Friday, December 13, 2013

McCoist downplaying star exit

Rangers boss Ally McCoist has insisted the club have no plans to offload any of their star players in the January transfer window, including key defender Lee Wallace.

The ongoing financial difficulties at Ibrox have been well documented over recent years and the club continue to struggle as a new company, losing £14.4 million during their first 13 months of trading.

Clearly the lack of top flight football and European action is playing a major part in Rangers' struggles and there has been talk in the transfer betting news of a few players leaving the Old Firm side next month.

After an impressive start to the season for both club and country, Scotland left-back Wallace appears to be at the top of the list of potential candidates to make a move away from Ibrox in January.

However McCoist has made it clear that he is under no pressure from the powers that be at the club to sell his prized assets.

The former Scotland striker told RangersTV:

"I've had discussions with board members and the chief executive and there has certainly been no indication at all that we have to sell. If that's the case, I'm sure I'll be informed of that but until that moment comes we obviously want to keep hold of our better and best players."

"You'd have to say Lee certainly comes into that category and in moving forward, which the club hopes to do, we'd be delighted to keep our better and best players."

Rangers look set to win the Scottish League One title at a canter, something the current Scottish football odds clearly suggest, but if they want to make their return to the top flight as quickly as possible, they can't rest on their laurels and keeping players like Wallace is clearly important to the ambitious McCoist.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lennon rues fitness setbacks

Scottish Football Blog, Billy McNeill, European Cup winning captain, Celtic
Celtic’s hopes of continuing to play in Europe after Christmas already look bleak in the football betting odds but they might have become even less likely after Kris Commons picked up a hamstring injury and Scott Brown was handed a three-match ban.

Having already been beaten by AC Milan and Barcelona, a Champions League double-header against Ajax would appear to give Neil Lennon’s side the chance to gain at least third spot in the group and an opportunity to play in the Europa League in the new year. But full back Mikael Lustig, is also a major doubt for the visit of the Dutch side to Glasgow after sustaining a hip injury during Sweden’s World Cup qualifier against Austria, which forced him to sit out his country’s 5-3 home defeat to Germany.

Adam Matthews is out for three months with a shoulder injury so Lennon’s right-back options are extremely limited.

According to betfair, the 42-year-old former Leicester City midfielder said: "We have two very good right-backs who may not be fit for the Ajax game.

"Mikael's hip locked against Austria. He does have hip and groin problems and we will have to manage him during the week. Efe Ambrose had played international football at right-back so he is a possibility."

Dutch winger, Derk Boerrigter, is still struggling with an ankle complaint and he is unlikely to be back for the game against his former club, who have only picked up one point from their first two Champions League group encounters.

Joe Ledley's fitness might not allow him to play the full game although Emilio Izaguirre has recovered from illness.

Lennon has also revealed that the club will be appealing against the three-game European suspension imposed by UEFA on Brown following his red card in the Champions League defeat by Barcelona.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Confident Pars ready for fresh start

Dunfermline, The Scottish Football Blog (Attribution: davefalconer)
Hopes are high that a successful new era for Dunfermline is about to start after supporters group, Pars United, officially took over their club.

The Pars entered administration in March and were docked 15 points as a result. The deduction contributed to them finishing ninth in the Division One table and they were relegated after losing a two-legged play-off to Alloa Athletic.

The team has regrouped this term under the experienced former Hearts, Bradford City and Kilmarnock manager, Jim Jefferies, and they are currently third in the third tier of Scottish football, behind current title favourites in the football betting, Rangers, and Stenhousemuir.

It has been quite a fall from grace for Dunfermline as they were playing in the SPL just two seasons ago. As was reported in the press and the live football commentary, their problems escalated 12 months ago when they failed to pay the players’ wages on time and it was discovered that there were unpaid tax bills due to HM Revenue and Customs.

When they were faced with a winding-up order, the Pars opted to go into voluntary administration seven months ago but there are now signs of the green shoots of recovery at East End Park.

New chairman, Bob Garmory, knows it won’t be easy but believes plans are in place to ensure the club’s long-term survival.

He said:

"This is a proud day for me. I’m delighted we’ve managed to negotiate our way through it because there have been serious issues to resolve.

"But we’ve been fortunate to have a lot of Pars supporters who have come forward with their skills and enthusiasm. We’ve tackled everything thrown at us.

"There has been a huge amount of work done by so many people - and all for no recompense. It sounds an awful thing to say but with the fans now owning the football club they’re going to have to pay for that privilege."

Monday, October 14, 2013

David Moyes: 100 days of solitude

An American president is said to be at his most powerful in the first hundred days of his presidency.

Get it wrong in those opening few weeks and he - so far it's always been he - is unlikely to ever be trusted to get it right.

David Moyes, the first hundred days. Scottish Football Blog.
Even in the increasingly twitchy world of football it would seem harsh to judge managers by the same timescale.

It happens though. And many minds will have been made up about David Moyes as Manchester United manager even before he passed one hundred days in charge last week.

The international break might have allowed Moyes a period of reflection last week.

United got through another test at Sunderland, perhaps uncovering a new star in the process.

That brought down the curtain on a couple of months where iffy form segued with an apparently cack-handed approach to the transfer window.

Replacing Sir Alex Ferguson was never going to be easy.

When United appointed Ferguson all those years ago they thought they'd finally found the heir to Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Jock Stein.

When they appointed Moyes this summer they hoped they'd found the heir to the heir.

It took Ferguson time to find his feet. Moyes won't have that luxury.

Not only has the game moved on and the fevered press grown worse but Moyes inherited champions. His job was to build on success not to rip everything up and rebuild from scratch.

That's perhaps a bit unfair. Ferguson's final championship wasn't delivered by his finest side. While he didn't sell Moyes a stuttering jalopy, he did leave a motor that needed some attention.

Moyes has quickly discovered that patching up a second hand football team isn't as easy as identifying what spare parts you need and visiting to get the problem car sorted.

This first post-Ferguson summer made the release of David Peace's Red or Dead, a fictionalised account of Bill Shankly's reign at Liverpool and his apparently melancholic retirement, seem even more timely.

(It's certainly written in a unique style but I felt that was essential for building the "Shankly" Peace wanted to create. For those of us who know Shankly only through the soundbites, the achievements and the second hand memories that fictional version seems somehow real. My own view is that the book is a triumph. And here endeth the sub-Higher English literary criticism.)

By calling it quits and then talking about how he's embracing retirement and leaving the new man to it at Old Trafford, Ferguson's desire to avoid the various fates of Stein, Busby and Shankly seems almost too conspicuous at times.

Shankly left Liverpool to a reluctant but incredibly successful Bob Paisley. Busby left Manchester United to a succession of men who couldn't match him until Ferguson - and a patient board - came along to get it right.

100 days of David Moyes isn't enough time to decide whether United have made a huge mistake this time.

He could argue that he's six points off the top of the league, undefeated in the Champions League and enjoying the performances of a restored Wayne Rooney.

All true. None of it enough.

He can't do anything about the transfer window right now but he needs to follow the international break with a sustained run of wins.

Getting Adnan Januzaj tied to a longer deal would also be a sound move - as a player he offers only potential but his capture would at least be a signal of intent.

Above all - and this will only come with wins - he needs to move the story on from his ability to do the job.

In the past couple of weeks I've read Moyes defending himself, Ryan Giggs defending him, Alex Ferguson defending him, Dion Dublin defending him and Luis Saha defending him.

That's an awful lot of David Moyes. And I'm not sure continually protesting that someone is the right man for the job is the best way to convince people that someone actually is the right man for the job.

It could be, after a successful few seasons, that we look back on Moyes' first hundred days as the weakest period of his reign.

