Saturday, October 13, 2012

Wales v Scotland: It's over

Another day, another Scotland game. Another night spent wailing "why us" into a pint glass.

If two home draws left our dreams of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in ruins, defeat in Wales left a barren wasteland where those dreams used to be.

But we were unlucky.

Gareth Bale dived and Steven Fletcher's perfectly legitimate goal should have stood and would have knocked the stuffing out of Wales.

Perhaps. But the problem with indulging in a counter factual analysis of a game is that the other side can do the same.

Shaun Maloney has confirmed he touched Bale - "I can only apologise to my team-mates" - and would Fletcher's goal have proved decisive if Wales had already been allowed back in with the penalty that wasn't given against Christophe Berra?

But we're football fans. And football fans can't resist bemoaning that "we'd have been brilliant if it wasn't for the dodgy referee, the cheating millionaire and the blind linesman."

It becomes a problem if the "woe is me" approach becomes a habit though. And we might be at risk of doing that with Scotland.

Because Scotland are woeful. And nobody currently involved with the team seems able to halt the decline.

We couldn't have asked for better set of opening fixtures. In the horse trading involved in deciding the group schedule, Scotland won hands down.

At home against Serbia and Macedonia then a trip down to Wales.

A golden opportunity to get some wins, to build momentum.

We've blown it spectacularly.

Toothless and disjointed at Hampden, last night we edged clear in a tight first half and then, as this Scottish team so often do, retreated into our shells.

It became clearer and clearer as the second half wore on: this was ten men and one Gareth Bale playing against eleven molluscs.

The manager will speak of his disappointment, ruminate on how a bad refereeing call or two and a wonder strike robbed us of having the points to match the mythical progress he sees in his team.

A useful mask for him. A mask that is perhaps even legitimised by fans lining up to feed into the "we were hard done by" narrative.

It's not enough though.

If Levein came out and called Charlie Adam a fat, lazy bastard for his attempt to match Bale's run for the second goal I would respect him more.

If he announced that the cross shy Alan Hutton was only to be referred to as Dracula from now on I would think more of him.

The players would be miffed, the media would be in a frenzy.

But at least the manager would be giving some indication that he's not overseeing a squad where mediocrity is accepted.

Last night's game might be the one that finally does for the Levein era.

It probably shouldn't have lasted this long.

The way he tried to put a gloss on those two opening draws, the way the players cravenly nodded their agreement.

The clear message was that this was a collective with no clue about qualifying for a major championship. A manager and a squad that just don't get what's required of them.

Giving it your best shot and failing is one thing. Scotland don't offer that now. They perform poorly and that translates into poor results. When the final whistle blows they shrug their shoulders and say "this isn't over."

That clueless complacency shows on the pitch. And it comes from the coach.

Craig Levein has won three qualifying games in eleven attempts. Three. Two of them narrow wins against Liechtenstein.

Yet still he speaks of progress and prays for some luck to come his way. His players agree with him and his employers stand by him.

It's not bad luck and it's certainly not progress. We're not even standing still. We're in reverse with a group of players that should be more competitive than they ever really look.

Another qualifying campaign slips by. Seven have now passed by since we last played at a major tournament.

The art of qualification, once so ingrained in successive Scottish teams, has disappeared. A generation of players don't know how to get the job done.

They need the guidance of someone who does. Instead they fall into line behind the uninspiring leadership of someone who thinks a 0-0 draw at home is a decent way to launch a World Cup bid.

Not for the first time under this manager Scotland looked like they didn't know how to win the game last night.

Don't know how to win. Don't know how to qualify. It's becoming the Scottish way.

And for every day Levein remains in the post the deeper the culture of mediocrity will seep and the harder the recovery will become.

Homeless World Cup: Scotland pay the penalty

The second group stage of the 2012 Homeless World Cup ended with more disappointment for Scotland.

Scotland led for most of a hotly contested game with South Africa before succumbing to a an equaliser in the dying seconds.

With the game tied at 3-3 Homeless World Cup rules mean that the teams go straight into a sudden-death penalty shoot.

Both scored with their first attempts before Scotland missed their second.

