Hugh Shaw manages to fit in one sentence of welcome in the third paragraph of his rather taciturn manager's notes. Page three's 'Touchline Topics' starts off rather more enthusiastically ("Welcome back Bobby Johnstone!") before dwelling slightly too long on the disappointment of the 8000 fans who turned out for a midweek reserve game only to find that Johnstone wouldn't be playing.

The news that Willie Ormond had backed five winners out of six at Musselburgh Races and would probably invest in a new pair of bowls with the proceeds is treated more joyously.

The programme, black and white with the odd splash of green, stretches to eight pages. There are 15 adverts although none of them over a full page. The Pink News ("For Best Reports On All Sports"), the Green Dispatch, Drybrough's Export, King George IV whisky, Senior Service cigarettes ("Satisfy) and weekend excursions to the Blackpool illuminations are all featured.

And, lest you'd been jigging on the terracing, it's noted that "all Gramophone Records played prior to the start and during the interval can be obtained from BANDPARTS, 9 Union Place, Edinburgh."

The programme cost 3 pennies. I'd reckon that would be around 20p in today's money.

1970: There May Be Trouble Ahead

Jumping forward to 1970 and the programme went all out to impress Liverpool, Hibs' Fairs Cup opponents.

It did this, still in black, white and a bit of green, by devoting much of the content to the visitors.

An article on page three with the headline 'Seven Titles And They Top The Lot' sets the tone. 'Question Time with Bill Shankly' - "they've suffered me in England for 30 years" - follows on page seven while the centre spread is devoted to a picture of the Liverpool squad.

An indepth two page look at the Anfield squad includes profiles of 'Six Figure Stars' Alun Evans (injured for this game) and John Toshack.

If any Hibs players flicking through the programme in the dressing room felt overawed they could always distract themselves by reading about Hibs' record against English teams in Europe. That article is rather jauntily titled 'No Joy In The Past.'

In eleven years the programme had grown to 16 pages with 17 adverts. Texaco's Grandstand football books (5 shillings or 25p each), the Renault 12 and the Scottish Daily Express get full page ads.

Gramophone records featured at the game were still available from BANDPARTS, while the Parachute Regiment was looking for people to join up in their "spare time."

All this cost one shilling, I'd reckon that to be about 80p today.

By 1970 The Beatles had imploded and the promise of the white of heat of revolution was about to forge the end of the post war consensus amid strife, rancour and discontent.

Football was also about to change. Manager Wille McFarlane takes a stern line in his programme notes:

"I should mention at this point that we had a very good travelling support at Falkirk recently. We were a little disturbed, though, to find that a few fans landed in a spot of bother. Hibs expect their supporters to behave in exemplary fashion."

1980: A Gloomy Dawn

Ten years on and things had taken a turn for the worse. As Hibs prepared to face Celtic in January 1980 an editorial on page three - 'Football Moves Into The Nervous 80s' - warned:

"Football moves nervously into the 80s with various battles to win before the game in Scotland can be labelled healthy again. A decline in standards and an upsurge in hooliganism have been the major factors in the fall of attendance figures.

"The reduction in spectators makes it tougher for even the top outfits to balance the books without accepting cash from the transfer market and now the emphasis in every club is placed on a thriving lottery.

"More sponsorship is coming into the game and there will be further changes in the next ten years."

For Hibs and football there would be a lot of pain still to come.

A new generation - Thatcher's Children - were being welcomed into the world. This Celtic game was the first match Hibs played after I was born. Times were changing.

In handbagging society into submission, Thatcherism would both alienate football and, unwittingly, lay the foundations for a capitalist footballing boom that would have leave some rich and others trailing in their wake.

All that was still to come. The programme, clinging to the black, white and green palette, remained at 16 pages. 19 adverts were included with Bukta and Hibs' own lottery taking full page ads.

In 'Eddie Turnbull's Talk' - an incongruous smile in the accompanying photo belying that this was a season that would see Eddie leave and Hibs get relegated - the manager noted that "we were all glad to see the end of 1979."

It seems that the Hibernian matchday experience hasn't always been joyfully embraced by the official programme.

The 1980 programme cost 17p, probably somewhere in the region of 60p in 2011.

1986: Commercial Break

What had a further six years of the have-it-all 1980s done to the offical programme experience?

A new name - The Hibee - and a much jazzier look marked 1986's 18 pages as a more sophisticated publication.

19 adverts include a full back cover ad for the first time. This being the 80s that advert is for an estate agency offering free mortgage advice and "up to 100% mortgages."

A letters page has been introduced, there are a couple of brief nostalgia features and captain Tommy Craig has a column of his own. We're even treated to a picture of Hibs fan Derek Milligan receiving the 12 inch Ferguson colour TV he won on the "Hibee World Cup Lottery Ticket."

Things are moving on. Player sponsorship information appears for the first time, with the Middle East Branch of the Hibs Supporter's Club sponsoring Ralph Callachan.

