Saturday, November 19, 2011

Blogathon: Craig Brown revisited

Midnight. Halfway through. Normal people might be thinking about bed. Or working up to cutting some moves. Or getting enough drink in them to make a mistimed, ill-judged and futile pass at someone they've spotted across the bar.

And I'm gearing up for a night of football chat. If you've been out, got back and have some change kicking about in your pockets it would be very, very gratefully received.

The latest blogathon entry has been inspired by a Craig Brown - saint or sinner? debate that's been running on Twitter the last hour or so.

Come with me, if you will, to Tynecastle.

It's October 1998. Scotland are playing Estonia. And I'm in a purple faced fury.

Tom Boyd can barely find a man with a pass. When he does a section of the crowd applauds sarcastically. He turns, with that supercilious look he could have, and applauds right back at them.

It's a moment that inspires rage in a poor Scotland team. They look old and they look bereft of ideas. The manager doesn't seem to be doing much to change it.

Craig Brown's time was up and if I'd had the pace to get over the Tynecastle pitch I might almost have been annoyed enough to tell him that to his face.

But we came through. 3-2. It wasn't the world's best qualifying campaign but we made it to a play-off where we let Alan Shearer bully us and Paul Scholes orchestrate things at Hampden before turning a Wembley trip into another glorious failure.

We'll travel a wee bit further back.

Hampden, August 1995. Scotland are playing Greece.

It's a big game for us. Greece are qualification rivals. 71 minutes gone. No scoring. Craig Brown brings on Ally McCoist.

For reasons I've never understood my brother says "if that fat bastard scores I'll eat my hat."

Within 60 seconds we're standing to acclaim Ally the saviour and my brother has a See You Jimmy bunnet in his mouth.

Ibrox, September 1996. A World Cup qualifying game against Sweden.

John McGinlay - yes, he was once a Scotland starter - scores in the eighth minute.

Scotland, inspired by a performance of quite astonishing brilliance by Jim Leighton, hold out. We're far from on our way to France 98. But it's a good way to start.

A 3-2 win against a team we should have being beating with a certain ease.

And two 1-0 wins over teams that probably thought they had a hell of a chance of beating us.

That was the Craig Brown Scotland era.

We could be dully ineffective, we could be dully effective. And occasionally we could set the pulses racing.

But he got results.

Euro 96, France 98. A play off for Euro 2000.

It wasn't a bad record.

Was he a dull manager? He could be. But it worked and it used the players he had at his disposal effectively. Often it used them in a way that amplified their strengths.

He was loyal to players. But they were loyal to him in return. It worked.

My own view is he should have bowed out after that night at Wembley.

Some players could have been shuffled into retirement with him but the new man would have inherited at least the nucleus of a team.

Take a look at some of the players that made his squad for Euro 96. Not only did he qualify with that lot, he almost took them through the group stage.

There were bad nights - Morocco in St Etienne was a brutal way for us to say goodbye to international football - but there were good times as well.

He took a team with a proud qualification record and he extended it.

He did, in other words, the job expected of him.

It's not just revisionists that have him down as a roundhead subduing a nation of cavaliers.

He was accused of that at the time.

But nobody that's come along after him has managed to emulate what he achieved.

He had a thing against youngsters. Hmmm. What greats of the period missed out because of a Brown grudge. None, I think, spring readily to mind.

He could perhaps have expected the youth team that reached the world final in 1989 to have provided the backbone of his senior team. What happened to them?

Too often we blame the manager when it's our systems that are rotten.

Craig Brown gave us Euro 96 and France 98. Yes, they ended sourly, but what we'd give to be reliving them now.

You don't miss the water until the well runs dry. Well, here's my blogathon admission:

I still miss avuncular Craig in his Scotland tracksuit.

Click here to make a donation to Homeless World Cup or Alzheimer Scotland - your help is really appreciated

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This hour of the blogathon was brought to you by the Hibs Club.

Blogathon: Fighting against big team mentality

Absolutely delighted to welcome blogging legend and French football's main man Andrew Gibney to the party this hour.

Indefatigable, Andrew can be found all over the internet including The Mirror's football blog and, nominated as one of the year's best new blog, French Football Weekly.

Follow him @AGibneyFtbl

Here's Andrew on relegation issues in France and England:

From years of following Scottish football you get drawn into a malaise of comfort-ability. No matter what happens in a one goes up, one goes down system, there is rarely any major changes.

They may not show it but the big teams know that without a complete collapse, they will be playing in the same division season after season. Surely the fear of going down is the one that makes you want to do better.

If you travel south you find a bigger sense of change. England's top flight sees three go up and three go down. This can lead to a few shocks, successful big teams can drop and smaller un-fancied teams can rise.

One downside to this method is the creation of the yo-yo team. Promotion one season then relegation the next, teams are happy to go up and down, without the fear of total collapse. Part of this is down to the parachute payments teams received, making sure they are competitive for a few years to come.

Around mainland Europe the conditions for promotion seem very similar; every league has their yo-yo teams. Without a safety net though there can be hazardous permutations for the clubs that fall.

In England the popularity of local big city sides makes for a vast amount of quality teams. You only have to realise that two of England's biggest cities, Bristol and Sheffield haven't had a representative in the top flight since Sheffield United were relegated in 2007.

There is no doubt that both Sheffield clubs have the facilities and fan-base to be successful Premier League clubs. However with so many huge well supported clubs in one country not everyone can always eat from the top table.

England is not the only country to see teams falter. Most top European countries have seen their so called “big names” playing outside the top division but are these teams too big to being mixing it with the lower leagues. Be it Deportivo in Spain who not so long ago where a Champions League club, Sampdoria in Italy or most recently Monaco in France all through bad fortunes or bad management dropped out of a division that they once classed as a permanent home.

The question is: Do so called big teams have a right to be in the top division, or does your league place fully represent your overall quality as a club?

In Ligue 1 this is a very interesting topic. Currently in the second division you can find not just former league champions but former European Cup finalists. There is an argument for teams like Nantes, RC Lens and now AS Monaco that Ligue 1 would be better if you swapped them with the unfashionable teams like Dijon, Evian, Ajaccio and Brest.

Lens are a great example, no matter what the game, no matter what league, they will always come close to filling the Stade Felix Bollaert. They have as any Lens fan will tell you "The best fans in France". Ligue 1 would easily be more vibrant and exciting place with Les Sang et Or it doesn't however give them any divine right to be there.

The same can be said for FC Nantes, it one point the former champions were one of the best teams in France. Due to mis-management and bad results.they find themselves for the third time trying to make it back to Le Championnat.

Why should they have anymore right to play at the Stade Gerland or Stade Velodrome than Brest or Ajaccio, who on tiny budgets relied on excellent management and organisation to climb out of the second division. They may not have the history or prestige of Nantes or Monaco but they are obviously better run clubs to currently play at that higher level.

This season Monaco was expected to bounce straight back up. However they have endured a terrible start to the season at sit rock bottom of Ligue 2. Even Nantes and Lens are struggling to fight their way back up the ladder. This season it has been the usual mid-table sides Clermont Foot and Stade de Reims that have shown the most quality and currently lead the way in France's second division.

If French football followed England's lead and offered the teams going down extra payments to stay afloat you probably wouldn't have seen so many of the recent success stories, and in my eyes you wouldn't enjoy the competitiveness that the league currently enjoys.

West Ham United’s recent struggle and demotion really does little harm to the teams day to day business. As long as they get back up within a couple of years there will be no great damage done. And with so many competitive teams in the Championship it is not exactly the black hole it’s made out to be.

On the flip side in France this summer saw the demise of Strasbourg and Grenoble, both of which were playing in Ligue 1 only two seasons ago. Their lack of success and protection payments caused catastrophic problems to their finances, then under the strict guidance of the DNCG sanctions were handed out. Strasbourg were demoted and Grenoble went bankrupt.

Clubs have no right to play in the top division just because of who they are. In Ligue 1 Valenciennes, Lorient and Brest don't have the prestige of others but they deserve to be where they are through hard work and excellent management.

Perhaps in England if they scrapped the parachute payments taking away that safety net, teams might think twice before haemorrhaging money at players or wages and sensible planning and forward thinking might takeover.