That left South Africa to score and pick up the win.

The result left Scotland tied with Ukraine at the bottom of a group won by Brazil, who beat second placed Portugal yesterday to continue their unbeaten run.

At the Homeless World Cup every team competes throughout the tournament so Scotland and Ukraine both progress into the Mexico City Cup.

As do England, raising the possibility of an Auld Enemy clash on Sunday.

Before that though that Scotland play Norway today while England face up to Czech Republic.

Brazil play Austria in the top ranked Homeless World Cup with Mexico, Portugal, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Lithuania and Indonesia also still in contention to lift the trophy on Sunday evening.

Wales, defeated by Argentina yesterday, move into the De La Calle A La Cancha Cup and face Peru today.

Ireland, who finished third in Scotland's group, play Haiti in the The FundaciĆ³n Telmex Cup.

The Scotland game will be live on at 6.10 pm this evening.

These people feel like a piece of shit

As I've been saying all week the Homeless World Cup tournament is simply a celebration of the work that goes on for the other 51 weeks of the year.

Work to change lives by using football to empower people.

Work by people like Mexico manager Daniel Copto.

The Homeless World Cup affiliated project in Mexico now involves 7,000 people each week.

Addicts and homeless people from across the country brought together by football and given a belief they might otherwise have lost:

"As far as the authorities are concerned, these people do not exist.

"These people feel like a piece of shit. And you have to tell them they are not a piece of shit, so they can do whatever it takes to get better."

"We must build trust. Empower them."

Read more about Daniel's work in Mexico

Friday, October 12, 2012

Wales v Scotland: On a mission

Rarely in his footballing life would Craig Levein have persuaded PG Wodehouse that he was wrong about Scotsmen and rays of sunshine.

There's nothing wrong with that.

A thrawn prickliness might even be a good thing in a job where expectation so often finds an enemy in reality.

Yet what might have been a positive has grown into more and more of an encumbrance the longer Levein has been the manager of Scotland.

He seems to have retreated into himself. And, given how uncomfortable he looks most of the time, found little solace in that solitude.

It might be that he cuts a very different figure when he's alone with his squad.

But in public he too often looks distrusting, suspicious or, more worryingly, lost.

International managers can take time to grow into the job. A period of adjustment is often required.

Yet Levein spends too much time looking almost diminished by the job, clinging ever more grimly to the concept of progress as qualifying results point to nothing of the kind.

Like many managers who find themselves fighting for their jobs he's also developed a reverse Midas touch.

There will be no rapprochement with Steven Fletcher? And so Fletcher will start the season on fire.

Jordan Rhodes isn't quite ready for international football? No sooner said than Rhodes will bag a couple of goals.

There are eight or nine players ahead of Kris Commons? Time for Commons to become a stand-out performer for Celtic.

It makes the manager look like the sort of chap you wouldn't stand next to in a casino.

And it makes the volte-face on Fletcher look like the last throw of the dice, a desperate man chasing his losses.

That might all seem a bit harsh. We're just two games into this qualifying campaign. But Levein has never built the momentum required to have a reservoir of goodwill.

Two opening draws at home might not kill a qualifying campaign or end a manager's career.

They certainly rip away the margin of error though.

Levein wouldn't have to go if Scotland don't beat Wales tonight. But there would be little point in carrying on. Mission impossible would have become mission miraculous. And Scottish football is all out of miracles.

The overwhelming impression taken from the festivals of boredom against Macedonia and Serbia was of a team that didn't quite know how it was supposed to be playing. And probably didn't have the belief to do much anyway.

Levein has to change that against Wales.

The return of Darren Fletcher and Scott Brown should galvanise. Form, if not the manager's conviction, should also guarantee the inclusion of Steven Fletcher from the start.

Not playing Fletcher up front would be to give Wales an unnecessary boost.

And Scotland should avoid doing that. If the beleaguered Craig Levein is currently out beleaguered by anyone it might just be Wales manager Chris Coleman.

Four games, four defeats and an absolute tanking from Serbia last time out.

Levein could just produce a picture of the unsmiling Coleman visage whenever he's asked how bad a start Scotland had.