The Hibee of 1986, priced 40p (about 91p today) is the halfway house of programmes. In its overly busy but earnest pages we can see attempts to commercialise that go beyond placing all your faith in the lottery that seemed such a good bet at the dawn of the nervous 1980s.

Like Del Boy falling through the bar the programme was trying hard but not quite pulling off what it wanted to be.

1995: Access All Areas

Almost a decade on and the programme had more or less matured into the creature we know today.

By 1995 full colour had been introduced, the main club sponsors featured on the front cover and the price had gone up to £1 (about £1.50 today.)

The manager's note remains but we now get an action shot of Alex Miller thrown in.

A New Year's message from the chairman ("the Scottish Cup also starts for us soon and we aim to go all the way in that tournament") is included and Darren Jackson has his own column breaking all the news from behind the scenes (Keith Wright's car was broken into and Jim Leighton got his suitcase nicked on a Scotland trip.)

36 pages include 32 adverts, nine of them across a full page.

A tortuous anecdote about perennial backroom fixture Donald Park's misadventure in a toy shop is telling.

Here's the precursor of the sort of mind numbing filler all football clubs now like to feed fans in lieu of any real access.

Football was, for good or for bad, beginning to learn what it wanted to be.

2002: Healthy and Happy?

In 1995 Hibs were but a few seasons from another relegation. By 2002 they had bounced back and football had been completely seduced by money.

Cash was to prove a cruel mistress but at the start of that that season Hibs were brash and confident. And so was the programme.

It was bigger and bolder. And it had Ulises de la Cruz, the club's record signing, on the front cover.

He was accompanied by the main sponsor, the kit sponsor and the league sponsor. Those three were joined by another dozen adverts, nine of them luxuriating over full page spreads.

The programme from the game against Dundee United played on 2nd January included the 'Hibernian Handbook 2001-2002.'

There's actually an impressive amount of information in there, including a review of the 2000-01 season, profiles of each player, Hibs' complete Scottish Cup record since 1946-47 and the story of the 2001-02 season so far.

A treasure trove of information for your £2.

The optimism of is tarnished by the gift of hindsight: page two sees Franck Sauzee speak 'From the Dugout:'

"I wish for everybody here today a healthy and happy 2002: these are the most important things in life."

Happiness was to be in short supply for Franck. Flicking to page 30 and reading '11 Fantastic Facts About Eduardo Hurtado' would give some indication of the troubles ahead.

Ulisses de la Cruz and Hurtado. Two signings to illustrate why the optimism of the new millennium was misplaced. And why, once more, Scottish football's finances were about to come crashing down to earth.

2011: Bigger and Better

And so to this season and the opening fixture against Celtic.

2011's programme, The Hibernian, runs to 64 pages. I counted over 20 adverts but eight of them, including two double page spreads, are for Hibs' own commercial activities.

Colin Calderwood's column, now simply 'The Dugout,' is sponsored but the words are all his:

"You need your [sic] evaluate your form after the first segment or quarter of the season - after about 11 games.

"This season will be demanding, challenging and, at times, potentially slighly disappointing, but it will also be exciting and we look forward to having you alongside us for the journey."

Right then.

There's five pages on Celtic, a three page profile of Joe McBride, two on Hibs' Scottish Cup win over Celtic in 1986 and another two on players with both Hibs and Celtic connections (that feature, almost unavoidably, is called 'Leith Links.')

Garry O'Connor gets a three page interview and a centre spread poster. Peter Marinello's story is told across two pages.

Hibs' community work, academy news and ladies team are all featured.

Hard work has gone into the production of this programme. And it shows.

But at £3 you are paying for that effort. That's about a 15 fold price increase in real terms since the austere publication of 1959.

Given the other outlets the club now has to connect with the fans, I think there might be a happy medium to find between the programme of over 50 years ago and the blockbuster production of today.

If you print it, they will buy it. I'm not sure that's true. If it's not then stop printing quite so much. Do we need 64 pages costing £3?

Or would we settle for something cheaper to produce and cheaper to buy?

Club programmes offer an alternative history of football clubs and the society and eras they exist in. The SPL is a soulless organisation and a league-wide magazine would reflect that.

The fans deserve to hold on to something of their own.

> The results from the games featured:

1959: Hibs 4 v Kilmarnock 2
1970: Hibs 0 v Liverpool 1
1980: Hibs 1 v Celtic 1
1986: Hibs 0 v St Mirren 4 (The "lucky" mascot that day, thankfully not featured in The Hibee, was Tom Hall)
1995: Hibs 2 v Kilmarnock 1
2002: Hibs 0 v Dundee United 1
2011: Hibs 0 v Celtic 2

Thanks to Kenny Millar (@kenny_millar) for the quotes from The Sunday Post

Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

Learning English: The Journalist v The Modern World

Tom English was strutting his stuff in the Scotland on Sunday yesterday. Gird your loins fellow bloggers. He had his sights set on us:

"This is the reality of the online blogger. They can spout stuff that turns out to be untrue and, when they get it wrong, it never boomerangs back and hurts them. They carry on untouched by the laws of libel that the mainstream media have to contend with and shielded from the mortification that a newspaper or radio reporter would experience if he, or she, went off half-cocked with such a bombshell.

