Friday, November 25, 2011

Hibs: When Irish eyes are smiling?

Hibs welcome Pat Fenlon as their new manager.

His task, which he's chosen to accept, involves performing miracles with a squad of Highland dancers.

He's the fifth non-Scottish manager of Hibs.

Following in the footsteps of Mixu Paatelainen, Tony Mowbray and Franck Sauzee.

And Dan McMichael.

If the imports of more recent vintage enjoyed mixed success, McMichael - like Fenlon an Irishman - might offer more welcome precedents.

Longevity. Commitment. Passion. And winning the Scottish Cup.

McMichael was born in Dublin and arrived in Edinburgh via Coatbridge. His affinity with Hibs would not have been unusual in those days, as late as the early 1900s Hibs retained the support of swathes of the west coast Irish community who hadn't yet been persuaded to take Celtic to their hearts.

But McMichael's enthusiasm seems to have been particularly strong and he was involved in the resurrection of the club in the early 1890s.

His footballing pedigree is unknown - he apparently won some fame as a sprinter in his younger days and was a referee - but his passion for Hibs saw him become secretary-manager of the club in the early 1900s.

That role seems to have meant doing a bit of everything.

If Hibs wanted to sign international goalkeeper Harry Rennie from Hearts in controversial circumstance, McMichael was the man.

If you wanted to buy your season ticket, it was McMichael you saw.

And, with the assistance of a trainer, he had responsibility for the team.

A responsibility he carried out with aplomb.

It was McMichael who emerged from Haymarket station - amid scenes that Edinburgh football had apparently never seen before - with the Scottish Cup after the 1902 final victory over Celtic.

He became something of a celebrity after the cup win - it has, after all, proved a hard trick to repeat - and one English journalist was amazed to be pointed in the direction of the chap painting the stand when he asked where he might find the famous Mr McMichael.

He seems to have appreciated the finer things in football: when Ibrox was reopened after the 1902 disaster it was McMichael's Hibs that Rangers invited to contest the first game, the occasion calling for the presence of "the most attractive team in Scotland."

The season after that now fabled cup success, Hibs won the league. McMichael the man had become McMichael the legend.

After their re-emergence in the 1890s Hibs had been forced to twice win the Second Division before being allowed entry to the top flight. Within a decade they had won the cup and the league championship.

McMichael had coaxed the club back to prominence.

At this stage in the club's history playing affairs were run by committee but it seems clear that McMichael fulfilled the role that we would now associate with the manager.

After the league triumph he returned to a more administrative role with Phil Kelso taking over as manager. The new man lasted just a season before heading south to Arsenal.

If that caused Hibs pain at the time - Kelso's record was far from being overwhelmingly successful - it set the stage for another McMichael claim to fame.

In 1904 he became the first - and so far only - man to manage Hibs for a second time. (I'm choosing to ignore Tommy Craig's double stint as caretaker manager.)

He lasted 15 years in the job the second time around. That's the longest stint of any Hibs manager.

The second McMichael era couldn't match the success of the first but as the club went through its periodic crises of confidence, cash and sundry other problems he managed to hold things together.

He steered the club through tragedy as well. Defender James Main died, as far as I am aware the only such incident in the history of the club, as a result of an injury he picked up in a game against Partick Thistle on Christmas Day in 1909.

Amazingly, certainly to modern sensibilities, McMichael gathered the team together and managed to fulfil the New Year fixture against Hearts just days later and again for a game against Morton on the day of the funeral.

It was McMichael's presence and little else that carried Hibs through the First World War when perilous finances once again threatened the existence of the club he had passionately championed in the 1890s.

Sadly he wasn't to live to see the results of his efforts. In 1919 he died of complications arising chronic bronchitis and related to the Spanish 'flu pandemic that claimed, at the lower end of the estimates, three percent of the world's population.

He was buried in the cemetery behind Easter Road, perhaps forever watching over the club that he devoted his life to.

Dan McMichael: Scottish Cup winner, league winner. One of the group of men who resurrected Hibs. And the man who kept that dream alive across a most difficult decade.

He did all this, perhaps in contrast to some of the fans of the day, while "never known to have spoken harshly or ungenerously to a living soul."

Makes Pat Fenlon's job look quite easy by comparison.

Alan Lugton, The Making of Hibernian: The Brave Years, 1893-1914

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Blogathon: Rounding things up

Last weekend saw the Scottish Football Blog's 24 hour blogathon.

24 hours, 24 posts, 16665 words.

And so far over £840 raised for Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup.

Time for some belated but heartfelt thanks. Sorry if I've missed anyone out, I'll try and catch everyone on what promises to be a lengthy follow Friday list on Twitter today.

Getting the word out

Thanks to Tweetsport for all their support and for adopting Alzheimer Scotland's Football Memories projects as their site charity.

Craig and Laurie at Scottish Football Forums were kind enough to give the blogathon plugs aplenty on both the site and their excellent podcast.

Stewart Weir provided some much appreciated coverage at Caledonian Mercury
The Football Blog Directory - all bloggers should get themselves listed - were decent enough to provide some great publicity before and during the big event.

Having their say

Writing for 24 hours is much easier if you've got great ideas to bounce off. The blogathon wouldn't have been possible without some cracking contributions from some great writers over the course of the 24 hours.

In chronological order:

The Sunday Post's Kenny Millar challenged me to debate the merits or otherwise of booing your own team.

Scott Johnston of went the extra mile and wrote his contribution in the allotted hour as we went head to head on the Old Firm leaving Scotland.

Laurie Dunsire of Scottish Football Forums showed himself up as enjoying a bit of role-play as he discussed the attraction of Hibs. Leaving me to try and sell the majesty of Hearts.

Andrew Gibney, the force behind French Football Weekly, got me going on the differing attitudes to relegation in Scotland and beyond.

Hot Scores' Sarah Flotel gave us the science behind penalties, leaving me to prove that one Colin Murdock is worth more than one Frank de Boer.

Jay Mansfield, who blogs at Left Midfielder, had me toying with the possibility of meaningful change in Scottish football.

Ross McCafferty, known on Twitter as @holyroodpatter, delivered his damning verdict on Craig Levein, leaving me to jump to the Scotland manager's defence.

Stewart Weir took a trip down memory lane to relate his first visit to Hampden, giving me the chance to remember my own less spectacular maiden voyage to the national stadium.

Eilidh Donaldson of Tweetsport set me the not completely welcome challenge of reliving five of Hearts' happiest moments.

Gary Linton rounded off the contributions with his take on why Scotland will qualify for the 2014 World Cup, letting me explain why we've got no chance of being in Brazil.

And finally

Huge thanks as well to everyone who contributed topics, RTs and general support on Twitter.

And, of course, to everyone who donated so generously and allowed me to break my fundraising targets. If you haven't yet donated, please don't be shy.

Final mentions to the two charities:

The Homeless World Cup

Alzheimer Scotland and their Football Memories Project

You can still 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

Thursday, November 24, 2011

SPL: Eighty million reasons to be cheerful

80 million quid.

Not be sniffed at. Five years of stability at a time of economic uncertainty.

So well done to the SPL on the signing of their new TV deal?

Not exactly.

£16 million a season (that's the figure being widely reported) for 60 live games. 30 games a season on ESPN and 30 more, Old Firm jamborees included, on Sky.

Two TV "giants" committed to our game, said the SPL's chief executive Neil Doncaster.

Two TV giants who don't rate our game enough to get involved in a bidding war that would artificially inflate the price, says I.

Doncaster also spoke of a "28 percent" rise in viewing figures. That's a positive. But across 60 live games the average viewing figures hover around the 160,000 mark (the final Old Firm game of last season was Sky's first one million-plus in-home audience for a Scottish domestic fixture).

Which might explain why that 28 percent figure hasn't been matched by a 28 percent rise in the value of the original Sky/ESPN TV contract signed a couple of seasons ago.

Those viewing figures also suggest that the idea of a stand-alone SPL TV channel was, as I've long argued, a non-starter - even accounting for Doncaster's disingenuous aside about the success of such a venture in Holland.

We must accept any rise with a degree of thankfulness. But we might also cast an envious eye around Europe.

Comparisons with the English Premier League are always bad for our health. But Belgium, Poland and Switzerland offer three examples of recent TV deals that are more lucrative than our own.

The new SPL deal doesn't measure up to the ill fated Setanta deal but nor does it come close to the offer Sky put on the table at the same time, the deal that was championed by Rangers, Celtic and Aberdeen.

On that occasion greed proved our undoing. But one man's bankruptcy is another's opportunity. Sky have now got seven years worth of Old Firm games - all they really want - for less than they bid when Setanta trumped them.