Which is encouraging. But it makes the prospect of not beating Wales even worse. And Scotland are often at their most masochistic in games that should be won.

Wales are not without threats of their own, the thought of Gareth Bale isolating Alan Hutton is keeping me awake at night, but Coleman seems to have brought only disarray to the job.

"It's not a must win game" repeats Levein - a party line not being toed by every player - but it is. For both teams and probably for both managers.

Can Scotland do it?

Ladbrokes Game On!Yes. They can. Although I've got a horrible feeling this one is far more up for grabs than we'd like it to be.

The odds agree. 13/8 for either team to win, 9/4 the draw.

Gareth Bale, Steve Morison, Steven Fletcher and Kenny Miller all 6/1 as first goalscorer.


But let us leave the negativity at door of the manager's press conference.

The power of positive thought tells me that Fletcher will start up front and Shaun Maloney (10/1 first goalscorer) will be there to support him.

Scotland to win and Maloney to score is available at 8/1.

A score prediction?

Scotland to win 2-0 at 11/1.

That's your mission Mr Levein.

I hope you've chosen to accept it.

All odds from Ladbrokes #gameon

Always remembering

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Celebrating Scotland's grassroots

Hard as it is I must drag myself away from talk of banners, share issues and possible Scotland starting XIs to talk about "real" football.

Grassroots football in fact.

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to again attend the 9th Scottish FA Grassroots Awards at Hampden.

Presented by McDonald's and the Sunday Mail the awards celebrate the "unsung heroes" of Scottish football.

A chance to honour those folk who don't need to deal with press conferences or injuries picked up on international duty.

But probably do have to deal with dog shit on the pitch and their star striker being unavailable because it's his granny's birthday.

The folk who keep the game going through nothing more than their own determination and the understanding of their families.

A reminder, as ever, that while the bad news, the incompetence and the moaning might make better headlines, a lot of good work goes on despite it all.

This year's winners:

Merit Award for Services to Football - Robert McCallum

Robert was instrumental in the founding of Gartcairn Academy and has developed the club from a group of 10 children to over 350 young footballers within 5 years. Under Robert’s guidance, they achieved Quality Mark status and have over 40 qualified coaches providing sessions for club members.

His role as chairman, football coach and fundraiser has seen the club grow from nothing to a competitive and organised community club. Without his dedication hundreds of children wouldn’t have the opportunity to participate in grassroots football in Airdrie.

Best Coach of the Year - Tony Begg

Tony has been the driving force of Loanhead Miners YFC becoming the first Scottish FA community club in Midlothian. Currently managing the Under-9s side, Tony’s coaching methods have seen positive improvements on the pitch as well as a great rapport with local parents due to his informative and fun-filled sessions.

In addition to fundraising events, Tony also holds coaching sessions for the club coaches, allowing him to share his in-depth knowledge of the game.

Best Community Football Club - Westdyke FC

Westdyke FC was founded in 1996 and started with just two teams. 16 years on the club now fields 14 teams each weekend, including one girls’ side, and has over 200 playing members aged between 5 and 18 years old. Each week 25 qualified and dedicated coaches give up their time to coach grassroots football helping the club and the community reach a higher standard of football.

The club work with local primary schools and help out at Westhill Academy, the local secondary school, to ensure that the standard of football in the region remains consistently high.

Best Volunteer in Disability Football - Yvonne Alexander

Yvonne turned her football coaching talent to the development of a squad for disability footballers five years ago. The squad, ranging in age from 12 to 20 years, features 27 members with players that have both learning disabilities and cerebral palsy.

Yvonne’s passion for the game and her determination to offer football coaching to those with disabilities across Grampian, means her players can shine in the sport that she loves to be involved with.

Best Volunteer in Adult Football - Hugh Carswell

Hugh has been involved in football for over 50 years. After his amateur playing career finished he took to the tactical side of the game. In 1967 he began managing Knockentiber AFC and between the years of 1967 and 1997 he guided the team to 21 league championships, 3 Scottish Amateur Cups, 2 West of Scotland Cups and 9 Ayrshire Cup wins.