That would be understandable. The pressure of replacing Ferguson, a new chief executive further complicating the transfer window, players adjusting to the day after the knight.

But Moyes needs to recover - at least in the short term - with a team that so far hasn't looked strong enough to cope with the biggest challenges.

After 11 games in charge Moyes might reflect on a few things.

Firstly, he might ponder, the first 11 games are hardly enough of a window in which to draw conclusions about a manager.

Secondly, he might worry, the first 11 games have undoubtedly made his dream job even tougher than he might have imagined.

Thirdly, he could think, the first 11 games better not be fodder for another David Peace book. Because nobody wants to provide the sequel for the Damned United.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Scottish Cup: Queen's Park survive Preston Athletic challenge

As visitors have been discovering since Sir John Cope did a runner in 1745, a trip to Prestonpans often necessitates a certain forbearance.

And with a 2-2 draw at Hampden forcing the replay, Queen's Park would have felt more than a little trepidation at the prospect of this Scottish Cup replay against Preston Athletic in East Lothian.

Currently bottom of the SPFL League Two, Gardner Speirs' men have taken just one point from seven league games while Preston lie fourth in the new Scottish Lowland Football League.

And beating Queen's Park, forever on page one in any history of this old competition, would have been quite a way for Preston to progress to the third round for the first time.

After 45 minutes that looked unlikely. Blair Spittal scored twice to give Queen's a two goal cushion that reflected the pattern of the game.

Preston were struggling to get forward and their defence looked vulnerable for both Spittal's goals.

If Queen's were at all perturbed by the rather basic facilities of Pennypit Park they weren't letting it show on the pitch.

(I did hear one substitute muttering to a colleague about "amateurs" when the Preston physio took to the pitch but I'm not sure that counts as an insult when coming from a Queen's Park player.)

But at Hampden Queen's had been a goal to the good at half time before requiring a late equaliser to stay in the tie.

Had they learned from that experience?

Apparently not. Five minutes after the break Preston launched a free kick into the box and Richard Ramsay headed past Blair Lochhead.

Suddenly at 2-1 it looked like the momentum might swing towards Preston.

Until stupidity intervened.

A decent crowd included a number of youngsters giving their vocal backing to Preston.

With their glaringly unoriginal songbook insufficient in the campaign to annoy people, they included in their armoury a few flares and bangers.

This had led to the police - there were only five or six policemen in the ground - ejecting a couple of eejits.

Preston's goal sparked a fairly unimpressive pitch invasion which was accompanied by more smoke and bangs.

With the players ready to restart the game, referee Nick Walsh was deep in discussion with both managers. Soon a policeman was meandering slowly across the pitch to join them.

A decision was made: the players left the pitch and the police moved in to clear the local hoodlums, marching them out of the ground a like a handful of Pied Pipers in high-vis jackets.

The flaw in this plan became evident when the removed youths scattered to various vantage points outside the ground from where they continued to amuse nobody with their songs and still managed to lob a flare onto the pitch.

But this was no Battle of Prestonpans. My own view of proceedings was that it was nothing more sinister than a bunch of kids being idiots. Not used to leaving Prestonpans, the visit of Queen's Park was akin to the world coming to the 'Pans.

A great opportunity to find a new audience for their "who's the biggest daftie?" competition.

(I've read some comments mentioning the "Prestonpans Loyal" Union flag that was on display. From my vantage point that didn't appear to be linked to the group that was removed, although I think someone should probably tell the owner that Prestonpans can stop apologising for its role in the '45 now.)

Having spent six years at school in Prestonpans I found the whole thing quite embarrassing but hardly surprising. I could go on about the mother who was feeding her son burgers over the fence after he'd been kicked out. I could but I won't. Because I'd probably end up sounding like Michael Gove or blaming Broken Britain or something.

With the players back on the pitch Preston enjoyed more of the game but their big chance had gone with the enforced break. While the home side had chances it was Queen's who hit the woodwork and Preston 'keeper John Gilbertson who was forced into making the more impressive saves.

As the final whistle approached referee Nick Walsh - who looked as young as some of the flare throwing teens - gave Preston's Mark Stewart a second yellow card and sent manager David Bingham to the stand.

Their frustration was maybe understandable. Undone by poor defending in the first half, they'd seen a second half fightback thwarted by PC Murdoch having to step in to lead Oor Wullie, Fat Boab, Wee Eck and Soapy Soutar from the ground.

By the time Bingham left the touchline the game had slipped away - Queen's Park happy to get the job done, Preston reflecting on what might have been.

Scottish Cup second round replay:

Preston Athletic 1 v Queen's Park 2


Friday, October 04, 2013

SFA Grassroots Awards 2013

SFA Grassroots Awards 2013, The Scottish Football Blog
2013 People's Award winner Pat Griffin
To Hampden last week. Suited, booted and ready to enjoy the annual SFA Grassroots Awards.

Anybody that has played football in this country will have relied on volunteers at some stage.

Parents, teachers, neighbours. People that just love football and want to pass that on in their communities.

Stewart Regan, welcoming the nominees to Hampden, mentioned that there are now over 17,000 volunteers involved in Scottish football.

Giffnock Soccer Centre, Best Community Club
That's around one volunteer for every ten registered players. Of course we should alway strive for more. But those struck me as heartening figures in a country where we're too often ready to consign football to hell in a handcart and where, I think, we increasingly feel people are no longer prepared to roll up their sleeves and get involved.

If these awards prove anything it's that people are still willing to get involved and people are quietly and tirelessly doing great things to make Scottish football a healthier, happier place.

This year also marked ten years of the awards, the programme listing all previous winners - a roll call that stretches to over 100 individuals, clubs, schools and organisations.

From the biggest clubs - Hearts won this year's Best Professional Club in the Community award, the Big Hearts Community Trust has worked with 13,000 people in the last 12 months - to individual volunteers in communities across Scotland it struck me that every winner is helping someone do something that I took for granted growing up: the chance to play football.

(I liked pies too much to be any good but I enjoyed it nonetheless, still do when the lumbago eases and nobody is watching.)

They do it with no expectation of recognition which is one of the things that makes the annual awards ceremony so special.

Take Magnus Johnson, winner of the Best Volunteer in Youth Football Award, who coaches four age group teams in Stornoway, is voluntary groundsman at Groathill Park and manages the Western Isles Games Association Ladies team.

He's also got a full time job.

Or Falkirk's Mark Lenathen, Best Volunteer in Girls and Women’s Football Award, who started coaching - and I guess this will be familiar to many - when his daughter started playing.

Mark coaches the Falkirk Football Community Programme's under-15 side. This year they won the league and reached the league cup final. After the same side went the whole season without a win last year.

Kenny Dalglish and Mark Adams, SFA Grassroots Awards 2013
Mark Adams, Best Volunteer in Adult Football
Mark Adams, the Best Volunteer in Adult Football, summed the night up when he said: "We're all here because we love football."

For Mark that led him to set up the North Glasgow Football Development Group - which now offer three after-school groups and community coaching for 60 young adults.

The scale of what volunteers can achieve was recognised in the Best Community Football Club award. Giffnock Soccer Centre was created in 1995 - today over 160 unpaid coaches organise football for over 900 players.

It was also a privilege to spend the evening in the company of Pat Griffin, winner of the inaugural People's Award decided by public vote.

It's always nice to meet someone with stories to tell about Joe Tortolano but more importantly it was fantastic to see Pat's work with Milton Amateur FC recognised.

He was instrumental in founding the club 40 years ago and has been involved ever since:

"For me it isn’t about receiving awards but making sure young footballers across Milton get the opportunity to play football."

Which nicely summed up the recurring theme of the evening.