Accountants and bank managers might offer wan smiles of gratitude.

The money will come in. Peter can again go hungry to save Paul from malnutrition.

Make no mistake, this deal is far from being big enough to cure our woes, the cash is welcome but hardly the financial balm we need.

By making the league more attractive to exposure hungry sponsors the deal should also help entice someone to fill Clydesdale Bank's shoes at the end of next season.

That will be another source valuable of revenue but, again, hardly a huge one even if it improves on the contract offered by Clydesdale.

Stability then. Nothing more. That's the extent of this new deal.

And the downside of being smugly satisfied with stability is the closing of minds to meaningful change.

It seems certain that this new deal will tie us to a 12 team league, guarantee the survival of the SPL split, one relegation/promotion place, a continued lack of funds being funnelled down the divisions and more of those kick-off times that are so unpopular with supporters.

None of that offers much promise for reversing declining attendances.

In which light the TV deal seems to offer some short-term gain coupled with the window dressing required to ignore the problems of long term decline.

I'd be amazed if we get through the next five years without more of our top flight clubs becoming embroiled in some cash crisis or another.

I'll also be surprised if we see any great improvement on the product on the park. And don't hold your breath for any constructive attempts to wrestle with the problem of ticket prices.

The rub here is that, operating almost completely in fear of a total financial collapse, there were no other options but to accept this TV deal.

The real shame is that the game won't be saved by people acting in fear. Not much positive will come from that.

So here's to Neil Doncaster as the saviour of the SPL, here's to the next five years promising more of the same, here's to more uncertainty and barely contained decline.

At least it will all be televised.

You can still donate to the Scottish Football Blog Blogathon in aid of the Homeless World Cup and Alzheimer Scotland - 24 hours, 24 posts and over 16,000 words

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Blogathon: Why I love football

Here it is then. The end.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed here and on Twitter.

Thanks to everyone who had donated to Alzheimer Scotland and/or the Homeless World Cup.


It's been quite a 24 hours. I've confused myself with some of the debating angles I've taken.

I've celebrated five happy Hearts memories and I've tried to sell Hearts to potential new owners.

And I've been left genuinely bamboozled by the support I've received on Twitter, by email and, of course, for the Homeless World Cup and Alzheimer Scotland.

(Donations still most gratefully received so please keep them coming.)

So I'm rounding off with some positivity. @Linton1388 suggested this as I approached the final furlong.

Why I love football.

If I've not shared this story before then I'm amazed. If I have I apologise.

When I was eight I played in goals for very bad football team. I was coached by Airdrie legend John Martin. Who was, in the nicest possible way, aff his heid.

One day I saved two penalties in one game. I would barely call myself a moderate footballer. But saving those penalties felt fantastic.

So good that I still speak about it today. And conveniently forget I let in seven goals.

Things like that are why I love football.

Standing at Hampden as Murdo McLeod lifted the League Cup and all the agony and anguish of a shitty couple of years lifted from us Hibs fans.

Watching as Hibs beat Dundee United at Tynecastle to reach the 1993 league cup semi final. The last game I went to with my grandad.

Memories like that are why I love football.

Missing a great chunk of a derby day defeat at Tynecastle because we were, frankly, having a better time in the pub.

Waking up with the hangover from hell the day after Hibs beat Kilmarnock in the League Cup final and the hangover lifting as I remembered just why I'd got so drunk.

That's why I love football.

Because this is Scottish football and we know we're crap and people laugh at us or ignore us.

And yes, we have problems, we have bampots, we have hatred, we have incompetence, we have neglect.

But, you know what, they're our clubs, they're our players.

They're our memories of Gordon Smith and Laurie Reilly, Dave McKay and Willie Bauld, Jock Stein and Jimmy Johnstone, Matt Busby and Dennis Law, John Greig and Jim Baxter, Ally McLeod and Archie Gemmill.

That's why I love Scottish football.

Because Hibs are Hibs. And they're frustrating. And they win some and they lose some and sometimes they treat us like crap.

But I can still go with my mates and my family. We can moan, argue, think the referee is an idiot, the manager a plonker and the chairman a miser.

And then we can go to the pub and drown our sorrows, remember it's just a game, take a trip down memory lane and pick ourselves up and start again.

That's why I love football.

Because I worked at the Homeless World Cup in Edinburgh in 2005 and I saw football taking hold of imaginations and people's confidence and respect returning over the course of a few games, no matter if they were won or lost.

That's why I love football.

Because we can - most of us - support different teams but still have a laugh together and be mates.

That's why I love football.

Because sometimes you see a player like Franck Sauzee, or Russell Latapy, or our own Chic Charnley and think that this is a simple game when you have the skill to master it. A simple, beautiful game.

That's why I love football.

Because I can still remember getting my full Scotland replica kit for the 1986 World Cup.

Because I can still see John Collins wheeling toward the crowd as that penalty hit the back of the net against Brazil in 1998.

Because I can still hear the singing of the crowd before the 1999 play-off game v England.

That's why I love football.

Because football is the "thread that binds us." And when you see the work of Alzheimer Scotland's Football Memories project you will know that phrase deserves to be more than a glib marketing slogan.

That's why I love football.

Because people I know and people I've never met have given their time, effort, support and money to this blogathon.

Because they've bought into a simple idea. That football can change lives.

That's why I love football.

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

Blogathon: Where's Vlad Going?

The Homeless World Cup and Alzheimer Scotland. Two charities doing fantastic work. You know the donation drill.

Penultimate post time.

A suggestion from @theftblproject just minutes ago planted the seed for this post.

His Tweet read:

"In your very first post you wrote "Maybe Mr Romanov knows where this is going" - Five years on, does he?"

That was five years ago tomorrow.

I honestly didn't think Vladimir Romanov would still own Hearts in November 2011.

But he does.

In the interim he's spent vast sums of money, indulged in a footrace with Hibs to see which Edinburgh club could get through the most managers and assembled a huge squad.

Back in 2006 Hearts were coming off the back of a season where they'd won the Scottish Cup - and already this morning I've been forced to write glowingly of a certain semi final victory - and split the Old Firm in the SPL.

Yet by that November I was forced to wonder if Romanov knew where it was going.

It was a quick descent from a heady beginning.

Hearts, it must be said, have not been chumps these past five years.

Far from it.

But the promise of the early months quickly dissipated. As I said in my post with Laurie Dunsire, when I was tasked with "selling" Hearts to a new owner, Romanov had the right dreams, he might even just about have invested enough money. But his strategy has lacked too much direction.

He spent most of his money on over priced foreign imports. The rest he just squandered.

That's not the fault of any particular mafia, it's probably not even the fault - much as I like to pin everything on him - of Rupert Murdoch.

Has Vladimir Romanov being treated in a way that a Scottish owner wouldn't be?

Perhaps. But then I've never heard of a Scottish owner leaving out nuts for the "media monkeys." The dysfunctional aspect of the relationship has been reciprocal.

Time yet, though, to appraise the reign of Romanov.

For now we appear to have reached something like the end. Or the beginning of the end.

As @theftblproject asks, does Romanov now know where this is going?

To which the honest response is: can anyone genuinely begin to guess whether he does or he doesn't?

What is he trying to sell?

A great football club. That's clear. And a club with potential within the limits of Scottish club football.

A stadium that has a saleable value but, as yet, not an easily or cheaply available suitable alternative location.

A gargantuan squad that requires major pruning but also contains some fine young assets.

A colossal debt that is owed to the bank controlled by Vladimir Romanov.

To further muddy the waters there also seems to be certain issues besetting the Lithuanian banking sector. That might have no impact at all. Or it might have a major impact.

Finally there is an owner who wants away and is eyeing up a transfer into the theatre world.

What do Hearts need?

An interested party.

And an indication of what exactly Romanov's exit strategy actually is.

An indication that you want to sell and sharing your love of the theatre is grand. Saying you're not putting any more money in is fine.

But when you control that level of debt in a company potential buyers need to know more.

Until that information is forthcoming we can't know how this will play out.

We could be in this state of flux for a while: Hearts developing a strategy to live within their means while Romanov lets them get on with it.

Or it could be quicker. I can't see someone coming in willing to take on the debt but a deal that wouldn't destroy the new owner's bank balance nor hurt Romanov's pride would be in the best interests of everyone.

And a stable Hearts, a Hearts sure of their financial footing, is also in the best interests of Scottish football.

But only time will tell.

So, there we are.

5 years and 1020 articles later, I can say it again:

"Maybe Mr Romanov knows where this is going."