Now Hugh is in charge of the Scottish Amateur select side, a role that discovers talented youth players for the national set-up. Hugh’s dedication to football has spanned six decades and it won’t be stopping any time soon.

Best Volunteer in Schools Football - John Peterson

John is the head coach at Mintlaw Academy. Since joining the school he has developed a squad of coaches who have built up a great reputation for introducing kids to football in a safe and fun environment.

Players feed off his enthusiasm for the game and Mintlaw’s record at producing top class players is second to none. John’s dedication to the school and as Secretary of Aberdeenshire Schools FA, allows children to shine at grassroots level and develop into talented, enthusiastic players.

Best Volunteer in Youth Football - Derek Paterson

Derek set up at the youth section of Kelso Football Club nearly ten years ago, since then teams have grown under his leadership and have proved successful outfits. Derek works tirelessly for the kids and Kelso FC helping to organise twice weekly training sessions, while also ensuring that coaches are in place for every age group and can provide the necessary training.

Derek also coaches primary school children every Friday evening as part of the SFA Soccer Centres scheme. His role in the community is appreciated by parents, teachers and coaches across the entire region.

Best Professional Club in the Community - Stenhousemuir FC

Stenhousemuir FC was founded in 1884 and is an outstanding example of a true community football club, working with over 1000 people each week. Stenhousemuir is the first football league club in Scotland to become a Community Interest Company with the key goal of working for the good of the community.

In addition to coaching boys and girls teams from 3–17 years of age, Stenhousemuir also runs after school clubs, holiday camp programmes and Twilight Leagues. In recent years Stenhousemuir has built up its community work up through initiatives like the Volunteer Development Programme and the clubs links with the South African Football Association, giving coaches the opportunity to travel and work in clubs overseas.

Best Volunteer in Girls/Women’s Football - Doug Johnston

Doug has been a real catalyst in the development of the girls’ squads and teams at Linlithgow Rovers CFC over the past few years. His determination and spirit to develop women’s football in the area has seen the teams grow from strength to strength, with him giving up much of his own time to do this, from organising the club to coaching the girls.

Doug’s enthusiasm for the game is infectious and he spends much of his time visiting local schools to run taster sessions, encouraging girls to take up football and try something new. His proactive approach has seen the club bring through some great female players and the club simply wouldn't exist without him.

McDonald’s Community Champion - James Strathdee

McDonald’s franchisee Andy Gibson has worked closely with Jim at Glasgow Girls FC for the past three years. The club has a strong affiliation with McDonald’s and Andy who sponsors the club’s shirts and regularly provides kit and equipment to support their training sessions.

Jim and the club have a strong relationship with their local community and have set up the Glasgow Girls Active Schools Programme, where coaches from the club visit 47 schools in and around Glasgow offering eight hours of free coaching each week.

Worthy winners all.


A word, if I may, on sponsorship. Another furore broke out this week with the announcement of Newcastle United's latest sponsorship deal.

You might recall similar things being said about the involvement of certain sponsors at the Olympics.

In fact one of those Olympic sponsors was McDonald's.

Things, as Mike Ashley might tell Newcastle fans, aren't always black and white.

The nine year involvement of McDonald's with Scottish football's grassroots has - it seems to me - delivered real benefits.

Full disclosure: I was invited along by a McDonald's employee.

But here is a corporate sponsor prepared to enjoy a long term relationship with the SFA and use that relationship to foster the game in our communities.

A sponsor that has the infrastructure in place to allows clubs to benefit from a support network in their local area.

McDonald's sure as hell don't need me to act as their cheerleader. And my fast food habits don't actually stretch to the golden arches.

But when every deal is but a retweet away from sparking a mob riot, it's also important to say that these deals can help the game.

And that's important at a time when Scottish football doesn't always look a safe bet for big corporations.

Homeless World Cup 2012: Scotland shoot out success

The 2012 Homeless World Cup reaches day six with Scotland in action against Ukraine.

With the teams bottom of Group D after a tough start to the tournament's second stage this always looked like being a tight game.

So it proved.

A high scoring game though.