The runners-up in the People's Award were George Ferguson of Broughty United and Ian Stevenson of Lenzie Youth. Between them Pat, George and Ian have served grassroots football for over 130 years.

I'm also told that Pat's win came after a large public vote, a vote that compares favourably with the People's Award across the other Home Nations.

Which does suggest that, whatever we read and we write about Scottish football, an audience remains for good news stories and a great number of people appreciate the chance to say "thank you" to the people that give up their time to keep the game going.

10th Annual SFA Grassroots Awards

  • Best Volunteer in Youth Football - Magnus Johnson, Stornoway Athletic FC 
  • Best Volunteer in Adult Football - Mark Adams, North Glasgow Football Development Group
  • Best Volunteer in Disability Football - Jamie and Mirren McDonald, Lothian Special Olympics
  • Best Volunteer in Girls & Women’s Football - Mark Lenathen, Falkirk Football Community Programme  
  • Best Volunteer in Schools Football - Philip Stuart, Milnes High School, Moray
  • Best Professional Club in the Community - Heart of Midlothian FC
  • Best Community Football Club - Giffnock Soccer Centre
  • Best Coach of the Year - Billy McAdam, Linlithgow Rose Community Football Club
  • McDonald’s Community Champion - Jimmy Whelan
  • 2013 People’s Award - Pat Griffin
With thanks to McDonald's for inviting me to a great night at Hampden.

Potts Cup: Star eclipsed by Newton Stewart

Ahead of the second round of the Scottish Cup, a trip to Dumfries and Galloway offered the chance to see two of this weekend's cup hopefuls in action,

The Islecroft Stadium as Dalbeattie Star hosted local rivals Newton Stewart in the quarter final of the Potts Cup.

The Whats Cup? The Potts Cup. A regional trophy that local clubs have been contesting for over a century.

The cup was donated by Mr and Mrs Potts as long ago as 1902. Mr and Mrs Potts owned the Theatre Royal in Dumfries, the oldest working theatre in Scotland.

The Potts donated the trophy around the same time as they added moving pictures to their more standard Victorian music hall fare. Maybe they saw the cinematic potential of a local cup for local sides and wanted for teams like Maxwelltown Volunteers and Nithsdale Wanderers what Rupert Murdoch wanted for top English Clubs 90 years later.

It certainly sounds more enticing than the Roller Skating Rink for County Ladies and Gentleman that the theatre introduced in 1909.

Anyways, to the football.

Dalbeattie Star went into this game as favourites, having taken their place in the new Lowland Football League this summer after ending their involvement in the South of Scotland League as champions last season.

They also have a rich Potts Cup history having first won the trophy in 1925 and last bringing the silverware back to Islecroft in 2012.

Newton Stewart remain in the South of Scotland League and have had less Potts Cup success, back to back wins in the early fifties followed by a solitary victory in the 1960s and another in 1988.

But there seemed a reasonable chance of Star being preoccupied by the Scottish Cup visit of Montrose. Their manager, Paul McGinley, had even absented himself from this game to carry out spying duties as Montrose won 3-0 at Clyde.

Newton Stewart had also enjoyed Potts Cup and league success against Dalbeattie last season, the latter victory not quite magnanimously recorded in Star's programme notes:

" was today's opponents who knocked [Star] out of the Potts Cup last year and also inflicted a rare league defeat in the last league match of last season's campaign, though a certain Anniversary Dinner the night before didn't do anything to help the Star cause."

A fine example of damning local rivals with faint praise and a rare example of a club admitting their players were hungover to buggery for a competitive fixture.

But if Star wanted revenge they also wanted to keep their powder dry for the visit of Montrose. Changes were rung.

That meant I missed the chance to see goalkeeper Darren Martin whose profile in the programme lightened up my pre match reading:

"In the movie of my life I would be played by: Ron Jeremy

"Stranded on an island, what are your three essential items? Deck chair, bottle of OVD and a bottle of coke.

"What is the biggest compliment you have ever received? 'You've got the biggest lugs I`ve ever seen.'"

His replacement Euan Drysdale found himself picking the ball out of the net after two minutes when Newton Stewart`s Liam Craig leapt highest to head home the opening goal.

With the goal coming against the run of play, Star stepped up the pressure with the visiting Creesiders having to rely on a goal line clearance, some wayward shooting and the woodwork to preserve their lead.

For much of the first half Drysdale was a spectator, enlivening his afternoon with moments of vocal self assessment. It must be said that shouting "fucking hell, that was absolutely fucking shit" when you sclaff a goal kick saves anyone in the crowd from pointing out your shortcomings.

Star finally equalised after 35 minutes when Paul Cook picked the ball up in the box and shot home from close range. They should have been ahead before half time when goalkeeper Harry Fidler brought down Cook but Andrew Donley saw his penalty saved.

A half time trip to the stand brought the delight of alcohol. Unfortunately I'd bought myself a beer before I found out that I couldn't drink it outside. I was forced to leave my dad standing alone on the touchline while I downed my lager. Although, with the prospect of spending a week with me looming, he was probably glad of those 30 seconds alone.

I'm not sure what regulation or law the 'drink inside' rule pertains to but on possibly the last warm, sunny Saturday afternoon of the year and with a crowd of no more than 50 inside Islecroft it seemed daft.

It did however mean I was set for the second half replenished but neither drunk nor wielding an empty can of Tennents to use as a missile.

Star found it harder to dominate possession and territory in the second half and, with neither side creating much, it was Newton Stewart who took the lead after an hour. Stewart Taylor saw his first shot saved by Drysdale but made no mistake with the rebound.

Star enjoyed plenty of possession in the last half hour but struggled to threaten. Newton Stewart's midfield dropped back to crowd out attacks, their central defenders were redoubtable under the high ball and the impressive Fidler pulled off a couple of Hollywood saves when the home side tried their luck from range.

That was enough to secure a 2-1 away win. Despite the bigger challenges ahead there was no little effort, all of it presided over by an oddly tall referee with the gruffly paternalistic attitude of the BFG: "he's just stronger than you son, get over it" the typical riposte to bleating attackers.

An honourable mention too for the Star official whose job it is to run down to the river with the sort of basket-on-a-pole contraption familiar to wayward golfers whenever a hoofed clearance threatens to be carried downstream.

"Seen worse at Easter Road" was my dad's summary at full time. It was hard to disagree.

As for the Scottish Cup prospects of the two teams?

Montrose will face a very different Dalbeattie Star, with the team restored to something more like the side that hit nine past Selkirk in their last league outing. With Montrose showing sound form in League Two it could be a cracker and Star might well fancy a trip back to Links Park at the very least.

Newton Stewart might also fancy their chances against Culter, with home advantage, a long trip for their visitors and their obvious resilience and organisation all counting in their favour.

Because I enjoyed the day - a steal at just £4 and £2 for pensioners (father paid the full rate, I was tempted to try look even older than I normally do after a week at work to save a couple of quid) - I'll be sticking a South of Scotland double on the coupon.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Today I hate football

Looking back on the Champions League week that was, guest blogger Malcolm Best - pundit and presenter on The Football Special - has a lot to get off his chest:

In my game as a presenter and pundit on a football show – have a look you’ll fuckin’ love it – you have to both love and hate the game of football. Today, I hate it.

I hate it today chiefly because of Neymar’s inability to act, Torres’ inability to be a man and because just six games in people are already talking about whether some managers will still be in a job by November.

Let’s start with Neymar. I’ll not dance around the topic. I think the lad’s a cock. He’s skilled in the art of dribbling, control, passing, running with the ball and all the elegant skills that make a player great. However, last night, he also displayed something that is becoming commonplace in all football – both British and Continental – and that is the despicable inability to act well. He showed a level of acting skill that would fail an audition for any Channel Five home-made drama.