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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Join the blogathon on Twitter: #fitbablether

Blogathon: Scotland and the 2014 World Cup

OK folks.

The end is getting closer. The floor is open from now for suggestions from the denizens of Twitter and Facebook.

Be gentle.

And be generous!

But first Gary Linton (@Linton1388) tells us why Scotland will qualify for the 2014 World Cup. And I'm compelled to tell you why they won't.

Here's Gary:

Scotland yet again failed to qualify for a major tournament, which is now the seventh time in a row between both the European Championship’s (Last 4) and the World Cup (Last 3). The last time we managed to qualify all Scotland fans will remember, World Cup France '98. In the tournament we were drawn against Morocco, Norway and Brazil, we didn’t manage to win a game, all we could accumulate was a single point against Norway at home, losing against Brazil 2-1 and Morocco 3-0, fans might not have known then but we wouldn’t get back in to a major competition for sixteen years.

Yes sixteen years after France '98, Scotland would go on to qualify for another major tournament as they would qualify for Brazil 2014.

Craig Levein has been in charge of Scotland for seventeen games now, winning nine, drawing two and losing six. Giving him a total 52.94% win ratio, better than all but one of Scotland’s last eleven managers, only Alex McLeish has a better ratio. In the last five outings we’ve managed four wins, one draw and only one defeat which was against reigning World Cup and European Championship holders Spain. With Levein looking to turn the national side into something more like a club level team, with him bringing through Scotland youngsters and with him looking for anyone who is willing to play for us with Scotland links, all he is doing is raising our chances of qualifying.

Sitting 51st in the Fifa rankings, people may think it’s silly to play such friendlies away to Slovenia and away to Cyprus but all of it is relevant as it goes towards points for the rankings, more ranking points then the higher up the pots we go, equalling again Levein trying to get the most and best out of Scotland. You can already see a very special bond between the players and the manager, and for the first time in a long time we’ve got enough players that we can actually make two teams.

The qualifying group has been drawn for the 2014 World Cup, Scotland were drawn against Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Macedonia and Wales.

Only one of them managed to qualify for the European Championship that was top seeds Croatia, with the top team qualifying automatically, the eight best runners-up (determined by records against the first-, third-, fourth- and fifth-place teams only for balance between different groups) will be drawn in two-legged play-offs to determine the other four qualifying nations.

Scotland with that group will be one of those runner ups. I feel that with all Levein has done so far by the time the qualifying comes in to place we will have a strong enough bond and a strong enough team to secure a win against all the teams in the group at home and making Hampden park a fortress, meaning if we can pick up some away points on the way, well, who knows we may just have a chance to top the group and make it through as winners.

Well get ready for the World Cup 2014 in Brazil as here come Scotland, maybe we could win it!

And here's my response:

Scotland won't qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

It would be lovely to think that we could. But we won't.

That won't be Craig Levein's fault.

As an old rugby coach of my acquaintance used to say about his wearied, thin squad:

"You can only piss with the cock you've got."

And Levein is not well endowed.

I have no doubts that the group will be tight. But that won't do us any favours.

We can't dominate games. We don't have the players with the temperament or the technical ability to do it.

So we struggle against teams that we seem well matched with. When they offer us the upper hand we shy away from it, we retreat. We need men, we have startled pussy cats.

The spirit is there, there's even good players in the mix. And an abundance of players who will work hard, buy into the idea of a one for all work ethic and give it everything they've got.

But it won't be enough.

One of the reasons for that is we spent too long thinking it was enough. So we all but gave up on developing the sort of skill and technical efficiency that are needed to thrive in the modern game.

The price we now pay for that is the international wilderness.

Why does Craig Levein search the birth registers of England? (I wonder if he does, maybe he spends his spare time huddled round a computer screen with a coterie of Why Do You Think You Are? researchers.)

Because he'll find better players. Even in England. Maybe he should be checking out Spain as well, there must be a few likely lads who never made it home from the 1982 World Cup.

It makes the "sack Levein" shouts all the more difficult to understand. It's the players, stupid.

The people that run football have let us down. For generations.

And what have we ended up with?

A manager who is so concerned by the terror he sees in his player's eyes that he feels the need to play a 4-6-0 formation against a crap Czech Republic team.

The 1974 World Cup squad. What a talented bunch that was. But they came up short.

What did we actually do about that?

Nothing. We thought "ah, we'll probably do better next time."

Next time we went with a wave of optimism. And we didn't do any better.

What did we do about that?

Nothing. We thought "ah, we'll probably do better next time."

And on and on it went.

The sorry cycle of accepting failure, accepting that qualification was a biffingly good show in itself and trusting that tomorrow would be a brighter day.

Then in the St Etienne rain in 1998 we ran out of lives.

It was over. The decline that unheralded, unfashionable, under-appreciated managers had managed to mask in the 1990s was there for all to see.

We've roared occasionally since then. But we've essentially been muted by the modern game.

Less complacent nations, nations with sensible strategies rather than adhoc, panicked quick fixes have soared past us.

And we've regressed. We don't produce enough young players and we often fail to develop them enough to let them flourish at their peak when we do.

Hampden Park. 11th May 1966.

Scotland got thumped 3-0 by a Dutch team that we'd written off as diddies.

It was called our darkest result.

But we did nothing about. We didn't question why we'd lost, we didn't study why the Dutch might just be on the up.

We shrugged it off and called ourselves unofficial world champions a year later, without even pausing to ask why a team that talented couldn't qualify to compete for the real prize.

That was the day the music started to die. I'm lucky. I'm old enough to remember the last few tunes the orchestra played.

Now? Silence.

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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Join the blogathon on Twitter: #fitbablether

This early Sunday morning blogathon hour was sponsored by the really rather wonderful

Blogathon: Happy Hearts

As I mentioned in the last hour I've been bowled over by the support I've got from

So it's a real treat to welcome Eilidh Donaldson of that parish as our final guest debater of the Scottish Football Blog blogathon.

Thanks again Eilidh - @tweetsportcouk

What a way to welcome Sunday's daylight.

Eilidh - who I used to quite like - has set me a challenge with her guest spot.

So five happy, happy memories for Hearts fans it is:


If I tell you that this one of the worst days of my footballing life then you'll probably guess it was grand day to be a Jambo.

I've not been this miserable at Hampden since I was bitten by an insect on my first trip in 1985.

An Edinburgh derby at the National Stadium. At stake a massively winnable Scottish Cup final.

And Hearts didn't just win. They wiped the floor with Hibs. It was a massacre on the green field of Hampden.

Paul Hartley - who else? - scored a hat-trick, Edgaras Jankauskas embarrassed Zibi Malkowski, Ivan Sproule got sent off for stamping and Gary Smith was also dismissed.

4-0. I'd imagine maroon days don't come much happier.


A Dutch debutant made Tynecastle his home.

This one actually remains my last derby day visit to Tynecastle.

Hearts scored five, Hibs scored one. And Mark de Vries, on his home debut, scored four.

Andy Kirk was the other scorer for Hearts. Ian Murray got the consolation for Hibs.

Oddly I don't remember this game being as one sided as the semi final but it was a still thumping derby victory as Hibs' defence offered next to no protection for Tony Caig.


When you're as average a player as Wayne Foster you really need to pull of something special to ensure you're forever remembered as a hero.

A last gasp winning goal in a Scottish Cup tie at the home of your bitterest, nearest and, perhaps, dearest rivals?

Aye. That will probably just about sort out your place in history.

John Robertson scored his 27th derby goal. Keith Wright equalised.

And then Foster broke clear in the 86th minute, nutmegged Jim Leighton, won the game and celebrated like there was no tomorrow.

Hibs were out of the cup, Hearts were through.

And it was 21 games and more than five years since Hibs had won a derby game.


Hibs were looking for a modicum of revenge after the Mark de Vries demolition job of August 2002.

They didn't get it.

Mixu Paatelainen had put Hibs ahead and with 85 minutes gone they looked like they'd be enjoying a home victory.

In the 86th minute Kevin McKenna - who I remember being strangely excellent as Hearts came back into this one - equalised.

In the 92nd minute Phil Stamp scored the winner for Hearts. And then got sent off for his celebrations.

Which, frankly, seemed to piss him off more than it would me if I got a red card after scoring a derby day winner.


Sorry, five derby games would just be too much.

So have this one instead.

Scottish Cup final. Hearts v Rangers.

80 seconds it took for Colin Cameron to open the scoring after Steve Fulton, captain for the day, had won a penalty.

Stephane Adam got a second in the second half and Hearts had won the Scottish Cup. And Hibs still hadn't won it since 1902.