With the teams locked together at 6-6 at full time it was Scotland who held their nerve to win the sudden death shoot out.

A narrow win but a win. Scotland's first in the second group stage.

With one game left Scotland are two points clear of Ukraine and just one behind tomorrow's opponents South Africa.

At the Homeless World Cup all teams are involved until the end so tomorrow's result could yet decide what trophy Scotland will be contesting over the final days of the tournament.

Brazil still lead the group after four straight wins with Portugal trailing them by a point. Tomorrow's clash between those two could be a cracker.

Ireland, who lost 7-2 against Portugal today, are on five points and will be looking for a win over Ukraine tomorrow to hold off the challenge off the winners of Scotland v South Africa.

With England bottom of Group A, Wales look most likely of the home nations.

They currently trail Argentina by two points in Group E but could yet overhaul them when the two meet in the final game tomorrow.

Wake up, UK

Mel Young, the Homeless World Cup's president and co-founder, has expressed his frustration at the lack of media coverage the tournament receives in Britain:

"The media attention in the UK has been extremely disappointing compared to the rest of the world. And I have to question their understanding of what it's all about.

"Wake up, UK! This is the 10th year we have organised this tournament and on the first weekend alone, we had over 50,000 spectators – more than just about any match in the English Premier League.

"There has been a lot of talk about legacy since the Olympics, and rightly so, and I think it's about time the media played their part in supporting this event, which is not just a fiesta of football but a once-in-a-lifetime experience that transforms the lives of many players – the poorest of the poor around the world."

Hard to disagree.

After a success laden 'summer of sport' the Homeless World Cup would seem to be the perfect way of prolonging the positivity.

But you'll be looking a long time to find much mention of the tournament in our media.

That's maybe stranger still in Scotland where reigning world football champions are somewhat thin on the ground.

And while the tournament is a global event its head office remains in Edinburgh, a social enterprise that continues to deliver results despite the economic woes of the past few years.

Anyway. No need to be starved of the rich tapestry that makes up the Homeless World Cup. Just keep visiting

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Homeless World Cup 2012: Samba beat

Day two of the second group stage of the Homeless World Cup ended in something of a struggle for Scotland's reigning champions.

Group D always looked tough and so it has proved.

In their first game of the day against Ireland the Scots recovered from 2-1 down at half to snatch a last gasp equaliser in a second half where both keepers excelled.

Homeless World Cup games require a winner though and it was on to a sudden death penalty shoot out. Scotland missed their first attempt, Ireland duly scored and the 2-2 draw was converted into a 3-2 defeat.

If the Irish game had been a challenge the next match against a Brazil side free-scoring their way through the tournament looked like requiring a miracle.

So it proved. Scotland dug in well but - as unpredictable as this tournament often is - Brazil look to be genuine contenders.

A 10-1 defeat leaves Scotland second bottom of Group D, just the bonus point won in the penalty defeat to Ireland keeping them ahead of Ukraine.

They're also the group's lowest scorers so will be out to prove a point in the remaining games against Ukraine and South Africa on Thursday and Friday.

Homeless World Cup goals

Apparently the first four days of the 2012 Mexico Homeless World Cup saw 1,716 goals scored in 2,256 minutes of football.

Quite the spectator sport.

The real achievements though, as I can't stress often enough, are to be found in the other 51 weeks of the year.

It's those achievements that the tournament celebrates.

At football projects around the world people are given the support and belief to change their lives for the better.

People like England goalkeeper Aaron Ranieri. Through his involvement he made the England squad - and the chance to play in a tournament held in the country he left when he was five:

Say aye tae a football pie

Pies are close to my heart.

So close in fact that I've fallen under the tyranny of healthy eating fascism to protect said heart.

But all things in moderation. So the treat of a Scotch pie has become a rare and beguiling pleasure.

One that I would ideally enjoy at the football.

Except I most often watch football at Easter Road where the culinary disappointments have continued this season even as results on the pitch have improved.

There was a spell when the Hibs pie came incinerated. Now it's a pale flabby mass that collapses on itself after one bite.