I am not condoning what he did. I think he’s a cock for making a mountain of a molehill. I tell you: if you’ve been hit by a Scot you know about it. Back in my playing days, I once fell foul of Big Malky Muldougal. I still have to visit the hospital, forty years on, to get my dressing changed.

What irks me is the lack of true acting skills. It’s school Christmas Nativity stuff. Neymar’s performance was the worst I’ve seen in ages (although the camera man from ITV was a little off the mark with following the action). What Neymar needs is a lesson or two in the Method: a touch of the old Stanislavski (the acting coach, not the nippy winger who played two seasons with Bromley FC). He needs to really inhabit the body of a man who has been mortally wounded. He also then needs to be able to do what every footballer fails to do after acting like they’ve been shot by a nine-calibre gun: look amazed at their recovery. They never run to the referee or the bench and look amazed that they have miraculously been cured of their fatal injury within a matter of mere seconds. I want realism back in football. Not this fantasy fooking football shite.

If you get hit, go down like Al Pacino would. If you’re going to act then go for an Oscar as well as the Balloon Door (you know what I mean, that fancy award that Messi owns). If you can’t act then don’t go down. Only make the most of a slight touch if you can really make it as an extra in Saving Private Ryan sequel.

Torres gets me riled. He gets me wound up like a cuckoo clock. So, the FA let him off with a slap across the wrist because the other match officials at the game didn’t see enough to charge him with misconduct. When are we – as fans – going to demand that they make the decisions like this from the same seat the majority of us watch our football by – the TV. Strike a light! He’s done it, we all saw it and yet the match officials have a touch of the old Arsene Wengers and didn’t see it. I wish I didn’t see Neymar’s shite acting but I did. I’m scarred for life.

Finally, the papers are already questioning the future of some managers while Five Live’s 606 and TalkSport have already had the “he must go” crowd out. Di Canio aside (I think he’s just a tit), there’s no one in the Premier League who should worry about their jobs. The world and his dog knows that it is not until seven games into the season that the LMA wake up their rent-a-quote press team (“he didn’t deserve to go”, “managers need more time”, “football’s changed”). Although, as a pundit I am paid to say that I think Moyes should worry. While I am at it I think Pardew should be looking at holiday destinations after Christmas. And as for Mourinho… watch this space. Everything was set up for Pep Guardiola and the Special One isn’t so special anymore.

If you want to hear more of my comments and opinion then tune into my show on a Friday. The Football Special gives me a soap box to shout from and has some cracking sketches too.

By the way, if you want something for your i-pod, check out Jim Daly’s football songs on – especially this one on Neymar!

Back of the net.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Champions League: Celtic look for Barcelona repeat

The second week of the 2013/14 Champions League.

A fashion parade for European football`s most powerful, a competition borne from the game's obsession with money.

Yet a tournament that can still give us a display of the beautiful juxtapositions that sport makes possible.

This evening Celtic host Barcelona in Glasgow. Last Tuesday night Celtic were being knocked out of the Scottish League Cup by Morton.

If Celtic can repeat last year's famous win then the playground logic surely follows: Morton could finish tonight as a better team than Barcelona.

A nonsense of course. But the Champions League in its current form was not designed to give Scottish clubs a platform - so we should cherish a game that links the brilliance of Barcelona with the lower reaches of the SPFL Championship.

Can Celtic trump that brilliance?

A big, big ask. The absence of Lionel Messi robs the match of its shiniest star but Celtic and Barcelona continue to inhabit different planets.

Last year's win is evidence that it can be done - but it doesn't make tonight`s job any easier.

The first round of games pointed to a maturing of Celtic - a more patient side, more comfortable keeping the ball, firmer in the conviction that they deserve to be on this stage. Yet none of that mattered in the end. For all the plaudits, for all the progress, they lost 2-0 to AC Milan.

There`s always a chance though. Get the game plan right, get every man to stick to it, ride your luck, hope your opponents aren't as ruthless as they can be.

Miracles can happen.

Just ask Morton.

Infographic brought to you by Spreadex, leading provider of spread betting in the UK.
Click here for the full size image (1598 x 9388 px).

Friday, September 13, 2013

Hibs: Progress, points, profit

International breaks at this stage of the season always seem to give the impression of a stuttery start to the domestic season.

Actually the increasingly complex global football calendar seems designed to bemuse at this time of year: league competitions kick off while jostling with international weeks, transfer windows and early European starts.

But ours is not to reason why. And at least we can welcome back the SPFL Premiership in good heart after Scotland's win in Macedonia.

Points mean prizes and, with Scotland slipping to the bottom of Group A after the defeat to Belgium on Friday, Gordon Strachan would have been aware that he had to convert progress into points.

Job done on that front at least. Hope for the future as well with players like Ikechi Anya - who made it a special night for anyone betting on unlikely first goalscorers.

And what of matters domestic?

Points and progress have been a running theme of Pat Fenlon's time as manager of Hibs.

No matter how often he's defended himself by pointing to examples of the latter, his case has been too often undermined by an inability to rack up many of the former.

Hibs strip 1980s
This week Hibs announced a return to profit after two years of losses. Given the disappointments and catastrophes of the last couple of years the most recent financial statement might just be the most impressive result Hibs have posted since Fenlon took over.

It certainly explains why Rod Petrie's moustache oversaw an unusually munificent summer - you might argue on the quality of the signings but 10 players arriving and a transfer fee paid for James Collins represent a reasonably significant outlay, certainly in the current climate of the Premiership.

The return to profit will please Petrie, he's a bottom line kind of guy.

But a football club as a business has two bottom lines: the financial and the sporting.

Petrie has been with Hibs long enough to know that sustained improvements in one area can only be achieved with matching success in the other.

Seventh place last season might have been an improvement but it wasn't the sort of progress Fenlon was employed to deliver.

And eighth place, five points and three goals scored after five games this season is not the return on investment Petrie would have wanted when he gave the go ahead to the summer signing spree.

All of which means Fenlon will continue to be a manager under pressure. But possibly not - and this might depress some people who suffered the misery of Hibs v Ross County - a manager in immediate danger of being emptied.

Why? Finances. If other teams continue to struggle, if Hibs can get a few wins and some of the new signings display more consistency then Petrie might just hold fire.

Easter Road's improved finances can at least in part be put down to not parting company with a manager in the last financial year.

With Fenlon's two and a half year deal running out next summer, a natural - and cheaper - end to the relationship is in sight.

It's not a prospect to enthuse but if Fenlon can negotiate the traditionally shark infested waters of the pre-AGM period this month, he might just stick around for the season.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Scotland: Kenny Miller retires

There we are then.

12 years, 69 caps, 18 goals and a final memory of a goal to savour at Wembley.

Farewell Kenny Miller, Scotland striker.

If the announcement of Miller's international retirement saw many of the old criticisms of his ability resurface, there was also a strong swell of appreciation for the service he's given.

His timing is impeccable. With no 2014 World Cup for Scotland he leaves on the personal high of scoring in his solitary appearance against England.

And he forces Gordon Strachan to face the remaining qualifiers without trusted experience up front. The manager might not have been ready for the immediate future without Kenny Miller. With no choice, he has to build for the next qualifying tournament. To the end, we could say, Miller has served the greater good of the Scotland cause.

The greater good. Servant.

Running themes of the tributes to Miller. The willing servant who'd turn up - in an era when not turning up is common - and give his all whatever the circumstances.

Often those circumstances involved him playing as a lone striker. Lacking service, chasing, running, waiting for the support of midfielders who often failed to arrive.