Putting a cherry atop the cake, Hearts had won the Scottish Cup in the same season that Hibs were relegated.

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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Join the blogathon on Twitter: #fitbablether

Blogathon: David Moyes and Everton

Entering the home straight. And a word for Tweetsport who have been massively supportive of this blogathon.

And they've adopted Alzheimer Scotland's quite stunning Football Memories project as their site charity. All their help has been massively appreciated.

A topic suggested by @nroberts88

I venture south of the border and consider Everton.

Everton's title and Cup Winner's Cup winning sides of the mid-1980s are just about the first successful English side I remember.

My brother even had the strip. Fancied himself as bit of a Graeme Sharp I think.

Howard Kendall at his best. Masterminding often successful attempts to win city bragging rights at a time when winning city bragging rights in Liverpool would make you just about the best of the best.

Mighty Everton.

I'm a big fan of Davie Moyes as well. Fact: he was in the Dunfermline team that was beaten in the 1991 League Cup final by Hibs.

His achievement in breaking into England's top four was quite something.

He's had his ups and downs before and since that achievement. But, generally, he's met the challenges, persevered and often thrived.

It seems that every year there will be a stage in the season when someone is asking "what is wrong with Everton?"

And often the answer is "not much."

They continue to produce good young players but sometimes a reliance on youngsters leads to inconsistency and dips.

Decent players, solid manager.

But what's really wrong is that Everton are potless.

Potless with a chairman who seems to know more about Betty's Hotpot than running a football club.

Here's an excerpt from a meeting supporters held with Bill Kenwright:

Mark “Well, surely as Chairman you should be aware what these other operating costs are?”

Bill, “No, absolutely not, and why should I? I can’t break down the accounts for you…”

And why should he be able to?

In Bill Kenwright's defence he seems to recognise the value of Moyes and, as a selling club, the importance of holding on to that managerial asset.

With money, maybe a new stadium and David Moyes in control, Everton could thrive.

But until a new owner appears that won't happen. I wouldn't question Bill Kenwright's passion but he doesn't have the money and he doesn't inspire confidence.

That's why the fans want him out. And it why Everton need to get him out.

Against that backdrop Moyes' loyalty and resilience has been quite exceptional. It makes me admire him all the more.

It's difficult to build a consistently successful team though when you can't hold on to players and don't get the vast sums of money needed to replace them.

Everton have become victims of the English footballing boom.

Their debts might not be as huge as some others and their youth policy continues to flourish.

But they've been left behind in the race for riches and that makes former glories all but impossible to recapture. Modern football has little respect for past achievements.

If you can't afford to compete in the present then you're cast aside.

That, alas, is the fate that's befallen Everton.

Which makes keeping David Moyes both vitally important and trickier.

What could he do with money?

Would he be able to flourish or is his forte dealing with reduced circumstances, accepting his lot and working a series of small miracles with what he's got.

I'd like him to get the chance to test that theory.

And, for old times sake, I'd like him to get that chance with Everton.

Or, failing that, there's always a job going at Hibs.

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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Blogathon: Referee!

7am. Get up, grab Sunday and don't let it go.

And spare a quid or two for the Homeless World Cup and Alzheimer Scotland.

You ask for suggestions for blogathon topics on Twitter you get inundated with chat about referees. So, for y'all, here goes.

Referees. What a shower of crooked bastards.

A fact: everyone thinks referees are out to disadvantage his or her team.

I've been reading a book about a couple of decades in the history of Hibs. It seems we went 20 years without committing a foul in Glasgow yet being penalised for almost every fair tackle.

That seems a blinkered nonsense.

I've seen bad decisions given against my team. And I've seen bad decisions given for my team.

I think last year certain episodes gave the issue of refereeing in Scotland an unhelpful camouflage.

Because talking about corruption, bias, a lack of neutrality - although it's massively tempting - obscures what are probably far more real and insidious problems with the standard of refereeing.

And that needs to be sorted out.

A few suggestions that I think are worth exploring.

Referees should be full time. I know it's expensive and some people might not be attracted to it as a full time job.

But football's a very different game now. It shouldn't be officiated by gentleman amateurs.

What would they do all day?

Well, they'd get better at refereeing for a start and they'd also be involved, seguing perfectly into my next point, with outreach programmes.

Every school should have a qualified referee. And every school and every youth football club should get regular visits from referees.

This has probably, I hope, changed now but I don't ever remember actually being taught the rules of the game.

It was as if we were expected to learn them by a process of osmosis or simply by learning not to do something after being penalised for doing it the first time.

That creates a knowledge gap that is the filled by peer groups, parents or television pundits.

There is no way that's a good thing. Because if we think referees often have a shaky grasp of the rules they look masterminds compared to Joe Public.

The number of times I hear at half time or full time:

"Player A did that and nothing happened, but then our Player B did that and he got booked. The ref's a f*cking nightmare, man."

No. He's not. Because invariably what's just been described are two similar but actually quite different things that the referee has called absolutely spot on.

Meeting referees from a young age would also help convince people that refs are normal blokes.

That means it's not nice to scream and shout at them when they've done something you don't like. And screaming and shouting at people, although a recognised footballing performance enhancement technique, doesn't always help people perform at their best.

So get the Respect agenda or the Football not Fiasco agenda or whatever the hell it is on track.

On track in this instance would mean zero tolerance and heavy, consistent punishments. Not a press release, a marketing slogan and an advertising board.

Ask referees what they want. What would make their job easier?

We might not be able to provide it through our own authorities but we might be able to lead the debate on things like TV replays or whatever the consensus of the refereeing fraternity suggests.

Finally, we should all simmer down. Football's an imperfect game and referees are not superhuman. Mistakes should be kept to a minimum but they will happen.

Let's try meeting them with a stiff upper lip not a hysterical rant. It would be healthier.

And one last thing. Start coming down hard, extremely hard, on cheats.

Too often when a player cheats, it's not diving or play acting it's cheating with the intent of gaining an unfair advantage, it's the referee who is painted as the villain of the piece.

Stop that. It's like treating the victim of a confidence trickster and the guilty party not the victim.

It's a hard enough job with conniving footballer muddying the waters.

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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Blogathon: My First Hampden Date

Sort of feels like the final furlong.

And who better to join us, at this early hour, than Stewart Weir?

Stewart's seen it all in his long and distinguished career. And that includes some great Scottish footballing moments. And a fair few bad ones.

His weekly take on the world of sport can be found every week at Caledonian Mercury

Follow him @sweirz

First up a massive thank you to Stewart. His support of this blogathon has been above and beyond. He's one of the many people who have been absolutely fantastic in the time and help they've given what was, in all honesty, a bit of strange, speculative idea.

Here's Stewart's first Hampden experience:

Unless you were a Queen’s Park supporter, going to Hamdpen as a football fan was always going to be something special; a Cup Final, or a big international date.

On my study wall I have a couple of large frames containing all the passes and tickets I’ve collected over the years.

Surrounded by the press box passes for the 1993 Scottish Cup final, when Rangers completed the Treble by beating Aberdeen, one for Parma-Rangers, the all-Sheffield FA Cup semi-final in ’93 and a backstage permit for Isidro Perez-Pat Clinton world title fight, lies a ticket stub.

Other briefs attract more comment and attention from those who get to see them. But for me, that one in the middle means the most.

South East Stand, enter by turnstile B, row D, seat number 34, price 50/-, billed as international. Not any international mind you.

Saturday, 25th April, 1970, Hampden Park, Glasgow. Scotland v England.

I was ten. My dad was no big football fan, so he’d have gone out of his way to first take me and my brother to see our first competitive game, Hamilton Accies v Clydebank, the Bankies winning 2-0 on a wet, foggy, cold, dank day at Douglas Park.

Next game up that I remember attending was at Celtic Park, Rangers winning 6-1. No, not a dream or a nightmare. Semi-final of the Scottish Cup in 1969, Aberdeen swept aside, much the same as Celtic would do in the final to Rangers.

Clydebank, Parkhead. When my dad announced we would be going to the football again, there really was the element of surprise attached, because I didn’t know what we were going to see.

As the week went on though, it was apparent I was going to something special. When big men pat you on the head, and call you a lucky, wee so-and-so, you know it matters.

My mum, more a football fan than my old man, hyped up the atmosphere and the anticipation levels to the extent that come Friday night, I couldn’t sleep. I was going to see Scotland against the champions of the world, England. And I was going to see, in real like, those I’d previously only seen on TV or in my hands as I thumbed and flicked trough my bubblegum card collections.