"You learn to be cynical about the cyber bombasts.

"These supposed exclusives from the blog-o-sphere that we’re expected to chase like a cat would a mouse? Sorry, most of them come and go without a squeak of truth."

Funny. What I've done is selectively quote from his piece.

I've come up with quotes that make him look like a Luddite idiot who suspects blogs, Twitter and the internet are filled entirely by crazies.

Maybe he does think that. Maybe he doesn't.

I don't care. He doesn't care that his attempt to destroy the "blog-o-sphere" is framed selectively within the crazy world of Rangers' financial uncertainty.

I'm cynical of cyber-bombasts as well. But Tom English seems to think we're all tarred. And he's the everyman with the brush in his hand.

Every football journalist working in Scotland today is an idiot. They make up stories about transfers, about want-away players and about managers on the verge of the sack.

And they do that without fear. Because:

"They carry on untouched by the laws of libel that the [non-sports] media have to contend with."

They don't. Only an idiot or an addled conspiracy theorist would argue that they do.

Sometimes journalists get it wrong.

Sometimes they don't mean to. But they do. They're rarely publicly mortified when it happens. They move on to the next story, unabashed. Off to search for the next squeak of truth.

Bloggers get it wrong as well.

Some bloggers get it wrong because they're little more than internet trolls who use the medium to further their own agenda.

Some get it wrong because they're crap, because the internet offers a medium to bad writers, untrained journalists and simply bad people that newspapers often - but not always - manage to weed out.

Those bloggers shouldn't live untouched by the rules of libel. Unleash the lawyers on the idiots. Leave the rest of us to it.

Take a look at the specific subject English writes about. Craig Whyte, Rangers and the threat of a football club meeting its end in Govan. (It probably won't.)

Some of the details about Whyte's ownership of Rangers, details now readily acknowledged by the mainstream media, have been broken online.

Some of the legal intricacies of what might - or might not happen - to Rangers have been explored by "new" media outlets in far more depth, with more attention to detail, than newspapers have managed.

These stories have been explored by people who might well have an agenda but who also lack the access to Mr Whyte that Tom English has recently enjoyed.

They're not all hysterical idiots. Arguing that they are suggests the writer is in the throes of hysterical idiocy.

This blog largely takes cover from such issues. Take a look at the tagline. It's not a news site. I've never pretended it is.

There are other sites out there that can do news better. In the chase for breaking stories it's actually the "old" media outlets that tend to lead the way. I've never hidden from acknowledging that.

But there's a middle ground to occupy here, one that (sensible) bloggers tend to be happier to colonise than (unreconstructed) journalists.

All journalists are cowed yes-men bewitched by the cult of modern football.


All bloggers, Tweeters and forum posters are idiots, making a mockery of the principles of journalism, pissing all over the testament according to Harold Evans.


Is it lost on Tom English that the majority of his readers now reach him online, for free?

Rage against the agenda driven fanatics. Rage against the liars and the fantasists.

But don't rage against us all.

Because we're all quickly learning to be cynical about the raging newspaper-bombasts.

Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Football's Image Problem: Idiots and Arrogance

An anecdote from last week:

Sitting on a late, crowded, stiflingly hot train. Suddenly the peace of the carriage - that funny, miserable peace that descends when everyone is as pissed off as everyone else - is broken.

There's a handful of young football fans on the train. Drunk, loud, demanding attention.

The entire train is called "fucking miserable bastards," the natives of the train's final destination are abused, an off colour joke about the "Taliban blowing the fucking train up" is cracked a bit too loudly. A lady asking for quiet is given her heid in her hands to play with.

Nothing spectacular. The arrogant boorishness that we'll all recognise in sections of our support.

Getting off the train I catch a snatch of conversation. A woman saying to her friend:

"That's football. Thugs like that watching the sort of people who set fire to their own houses."

And thus a group of what we're no longer supposed to call "neds" become linked to Mario Balotelli's indoor fireworks stramash.

From the outside looking in football relies on poor idiots paying too much money so rich idiots can be paid inflated wages by even richer idiots.

A perfect circle of idiocy.

That's probably nothing new. In many cases it's also grossly unfair.

Later that evening I was at the same game as our commuter train interlopers. I was looking at wide open spaces in the stands. And I was wondering where football's image problem will lead us.

Idiots on the pitch are defended, their punishments appealed against, blind eyes turned to their cheating.

Idiots off the pitch are instantly forgiven (in the case of players) or ignored (in the case of supporters acting anti-socially away from grounds.)

Rarely does anyone apologise. Rarely does anyone take responsibility. Rarely is anything ever football's fault.

But what do we think will happen if that woman's son or daughter asks her if they can start going to the football?

A very small display of boorish arrogance. The sort that football tends to ignore with boorish arrogance of its own. (I found it jarring at the time. But only because of the context. On a Saturday afternoon I'd barely have noticed.)

And the chance that another supporter or two might be lost.

There's a risk that we're trapped in an ever decreasing circle of idiocy.

Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011