He did all that time and again. For seven different managers. Decent managers, bad managers, befuddled managers. All trusted Miller at different times.

Miller repaid them by getting on with the job, perhaps coming close to a public strop only when dropped for an empty space when Craig Levein chose 4-6-0 in Prague.

He saw off managerial changes as surely as he survived recurring episodes of public clamour when a new rival appeared on the goalscoring charts.

For a decade Miller outlasted Scotland managers and outlasted so many of those rivals for his shirt.

He never escaped the brickbats though.

His thoroughly modern club career maybe didn't help. An apparent 'have bank account, will travel' attitude might make the most of football's new opportunities but it doesn't create folk heroes.

Rangers-Celtic-Rangers swapsies also have the power to alienate large constituencies, often at the same time.

Then there is the simpler reason. That Kenny Miller just wasn't "Scotland quality."

He frustrated this writer often enough. He should have more than 18 goals, should be higher than sixth on the all time scoring list.

Profligate Kenny Miller, caught in two minds and choosing the third option. Kenny Miller, the non-scoring lone striker, enduring long dry spells.

We could never pretend that he was among the greats of the past. But he wasn't playing with great players either.

His decade as a regular choice coincided with Scotland's decade in the wilderness.

No major tournaments, some embarrassing performances, more than a few dire results.

Miller was part of all of that but successive managers saw him as the best of what they had as Scotland tried to get to grips with their reduced standing.

He could hardly be blamed for getting picked so regularly. And we couldn't accuse him of not giving his all when he was picked.

A decent player giving of his best. That sounds unspectacular but it's been an unspectacular decade.

Some good memories, some bad memories and very often little to show in games when hard graft just wasn't enough.

Kenny Miller's story has been the Scotland story for the last decade.

If the players he's now stepped aside for can harness their potential with Miller's commitment then the next decade might just offer more reward.

So thanks for the effort, Kenny. And thanks for calling it quits at the right time.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Brazil win 2013 Homeless World Cup

Brazil won their second Homeless World Cup trophy after a penalty shootout win over Mexico in Poznan.

Financial pressure meant the 2010 champions arrived in Poland with just four players but they held their nerve to consign Mexico to their third consecutive final defeat.

Travelling with a squad cut back to the minimum number of players allowed failed to dent Brazil's recent consistency in their tournament with two wins and three third place finishes in the last five Homeless World Cups.

The Women's Homeless World Cup again offered consolation for Mexico as they ran out 4-1 winners over Chile to retain the title they won at home in 2012.

Scotland, who lost their Polish President's Cup semi final to Austria yesterday, lost 8-4 to Ireland today to finish the event in 12th place overall.

On a mixed day for the home nations Northern Ireland beat Greece 12-1 in their Ministry of Labour Cup play off match while Wales lost 7-3 to Cambodia in The Cup of Tolerance.

England's men lost 6-4 to the United State in The INSP Trophy but the English women's team beat Wales on penalties after a 4-4 draw to lift The Equality Cup.

So the 2013 Homeless World Cup ends with Brazil crowned champions. But the beauty of this tournament are the hundreds of other winners it produces as players from across the world travel home with a new determination to change their lives.

As Homeless World Cup president and co-founder Mel Young said in Poznan today:

"There are one hundred million homeless people in the world today and one homeless person is one too many.

"Football has the power to transform lives and the best result this week was not on the pitch, but how the players took the next step to move forward in their lives and inspire other homeless people to do the same."

Homeless World Cup on the Scottish Football Blog
Brazil lift the Homeless World Cup trophy
Homeless World Cup 2013 finals:
  • The Homeless World Cup: Brazil beat Mexico on penalties
  • The Polish President's Cup: Netherlands beat Austria 6-5
  • The Poznan City Cup: Bulgaria beat Costa Rica 8-4
  • The Ministry of Labour Cup: Belgium beat Slovenia 8-4 
  • The Cup of Tolerance: Germany beat Norway 3-1
  • The INSP Trophy: Finland beat Sweden on penalties
  • The Women's Homeless World Cup: Mexico beat Chile 4-1
  • The Equality Cup: England beat Wales on penalties
Why are so many games played on Homeless World Cup finals day?

Mel Young explains:

"During the week, the teams have been playing in a series of qualifying sections and knock out stages. In the men’s competition, teams compete for the Homeless World Cup but there are also five other plate competitions to be won. Unlike other cups, teams do not go home if they lose but they stay in the competition to play for a place. Each team will play at least once to decide their final position.

"The Women’s Homeless World Cup works in exactly the same way except there are fewer plate competitions because there are fewer women’s teams taking part.

"Each team will receive a trophy for their position and every player will receive the same medal. Because the teams are all now at the same level each game will be very close.

"I always love Finals Day at the Homeless World Cup because there is high drama in every game. Then the medal ceremonies are a fabulous show of friendship and solidarity as the players each receive their awards with a big smile on their face in front of a cheering crowd."

Visit the Homeless World Cup website for all this year's news and results

Andrew Watson: Scotland's first black international footballer

Twitter recently led me to a fantastic post by Andy Mitchell on his Scottish Sports History blog.

Before the England v Scotland he sought out the modest grave of Andrew Watson, a footballer whose significance in the game has often been overlooked:

"I placed a Scottish saltire flag and a few flowers on the grave to commemorate his place in Scottish football history. But I have a strong feeling that Andrew Watson deserves more, a prominent and permanent memorial that truly recognises his place in sporting history as the first black international footballer, the first black administrator (he was secretary of Queen's Park) and possibly the first black professional player (at Bootle)."

I couldn't agree more.

Watson's progress in the game - and the acceptance of that progress - still seems hugely relevant today, even in what we like to consider our more enlightened age.

Andrew Watson also captained Scotland and, in his three games for his country, we beat England twice (6-1 away, 5-1 at home) and Wales once (5-1).

To his list of "firsts" we could possibly add:

  • First black captain of an International team (v England 1881)
  • First black player to win a major competition (Scottish Cup 1881)
  • First black player to play in the English FA Cup (London Swifts 1882)

The SFA annual of 1880-81 described Watson as:

"One of the very best backs we have; since joining Queen's Park has made rapid strides to the front as a player; has great speed and tackles splendidly; powerful and sure kick; well worthy of a place in any representative team." (Football Unites, Racism Divides)

A remarkable story. A story that, as Andy Mitchell points out, deserves more recognition than a neglected grave in a Richmond cemetery.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Homeless World Cup: Scotland face Poland

Scotland's chance of a third Homeless World Cup triumph slipped away in Poland yesterday.

A 6-0 defeat to Chile meant that a win over the Netherlands in the final group game wasn't enough to send the Scots through to the quarter finals and a place in the top eight of the 2013 tournament.

The 9-7 win over the Dutch was Scotland's third in Group C but that was only enough for third place behind Chile and Romania, who the Scots lost to on Wednesday.

Chile and Romania progress to the quarter finals of the Homeless World Cup while Scotland and the Netherlands head into the Polish President's Cup.

And today the hosts lie in wait with Scotland facing Poland for the first time in this year's tournament.

The Poles - whose best Homeless World Cup result came when they lost the final to Italy in Edinburgh back in 2005 - have won six of their 10 games so far this year and finished fourth in Group D behind Russia, Indonesia and Lithuania.

The hosts a special guest yesterday with Dariusz "Jackie" Dziekanowski, the former Poland - and Celtic - striker, among the spectators in Poznan:

"The tounament is demonstrating that everything is possible and things can be changed for the better. The Homeless World Cup is a fantastic initiative that I completely support.

"I'm very proud to be Polish and to be hosting such a great football event like this. I hope all the players will remember their time spent in this country with a smile in their faces."