Saturday morning, we were picked up in a big car, the kind of motor that made people in Hillhouse stop and look. It was a Daimler, I think. The driver got out, opened the doors for us, and got back in to drive, making the

gestures a chauffeur. That’s because he was a chauffeur, but this was his day off, and he was using his boss’s car, just like we were using his tickets!

The roads and surrounds to Hampden were mobbed. But being in a big, flash car, we could park right outside the stadium. I thought everyone was afforded this luxury. How wrong I was.

Inside Hampden, the place was just a sea of faces and tartan. Scarves, hats, bunnets, huge rosettes (something you never see these days). The only kilts I saw were those worn by the pipers, the only authentic Scotland football shirts, worn by the players.

I know my ticket said I had a seat, but I never sat, standing right down at the front amongst loads of other weans. My dad must have been able to keep a watchful eye on me, but I never saw him through the game, apart from halftime when I was presented with half a pie and a packet of Opal Fruits.

Memories of the game are few but vivid. Tommy Gemmell smashed a drive that rattled the chest of Gordon Banks, the best goalie in the world (supposedly), who a few months later would make that save against Pele.

Brian Labone, the England centre-half put Colin Stein up in the air, 137,000 shouting ‘penalty’ which wasn’t given. And Jimmy Johnstone tormented and teased Bobby Moore (“Superstar, wears frilly knickers and a padded bra”) and Emlyn Hughes, the makeshift left-back, to such an extent that the latter and Liverpool legend would use that memory as part of his after-dinner routine in later years.

In the end, Scotland said farewell to England for the last time as world champions, the game ending 0-0, ironically, the first such result since the first international meeting between the two a century before.

But me, I was gutted. For one of my all-time heroes, Bobby Charlton, didn’t play.

To my mind, at some given point in time, he was arguably the best player in the world. Okay, the whispy, blonde comb-over might not have been a glamorous as Georgie Best’s mop and sideburns, but Charlton could play the game, and boy, could he hit a ball with either foot, something I repeatedly tried to emulate, losing several toenails in the process.

Charlton had chipped a bone in his arm, and so Peter Thompson of Liverpool came into the England side. So I never got the chance to see Charlton play.

Still, I did see Hampden in all its former glory, filled with 137,000, singing ‘Scotland, Scotland’ in unison. Something else I’ll never see again.

And now mine:

I can't remember my first trip to Easter Road. I suspect I would have been four.

I remember a trip to Meadowbank at around the same time. I remember, of course, the day I was Hibs' lucky mascot and St Mirren stuffed us.

And I remember my first trip to Hampden.

I'm looking at the programme and the ticket stub now.

Sunday 27th October 1985.

The Skol Cup. Sponsored by Alloa Brewery Company.

That seems to have been the official title.

Can you still buy Skol? It was rubbish. You'd be met with, at best, simmering hatred or, at worst, widespread ridicule and derision if you turned up at a party with a case of it.

Still, it probably just about edges the Scottish Communities League Cup. At least Skol was a thing, not a meaningless, hollow concept.

I digress.

We set off the four of us: me, my brother, my dad and my grandad.

We probably set off astonishingly early. My dad likes to get to places early.

And my gran provided us with provisions for the car. Provisions that would have been handy if we'd encountered a retreating army on the road to Glasgow.

The match was the first cup final Hibs had reached in my lifetime. I was five. And, really, that's not too bad because the 1980s were not vintage in Leith.

They'd progressed with a certain panache though. In the quarter final they beat Celtic on penalties after a 4-4 draw at Easter Road.

In the semi final they beat Rangers 2-0.

To the final. And Aberdeen.

Daunting. This was when Alex Ferguson owned the north-east of Scotland and turned Aberdeen into the game's dominant force.

It was going to be a big ask for John Blackley's Hibs team.

First impressions of Hampden? Dump.

Shame that I thought that. But that's what it was in 1985. Easter Road wasn't exactly plush at this stage.

Hampden though? Heavens above.

The Hibs team that day:

Alan Rough, Alan Sneddon, Iain Munro, Ally Brazil, Mark Fulton, Gordon Hunter, Paul Kane, Gordon Chisholm, Steve Cowan, Gordon Durie, Joe McBride

Some of my favourites in there. A few youngsters too. And John Collins came off the bench.

So Hampden was a disappointment. And Hibs were big underdogs. How would the game be?

I have to be honest with you, dear reader, it was a disappointment.

It's been said that Hibs lost this one in the tunnel. An anxious Hibs team lined up, ready to enter the dilapidated arena.

And they waited. And waited.

Ferguson kept them standing there. When Aberdeen finally appeared Hibs had lost it.

Mind games. Not just discovered when you cross Hadrian's Wall.

An Eric Black double. Billy Stark added a third.

Bang. Bang. Bang.

Aberdeen took the £10,000 winner's cheque. And the Skol Cup trophy. And a £5,500 Skol bonus for winning by three goals.

Hibs got £7,000 as runners-up.

And that was that.

Hampden. Done and dusted.

Looking back I should be happy that I saw one of the last great non-Old Firm teams. And I saw Alex Ferguson win a trophy before he was Sir Alex Ferguson.

But I also got a nasty bite on my back from some unidentified beastie in that ramshackle old stadium.

The romance of a trip to Hampden.

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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Blogathon: Seven Steps To World Domination

Still plugging away. Still awake. Time for a massive thanks to everyone who has helped out and everyone who has donated.

If you've not, and you can, please do.

This topic was suggested by one of my oldest friends, Darren Gillies, who has been following the blogathon from his new home in New Zealand. (@Gingerbeardyman)

23rd October 2011.

New Zealand finally got their hands back on the Rugby World Cup trophy.

After 24 years of hurt, William Webb Ellis was still gleaming.

A small, proud country had achieved the success they craved in their national sport.

Which country, I wonder, could learn a lesson from that tale of sporting endeavour?

Why? It's us in Scotland.

So Kiwi rugby and Scottish fitba'. What can we learn.

First up, I'll get this one out of the way, you can stop moaning about bringing in players who weren't born in Scotland.

The old All Blacks have being doing that for years, the South Sea Islands are their hunting ground.

Lesson one: don't be proud about birth certificates. Winning is everything.

Next. The coach.

Graham Henry wasn't a rip roaring success with the British and Irish Lions and left his job with Wales after they got stuffed by Ireland.

New Zealand appointed him in 2004. They stuck with him through 2007's unsuccessful World Cup campaign and they stood by him in the face of media criticism.

Lesson two: persevere with a coach, stability allows you to build towards your ultimate goal.

The Haka.

It would be hard for the Scottish football team to introduce a ceremonial war dance at this stage in their history. Fifa would probably frown on it.

But we can take certain steps. The whole team singing Flower of Scotland with gusto. The version sung at internationals is maybe about 50 or 60 words? Learn them and look like you want to sing them.

Also Amy Macdonald will need to be ditched. Her caterwauling doesn't really say "We are Scotland and we will own you" as much as it says "we're Scotland and we'll screech you to death if you're very unlucky."

Lesson three: Intimidate to dominate. Win the first battle before the whistle blows.

Rugby is a way of life.

As a nation we've got learn to eat, breathe and sleep football.

We've got to be ragingly depressed when we lose and enthusiastically high when we prosper.

We've got to start to care again. Each and everyone of us.

Lesson four: we are football. Football is us.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

New Zealand's main sport is rugby union. But their population is paltry compared to their main rivals.

They don't use that as an excuse. They use it as a motivation, a spur to ensure that they remain ahead of their bigger rivals.

Lesson five: Small is beautiful.

Believe that children are the future.

Teach them well.

I go to watch rugby in Scotland I see international players who drop the ball more than your granny drops a stitch in her knitting.

I got to watch football in Scotland and I see players who have little command of the basics. They are footballing illiterates.

We can't let that continue.

Watch a bounce game of touch rugby in New Zealand. You'll be amazed at both the ferocity and the technical ability on show.

They learn that young, it becomes second nature.

Lesson six: Look after the kids, secure the future.

The dark arts.

New Zealand are the most romanticised rugby team in the world.

They're also one of the most adept at playing on the edge. That includes targeting opposition players in a way that is unacceptable.

But it also includes playing on the margins, grabbing an extra inch that might make difference. And if you have to do that behind the referee's back then so be it.

Someone does that to us at football and we revert back to colonial officers droning own about a "bally well British sense of fair play."

Lesson seven: Cheats don't always prosper, but they sometimes gain a crucial advantage.

So there it is.

Seven steps to an All Black style domination of our chosen sport.

There are differences. Not least the size of the pool of rugby playing nations.