Leagues might be more of an attractive product with the so called big traditional teams filling the league tables, personally I would rather have the fairytale stories of well run teams breaking into the top flight and making their own piece of history.

For the demise of Monaco, Nantes ans Lens, give me Valenciennes, Brest and Lorient.

And here's my response on how I think Scottish football might handle a relegation "revolution:"


That's the dominant force in Scotland's footballing climate.

Our football clubs are run as businesses. But they're shoddy businesses. The dragons in their den would tell them to do one.

The comfort of our big clubs in the top flight isn't all that comfortable. It's survival.

The club's talk about league reconstruction but what they want, in their hearts, is to raise the drawbridge, hunker down and tell the rest to go on play in the traffic.

Relegation matters to Scottish clubs because they don't have the financial comfort of massive parachute payments and they can take a time to resurface.

That's another thing about a one up-one down system. If you do drop through the exit there's limited scope for making mistakes in your attempts to get back up.

French fairytales are all well and good. But our fairytales tend to feature big, bad wolves.

Remember Livingston's plummet. Or the greatest fairytale of all, Gretna, turning into the greatest nightmare of all.

There's an issue with the Scottish footballing psyche as well: "Surely the fear of going down is the one that makes you want to do better."

Or, indeed, one that makes you want to not lose. Which might be a measure of doing better but doesn't always provide the flowing football that put bums on seats.

Remember the ten team days of the late 80s? There was some amount of crap to watch in those days. At least these days those fans that do show up can watch in a degree of comfort.

But Andrew's absolutely right. Stagnation - and that's what one-up and one-down in a 12 team league gives us - is bad for the game.


Stick with 12 teams for a period of, say, three years. The chances are we're all going to take a hit on TV revenues so for that period include in the split of the TV revenues the top four teams in the First Division each season.

And introduce two up, two down. Not play offs. Bottom two are oot. Top two replace them.

Yes, play-offs are exciting and thrilling and they have them in England and Neil Doncaster thinks they might be a good idea. We've had them before, they were largely not that exciting, didn't attract masses of coverage and somebody should buy Neil Doncaster a bloody history book so he doesn't think he's reinventing the wheel with every fecking idea he comes up with.

That's that rant over. It's been building.

And, then, see how it goes. Say from the outset it's a trial period and that it will be reviewed.

Then measure how it affects attendances, how it affects the attitude of First Division teams who would suddenly be playing for two promotion spots and a much bigger financial prize for finishing in third or fourth.

And measure how it affects the teams in the bottom six of the SPL, with a third of their number under threat, and how that would make the race for the top six more exciting.

And see what happens to the two relegated teams. Would they suffer the same financial problems or would the extra promotion place and extra cash buy them more breathing space?

If it worked then it would surely show that a larger league would be sustainable.

If it didn't, well, it was an experiment that was tried with the best interests of football at heart.

It might offer us affordable fairytales - they tend to be the best type - and it would breathe some new life into our top league.

It wouldn't be the French way or the English way. It would be our way.

But it might just give us our own Valenciennes, Brest or Lorient.

And crucially it wouldn't be billed as a "footballing revolution" that would "save the game."

We wouldn't need to jump in feet first and then find out that, actually, the revolution wasn't all that after all.

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Blogathon: An Alternate Scotland XI

A perfect 10. Or an imperfect 10. But I hope you're enjoying this so far.

So @sweirz has set me this challenge on Twitter:

A Scotland international XI made up of players that have never played for the Old Firm. And no Anglos.

So Scotland players drawn exclusively from non-Old Firm Scottish clubs.


Curse you, Alan Rough, with your late career move to Celtic. And thank you, Cammy Bell for your substitute appearance against Faroe Islands.


Willie Miller is the first name on the team sheet, to coin a cliche. Captain of this side. And probably referee as well. Mr Aberdeen, used to sell a good fish supper, Movember role model.

And a hell of a player to boot.

Blatant steal from Wiki: Alex Ferguson called him the "best penalty box defender in the world."

Joining him is Alex McLeish because they go together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga a dong.

Managed Rangers, still manages in England, but crucially for this exercise played for only Aberdeen and Motherwell.

Maurice Malpas. Mo. 55 caps and a 19 year Dundee United career. That included a championship win, a European Cup semi-final, a UEFA Cup final, two league cups. And, eventually, a Scottish Cup win.

Erich Schaedler. One day soon Erich will appear in this blog's Forgotten Scotland Players series. Only the one cap for this member of Hibs' Turnbull's Tornadoes side but he'd give his of all for the cause.

His cap, incidentally, came against West Germany in 1974. Although picked in our most celebrated of World Cup squads in the same year he didn't feature in the tournament.


Yes, there's a definite Hibernian bias to this team but I don't care. Lawrie Reilly will feature up front so Gordon Smith will play out wide.

He'll ping in the crosses, Reilly will do the rest. It's said, you know, that Lawrie once played in an select team with Stanley Matthews. The English wizard of the wing knocked in a cross and Reilly scored.

He then ran, eyes blazing, to Matthews to berate him. These were the days of the old lace up footballs that doubled as a serious bit of weaponry.

"Gordon Smith crosses the ball with laces facing away from my head," shouted Lawrie.

Gordon Smith was that good.

Gary Mackay. A Jambo to his boots, the most appearances for Hearts (640 if you're counting) and four Scotland caps.

An odd choice? He fits the scope of the challenge (Hearts and Airdrie were his only senior clubs) and he's a topical choice. His goal v Bulgaria for Scotland meant bugger all to us but sent the Republic of Ireland to their first European Championship finals in 1988.

Joining Mackay in the middle I'll plump for Eddie Turnbull. Eddie played eight times for Scotland but actually captained our 1958 World Cup squad at the age of 35.

Obviously he was styled as a forward in the days when the Famous Five were considered a five man forward unit. But he'd sit deeper here, move forward to unleash one of his thunderbolt shots and, frankly, kick anybody that tried to hurt Smith or Arthur Duncan.

Yes, on the other flank, in contrast perhaps to the guile and artistry of Smith, we have the speed and at time unpredictability of Arthur Duncan.

Holds the record for the most league appearances for Hibs and won six caps for Scotland.

And he's a jolly nice man into the bargain.


Lawrie Reilly. Last minute Reilly, the latter day Wembley wizard. Remains Hibs' most successful Scotland international.

Retired prematurely but scored 185 league goals in just over 250 games for Hibs and 22 from 38 Scotland caps.

Willie Bauld will give the forward line an Edinburgh flavour. 183 goals in fewer than 300 league appearances for Hearts. Which was enough for 3 caps, all won in 1950. Scored two goals for his country though.

Team (4-4-2):






Here's the team chosen by Stewart Weir (@sweirz) who suggested this topic.

Jimmy Cowan (Morton) who according to my sadly-departed friend and colleague Bob Crampsey, was Scotland’s best ever goalkeeper.

Narey (Dundee United)

McLeish (Aberdeen)

Miller (Aberdeen)

Malpas (Dundee United) – a back-four that picks itself

(The) Gordon Smith

Mackay (Hearts) under-used, under-estimated




Sturrock – you would never have played that many games for Jim McLean if you’d been lacking in any department

Click here to make a donation to Homeless World Cup or Alzheimer Scotland - your help is really appreciated

Donate to the blogathon's Homeless World Cup fund by text: just text DXVR87 and the amount you want to donate to 70070

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This hour of the blogathon was brought to you by the Hibs Club

Blogathon: A Wee Sip of Bovril from the Devil's Cup

Welcoming Laurie Dunsire this hour. A Hearts fan. This blogathon is inclusive to its bones.

Laurie writes for the excellent Scottish Football Forums

And follow him @lauriedunsire

I'll let Laurie explain what this hour has been about:

Aidan Smith, Hibs fan and sports journalist, carried out an unthinkable challenge when he became a Hearts fan for a whole season, something which he documented in his book, Heartfelt: Supping Bovril from the Devil's Cup. For someone with a reasonably high profile in Edinburgh who doesn't hide their football allegiances this was a bold move, and one that probably wouldn't have been possible along the M8 in Glasgow, if it had been a similar scenario between Rangers and Celtic.