Elsewhere today England face Finland in The INSP Trophy, Northern Ireland meet Slovenia in The Ministry of Labour Cup and Wales play France in The Cup of Tolerance.

Ireland remain potential opponents for Scotland in the Polish President's Cup, playing France in their quarter final.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Homeless World Cup: Scotland remain in contention

Scotland's 2013 Homeless World Cup team still have a chance of third title win as the tournament continues in Poznan.

On Tuesday wins over Argentina and Wales saw the Scots qualify behind Indonesia in Group G, joining 23 other teams in the group stages competing for the main Homeless World Cup trophy.

The Scots moved into Group C alongside last year's champions Chile, Romania, the Netherlands, Namibia and Denmark.

Recovering from an opening 7-4 defeat to Romania, Scotland secured back to back wins yesterday.

A tight game against Namibia was won 8-7 before Denmark were beaten 4-2.

That leaves Scotland with a strong chance of progressing from a very close group although they'll have to negotiate two tough fixtures today against an undefeated Chile team and a Dutch side with their own hopes of qualification.

The top two teams from Group C will qualify for the knockout stage of the Homeless World Cup trophy.

In today's other group games the Netherlands face Namibia, Romania and Chile both tackle Denmark and Romania round things off against Namibia.

While that scheduling might ultimately leave Scotland's fate out of their hands, two wins this afternoon would be a massive step towards qualification.

The knockout stage looks like being typically tough - Brazil, Mexico and Russia are all undefeated heading into the final round of group games.

While the players continue to inspire with their triumphs over adversity, the Homeless World Cup tournament thrives thanks to the tireless work of volunteers.

So a special mention to Mexican referee Antonio Gutierrez. An amateur official, Antonio got a taste of the tournament in Mexico City last year:

"I stayed in touch with the Hary Milas and Iain McGill, referees of Homeless World Cup in Mexico and they invited me to participate again this year. Last year was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life - I was eager to do it all again."

That meant making a sacrifice to pay his way:

"I sold my car to be able to be here, but for me this is the real job, the reason why I worked all the year!"
  • Scotland v Chile, 12.40pm UK time
  • Scotland v Netherlands, 3pm UK time
Watch all the 2013 Homeless World Cup games live on the tournament website

Homeless World Cup 2013 at the Scottish Football Blog

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Homeless World Cup: Scotland overpower India

Scotland and India at the 2013 Homeless World Cup

The group stage of an international football tournament. In the second half of a crucial match the referee awards a penalty to the side desperately looking for a way back in to the game.

But he's made the wrong call. And the manager of the team about to take the penalty has spotted the mistake.

He runs over to the referee and persuades him to reverse his decision.

It would never happen?

It would at the Homeless World Cup where Scotland yesterday bounced back from the loss of the opening goal to overcome India 8-1 while benefiting from the Indian manager's sense of fair play.

That result leaves Group G looking even tighter with Wales beating India on penalties after a 2-2 draw and Argentina remaining undefeated with a shootout win over favourites Indonesia after a 6-6 draw.

Indonesia recovered from that setback to beat Wales 12-2 in their afternoon fixture.

After day two, Indonesia - having played three games - top the group with seven points, Argentina lie second with five points and Scotland are third with three points after two games each.

All of which means today might be Group G's "moving day" and Scotland have two big games in store.

They play Argentina at 2pm (UK time) before finishing the day's play against Wales at 5.20pm.

Elsewhere yesterday England and Northern Ireland met in the first home nations clash of 2013 - with the debutants from Northern Ireland crusing to a 8-0 win.

That was as good as it got for Northern Ireland as they lost their next game 5-4 to Denmark while England's second outing had echoes of 1954 - a 7-1 defeat to Hungary.

In Group H, Ireland are second after losing on penalties to Russia after a 7-7 draw.

Team of the day yesterday might just have been the Philippines. They lost 6-1 to Austria and 8-5 to Slovenia but, having spent 24 hours travelling to Poland, they're not going to let defeats upset them too much.

Coached by Rudy del Rosario, a former captain of the Philippines national team, the players are living the Homeless World Cup experience to the full:

"More than football, these guys are having the time of their lives."

You can watch all today's games live on the Homeless World Cup website

Homeless World Cup 2013 at the Scottish Football Blog

Monday, August 12, 2013

Homeless World Cup: Scotland face India

Scotland's 2013 Homeless World Cup campaign started with a defeat in Poznan yesterday.

Opening up against Indonesia, Group G's top seeds, always looked a daunting prospect and so it proved as the Scots lost 6-4.

In a tight round of fixtures Argentina edged Wales 5-4 and Norway beat India 5-3. Scotland face India today - you can catch the game live on the Homeless World Cup website from 4pm UK time.

A bit of a tough day for the home nations yesterday - England lost their opening fixture 13-2 against Lithuania and Northern Ireland were beaten 6-1 by Hungary.

2013 is actually the first time all four home nations have been represented at the Homeless World Cup with Northern Ireland making their debut, the team drawn from street leagues in Belfast and Derry.

Finally being represented at the tournament is an achievement in itself and Northern Ireland's Sean O'Neill remained philosophical: "Have fun and you’ve won."

Today's football headlines are again infuriating - rich men and rich clubs arguing over transfer deals and money, quoting figures most of us can't comprehend.

Mel Young, the co-founder of the Homeless World Cup, counters that in his blog post about the tournament's opening ceremony which was hosted by Lech Poznan before their league match against Korona Kielce:
Sometimes the football industry receives a lot of bad press and deservedly so. Some parts of it seem elitist and greedy where the rich take all at the expense of the smaller players and where cheating or play-acting is encouraged in an atmosphere of win at all costs.

However, I really believe in the power of football and my experience of the football world is incredibly positive. Lech Poznan deserves huge praise for allowing the official opening of the Homeless World Cup to take place at their stadium yesterday. They didn’t have to do anything but they went out of their way to organise something which will be cherished by everyone involved.

Lech Poznan has shown how professional football clubs can put something back into the community and make a difference. Other clubs should follow their example. It gives the club genuine soul and an authenticity which is reflected in their fans who gave the Homeless World Cup teams such a fabulous welcome when they entered the stadium.

We shouldn’t have any homelessness in the world. We need to end it. The Homeless World Cup has proved that football has real power and we make genuine impact every day. But, we need to build on the momentum. Everyone has the ability to make a contribution and help change the world.

Lech Poznan has shown what is possible and other clubs should follow their example. I thank the Club and its supporters for their fabulous input. 
Homeless World Cup 2013 on the Scottish Football Blog

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Homeless World Cup 2013: Scotland kick off against Indonesia

Amid the bluster of the opening stages of the new season, it's easy to ignore an international tournament taking place in Poland.

A tournament where Scotland can create history by becoming the first team to lift the trophy three teams.

Homeless World Cup 2013 on Scottish Football Blog
The Homeless World Cup kicks off in Poznan today offering Scotland a rare shot at global glory and, far more importantly, changing lives while bringing attention to the worldwide scourge of homelessness and poverty.

In a unique street football arena next to Lake Malto, 64 teams of men and women from 50 countries will come together to celebrate the power of football and the work of the Homeless World Cup Foundation.

In 2012 the Homeless World Cup and its network of 70 national partners engaged with over 100,000 homeless people - 70% of them changed their lives in a significant way.

That can include beating addictions, finding work, securing housing, entering education or training, becoming social entrepreneurs or, in some cases, becoming football players or coaches.

Thanks to football. Much derided, much fretted over but still an incredibly powerful force for good.

There's still football to be played in Poznan though - 2013 is the eleventh Homeless World Cup tournament.

And Scotland's record is good: winners in Denmark in 2007 and France in 2011 and fourth in 2004, at home in 2005 and in 2008.

Homeless World Cup coverage on Scottish Football Blog

2013 sees in Group M with Argentina, India, Indonesia and Wales. At 17 in the pre tournament ranking we're a place behind Argentina while Indonesia's are ranked seventh after their thrilling fourth place in Mexico last year.

And we'll get the chance to test ourselves against Indonesia straight away - we play them in our first game this afternoon.

Ally Dawson, formerly of Rangers and Scotland, will once again manage Scotland's Homeless World Cup team:

"Scotland teams have always performed well in past Homeless World cup tournaments and we’re hoping that will continue this year too.

"We’ve won it twice in the last six years and the players are absolutely determined to try and become the first nation to win it for the third time."

But the eight players selected for Poland represent something much bigger at home: organisers Street Soccer Scotland now work with over 5000 socially disadvantaged people every year.

Glory next Sunday would be nice. But it's the work the Homeless World Cup and its partners do throughout the year that sets up the biggest victories for the players in Poland and many thousands others.

The Scotland team for 2013:

  • Aaron Shaw from Inverness
  • Thomas Park from Glasgow
  • David Clark from Glasgow
  • Thomas Kerr from Glasgow
  • Alexander Robertson from Glasgow
  • John Moore from Edinburgh
  • John Brash from Edinburgh
  • Declan Quinn from Edinburgh

Watch all the Homeless World Cup games live on the tournament website

Scotland v Indonesia kicks off around 1.45 pm UK time this afternoon.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Hibs: Pat Fenlon's failings go deeper than Malmö mauling

Hibs home shirt 1980s Umbro, the Scottish Football Blog
A big crowd, a night where the history of Hibs was so emotionally celebrated absolute, cover your eyes, when it will stop tanking.

Another big game ends with another apology from the manager and much discussion over Pat Fenlon's future as manager. Record defeats in Europe - for Hibs, for any Scottish club - can make a man's employment status a topic of debate.

And Thursday's demolition against Malmö was historically bad. Hibs have had a tendency to crumble or to fail to show up in big games. But that weakness still didn't prepare many of us for the orgy of ineptitude we endured.

Malmö's manager said his team had been "lucky." The opening period of the game certainly didn't suggest the Swedes had come to wreak historical havoc. Their good fortune was to come up against a team powerless to stop them doing exactly that.

It's true that Malmö are already in the swing of their domestic league. True also that they're in no way a bad side. But they filled their boots because Hibs looked like a side who had never met rather than a side who had already enjoyed a substantial pre-season together. Malmö are a good side but they'll only win 7-0 if they come up against a very, very poor side.

Once again the support answered the call when Fenlon led Hibs to a big game. How have they been repaid?

  • That cup final hammering against Hearts
  • A 3-0 defeat to Celtic in a Scottish Cup final, almost lauded in some quarters because his team didn't collapse as they had done the year before
  • A big home support expecting Hibs to fight the good fight against Malmö, a support that ended up watching the heaviest ever European defeat suffered by any Scottish team

Even his biggest fans must ask how exactly Fenlon prepares his players before they face these challenges.

He lost those three games by an aggregate score of 15-1.

He did manage to overcome Dunfermline in a relegation battle at Easter Road in 2012. And Hibs came back when Falkirk - a side 25 points short of SPL promotion - went 3-0 ahead and threatened to do "a Malmö" in last season's Scottish Cup semi final.

But the first half of that Falkirk match raised even more questions about how Fenlon prepares his sides for these games. At the very least one gets the impression that his team talks fall short of Churchillian and teeter on the edge of Blimpian.

Does Fenlon deserve another shot at a domestic campaign based on the first 20 months or so of his reign?

An online poll of fans - much quoted in the weekend press but lacking the numbers to be truly representative - had 68 percent of supporters (at the time of writing) deciding Fenlon had to go.

My anecdotal evidence - even more scientifically flimsy - suggests he's doing well to have over 30 percent of fans backing him.

(Full disclosure: a Twitter correspondent who I've never met called me a wanker for questioning Fenlon. So the love is out there for Pat, there are supporters swimming against the tide of popular opinion ready to succinctly articulate their point of view.)

The pro-Fenlon argument suggests that calls for his head are a knee-jerk reaction to Thursday night. A freak result suffered by an unfinished team in a game that came too early.

(I've seen it called a meaningless game - Hibs and Scottish football might have slipped but if history means anything then no European game at Easter Road should ever be called meaningless.)

Are the anti-Fenlon mob guilty of the predictable whining of fans licking their Malmö shaped wounds?

Or is it the final verdict of the people who watch Fenlon's Hibs most closely each week?

His league performance since taking the job - and I'm about to present a barrage of stats cobbled together on the back of a fag packet - looks to me like being 60 games played with 18 games won.

A win percentage that we could generously round up to 30 percent.

How does that compare to his most immediate - and there's been a few - predecessors?

My SPL calculations give:

  • Colin Calderwood a win percentage of 25 percent
  • John Hughes a win percentage of 36 percent
  • Mixu Paatelainen a win percentage of 32 percent
  • John Collins a win percentage of 38 percent

Fenlon undoubtedly inherited a mess from Calderwood. His five SPL wins over 22 games in 2011/12 saved Hibs from relegation when there were times - before and very often after he took over - when they flirted with being caught by a poor Dunfermline side.

But three of his league wins came in the last three games of last season when Hibs had nothing but seventh place to play for in a season when the Rangers sized ructions of the previous summer left a very different SPL landscape.

Seventh place did represent progress on the previous season's eleventh place - but it most certainly wasn't the progress the fans had hoped for.

Those three end of season, seventh spot snatching wins also give a certain sheen to Fenlon's calendar year results in 2013.

The idea that he inherited a side surely ended when this year's January transfer window closed.

Building a football team from a low starting point isn't easy. But three transfer windows offers a decent opportunity to mould a new side.

"It's Calderwood's fault!"

Well, no. Since Fenlon's third transfer window in the SPL closed I'd contend that it isn't Calderwood's fault anymore.

And since then Hibs have played 13 league games and won four. Without winning against a team that finished in the top six.

Fenlon's 2013 win percentage is, of course, increased by the Scottish Cup run. But even including the road to Hampden not since the 1-0 win over Celtic on 29th December have Hibs beaten a team that finished in the SPL's top six.

And what of that cup form?

Fenlon's consecutive final appearances make him - thanks to the perverse relationship they share with the old trophy - Hibs' most successful manager in the competition for ninety years.

Ten games played, eight won. A record that can't be knocked - well, alright, it can: none of those wins came against teams that went on to finish in the top six of the SPL.

But given how poorly his team has often played in the league, two cup finals can be seen as Fenlon overachieving.

This Hibs fan was certainly caught up in the moment on the road to each Hampden final.

Then I crashed down to earth when his teams didn't perform. It's fair to say - and it often is by his fans - that Fenlon has twice been 90 minutes away from Easter Road immortality with those two cup finals.

Which is true. Unfortunately on both occasions his side looked decades away from actually winning the cup.

Does reaching those finals make him a better manager than his immediate predecessors?

I'm not sure it does.

Maybe he's the luckiest unlucky manager Hibs have ever had: two unlikely semi final wins delivering him the permanent blot of a famous win for Hearts and a Swedish reversal of the most cherished Hibs result.

Stripping away those results - although football is an emotional game, there are some results that many fans find so unpalatable that apologies from the manager simply don't cut it - still doesn't seem to give much proof of real progress under Fenlon.

With a year left on his contract he needed a good start to this season. Malmö was the worst possible start - yet again he finds himself plotting progress on the back of a high profile thumping with many fans disillusioned before the domestic campaign has yet started.