You're left staring reproachfully at an almost inedible mass of limp pastry and insipid meat that's vaguely reminiscent of what George Osborne must see in the bathroom mirror of a Sunday morning.

Get a drink to help choke it down and you'll not get much change from a fiver. The fan experience as imagined by a miserly sadist. Or maybe George Osborne again.

It needn't be like this. In a pre-season trip to East Fife I was treated not only to a Tim Clancy wonder goal (of sorts) but also a choice of pies from the excellent Puddledub farm shop of Auchtertool.

And help might be at hand from the wonderful sounding Scotch Pie Club.

A club that Groucho Marx might have joined even if they wanted him as a member.

Who better than the members of a club devoted to the Scotch pie to organise a Scotch pie competition?

So it is that the Scotch Pie Club will host the 14th World Scotch Pie Championship in Dunfermline this November.

For the first time the judges will also be tickling their taste buds with entries from Scotland's football clubs as they launch a new category to find the Best Football Pie in Scotland.

Pie guru and competition founder, Alan Stuart, said:

"It gives me great pleasure to be recognising the role the football pie plays in our sporting heritage in this way and I am excited to see the entries, may the best club win."

There's actually a serious point here. Too often we put up with overpriced and substandard fare from our clubs, on the pitch and at the food kiosks.

So celebrating clubs that do pies as well is worthwhile. It's a small thing. But, I suppose, the small things add up to the overall fan experience that we too often ignore.

So, as the old slogan almost says, "say aye tae a (reasonably priced, tasty) pie.

Homeless World Cup 2012: Scotland in Mexico

Day four of the 2012 Homeless World Cup in Mexico yesterday and the tournament entered the second group stage.

After mixed results in the opening group Scotland moved on to face Ireland, Brazil, Portugal, Ukraine and South Africa in the second phase.

Which means facing some traditionally doughty Homeless World Cup opponents.

Yesterday's match against Portugal looked particularly tough.

The Portuguese won all four of their opening games, scoring 34 goals and conceding just eight.

Scotland, defending champions, lost their first two games 6-5 to Lithuania and Indonesia before recovering to beat Greece 4-2 and rounding the group off with a 6-3 win over Peru.

And tough it proved with the Portuguese running out 6-2 winners.

So a difficult opening to the second stage but still a long way to go.

This is one tournament where it doesn't feel trite to say that the taking part is a victory in itself.

Scotland coach David Duke - whose involvement with the tournament began when he was selected for the Scotland team in 2004 - estimates that some 700 players were involved in the selection process for this tournament.

One of the eight chosen for the final squad was Mark Stack, a 35 year old for Coatbridge who has battled heroin addiction and lived through years of homelessness:

"Without that, I wouldn’t be able to reintegrate with people. I’ve went through my life without really having anything, so even to be selected is a massive achievement."

Such stories are repeated globally. The tournament organisers estimate 250,000 people have been involved in Homeless World Cup related projects around the world.

Football is often bombastic in championing itself as a unifying lingua franca.

Every year the Homeless World Cup proves that football really can offer something overwhelmingly positive to the lives it touches.

Having been involved when the tournament was staged in Edinburgh back in 2005 it's also remarkable to see the scale of the event in Mexico City - over 50,000 spectators turned out on the opening weekend alone.

That's not a bad way to celebrate the unique work of the Homeless World Cup throughout the rest of the year - a network of football projects covering 73 nations and giving men and women of all ages the chance to rebuild their lives.

And, with four second group stage games left to play, Scotland's new squad will be keen that the sun doesn't set on our reign as champions just yet.

Visit for the latest news, stories and live coverage.

(Source: The Big Issue)

Scotland at the Homeless World Cup today

A couple more big asks for Scotland today.

First up Ireland who started with a defeat to Costa Rica in their opening game but recovered to win their next four.

Yesterday in their opening second round game they drew 4-4 with South Africa.

Later the Scots take on Brazil whose 9-3 win over Ukraine yesterday build on some impressive form that saw them win their opening group games with 49 goals scored and just 12 conceded.

The Ireland game kicks off around 5.50 pm our time with the Brazil match scheduled for around 7.30 pm.

All games can be watched here: