Wednesday, December 28, 2011

STV and Rangers: Love hurts

A rather anaemic press release on Rangers' website seems to have set the Twitter world all a-flutter.

The club will join with STV to explore "commercial" opportunities.

Two businesses, each negotiating their own challenges in a changing world, form a vague union that they hope will end profitably for both.

The very thought!

Given some of the stronger comments heading STV's way the commercial benefits from the deal might be offset by the negative perception it's creating in a divided city.

Scottish football largely fails to exploit online opportunities so a deal of this sort makes sense for the club. And while people rage about a biased national broadcaster - are the good folk of BBC Scotland enjoying a wry smile - we don't know if other clubs have been approached or if other announcements of partnerships are imminent.

Indeed STV might be cursing - does their own reticence to engage with the story speak volumes - that Rangers pushed this particular announcement out unilaterally.

My memory might be hazy but I'm not sure if can remember such gnashing off teeth when Sky TV became a shareholder in Leeds United.

Or when STV's parent company SMG got involved in a not wholly satisfactory dalliance with Hearts back in 1999. Make no mistake, if conflict of interest is your concern, then that deal at Tynecastle offered a far more troubling precedent than this latest venture.

But this is Glasgow and this is football so uproar, even while the full facts are still to be established, must surely follow.

And that's something that STV's commercial high heid yins should have predicted. That's what happens when you sup - however constructively, however fiscally sensibly - with someone else's devil.

What's troubled me more is the way that people have been so quick to throw into question the integrity of STV journalists.

STV's online coverage has been one of the success stories of Scottish football's hard transition to a digital age.

To see people - including some pontificating fellow journalists - immediately jump on STV's editorial staff and accuse them of now following an agenda or of following an agenda at some unspecified time in the future is a worry.

Obviously the accusers are chasing their own agenda - and largely I think the followers of forty Scottish league sides won't care - but it's another sign of how difficult the game is to cover in an age of over sensitive whining from all sides.

I don't know the details of the deal, I don't know the circumstances in which STV's editorial team found out that a deal had been struck with another arm of the organisation.

I've no doubt though that the guys that work there would be as concerned as anyone if this was going to impinge on their freedom to do their jobs.

This deal - if it's a one-off, if it's a wide ranging collaboration - may yet be a bad commercial move for STV.

But until we know exactly what's planned it seems unfair - it even seems unreasonably biased - to catch innocent reporters in the crossfire of a never ending game of Old Firm tit-for-tat.

The Scottish Football Blog blogathon took place in November in aid of Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup. You can still donate to help two great causes.

Justice takes a break

So Lee McCulloch is free to play for Rangers tonight.

How can that be? Wasn't he red carded against St Mirren on Saturday?

That he was. For flinging an elbow. I've seen more heinous crimes on a football pitch. But I'd also say that the red card was justified.

Opinions, of course, are like certain anatomical features. We all have them.

Ally McCoist has his: McCulloch should not have been sent off so Rangers have appealed the decision.

That's fair enough.

Complications arise though.

It's Christmas. So the SFA's much heralded fast tracked disciplinary procedure has developed a breakdown. The main players are on holiday.

McCoist is adamant that he's not playing the system, he's simply standing by his man, seeking justice for the wronged party.

Who's to doubt to his sincerity?

But it's a handy loophole and one that a touch of foresight should have closed in advance.

This isn't really about McCoist or McCulloch.

It's about the SFA realising that their processes must be active as long as games are being played. Otherwise, in an Old Firm week, they're opening themselves up to a whole lot of nonsense.

Justice, and Stewart Regan's SFA revolution, is weakened if it needs a Christmas holiday.

The Scottish Football Blog blogathon took place in November in aid of Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup. You can still donate to help two great causes.

SPL: Wednesday Wonders

The SPL works off the turkey and mince pies with a full Wednesday evening fixture. The eyes of the world upon us once more. Or at least the eyes of those Sky viewers not tempted by the tungsten superheroes at the Ally Pally.

Celtic v Rangers

Apparently recent form has left some Celtic supporters confident about this one.

Yet Ally McCoist was quick yesterday to talk about his confidence in victory.

I don't understand anybody displaying confidence before a big game. Fear, misery and a sense of doom are my defaults. And who is to say I've not got it right?

If you're expecting defeat it hurts less when you lose and you enjoy it more when you win.