But there are some serious lessons to learn. The coaching of children is one.

And rediscovering the simple love of the game is another.

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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Blogathon: Goalden moments

Occurs to me that anyone chancing across the blog might wonder what the Nora Batty is going on.

Well, I'm rambling on about football and a few mates are joining me here and there. But we're doing it to help out Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup. If you can help please do. The links to do just that are all over this page.

Click, give, feel jolly and make a difference.

The state of Scottish football and the state of Craig Levein's tenure as Scotland manager are reasonably heavy subjects to be carrying us through the night.

So for this shift I'm jumping back to a topic suggested on Twitter early on in this whole process.

My favourite goal at Easter Road.

Tough one. Because you don't score many goals, says the comedian in the corner called Laurie Dunsire.

What makes a favourite goal? Technical proficiency and the quality of the execution. To an extent.

Yet the experience of a particular game can enhance a so-so goal into something above the norm.

I remember a Mickey Weir header. Nothing special about it apart from Mickey - or Michael as Alex(ander) Miller liked to call him - being the smallest man on the pitch and that the game was the day of my annual early January birthday visit to Easter Road with my dad.

I remember, of course, the Latapy-Mixu-Latapppyyy goal in the 6-2 win over Hearts.

I remember every goal in the 3-2 win - the ultimately futile win - over AEK Athens and have a particular regard for David Zitelli's effort.

The two goals scored in the 1992-93 UEFA Cup game against Anderlecht - by Dave Beaumont and Pat McGinlay - remain special. They might not have been as technically proficient as those in the AEK game but on a night of European passion they secured a place in my heart.

Pat McGinlay also scored from close to the halfway line against Kilmarnock - days after, if I recall correctly, Chic Charnley had scored from even further out against Alloa in the League Cup. Chic provided some great moments during his brief Easter Road renaissance as the white Pele.

The road to Hampden for the 2003-04 league cup against Livingston - a road that was eventually littered with broken dreams - included a sweetly struck Kevin Thomson strike against Celtic. Whatever happened to him?

My favourite though wasn't scored for Hibs.

It was a goal by Darren Jackson.

I've never seen it since and I suspect it doesn't exist on video anywhere.

21st February 1995.

For some reason I'd been off school. I say some reason, I didn't need much encouragement to fling a sickie.

Anyway I still managed to get a trip to Easter Road to see Scotland's B team take on Northern Ireland.

This was a special Scotland team in that it contained three Hibs players.

Steven Tweed in defence. Pat McGinlay in a midfield holding role that didn't suit him and Jackson. Or Zico as I called him then.

We won. Steven Tweed actually scored the first. He'd maybe have described it as a tidy flick into the back of the net. I'd say the ball bounced off one his giant limbs after a goalmouth scrap.

But it was Jackson who stole the show.

The ball came to him about 25 yards out. He flicked it over a defender and volleyed a shot into the top corner.

It was a stunner.

Has it got better in the intervening years? Probably.

But that's the beauty of memories and the attraction of having some footballing memories free from the intrusion of the now ever present TV cameras.

Darren Jackson went on to play 28 times for Scotland.

Steven Tweed did not.

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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Blogathon: Craig Levein

The back of this blogathon is broken now, right. Has to be? Surely tae goodness.

We're moving through the night with a run of guest debaters. So welcome, please, Ross McCafferty known to the Twitter world as @holyroodpatter

Given the somewhat combative nature of this very good cause, I thought that I would change the rules ever so slightly and disagree with a former post of Tom's (in the knowledge he is mandated to come back and disagree again!). This is the offending post. Firstly, Tom must be commended for keeping such a cool head on the day of our inevitable defeat. Given our tortuous propensity for glorious defeat, the match against Spain seemed destined to be something akin to the home match, with a late heartbreak. In Alicante, however, it was simply not to be. The almost breathtaking majesty of Spain was a small comfort, as was the confidence bordering on arrogance of Goodwillie as he coolly stroked home a goal that for our efforts we did deserve.

But this tournament was not lost in Alicante, it was lost in Lithuania, in Czech Republic, even more tellingly, at Hampden. Robbed we may have been by a heinous dive, but up until that point we were uninspiring, and it served to underline our over reliance on Kenny Miller, an incredible servant for the cause (and whose commitment deserves a place at a major finals) but who won't be along for ever. Craig Levein's catch all ancestral policy to internationalists may have yielded Craig Mackail Smith, but it is those whom he doesn't select that tells us the most about his ill fated reign. Ross McCormack must have done something wrong not to merit a place, given his goal scoring form. Stephen Fletcher seems the only person who could conceivably link well with Kenny Miller should we ever deign to play more than one person up front. I don't for a minute suggest that Fletcher is in the right. But a footballer throwing his toys out the pram? It's hardly a breaking news story, that Levein's toys shortly joined Fletcher on the floor shows the character of a man for whom cutting off his nose to spite his face is almost second nature. Had he been the bigger man, we would have the benefit of someone who shows he can score goals in poor teams. Couldn't Fletcher have been the bigger man, you ask? Of course he could, and he should have, but a millionaire premier league footballer showing humility would require a societal sea change that Craig Levein isn't going to instigate.

It is perhaps more a matter of timing that I advocate a departure of Craig. I don't doubt his passion, indeed he is somewhat grown into the role, going from a seeming half baked “well I might as well” to a genuine, if misguided believer that Scotland can beat anyone on their day. I went to our last major finals. It was an incredible experience. Call me arrogant, but I firmly believe that such events are always enhanced by the presence of Scotland fans. Loud we may be, but always well behaved, the right side of raucous and engage with all other fans around us. Partying with Moroccan and Brazilian fans in the shade of the Stade de la Beaujoire is a memory I cherish. And yet, it is edging frighteningly close to 20 years since our last major appearance. We need a one strike and you're out policy. In the nineties, mucking about with a formation and going down to an unedifying defeat against a declining Czech side would not have been a sacking offence. But in this century, we have paid the price for being over generous with our managers (whether that be letting them go without a fight, or not sacking them early enough). I want us to be in Brazil, and I don't think Craig Levein has the temperament to take us there. I can't even bring myself to type that we might not make France 2016, an expanded tournament that we must be part of. Returning to a country we last visited in a tournament shows just how long our decline has been. We cannot allow it to be terminal. We need a change. A foreign manager, perhaps? Should we break the bank for an established foreign name a la the FAI? Who knows, a Moyes, a Ferguson, a Coyle, is ludicrous wishful thinking, but we need something new. The time were we commend managers for blooding a few new players and making a decent fist of qualifying is over. We need a ruthless streak, on and off the pitch, and a new culture of death or glory might help us realise that it is success or nothing. Do or Die. Whatever cliché you prefer we need to start winning, and stop bottling the big occasions. Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser, said Vince Lombardi, and while he has done some good, Levein remains, to all intents and purposes, a loser.

Bloody hell, we all find a role in life. Seems mine is choreographer of the Craig Levein cheerleaders troupe:

Dearie me.

Poor Craig Levein.

Bad enough that he doesn't have someone around to tell him to lose the beard.

He's also got to suffer the brickbats of a hurting Scottish nation.

Levein is a stubborn man, he's prickly in the face of criticism and he seems to have scant regard for the Scottish football media.

None of those things are necessarily bad things in a manager.

But they seem to exacerbate the impact of his mistakes.

The qualifying campaign he presided over was often uninspired.

The 4-6-0 was a move that always looked like being a disaster. Worse than that it gave the impression that he didn't trust his players.

You know why?

Because he didn't trust his players.

In the away game against Lithuania our hosts paid us the most unusual compliment of looking scared of us.

Did our brave boys push on from there, asset their dominance? No, they saw fear in the eyes of their opponents and they matched it with fear of their own. They retreated into their shells and the game could just about have been lost at the end.

We saw that again at Hampden more than once.

This Scotland team is scared of its own shadow.

The manager's fault? To an extent, yes. But he needs to build them up.

Could he widen his selection policy? I don't think it would make much difference. Levein and the SFA are searching all over the place for new talent.

So I'd say that Levein reckons the players people keep thrusting into his face aren't going to bring much to what he likes to call the "group."

The group. That's another thing. The players seem to enjoy the experience of international football under Levein. Yes, Fletcher remains an outcast but the manager has shown a willingness to build bridges with others who fell out with previous regimes.

What's so bad about a manager expecting a player whose behaviour threatened to destabilise the group apologising to him rather than the other way round?

But say we accept the idea that Levein is a numpty.

Who is the next manager we'll turn to? I can't see many Scots finding favour with a support that seems trapped in the mindset that we should be at major championships by default.

A big name? Who would take this job that could be said to have the stature of a big name?

It would be a brave SFA that repeated the foreigner experiment. Might be a brave foreigner who would take the job if they were to believe Bert Vogts' claim that a Scotland supporter spat on him.

So what do we have?

An inexperienced international manager with the loyalty of a developing group of players and the lessons of a disappointing qualifying campaign behind him.

We have an averagely talented group of players who seem to buy into Levein's methods but are too often hamstrung by their own timidity and fear.

The trick Levein needs to pull off is to convince them that they are good enough to compete, good enough to control games. Because we lack players playing at the very highest level too many of them find that unfamiliar in international matches.

Like the manager they need to learn.

I'm not convinced that either Fletcher or McCormack would be suited to the role that Miller plays. Mackail-Smith has shown he can do a passable imitation.

That's not snubbing, that's searching for a sensible continuity.

Here's what it boils down to. Our decline started long before Craig Levein took over. It started long before we stopped qualifying for tournaments - and that, essentially, is all we could do, we've never been a serious international team at these tournaments - and we've done hee-haw about it for too long.

If Levein, who is absolutely not leaving this job for the foreseeable incidentally, takes us to Rio, he'll be a hero.

If he doesn't he won't be the architect of our failure, he'll be another victim of the complacency and inaction of a nation that spent 24 years thinking all was well because they could spend a week or two at an international tournament and the come hame.

We should have sympathy for him. Because we're all victims of the same thing.

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

Blogathon Bonus: Old Firm Out? Get Real

Earlier Scott Johnston and I debated the Old Firm leaving Scottish football. As a wee bonus here's Stewart Weir (@sweirz) with his take on the issue:

It’s usually an argument made by those who don’t support the Old Firm.

But if Celtic and Rangers (in alphabetical order only) departed Scotland and went elsewhere, Scotland wouldn’t have the Old Firm. They’d be left with the infirm.

The thing is while many fans appear to believe it would be a more level playing field without the Glasgow big boys, Scottish football would flat line.

Wise up. The product in Scotland would be no better than Denmark or the Republic of Ireland.

Think about it. Hearts are in debt at this point in time to a sum of twenty, thirty of £40 million. Dundee United’s owners haven’t invested any of the money brought in for David Goodwillie as they’ve reached the bottom of the well.

Talking of ‘Well, they’ve already been broke, and almost broken beyond repair. Aberdeen are completely cash-strapped, and Hibs lose season ticket holders as quickly as they lose games and managers.

Just an observation. It’s all very well rival supporters claiming those who follow the Gers or the ‘Tic are bigoted undesirables. Unfortunately, there are several owners, Boards and commercial directors who think differently.

Otherwise, wouldn’t they keep their ticket prices the same for all visiting supporters, rather than hike up the prices.

Scottish football, put simply, is not currently in a sound enough financial position to survive the Old Firm decanting elsewhere, wherever that might be.

The old boring, boring argument – that Rangers and Celtic win everything - doesn’t stack up either.

Take a look in Holland, Portugal, Spain, even England since the arrival of the Premiership/Premier League.

How many different Championship winners have these nations produced over the last 40 or 50 years?

Twenty years ago, an Atlantic League was first mentioned: Rangers, Celtic, PSV, Ajax, Bruges, Anderlecht, Malmo, Gothenburg, Sunderland and Newcastle all in the mix, and a few others as well.

It was discussed, quite seriously. But before anyone could press a button or sign a contract, it evaporated, mainly because Rangers, one of the biggest drivers, and Celtic, got their way in Scotland, with Aberdeen, Dundee United and Hearts falling into line. So the SPL (MkII or III) came about.

And that was when there was, if not more cash in the game, certainly more stability amongst the bigger teams.

It might be a terribly romantic notion, the Old Firm doing a vanishing act with no magic spell to bring them back. But Scotland would be all the worse without them.

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Blogathon: Where did all it go wrong?

The blogathon continues. Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup still need your help. So if you've enjoyed any of this please give anything you can.

It's a pleasure to say a massive hello to Jay Mansfield, also know as @leftmidfielder, for this hour of polite argument. Jay blogs here

Here's Jay on why Scottish football won't change:

Browsing Alzheimer Scotland’s Football Memories site, I began to reminisce about the times I would discuss the latest calamity to befall Scottish football (among other things) with my much-missed grandfather. While some of my relatives suffered from varying forms of dementia, he thankfully retained his sharp intellect until the end of his life. Pleasantly for me, this allowed us to spend 13 years dissecting and debating the game of football.

While he was a Glasgow boy by birth and schooling, by the time I was born in 1980, he’d spent a little time in Gloucestershire, served in the Navy during WWII and lived on Tayside for at least 12 years before moving back west. Football was the one constant though. He played at secondary school, and possibly for the navy (or with/in the navy; my memory doesn’t retain the exact preposition), and when work took him to the East Coast in the late 1950s, he took pleasure in watching the great Hibernian and Dundee sides of the era. As far as I can recall, he never followed one particular club side, and that lack of allegiance possibly informed the controversial plan for Scottish football we hatched one summer…

Between 1960 and 1985, Rangers and Celtic both won the Scottish football league title. But so did Dundee, Kilmarnock, Aberdeen and Dundee United. Since 1985 however, only Rangers and Celtic have been Champions. To cut a long story short, we decided that the best way forward for Scottish football to avoid becoming a hopeless duopoly was to adopt a system similar to US Sports) , with franchise club sides, academies, drafts et al, in an attempt to make the game here more egalitarian. Resources would be maximised; young players would hopefully emerge from the academies with a broader outlook on life and their sport, and Scottish football would be saved!

However, neither of us was daft enough to think such a scheme would ever come to fruition. Getting the football establishment onside would be one thing; the supporters would be nigh on impossible. Football fans are a curious breed you see; they’d much rather follow a side that was doing badly than compromise that connection with their. In many ways you can respect that. We can all moan about the SFA and the SPL and the numerous other governing bodies obstructing progress, but I think the fans themselves are equally guilty of holding Scottish football back.

This doesn’t just manifest itself in blind loyalty and borderline addiction to the individual’s club, it’s the lack of sophistication among those that watch and play our game. It’s the constant looking back to the glory days of the 60s/50s/20s/1890s etc (depending on your club). It’s the Scottish national team being lumbered with the ball and chain of Dalglish, Law, Bremner et al when we did absolutely hee haw with those players in the side either. It’s the appreciation of the guy that ‘did a lot of running’ while chiding the player that made fewer, cleverer runs for being lazy. But football fans love to moan. They’ll whine about the price of the pies in the ground to the right-back’s lime-green boots. It’s only when you present potential solutions to their woes that they go quiet.

Last year, Henry McLeish presented his report on Scottish football. Most of the stakeholders’ suggestions for change outlined in the report probably won’t come to pass. That is of course partly due to funding issues, but also because Scottish people (and perhaps British people as a whole) aren’t fond of change. How often have we witnessed wailing and gnashing of teeth after debacles on the continent by our club and national sides, how often have we clamoured for a more technical, considered outlook in our football, only to revert back to humping long balls to the big striker on the Saturday?

Previous entries in this blogathon have touched on the theme of reform of Scottish football, but I remain to be convinced there’s a real chance any of it will ever happen. There’s a definite small-c conservatism in the Scottish game that will resist and obstruct many of these grand designs. Most of this conservatism will manifest itself in the boardrooms of clubs and the offices of the governing bodies, but I’m not at all sure your average supporter is remotely interested in seeing wholesale changes to his particular club, that might allow all of our teams, and the Scottish national team, to eventually flourish.

The talk of reforming Scottish football reminds me of that old joke; how many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.

And here's me on why change must happen:

A lot of people have been mentioning in the Twitter discussion surrounding the blogathon (#fitbablether, folks, keep it up) about how we could borrow from American sports.

It's a constant source of surprise to me that America, home of capitalism, retains sporting structures that both idolise money yet borrow from the principles of socialism.

What can we learn from that?

That the best way to commercialise a sporting product is to be prepared to implement a regime that will enhance, perhaps against the principles of survival of the fittest, competitiveness.

So it's a form of socialism that keeps gargantuan riches flowing. It's not perfect. It doesn't respect communities the way sports organisations should, it often costs the taxpayer as greedy owners carry out civic blackmail and, yes, it still allows greedy owners to flourish.

There might be merit in that.

But Jay and his grandfather were right. There's no chance of it ever catching on over here. No matter the potency of this American sneeze we're going to protect ourselves from pneumonia.