However, one thing that always makes me proud of the Edinburgh Derby is that, on the whole, it is far more focused on the football rather than a religious background, and all-out hatred. Granted, there are of course those on both sides who still exist with whom genuine hatred, violence and bigotry is rife – but they are less prevalent on the East coast.

That's not to say that the rivalry between Hearts and Hibs is not fierce, because it is – steeped in history since the first clash at the Meadows on Christmas Day 1875, and full of passion, commitment and, ultimately, a battle for city bragging rights. As someone of a maroon persuasion, I know all too well just what these bragging rights mean – and although myself, and many other Jambos, like to cite certain statistics or historical references, the bottom like is for every Terrible Trio there is a Famous Five, for every 5-1 there is a 6-2, and for every 22-in-a-row there is a 7-0. Usually I'd throw in a 1902 trump card, but maybe that's just too easy these days!

My grandfather supported Hibs, and if my father hadn't betrayed this allegiance and secretly started attending matches at Tynecastle, things may have been a whole lot different for me! Indeed, it is bizarre that my dad would make such a decision since he grew up during a golden age at Easter Road, with the Famous Five at their best and Hibs regularly winning silverware – in addition to becoming the first British side to compete in Europe. Such is life though, and it shows just how fine the line can be between becoming a Hibs supporter and becoming a Hearts supporter.

As most of you will know, Tom Hall is a Hibs fan, and for today's charity Blogathon I thought it would be nice for us to both take just a small sip of bovril from the devil's cup, put our differences aside for a moment and focus on the team across the city. Hearts are currently up for sale, and with Romanov looking for a buyer, I have laid down a challenge that Tom has accepted, to write a piece 'selling' my wonderful club, and what it means, to a potential new owner. In return I shall take a moment to do the same for Hibs, but in regard to a potential new manager – since the search for Colin Calderwood's successor still continues. Remember, it's all in aid of charity, so don't expect me to be sitting at Easter Road any time soon – well, not in the home end at least!

As I've already mentioned, there is a rich history in Edinburgh football, dating back to well before there was ever an Old Firm clash, and this is something that should in itself entice a new man into the Easter Road hotseat. Over 130 years of success, failure and many highs and lows are engrained in the club, who manage to still pay homage to their Irish roots without any of the political or religious issues suffered by a certain other Scottish side with similar heritage. One of Scotland's oldest clubs, playing in Scotland's capital city – very few opportunities like that exist.

Whilst the fans may have turned on certain club officials in recent times, they are a support who have proved in the past just how loyal and passionate they can be about their side. Even in the last few years, where they have come up short more often than not in derby matches, the away end at Tynecastle is still packed to the rafters come derby day, and few travelling supports can match the volume and enthusiasm shown by the green and white swarm that hits the capital on such an occasion.

Crowds are down but it doesn't take huge success to win them back, as recent history shows even just a challenge for European places can, with the right team, bring average gates of almost 14,000 to home matches at Easter Road. Emphasis has never been too much on results at all costs, but more playing football the 'right way' and providing good entertainment for the supporters. For an ambitious coach with a footballing philosophy based around keeping the ball on the deck and playing attractive football, this could be a potential 'match made in heaven'.

Granted, the current squad may not be the ones to provide such a spectacle, but what you do have in Scotland right now is an SPL without a great deal of clubs who can pay much in the way of wages. Even my beloved Hearts are about to cut costs drastically, so there is no reason why Hibs cannot challenge the top 3 or 4 places in the division, based on resources. And what the club does have is a financially sound foundation, a magnificent new stadium and state-of-the art training facilities.

It's quite amazing that becoming recognised as a Hibernian great is, potentially, a mere five cup games away. For more than a century the Easter Road trophy cabinet has been bereft of Scotland's premier cup trophy, so success in the tournament would immortalise the manager who could achieve it.

So, whilst the current crop of Hibs players may not be the ones to take the club to such heights, because of just how bad recent times have been the short term aspirations for any new manager would simply be to make steady improvement – and surely that is VERY achievable. As D:Ream sang back in the 90s, Things Can Only Get Better. In fact, to avoid politics I'll go with Yazz instead – The Only Way Is Up! As a Jambo I'd usually like to refer back to a certain 1998 season at this point, but since it's all about charity today, I won't. Well, not any more than I just did anyway!

Ultimately Hibernian Football Club offers one of the biggest jobs in Scottish football, a rich history and a passionate support – not to mention a fantastic city derby to rival any in the UK. I may be a Jambo to the core, but I'm one who isn't afraid to appreciate just what Hibernian means to Scottish football, Edinburgh and even Hearts. Without them, my club would not be the same entity that it is today.

The bovril from the devil's cup may taste a bit funny, but it's not quite as bitter as some may think – so now it's Tom's turn to 'take a drink'!

My effort to sell Hearts:

I could have been a Hearts fan.

If my dad's uncle had his way I would have been. A maroon shirt was purchased. It wasn't worn.

It was a Hibs life for me. For better for worse. Family thing, great-uncles aside, the blood is green.

But crivvens, what an opportunity buying Hearts would be.

This is club with a heritage, tradition, passion and potential.

I can't pretend the debt issue and the stadium issue aren't problematic. But maybe Vladimir Romanov would be prepared to cut a deal.

And the City of Edinburgh Council is about as consistent as a Hibs goalkeeper so they might still be persuaded to lavish a new community arena on the club.

Taking over from Romanov wouldn't be hard. His statements are outlandish but sometimes contain a grain of truth. Fact is though he's squandered millions not because of a mafia but because he had the right dreams but a cack-handed policy for making them come true.

Wanted: one owner who displays a modicum of common sense. Simple.

And this is a club that has everything you'd need to make it thrive.

The support is healthy and could be healthier still if you offered them stability and a sensible chance at achieving some success. They can, in the right way, still make Tynecastle a fearsome arena.

And despite some of the recent upheaval Hearts have pretty much remained the most consistent of our "third forces."

As Laurie mentioned there is a strong rivalry in Edinburgh that helps give both clubs and their support an identity. And it's a rivalry that Hearts currently have the upper hand in. Move quick and you could be savouring a New Year derby win at Easter Road. They'll be asking "who's Vlad" before you can ask "who's the new sheriff in town?"

Scottish football needs a strong Hearts? That's a blatant nonsense, Scottish football needs strong clubs whoever they are, if they deserve to be strong. Nobody has a divine right.

But Scottish football is healthier if Hearts are healthy. And nursing them back to health wouldn't be that difficult.

Clean slate, you see, out with the old, the overpaid, the obscenely bloated squad.

Good youngsters are already in place. The SPL is not the sort of footballing paradise where you need to spend big to have (relative) success. A wages to ratio turnover of over 100 percent is not required.

And there's a rich history to build on. From the heritage of McCrae's Battalion, such a strong part of the club's DNA, to the moments of triumph and even the moments of heartbreak.

A tradition of players like Willie Bauld, Dave Mackay, John Robertson.

These links with the past have built the modern club and maybe Hearts need a more sympathetic owner to properly realise the potential that offers.

The real tragedy of the Romanov experiment has been that he's blown it big style at a time when the Old Firm appear to be weakened forces.

Maybe that chance, that Old Firm-splitting, Old Firm-beating chance, has gone. One man, an outsider, could see it was a possibility but lacked the gumption to make it happen.

So now we need a new Hearts.

A Hearts that embraces their community roots, emphasises their belief in youth, that spends wisely and celebrates their history to build on their strengths.

A Hearts pitching themselves not as the hysterical, renegade outsiders but as an integral part of Scottish football's future.

It would need money, yes, but not the millions Romanov seems to have spent.

It would take strength of character, it would take bravery.

But it's all there, it's all in place. It just needs someone to realise it.

They can even win the odd Scottish Cup.

It could be you...

Click here to make a donation to Homeless World Cup or Alzheimer Scotland - your help is really appreciated

Donate to the blogathon's Homeless World Cup fund by text: just text DXVR87 and the amount you want to donate to 70070

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This hour of the blogathon was brought to you by the Hibs Club.

Blogathon: Pyramid selling

So it's 8pm. And I'm still going strongish. Big kicks this hour to all my mates at the Hibs Club for the support - financial and alcoholic - they've given this venture. More than just a club and going strong since 1955.

This suggestion came in from @thecoldend in the last hour.

Does Scottish football need a pyramid system?

Before I start I have to share this nugget from Jim Spence's BBC blog during the week:

"During the Scottish Junior Cup glory years after the Second World War Irvine Meadow attracted huge crowds.

"They were watched by 77,650 in a match against Petershill in 1951 - testimony to the pulling power of the game at all levels in those football-mad days."

My mind duly blown, I'll begin.


Right, that was simple. Next question?

Seriously though, I do think a pyramid system would offer some benefits and, in the case of a lot of Highland League clubs, it would open up the Scottish leagues to a lot of untapped potential.

Let's strip this down to basics first.

SFA, SPL, SFL, Highland League, East of Scotland League, Juniors.

That is a labyrinth of utter madness to negotiate in a country of our size. It's crazy.

And largely it's a messed up system of too many chiefs that survives because of the vested interests and bad decision making that hammers Scottish football at every turn.

The problem is, to remedy that situation, we'd have to overcome the obstacles of vested interests and bad decision making that's got us there in the first place.

And in a sport where tinpot dictators abound that would not be easy.

I've heard suggestions that some clubs outwith the SFL structure wouldn't be keen on a move up. They're pottering along quite happily and there's no guarantee that the opening of the pyramid would enhance that happiness.

I'm not sure how widespread that view is but it's one worthy of consideration if we're going to advocate top down change.

There might also be daft directors in the SFL but none, perhaps, so daft as to make like turkeys voting for Bernard Matthews as Santa.

If - and I'd strongly suspect this to be the case - there are clubs that can survive only if they cling to their membership of the SFL, well, why would they want to open the trap door?

One answer to that might be that we have too many clubs for a small country to sustain. Create a pyramid and jettison the weak, the poverty stricken and the needy.

Which is simple and might carry some truth but is far too glib. Even a club with a small support and a big overdraft inspires loyalty. I've stared down the barrel of my own club's demise and I wouldn't wish it on anyone.

There is also a regional aspect to the debate. A pyramid sounds absolutely dandy. And then Brora have to travel to Annan in December and it looks a bit silly.

So regional leagues? How would that work, who would take a ruler to the map of Scotland? Would it offer, apart from an outside chance of progression up the pyramid, any benefits to the situation we have just now?

So there are reasons why it would be a difficult idea to implement and perhaps an even more difficult idea to sell to the people who would need to vote it through.

Yet I think it is worth persevering. Of finding a way to navigate through choppy waters.

Firstly the streamlining of the organisations involved in the game is long overdue.

And that includes getting rid of the idea of the SPL as an organisation outside of the rest of the league structure.

We also need to ask why we stick at this game? Is it so clubs can limp along on meagre attendances and paltry rations?

That's not the positivity we need right now.

Changing the structure, flinging open the doors of our league set up is needed to blow the cobwebs away. And much as it pains to me say it, if that includes an element of the survival of the fittest then that might just need to be the way it is.

Because we have to something healthier than we have now. We have to reinvigorate or footballing ecosystem.

We need to make sure that there are players good enough, managers competent enough, even administrators skilled enough, to move through the divisions, to make a positive contribution, to keep some of what little money there is circulating in our game.

We need clubs to be in harmony on youth development, we need to explore what treasures can be unearthed anywhere that the game is played in Scotland.

For me that includes the introduction of a pyramid system within a streamlined organisational structure.

But, you know, I'm still pretty stumped as to how I would manage to implement it.

> Today was a chance for some non-league teams to strut their stuff against SFL opponents in the Scottish Cup. A mixed day. But Culter did manage a draw with Partick Thistle.

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Blogathon: Time for Old Firm goodbyes

Another welcome for a guest blogger in the mood for some debate. My good friend Scott Johnston of the

Always a pleasure. And massive thanks for the help he's provided in this whole blogathon enterprise. Follow him @thefootyblognet

Check out Scott's site to find out why he thinks Rangers and Celtic should stay in Scottish football.

Here's why I think they should go:

The Old Firm.

Wha's like them?

They hate each other. They hate everyone else. Sometimes it seems they even hate themselves.

Time to open the cage and let them taste the freedom of the big, wide world that they've so long craved.

"What about the money they bring to the game?"

Well, let's be honest, this blogathon could read like an extended - if oddly critical - eulogy for the Scottish game.

His club's knackered. My club's knackered. Your club's knackered.

Rangers and Celtic think riches lie elsewhere. Scottish football needs a revolution.

It's a perfect collision of circumstances.

Negotiate their secession from Scotland. And negotiate hard.

"You want away Pedro? You had enough Craigie-boy? Well, show us the colour of your money."

Share that cash out - we'll call it a going-away bonus - equally between every Scottish club.

And then start all over again.

League reconstruction. We need it and it will be easier to negotiate our way around it without the big two breathing fire and holding hands under the boardroom table.

A wage cap that allows our clubs to function in possibly reduced but far more manageable conditions? Sorted. And with it the premium placed on youth development that we need.

A competitive league? Certainly more competitive, you might expect certain clubs to rise to the top but none - and this would be a refreshing change to all that's gone before - would think they had a divine right to dominate.

If you take an axe to the two-headed dragon you can have the run of a footballing utopia.

It's a no-brainer. They are constrained by Scotland and they are big clubs. There's much to admire about both of them.

The choice they have is to live within their means - normally a step ahead of the chasing pack - or live above their means. And that has ramifications.

So we constrain them.

But they smother us with their size and their money and their whinging and their bullying.

So go. And go now.

The clubs left behind would be able to start again. It would be, I'm told, little more than a jumped up League of Ireland.

I'd disagree. There is an infrastructure in place in Scotland, there is a stronger footballing tradition.

And there is a constituency of the lost and disenfranchised, of supporters ground into submission by the dross of our footballing product and the endless trophy shoot out between the big two.

Why couldn't we entice those fans back. Why couldn't the clubs left behind - fitting nicely into their new league structure complete with it's own pyramid - reach out and say "join us on a new footballing adventure."

We've had too long submitting to the inevitable dominance of the Old Firm to imagine such things. They've cast their shadow over our footballing landscape for so long - with such fierce protection of their own well-being above the general health of the game - that we've lost the ability to dream, to think big, to open our imaginations and let the sunlight burst in.

Deliver Rangers and Celtic to the bigger stage they need. And deliver Hibs, Hearts, Aberdeen, the whole city of Dundee, Inverness and every other community that holds football dear from the darkness.

Even the way we frame this debate is wrong. I've done it in this article. "Set the Old Firm free."

No. Turn that upside down.

Set the rest of us free.

Me and you. And him from Paisley and her from Inverness and them from Dingwall and that chap from Falkirk.

Let's rise up and reinvent this game. Learn from the past, admit that the Old Firm experiment has been a 123 year mistake, ask not what we can gain from living in their shadow but what we can gain from jettisoning them.

They would still be among us. But we live with the EPL and the Champion's League being among us. Television companies have long broken down football's barriers.

A polite, respectful, merry co-existence is possible.

Thanks both of you, with all sincerity, for the memories. But a new day is beckoning us all.

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Blogathon: The Olympic football farce

A quarter of the way through. The Red Bull is on ice. And I hope you all had a successful day football watching. Or, at the very least, a not too depressing today.

@Hibernitoon came up with this one on Twitter: Should football be an Olympic sport?

Team GB - and that's a ridiculous name that really gets on my nerves - aren't a big part of this argument.

I'm actually a Team GB agnostic. I can see why the SFA and their Celtic compadres are agin it. I feel that the threat to our nationhood might be getting overplayed somewhat but I can understand why anyone would be wary of Sepp "my word is my bond, my handshake my apology" Blatter.

Apparently there is a desperation to get the Celts involved because an England only team would be seen as discriminatory by the Olympic authorities.

Which is the kind of hypocrisy that shows why the Olympics shouldn't include a football tournament.

Football is a worldwide phenomenon. The newly professional Olympic movement looked at that and thought: "Yeah, why not, we'll grab a slice of that pie."

Fifa said: "Haud on a wee second here. The fitba's ours. You cannae have it."