Avoid hubris and project pitiful pessimism at all times. It's the path to a happier life.

Still, I'll never known what it's like to support one side or t'other in the greatest sporting rivalry on earth. And, for that matter, I'll never know what it's like to support one side or t'other in an Old Firm game either.

Instead I peer into the cauldron of Glasgow and a see a game that will end another chapter in a twisting title race.

Victory for either side will not close the book on this SPL championship. Last season provided enough of a lesson that the points and goals that win or lose titles can lie elsewhere.

It's still a game chock-full of meaning though.

For Celtic and particularly for Neil Lennon victory would offer the final act of redemption in the climb back from the dark days of autumn when they looked hopeless, Rangers looked rampant and Lennon looked vulnerable.

For Rangers and Ally McCoist a win, or even avoiding defeat, would offer evidence that a suddenly feeble looking Rangers are more than capable of holding off a resurgent Celtic.

Tonight's winners, if we're to have a winner, will lead the SPL into 2012. There's no glory in that. But it's an achievement that could offer mighty psychological succour to both sides in a season of mixed fortunes.

Who's it going to be?

Celtic have the momentum. 24 points from the last eight games. The sort of autumn-into-winter run that can define a title winning season.

Rangers have stumbled, fumbled, dropped the ball. Just 16 points from the last eight games, losing ground as Celtic have gobbled up the space between them.

An Old Firm game though. Windae, form book, oot the. We've seen it all before.

One point separates the two. Rangers have won 15, lost two, drawn three. Celtic have won 15, lost three, drawn two. Rangers have scored 37 goals, conceded 11. Celtic have scored 40, conceded 15.

Different seasons, different crises, different periods of sustained victory gathering.

Fag paper thin though, the differences between these behemoths.

A draw? Maybe I'm leaning towards that outcome. Maybe I'll cover myself by betting on a Celtic win.

And, while I'm in the bookies, it would be stupid not to put a couple of quid on Rangers as well.

If you're pushing me I'd say the build-up, current form and home advantage all point towards Celtic.

Mind you I've never been confident placing a bet in my life.

Aberdeen v Hearts

Let's hear it for the Hearts players. Supposedly facing the biggest off field challenges of their careers, the club facing a crossroads signposted gloom and doom.

And they've scored six in their last two outing, kept two clean sheets and enjoyed dominance over a Motherwell side who have been all but untouchable on the road.

Crisis? What crisis?

Aberdeen were enjoying a revival before they lost to Inverness on Christmas Eve. They can see daylight between themselves and relegation dunderheids Hibs and Dunfermline though.

And Hearts' struggle on the road which makes a midweek, wintry trip to Pittodrie as welcome as a letter from HMRC.


Hibs v Inverness

A new manager but not a new dawn for Hibs. Pat Fenlon criticised the players' fitness after their second half capitulation against Dundee United.

If that is the case then the cluttered festive fixture list could offer dismal tidings for Hibs.

Fenlon seems to have identified the failings but this first period of his reign doesn't appear to offer much chance to right those wrongs.

Apparently some players are upset at the way they're now being spoken to on the training ground. Which just goes to show that even mentally weak, wage thieving wasters have feelings.

Inverness have been striving to impress in recent weeks and came through against Aberdeen with a makeshift side.

There's spirit among Butcher's boys. There's not much in evidence at Easter Road.

Defeat tonight and those last few believers will surely accept that Hibs are in their fight of their lives.

Who would bet against Inverness?

Motherwell v Dunfermline

Motherwell will be slightly chastened after their Christmas Eve defeat at Tynecastle.

They've also been in the strange situation of struggling more at home than they have on the road. Goals have been hard to come by.

Dunfermline, caught in a torrid run of form and looking all at sea, should offer some succour tonight.

Home win.

St Johnstone v Kilmarnock

Joyous wins, stern-faced draws, feeble defeats. St Johnstone and Kilmarnock have had seasons of fluctuating fortunes.

Who's to say they won't bond in their inconsistency with a draw tonight?

St Mirren v Dundee United

What do St Mirren do after a famous, much celebrated win against Rangers?

What do Dundee United do after coming back to beat Hibs?

The evidence of the season suggests that both will struggle to build on the winning of three points.

Which sets us up nicely for another draw.

The Scottish Football Blog blogathon took place in November in aid of Alzheimer Scotland and the Homeless World Cup. You can still donate to help two great causes.