I'd argue though that there's not a small-c conservative approach to change in Scottish football.

I think it's that we're frightened because we're so bad at change.

It's hard to think of any changes among the myriad of revolutions, alterations and reimaginings we've had since the war that have done much to improve the product on the pitch for a sustained period of time.

It's actually much easier now for people in the game to make grand announcements than actually risk implementing their content.

Better to send Ernie Walker off with a taskforce, and give the impression of doing something, than to actually act on what he recommended.

It might well be the same with Henry McLeish.

Maybe it's because the next change, if it goes wrong, could prove to be the fatal blow. It's one thing being remembered as an ineffective administrator, it's a whole different ball game to go to your grave with the blood of the national sport on your hands.

So what we get, what we've suffered, is the series of short term fixes that that I wrote about earlier.

We fiddle while Rome burns. There never has been, it's been threatened often enough but it's never materialised, the sort of revolution that the game has needed since finances started becoming a problem at the end of the post-war boom.

The national team, for example, has had the players over the years but never the structures behind it to enjoy sustained success.

Small men have made small decisions. They've never been able to see the big picture, too often they've been chasing changes in our society and our culture rather than being a step ahead of the trends.

Now we're basically so bankrupt of ideas and cash that all our clubs want to do is protect themselves, survive and make half-arsed attempts to mimic a model that works - to a morally bankrupt and financially questionable extent - in England but won't work here.

And that's a tragedy. It is a national scandal.

Kenny Millar wrote earlier about the cute Adidas marketing slogan: "the thread that binds us."

It's true.

It's true in Jay sharing a love of game with his grandfather. It's true in a father taking his kids to the match. It's true in the tales of derring-do from yesteryear that are shared and passed down the generations.

So I'd disagree, Jay, that supporters wouldn't accept change. It's just that we've become too cynical to trust that there's anyone involved in the game that has the ability to deliver the sort of change we need.

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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Blogathon: Penalties: What's the problem?

Top of the morning to one and all.

Penalties. What are they all about?

Welcoming Sarah Flotel from Hot Scores to talk penalties. Sarah delivers the science and the insight.

I pick three isolated examples and use them to explain why Colin Murdock's better than Frank de Boer.

Follow @sarahhotscores

Here's Sarah

There are some parts of the world where fans and players alike take on the stresses and strains of a spot kick showdowns from the relative comfort of a Chesterfield armchair, cupping a vintage brandy whilst slowly drawing on a fat Cuban cigar. In 2006 Italy believed their Deutsche opposition to be such Goliaths in the penalty shoot-out stakes that instead of playing 5-5-0 in extra time, they danced through hard and fast hitting the woodwork twice and claiming their place in the World Cup final with goals from Fabio Grosso and Alessandro del Piero. Germany didn’t get the chance to take take refuge under the warm wing of mother spot kick decider, a veritable comfort blanket when the run of play less than favoured their chances of success in normal play. The Germans come a close second to Argentina from the white spot with a 71% conversion rate, flip those figures for England’s percentage, hence our morbid fascination with this subject. In Scotland the earliest record of penalties being used in competitive football date back to 1891, after a handball incident during a match between Airdrieonians and Heart of Midlothian, no excuses for any failures there then!

Countries who have several notches on the penalty hall of fame bedposts are collectivists, they don’t go into tournaments with back-page spreads pinning the hopes and dreams of victory on one or two individuals; they are a team from the stands to the dressing room, football is the dream. A similar mentality applies to clubs, Liverpool are notable kings in this area. A wonderful symbiosis between fan, player, manager and media shares the responsibility of netting your chances in a shoot-out, this can’t be inherited overnight, it comes about through the natural footballing evolution of that nation.

So who traditionally makes the best penalty taker? *Research published in the Journal of Sports Sciences (2006) tells us that attacking players convert at 83.1% (except Emile Heskey, he never takes penalties), midfielders 79.6% and defenders 73.6%. Nothing surprising there and that will change as players become more versatile as they pursue the dizzy heights and methods of the Barcelona utopia, that’s what we’re hoping for anyway. It seems natural for the best to take the first but as every kick goes by the chance of success diminishes, the psychological nuances and permutations are never ending, a penalty shootout could be planned with military precision and still end up lying belly-up in the gutter. Another interesting statistic is that players under the age of twenty-two successfully convert at 85.2%, this rollercoaster drops to 77.6% between twenty-three and twenty-eight then shifts up a little to 78.1% for the over twenty-nines. Younger players possess the natural constitution for endurance and have less emotional baggage to carry on that long, lonely walk to the spot, at twenty-two the sub-conscious jitters of previous failures may not even exist.

When it comes to taking a penalty kick consummate professionals work on automated neurological patterns; from the playground to intense repetition in training there are literally thousands stored in the filing cabinets of their minds. When an expert chokes on penalty number five in the semi-final of the World Cup something changed in their neural chemistry, their expert brain suddenly regressed and those long ago mastered elemental processes are crept upon by the reasoning of the conscious mind reacting to a hefty dose of anxiety.

For those less well endowed in the penalty efficiency department it seems a few sessions on the therapist’s couch or a quantum leap in nationality could be the only solution.

And here's my take on spot kicks:

There's something massively exciting about penalties.

But also something petrifying.

I suppose the ideas put forward in Matthew Syed's Bounce would suggest that it is something that can be practiced until it becomes second nature, an automatic thing that players can just "do."

But there are variables.

There's a goalkeeper doing a Dudek doing a Grobbelaar.

There's a crowd offering you a symphony of support - is that a help or a pressure building hindrance - or screeching a nightmarish soundtrack to try and put you off.

Can players develop the fortitude to withstand those outside influences?

If they can then I'd suspect it's something that British players would lag behind in. And if you think I'm stereotyping the British player as a moronic lump of mollycoddled man-child with an under developed idea of the cerebral side of the game then that's because I am.

In some ways I'm quite glad that Scotland don't qualify for the penalty shoot-out stage of tournaments. Another way to lose is the last thing we need.

Anyway, inspired by Sarah's piece, a look at three penalty incidents that produced what I'd consider surprise results.


Hibs and Leeds met in the second round of the UEFA Cup. A 0-0 at Elland Road is followed by another goalless 90 minutes at Easter Road. And then another 30 minutes without a goal.

This was the season that penalties were introduced to the UEFA Cup for the first time, replacing the coin toss as a way of separating tied teams.

So this was the first time Hibs and Leeds had ever had a competitive penalty shoot out.

Hibs up first. Captain Pat Stanton misses. It's the only miss and Hibs go out.

Apparently Don Revie stayed on the pitch with his players throughout. That was against the rules. Enough to put Stanton off? Probably not.

But here's an interesting thing. When he was given the Hibs captaincy, Stanton felt the need to reassure fans that his promotion wouldn't mean he started taking penalties.

Gentle flippancy or something more?

By 1973 Stanton had played in every big game and every famous win that Hibs had enjoyed in the post Famous Five era. He was calm, elegant and collected.

But he was the only player to miss on the night? Simple bad luck? Or did his desire to take responsibility as captain clash with the demons that had forced to make that remark when he became captain?


Oh dear, oh dear.

Wembley, Gary, Uri and Gazza.

Another captain taking responsibility.

We should probably discount the idea that the world's most famous disrespecter of cutlery made the ball move.

But if we accept that the ball did move should Gary McAllister have stopped. Or was he so focused in the moment that he couldn't do that?

McAllister - who scored the penalty that took us to France 98 - reckons this moment killed his relationship with the Scotland fans.

Gordon Durie told The Away End:

"We have all missed penalties. I remember them saying about Uri Geller moving the ball but Gary was man enough to stand up and take it when a lot of boys seemed to turn their back when we got the penalty."

So McAllister had the balls to take the penalty but then suffered being called a bottler when he missed it.

Cruel game, fine lines.

Compare and contrast to John Collins at France 98 v Brazil. Cool as a well toned cucumber.


League cup semi final.

This, I think, is the clincher. Proof that when push comes to shove penalties are an exciting lottery.

This was a dreadful night at Hampden. The rain was so bad that a couple of jumped in a taxi from the supporter's bus car park to as close to Hampden as we could get.

The game finished 1-1.

The penalties were a nightmare from both sides.

It was tight.

And it came down to this: Colin Murdock, a player blessed with the grace of a freight ship trying to turn in a dry dock, scored his penalty.

Frank de Boer missed his.

Perhaps the superiority of Northern Irish journeyman over celebrated Dutchmen in penalty kick taking is an under explored theme of world football.

Or maybe not.

Penalty taking: art or science?

Whatever it is it still relies on a lot of luck.

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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