So a compromise is drawn up. Here's your football but there's a condition. Under-23s only. Plus a couple of over aged players which might come in handy if, at any point in the future, you might want an English chap called David to sell a few shirts.

Perfect. Two massively corrupt - allegedly, sure they're all really nice blokes in reality - and unaccountable sports bodies carve up international football.

In a way that is discriminatory.

You can't play if you're over 23. That's OK discrimination. But Team GB can't play if there are only English players involved. That's bad discrimination.

But, they say, what a hothouse the Olympic tournament provides for developing young talent in the environment of major championship football.

Stick that right up yer bum.

It's the Olympic Games not a creche.

The best athletes striving for the best performance in their chosen field.

Not the chaps that might one day be the best footballers in their country practicing for the day they can play in a bigger tournament.

Yes, the Olympics is a bloated, commercialised behemoth that demands you have a certain type of credit card before you can even apply to maybe be able to buy tickets.

But if you're a cyclist or a swimmer or a rower or a fencer it's the event you prepare for and dream about throughout your career.

It shouldn't be the home of a compromised tournament that exists only because the Olympics has become a movement that sees the commercialised, grotesque face of modern football and thinks: "Bring it on, we like the look of that."

And I know the tournament has its fans. And I've enjoyed it myself in the past - even under the normal BBC conditions of "no Brits, graveyard slot, maybe get Garth Crooks to present it on his own" - but I feel its inclusion on the Olympic roster is wrong.

Despite everything I hate about what the Olympic has become I'm a bit of an Olympic romantic.

It should be about the best. The football tournament isn't about that. So it should go.

And don't get me started on golf.

Mind you, there is always something to suggest that it might be worthwhile.

In 1948 a very young Scottish goalkeeper appeared at the Olympics in London under the tutelage of Team GB - I'm prepared to bet that name was never mentioned - manager Matt Busby.

What experience, what insight into the art of goalkeeping did Ronnie Simpson learn in 1948 that he was able to call on during his storied year in 1967 when he beat England at Wembley and won the European Cup with Celtic?

So there it is: guarantee me that in 19 years Scotland's Olympic football involvement in 2012 will produce a European Cup winner and an unofficial world champion and the tournament can stay. And I'll even start saying "Team GB."

> Full disclosure: I do have tickets for next year's Olympic football at Hampden and at St James' Park. I'm a hypocrite. I expect that will stand me in good stead for a career as a sports administrator.

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Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011

Blogathon: Stand up for cheap tickets

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Thanks to @sliderulepass and @mightjustget for combining to get this one started.

The SPL are apparently open to the idea of terracing returning to our stadiums.

Celtic, it's said, are in talks to reintroduce a standing section as early as next season at Celtic Park.

It all seems fair enough to me. If the required safety regulations are met and the club's have the ability to make required changes to largely redeveloped or new stadia then it seems sensible.

Especially if there's a demand for it.

We're told there is. So it seems a win-win situation. We know, we know horrifically, why the push to all-seater stadiums gathered pace and legislative backing.

But we also know that clubs must do everything to enhance atmospheres and give supporters the sort of experience that improves a day at the football.

Standing areas have even found favour with the designer of the new Wembley who has said he'd welcome a move towards limited terracing of a kind based on the Bundesliga model in English stadiums.

The idea is that there's a restricted standing area for those fans who choose to stand. It's designed to be manageable for stadium security and to avoid the safety problems that are all too vivid in our recent past.

It would also, in Scotland and perhaps elsewhere, concentrate minds on the increasingly crucial issue of ticket pricing.

I'll speak from the experience of a Hibs fan. £28 to watch this team, in a stadium we can't fill, against Celtic, Rangers or Hearts is an outrage.

£23 for the other SPL teams isn't much better.

We're told by those in power - at Hibs and elsewhere - that they're cutting their own throats with these prices, it's just about the minimum that the club can survive on.

The argument is that lowering prices wouldn't increase attendances enough to cover the shortfall.

And that might be true. Because too often the product is rank. So bad, at times, that you can't give tickets away.

That's a tricky one for the clubs.

The German model is often cited as something to aspire to. But there are obvious differences in the way German football is run and the way Scottish football is run and obvious differences in the size, demographics and culture of the two countries.

It's a neat argument but the model is not such a neat fit. And the structural changes needed to copy the German model exactly - even if it could be proved they would work - seems unlikely to find favour here.

Three problems: We have a massive talent shortfall. We have a massive financial shortfall. And we have a massive supporter shortfall.

To survive, we're told, the clubs must squeeze the reduced rumps of their support dry.

I've a certain sympathy with that because I don't think - no matter how otherwise useless, feckless and unlistening they might be - that most football administrators are in the business of watching their clubs fail.

But time and again it is the fan that loses out.

Pay more to watch something inferior. Year on year. The prices rocket, the product declines.

That wouldn't work in other businesses. Try running a restaurant like that.

Yet football does it because it has our blind loyalty.

There are no easy answers. We have club directors who are petrified as the Scottish football teeters on the financial precipice.

That scares them from making both the hard decisions needed to improve the game and from making the price cuts that would make life easier for fans.

I don't know what the answer is.

I don't think football can go on like this. More than just ticket prices has to change.

But they do have to change because people simply can't afford the prices they're being charged.

So standing areas could well be the start of something approaching a revolution.

The re-introduction of some terracing area would be a sign that football does occasionally take note of what the fans are saying.

It would also open up the debate on ticket prices. And that's a debate - despite the lack of easy answers - that we need to have.

Before even the rump disappears.

> I've a lot of time for St Mirren. But when the BBC ran their story on the cost of watching football I was forced to laugh at St Mirren's proud assertion that they now serve free beans with every pie.

Struck me as a good motto for the SPL: "High prices, crap football. Free beans."

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Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011

Blogathon: Willie McKay and window dressing

On what one must consider the plus side, we're a sixth of the way through.

Delighted that this topic has been suggested by one of Twitter's good guys @zerozero31

Seb's suggestion was: Willie McKay is onto a good thing. SPL clubs should be used as short-stay shop-windows for talented players. It'll improve the game no end. Discuss.

First up I have to say that if Willie McKay thinks something is a good thing then it is a good thing for Willie McKay and everyone else will be condemned to live off his scraps.

Yes, old wounds still fester.

But is there merit to the idea that SPL could thrive as a "shop-window" for talented players?

Yes. A very qualified yes.

Judicious use of loan deals and short stays can enhance SPL squads. I also like the idea of young, hungry, gifted players from other leagues - let's not cast our envious eyes to only England's top two tiers - can help develop our own young players.

It's exciting to see young talents develop over the course of season and I'd love it if the SPL could attract a few loan players each season that then went on to develop into top class European talents.

And I'm sure a lot of our Scottish players would improve through exposure to players raised in perhaps more technically gifted countries.

But. We must ca' canny.

As a blogathon treat I'm going to give you the first glance at something I've been working on.

It's called The History of Scottish Football Since 1945.

It's quite short.

Here it is:

"The history of Scottish football since 1945 centres on a long series of catastrophic short term decisions made by men guilty of incompetence at best. The end."

Willie McKay is the short-termist man's wet dream. And he's motivated by something more sinister than incompetence.

Turning Scotland into a petting farm for the talents of other countries, or at least embracing that as the central theme of our recovery, would be an ultimately futile exercise in short termism.

Welcome loan deals and short term signings from near and far. But don't welcome them at the expense of two massively important things:

1. Sorting out finances. If they're good how much are we going to pay for them? Loan deals might offer flexibility but a short-term signing is unlikely to be willing to occupy our shop windows for free. We pay them handsomely then lose them for nothing. That's not a business decision that our clubs can justify.

2. Our own young players. Developing from within is financially prudent, more attractive to (sensible) supporters and benefits the national team. Those are all GOOD THINGS. What I'm now going to call "shop windowism" is a BAD THING if it encourages our clubs to ignore what surely, if we're to pull our game off it's sorry backside, is their priority and their duty.

Player A is available on a short term deal. He's relatively cheap and the manager reckons that this Armenian Ronaldo will make a difference to the team and help develop other talents in the side.

Take him. Sign him up. And enjoy the difference he makes while you have him.

Player B is hailed by his EPL manager as a the next Messi. He's needing match practice though so the parent club will take a hit on the wages if your SPL side can give him some first team action.

Take him. Sign him up, watch in awe as he develops, take pride in the way he helps your own young players raise their own game.

Both those scenarios seem eminently sensible decisions made in the best interests of our clubs.

But they have to be isolated scenarios or they will stifle our own players and the orgy of short termism that has hamstrung our football development will continue.

We'd end up like the sort of store that entices you in with a magnificent shop window but has only crap and tat in stock.

So Willie McKay might have touched on something worthwhile. But it would be a cold day in hell before I gave him or his ideas the keys to the Scottish game.

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Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011

Blogathon: To Boo Or Not To Boo

The Homeless World Cup helps over 50,000 people in seventy countries across the world. And Scotland are reigning world champions. That's one of the reasons I'm doing this.

Our first debate post of the day with the argument provided by Kenny Millar. Follow Kenny on Twitter and to borrow from a book that changed my life:

"Sunday morning? Eggs an' toast,
Kenny Millar and The Sunday Post"

Kenny set me the task of arguing that booing your own players in unacceptable in football.

FOOTBALL is full of empty marketing speak.

But the Adidas tagline for the new Scotland shirt struck a chord – ‘the thread that binds us’.

I worry that that thread is becoming increasingly frayed.

To be blunt, supporters have forgotten how to support.

Read the rest of Kenny's post at

Here's my response:

Booing your own players. Acceptable?

Of course it is.

I should say I don't do it myself. But that's because I come across as a particularly camp opera goer who's discovered the mezzo-soprano is off key when I attempt to make the "boooo" sound.

Here's the deal:

I go to work during the week to earn money that I then spend on watching football on my day off.

During the week footballer's - paid on the proceeds of my hard work - spend time training. They practice, most days, how not to make a complete erse of themselves on the football pitch.

What do we end up with? Under-performing eejits who not only make an erse of themselves but also of me for going along and spending my cash to watch them do it.

So excuse me while I put down my pie and Bovril and give them a right good tongue lashing.

"Supporters have forgotten how to support" says Kenny.

Well, I'd counter that footballers have forgotten the supporters.

In their cocooned, wealthy bubbles they expect everything to be done for them, their whims met, their egos soothed.

And that includes accepting no hint of "disrespect" from their own supporters.

The modern footballer doesn't hear a boo from the crowd and think "I'll show that pillock."

He hears a boo and thinks "well, that's me in the huff."

Football, once the game of the working man both on the pitch and on the terraces, has had any hint of that solidarity ripped from it.

Not by the supporters who boo but by the players whose greed and arrogance have driven an ever greater wedge between the player and the fan.

The modern footballer doesn't see a player like Messi or Ronaldo and say to himself "one day, with application and dedication, I could get close to that."

Does he buggery. He thinks "me footballer, him footballer, me want treated the same way."

If Danny Galbraith wants to wear white boots or Leigh Griffiths wants to wear fluorescent yellow boots then fair enough. But if they want to make that statement without people deciding there is some prickery involved, and showing frustration when they under perform, then they are misguided.

And if that makes them perform worse. Well, that's more to do with the jelly spined decline of society into victim status than a sign that we shouldn't vent an opinion we've paid money to express.

It would be nice to think that we're all pulling in the same direction. Maybe in some cases that is true. But I don't know if they play football in Narnia.

The reality is that even our modern one club men are only one club men because that one club is prepared to pay them bucket loads of cash.

Thus the supporter, with his tribal loves and tribal rivalries, is denied a connection to whatever club he supports.

We are now thought of as consumers, theatre-goers, a crowd at a gig, an audience watching a comedian.

That's all the loyalty we're shown. So we have to show our own loyalty to the "thread that binds us."

And that means solidarity on the terracing, holding true to our ideals as the players, the officials and the clubs forget them.

The boo is not a sign of us betraying our clubs.

Instead it is a musical rendering of our continued passion - the passion that will keep these clubs going when the latest manager, player or chairman has walked off into the sunset.

The humble boo says: "We don't accept you, you're not good enough for our club and WE - not YOU - want the best for our club. So we'll boo to remind you that we have the passion you lack, we'll boo to remind you we expect better. And we'll boo to remind you we're still here and we're going nowhere."

The boo and all it represents will save Scottish football from the wage cheats, the dismal managers, the nefarious agents and the fly-by-night chairmen.

The boo is the war-cry of solidarity not the disintegration of solidarity. It's the song of the disenfranchised fan. And it's the tune that must prevail to rescue Scottish football.

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Blogathon: SPL Foreign Imports

It's post two of 24. Read, enjoy, debate, donate.

Massive thanks to @BarcelonaNil for the suggestion here.

Foreigners have ruined our game coming across here with their wage demands, their dislike of wet Wednesday nights at Central Park, their blatterish ways.

Nonsense. Maybe we do sometimes bring over the wrong foreigner but if you sign crap then it's your own fault.

And some of them have been ruddy brilliant. Here are some of my favourites.


Rafael Scheidt. Scheidt by name etcetera.

Only one choice for me.

Henrik Larsson.

What a player. Is it really so recently, as we scrape around in the footballing doldrums, that we were savouring this chap in Scottish stadiums?

Aye, but he could only do it in Scotland. If you've lived a happy life in Scotland and had to put up with that accusation then the best way to answer them is probably to move on later in your career and show you can do it with Barcelona and Manchester United. And in major international championships.

Sheer quality.

Favourite game for me - those with a Celtic sympathy will be better placed to judge - was the lost UEFA Cup Final. If ever a runner-up deserved to be on the winning side.


Stephane Guivarc'h.

World Cup winner by the way.

Really though Brian Laudrup.

Another one of those with the grace, the technical ability, the demeanour that made you think "what the hell are you doing playing in Scotland" when you saw him.

Jim White has been much pilloried for the "Brian, why are you so good" question.

Rightly so, because Jim White is a bit of an arse. But the question had a certain validity.

If Laudrup had been able to answer it, to give us an insight into his footballing genetics, his footballing soul then we would have had to make him head of the SFA.


Christian Nade. Total legend.

More pertinently I'll go for Rudi Skacel.

There's a line of thought that he doesn't really fancy it much these days. Fair enough. But he's a player I still hate to see on the pitch in an Edinburgh derby.

So I'll give him the nod. He burst onto the scene in that Hearts team of 2005-2006.

And that was a fine team. A fine team that briefly looked as if they could do exactly what Vladimir Romanov said he wanted them to do.

Scottish Cup winner as well. And a goal in each the seven wins that opened that SPL season and stunned us all.


Another purely personal choice.

Hans Gilhaus.

Aberdeen signing a player for £650,000. Aberdeen signing a player from PSV.

An Aberdeen player being picked for a Dutch World Cup squad.

I liked the cut of his jib. He scored an overhead kick on his debut. He won a Scottish Cup.

His signing was ambitious. It speaks of a time when we at lost thought we could compete.

I long for the days of men like Hans.

Dundee United:

Jason De Vos. And, yes, this one is another purely personal choice.

I've a soft spot for a dedicated, committed centre back.

The "foreign import are bad for us" seems flimsy when a flinty defender from Canada ends up captaining one of our sides.

Captained Wigan in a promotion season as well.

On a massively personal note I was once playing football on Edinburgh's Meadows.

We had a solid centre half who liked to wear a full Dundee United strip. (I often wore the clothes I'd worn the night before.)

On one occasion our United bedecked defender came up for a corner. I took the corner. He leapt, salmon-like, and fired home a powerful header.

He wheeled away and ran over to thank me. As he did so he repeatedly pumped his fist and shouted "Jason De Vos."

Anyone who can inspire that dedication in a twenty-something university graduate deserves my respect.


Nae debate. Alen Orman. What a player that was. Remember his goal at Ibrox? And his performance at...?

Yeah, scrub that.

Ladies and gentlemen, Franck Sauzee.

The European Cup winner in Hibernian's midst. A gentleman, a genius, a class above.

Hibs were better when Sauzee played. When he moved back to sweeper he gave us weekly lessons in how simple but beautiful football can be. If you're good enough to make it look easy.

Couldn't fault his commitment either. The dental disaster suffered in scoring against Hearts. The times he played through injury simply because we needed him.

The goals. The skills. Sublime.

The managerial appointment was messy, premature, badly handled. The genius left us with oodles of heartbreak. Maybe that's how geniuses should leave us.

And, if I'm being cynical, I'd say Hibs have been living the karma of that whole episode for a few years.

St Mirren:

Running out of time now: Ludovic Roy for longevity. I'd be surprise if any other foreigners have lasted as long or played as many games.


Time is firmly my enemy: Luc Nijholt for winning the 1991 Scottish Cup.


Aaargh: Alexei Eremenko for shining brightly but briefly and making my big mate Mixu happy.


Quickly: Ivo den Bieman for being so fully accepted that he seemed like part of our footballing furniture.

St Johnstone:

Sergei Baltacha. For liking us so much he gave us our best women's tennis player.


Davide Xausa for being a foreign import when time is against me.

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Blogathon: Gordon Smith and why we're here today

Welcome one and all. The first post in the Scottish Football Blog's 24 hour blogathon. Enjoy.

A perfect starting point, then, suggested by the Twitter fixture that is @steakheed

This might seem like a bit of a cheat. People who read this blog will know I don't shy from a spot of Hibernian navel gazing.

Nor am I shy to hark on about the good old days when footballers were men and Scottish football wasn't in a perpetual state of crisis.

But Gordon Smith's story is one worthy of a thousand retellings. And it's a Boy's Own adventure that ends with heartbreaking resonance for the whole idea behind this blogathon experiment.

The beginning: a teenage phenomenon is living in Montrose and has become one of Scotland's most sought after young talents.

He impresses playing against an Edinburgh select. Hearts want to sign him, think they will sign him but they want him to play in a trial.

Hibs act quickly, decisively. He's signed for Hibs and, on the day of his signing, makes his debut.

Against Hearts at Tynecastle.

Wearing borrowed boots that are too small for him he scores a hat-trick.

And so the legend begins.

Spending his early career in the centre forward role he becomes the main man at Hibs.

Moving to the wing he becomes the jewel in the crown of the Famous Five team that won three league championship and, for a brief and shining moment, became Scottish football's irresistible, dominant force.

Gordon Smith became Scotland's first footballing superstar. Handsome, shy, complex. Women wanted to be with him, men wanted to be him.

He became friendly with Matt Busby, Stanley Matthews, the golfer Bobby Jones, film stars and musicians.

He holidayed in the south of France, was coveted by teams in England, Italy and Brazil.

He drove a sports car, dabbled in stock and shares and on one occasion got a £500 bonus in his weekly pay packet.

This guy stood out from the crowd.

As the powers of that Hibs team waned - Bobby Johnstone the first of the Five to leave the club - they remained a force enough to make the semi-final of the first ever European Cup.

Then an injury. Another leg break.

Hibs decided their thoroughbred was fit for the knacker's yard.

The press camped outside Smith's home in Edinburgh's Willowbrae.

Where would he go next?

Not far.

Hearts finally landed their man. A city switch involving one of the best players either Edinburgh team had ever produced.

Controversy? Yes. But nothing outrageous. It kinds of puts the twisting of knickers over a Michael Stewart or a Billy Brown into perspective.

Whose instinct would be proved right? Had Hibs got rid at the right time? Were Hearts signing the player or the legend?

Hearts won this one.

The league championship was brought back to Tynecastle. And Gordon Smith was an integral part of the team.

A second appearance in the European Cup followed.

Then the Hearts team began to disintegrate and Smith found he wasn't enjoying his football quite as much.

What next?

Dundee. A training regime and a relationship with the club and with manager Bob Shankly that suited a veteran.

And a young player called Alan Gilzean who would provide the perfect foil for his skills.

More success. Dundee won the league.

Another European Cup appearance.

Dundee beat FC Koln 8-5 on aggregate after a the first leg at home produced a Gilzean hat-trick and a goal for Gordon Smith.

Sporting next. A 1-0 defeat in Portugal. A 4-1 win - another Gilzean hat-trick - gets the job done.

To Belgium. Anderlecht are beaten 4-1. In the home leg a Smith goal seals a 2-1 win and a 6-2 aggregate victory.

A semi-final against AC Milan is a bridge too far. A 1-0 home win (Gilzean again) can't overcome the damage of a 5-1 defeat in Italy. An exit to the eventual winners.

Five league championships with three clubs. Three European Cup appearances with Scottish clubs.

And not an Old Firm team in sight.

Beat that. Not that anyone will.

The greatest individual achievement in the history of Scottish league football. That was the verdict of the great Bob Crampsey: and he would know.

A retirement out of the public eye. Smith was a private man and I get the impression he might not have been universally popular throughout the Scottish game - too good, too rich, too quiet, too handsome.

But he was lost to the game when maybe he could have offered so much. Maybe that was his choice, maybe it was an opportunity that we lost.

More than that though, I think his achievements have been forgotten. We celebrate less decorated players, less talented players more than we celebrate Smith. The consequence, perhaps, of flourishing in the pre-television age.

A recent biography written by Smith's Tony helps redress that.

It also provides a moving insight into why Gordon Smith is the perfect place to start a blogathon that is raising funds for Alzheimer Scotland.

The footballer of the 40s, 50s and 60s with the matinee-idol looks and the wardrobe and fast car to match suffered from dementia in his later year.

The books contains an honest, candid account of his descent.

The cruelty of the helplessness of the sufferer at the beginning when he is aware that something is wrong.

The helplessness that loved ones - so often thrust into the unfamiliar, unexpected role of carer - feel when faced with dementia taking hold of a family member.

All this is often not spoken about. People outside families often don't know how to cope so they ignore the problem, old friends disappear.

Too often dementia for both the sufferer and those close to them is something that's faced in a lonely isolation.

Alzheimer Scotland's work combats that.

There's also a moment in the book that shows the power of Alzheimer Scotland's Football Memories project.

Gordon Smith, the dashing prince of Scottish football, spent his 80th birthday in a care home.

During a family celebration a football was produced. Smith, who may not have known what was happening to him or where he was, immediately became enthused.

He could, amazingly, still head the football back when it was thrown in the air. Football can do that. And the Football Memories project can help.

That resonated with me. I had a similar experience with my own grandfather on his 80th birthday. He was a musician. When we played a tape of some old Glenn Miller music he managed to get up off his chair and, of his own accord, started to dance with my gran.

The emotion of that moment will live with me for a long time. A brief glimpse of the real character amid the destructive grip of a horrible illness.

So Gordon Smith: footballing legend and just one example of why dementia is so heartbreaking.

And for Gordon Smith, my grandad and thousands of others - I hope today's blogathon can raise some money to support the work of a charity that really does care.

Click here to make a donation to Homeless World Cup or Alzheimer Scotland - your help is really appreciated

Donate to the blogathon's Homeless World Cup fund by text: just text DXVR87 and the amount you want to donate to 70070

Donate to the blogathon's Alzheimer Scotland fund by text: just text APJB49 and the amount you want to donate to 70070

Join the blogathon on Twitter: #fitbablether

Friday, November 18, 2011

Blogathon: Kick Off Approaches

Reminders of my essential crapness as an organiser are never far away.

It appears I’ve organised a blogathon for the day after the nation has been subjected to a Wogan-athon. That big, ruddy, irresistible cuddly bear. And don't even get me started on Pudsey.

Anyway, if you’ve got anything left to give or even just want to spread some kindness by shouting encouragement or abuse from the Twitter and Facebook sidelines please keep an eye out from tomorrow morning.

Here’s what to expect:

Most importantly two fantastic charities will hopefully benefit: the Homeless World Cup and Alzheimer Scotland. Links for donations are all over the blog so please click and give if you can.

I’ll be up and about early(ish) before I kick off at 12 noon.

The plan is to write an article an hour for 24 hours.

For that I’ll need your help. I don’t know what the posts are going to be about. That’s up to you.

You can use Twitter or Facebook to suggest topics and I’ll then scurry off and come back an hour later with 500 (almost) perfectly formed words. And then I'll start all over again.

So get your thinking caps on and start thinking of topics – Scottish, English, world, obscure, common, historical, modern – to fire at me.

I’ll start a thread on the blog’s Facebook page for suggestions and you can grab my attention on Twitter using @scotfootblog and #fitbablether

Over the course of the 24 hours I’ve also got some fantastic guests joining the debate. Bloggers, podcast people, video folk, Twitter types and journalists will be getting in on the act.

I don’t know what they’re writing about but I’m looking forward to finding out.

They’ll be offering up their own well reasoned take on a subject of their choosing. I’ll then have an hour to come up with 500 words proving why they are totally and utterly wrong.

And that’s it. 24 hours and a minimum of 12000 words later I’ll be home and dry.

Hopefully, of course, I’ll also have raised a bit of money along the way.

I’m genuinely passionate about these two causes and I’m really appreciative of any support anyone can afford to give:

Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011

Blogathon: Changing Lives

The blogathon draws ever closer. Just 24 hours away. So I'm delighted to welcome Mel Young, co-founder and President of the Homeless World Cup, to explain why he's convinced that football can change the world.

First of all, I’d really like to thank Tom for organizing the Blogathon and allowing the Homeless World Cup to be one of the beneficiaries. Tom has always supported the Homeless World Cup and we are extremely grateful for his time and commitment.

According to the United Nations there are one billion people who are homeless in the world. This is a mind boggling statistic and one which leaves most human beings numb. What on earth can one human being do to solve such an enormous problem? Naturally our brains just shut down because we just can’t comprehend the massive scale of the challenge.

But the answer is simple. If we all did something – no matter how small – then we can change the world. Tiny steps can create tidal waves. So, it is important that we all try and do something. Writing a blog, for example, might appear to be something very small which might not change anything, but this would be wrong. People read blogs and respond and these are passed on. One homeless person could read the blog and be inspired and change their life accordingly. Taking small positive steps can release huge energy.

It was in this way that we invented the Homeless World Cup way back in 2001. I was talking with my friend and colleague, Harald Schmied from Austria, over a beer about how we could get homeless people more involved. We talked about various ideas but there were always barriers and problems associated with them. Then we thought about football. We both loved football and we knew the power it had. Harald had played a bit and I, well, supported Hibs! We created the Homeless World Cup over a beer and then held the first annual event in 2003 in Graz in Austria with 18 countries taking part.

We chose football because it is simple to understand. Anyone can play, no matter how good or bad they might be. You can create any game you like – 2 a side or 20 a side – and you can play anywhere. All you need is a ball. And it is an international language – everybody understands and this means you can play even if you can’t speak the same language. It is inclusive. So, throughout the world, homeless people turn up to training sessions and begin to kick a ball around. Nowadays, we operate in over 70 countries.

Each year we have annual tournament. This year it was held in Paris and last year it took place in Rio. Next Year it will be held in Mexico City. In Paris this year, we had 64 nations taking part. Scotland won the Homeless World Cup and Kenya won the women’s trophy. In the 12 months leading up to the event, an estimated 50,000 homeless people took part in the associated programmes across the world. The annual event is the culmination of all the work which goes on throughout the year across the globe. It is a moment to celebrate and show the world how football can change people’s lives forever.

Our aim is all about impact. Our research shows that nearly 80% of the people involved change their lives – get jobs and houses; come off drugs and alcohol; go to college and get coaching certificates and improve their lives generally. Homelessness destroys self-respect and self esteem – playing football gives them it back. As long as these numbers of people keep changing their lives as a result of playing football then the harder we will work to make sure that the year round activity throughout the world is effective.

But we can’t do this on our own. We have proved that by making simple steps like kicking a football, we can change the world. Much more needs to be done and we are incredibly grateful for any support which people can give to us. Tiny contributions can make a massive difference. If we give, then we are rewarded – that reward will be a much fairer and safer world where homelessness is only ever read about in history books.

Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Blogathon: Overcoming adversity through football

Two days now until the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon.

Why am I doing it?

To try and help, even in a small way, great organisations like the Homeless World Cup. My own little contribution to beating homelessness through football.

Inspired by stories like Lisa's. Street soccer helped Lisa overcome her addictions. And she's moved on to give something back: at the 2011 Homeless World Cup she was coach of the US women's team.

An individual triumph over adversity. The Homeless World Cup inspires similar stories in over 70 countries every single day.

Donate to the Homeless World Cup through the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011

More at

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

1962: Hibs Move To End Relegation

Outrage reigned last month when the idea of removing promotion and relegation from England's top flight was discussed.

The Guardian reported Richard Bevan, chief executive of the League Managers Association, as saying:

"There are a number of overseas-owned clubs already talking about bringing about the avoidance of promotion and relegation in the Premier League, If we have four or five more new owners, that could happen."

Turning the English Premier League into a franchise model would guarantee income, make it easier to see a return on investments. Even if that meant raising the drawbridge.

There was a blizzard of derision in the face of this affront to what's left of the purity of the sport.

Wigan's Dave Whelan went as far to suggest that he'd take his club out of the EPL if this ever happened.

I've said before - and, cause I like to go on a bit, I'll probably say again - even in its daft ideas modern football is far from original.

So this passage from Tom Wright's new book Hibernian: From Joe Baker to Turnbull's Tornadoes jumped out at me:

"At that time attendances on both sides of the border were in steady decline which was proving of great concern to the authorities, and at the end of January [1962] all 37 Scottish League clubs were invited to a meeting with the SFA and Scottish League to discuss any positive action that might go some way in arresting the shortfall.

"At this meeting it was revealed that Hibs had recently mailed a bombshell letter to the SFA outlining radical proposals to reduce the number of clubs in the First Division.

"Among these proposals was the suggestion that the guarantee for visiting First Division sides be raised to £1000 per game, or alternatively that the home club keep all the gate money.

"[Harry] Swan also proposed that there be no automatic relegation from, or promotion to, the top division. Entry would be by invitation only, with provision made for financial assistance for the smaller clubs if necessary. A recommendation that an independent enquiry into proposals be arranged was agreed.

"Another suggestion from Hibs was that a new end-of-season tournament should be organised which, in time, could expanded to include clubs from England and abroad."

Harry Swan, the long serving Hibs chairman of the time, is lauded for his visionary belief in foreign tours, floodlit games and European football.

Seems his ideas on relegation also made him a forerunner of some EPL money-men.

And I'm sure somebody keeps banging on about a British Cup as well.

> Another Swan nugget:

"Edinburgh had been selected to host the 1970 Commonwealth Games. A major drawback for the organisers was the lack of a purpose built sports arena in the city.

"Never slow to anticipate anything that could be of benefit to the football club, Harry Sawn, with the backing of a local councillor, came up with the idea that an entirely rebuilt Easter Road would be an option worth considering.

"To Swan's disappointment, the site at Meadowbank was selected, although he remained convinced that the city fathers had missed a great opportunity."

History, like a bad meal, has a habit of repeating on us.

Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Blogathon: Football Memories

One of the charities I'm hoping to benefit from next weekend's blogathon is Alzheimer Scotland.

There are a number of reasons for that choice but one of them is their excellent Football Reminiscence Project.

Simply it's a project that put volunteers in touch with football fans who suffer from dementia. The game is then used - with some excellent results - to help stimulate memories.

You can get now get involved by sharing your own football memories on the excellent Football Memories website.

After thinking long and hard I've chosen a game as my favourite memory. A European night when Easter Road rediscovered its roar:

"The ground was rocking. The players seemed to draw strength from the fans. Suddenly a wave pre-match optimism turned into an orgy of belief. Anything became possible.

"Hibs exploded out from the kick-off. AEK looked rattled, their contingent of travelling supporters looked shocked."

Please check out the site and add your own memories.

And of course, if you're able to donate to the blogathon that would be massively appreciated:

Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011

Blogathon: Homeless World Cup Video

Less than week to go now until the Scottish Football Blog's 24 hour "blogathon."

A good time then to feature this video from Donkey Stone Films featuring some of the sights and sounds of the Homeless World Cup in Paris.

Scotland reigning world champions. A network of grassroots projects in over 70 countries. Over 50,000 people involved.

With football as the inspiration.

That's something to applaud.

And, if you can, please donate to the blogathon:

Donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon, 19 November 2011