"But we can't go on sacking managers."

I've said that myself before, probably on this blog more than once. But it’s hardly the strongest reason to persevere.

An excuse that suggests all hope is lost.

An excuse that suggests the real crisis of confidence lies not with whichever Tom, Dick or Harry is picking the team but with the men that gave him the job in the first place.

And maybe that gets to the heart of the matter.

Pat Fenlon isn't a good manager of Hibs. He's had his share of good fortune and he's had his share of bad fortune. But he's never consistently raised Hibs to much more than a whimper.

He could be sacked tomorrow or he could last the season. But his departure - yet another departure - needs to be part of an overhaul in attitude and governance at Hibs.

What exactly do the board want for Hibs? And when and if they set those targets how do they ensure the right people are in place throughout the club to achieve them?

Balancing the books is an admirable aim but a football club needs a football vision as well. It's been too long since Hibs have articulated anything close to that. It's also self evident - as the crowd that turned out for the Malmö game proves - that achieving more footballing success will actually help the accounts.

It's sensible that any manager of Hibs will need to work within certain financial constraints. But the first step for the board is ensuring they appoint someone who can actually do that.

His performance to date suggests Pat Fenlon can't pull off that trick consistently, either in the day to day drudgery of the league or in the big one off games that can make legends of managers.

Hibs look to have recruited quite well this summer - there are some areas where they still look short and there will be big pressure on James Collins to replace the goals of Leigh Griffiths - but Pat Fenlon's record doesn't give me much hope that he can use those players effectively.

I hope I'm wrong because Rod Petrie doesn't yet look persuaded to remove him and frankly I can do without watching another season of huffing, puffing crapness. But my confidence in Fenlon as Lazarus has evaporated.

And that represents a big gamble for the cautious Petrie. Another season of dithering inconsistency risks something worse than the ire of the fans: apathy is likely to have a more detrimental impact on the club's accounts than taking a hit on yet another unconvincing manager.

(Note: post edited to amend Colin Calderwood's league win percentage.)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

St Johnstone and Hibs face Europa challenges

The second week of European participation for Scottish clubs and we're one for one so far.

Celtic got Cliftonville out of the way with a 2-0 win at Celtic Park on Tuesday for a 5-0 win on aggregate.

If Neil Lennon pointed to a certain rusty profligacy it was job done with a minimum of fuss.

Sweden's Elfsborg - who knocked 11 past Latvian side Daugava (who, Wikipedia tells me, have conceded 21 goals in three European ties) - are the next hurdle as Celtic look for a repeat of last season's European progress.

Elfsborg - currently fifth in the Swedish league - should present a stronger challenge than Cliftonville but it's a challenge that Celtic should be able to overcome.

Scottish clubs face Europa League qualifying games
Sterner tests too for both St Johnstone and Hibs in the Europa League qualifiers tonight.

St Johnstone face Rosenborg in Perth with a one goal lead safely delivered from the away leg. If that result was a fantastic achievement it has not persuaded betting sites to revise their opinion that the Norwegians are favourites to progress.

The first leg win was an ideal start for new manager Tommy Wright, who already appears so comfortable in the role that Rosenborg manager, Per Joar Hansen, has been moved to accuse him of playing mind games.

Wright had claimed that losing at this stage in the competition would be a disaster for the Norwegians who currently lead their domestic league. He's also spoken about springing a surprise on the visitors in his team selection. No doubt designed to keep the pressure off his own players, it gives the impression that this is a man relishing his new job.

It might be argued that taking a 1-0 lead into a home time against opponents considered favourites for the tie is a tricky proposition.

Perhaps. But it's a problem Pat Fenlon would love to have as he tries to engineer a way back from 2-0 down as Malmo - 16 games into their league season and second in the table - visit Hibs.

The loss of two early goals in Sweden looked like not only ending Hibs Europa participation but signalling the start of a heavy defeat.

While Malmo continued to threaten and dominated for large chunks, what belief Hibs take into this game will stem from the way they held out at two down and the chances of their own - limited but very real - that they created.

A Malmo goal will finish Hibs off, leaving Fenlon in the invidious position of requiring goals and also having to rely on a defence that looked shaky in losing two goals in such quick succession last week.

It's been a long time since Easter Road was enthralled by a famous European night. In a week when Famous Five legend Lawrie Reilly's shadow looms large, Hibs need to try and replicate the nights of yore this evening.

It would take something out of the ordinary for both Hibs and St Johnstone to progress but it would be big, big boost for the newly named Scottish Premiership if one or both could.

And something to note for proponents of summer football in Scotland: a worst case scenario a couple of weeks hence could see three of our teams dumped out of Europe by Scandinavian sides already reasonably deep into their domestic seasons.

Let's hope results go well enough to leave that debate - worthwhile as it might well be - for another day.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

SPFL: The lion roars

Finally a vision of what the future is going to look like.

The SPFL - the Scottish Professional Football League - today unveiled its new lion logo and the names of the four senior leagues in the newly amalgamated structure.

Scottish Professional Football League, SPFL, logo

The logo - I assume intended to be an updated version of the rather more peely-wally branding of the Scottish Football League - features a lion with what appears to be the remnants of the Champions League football logo caught up in its mane. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be roaring, sticking its tongue out at SPFL critics or smoking a battered old stogie it found lying on the street.

That the English Premier League logo also employs a lion-football mash up is clearly nothing more than a coincidence.

Inspiration for the new Scottish Professional Football League logo

Unveiling the new brand, Graeme Souness said:

"The lion suggests you’re strong and dominant which hopefully we will be."

Which is a pithy load of pish.

The league nomenclature could have been predicted:

  • Scottish Premiership
  • Scottish Championship
  • Scottish League One
  • Scottish League Two

I think that means we're starting out the SPFL era with naming conventions borrowed from the 2005/2006 English season.

What, of course, is in a name? A Scottish Premiership by any other name could still be as exciting/predictable/woeful/bankrupt.

But one might have expected the SPFL would have been keen to give the impression of an organisation full of fresh ideas, ready to tackle the rehabilitation of Scottish football with vigour and verve.

The appointment of Neil Doncaster as chief executive suggested that wasn't the case, a feeling compounded by choice of names.

Now its chosen to announce itself to the world wearing ill fitting clothes stolen from a richer and more glamorous older brother.

All of which will be meaningless if the new organisation can deliver an improvement in the fortunes of Scottish football.

Marketing will play a role in that. Today's logo and naming jamboree wasn't accompanied by the unveiling of a title sponsor for any of the leagues.

And the SPFL website won't be live until next month.

The more things change, the more Scottish football's marketing stays incompetent and the more the game remains a hard sell.

All that Hampden dilly-dallying has meant time has been against the new organisation - but a functioning website should have been a basic requirement today.

As Stewart Weir commented on Twitter:

"Looking at the new #SPFL logo, the famous phrase 'lions led by donkeys' could apply yet again ..."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lawrie Reilly: Hibs and Scotland

Lawrie Reilly, Hibs and Scotland
"So, that's the last of them."

My dad probably wasn't the only Hibs fan of a certain age to say something like that when he heard the news of Lawrie Reilly's death.

"Them" are the Famous Five, for some generations of Hibs fans the quintet that will forever be the best of us.

For the rest of us, those that didn't see them play - and it's now 55 years since Reilly last played - their achievements are sustained through the record books and through the colourful tales of of those who were there when Reilly and his four mates took Hibs to the top of Scottish football.

Gordon Smith, Bobby Johnstone, Willie Ormond, Eddie Turnbull and Reilly. Different backgrounds, different styles, different personalities. Collectively admired and feared, a chunk of Scottish football history and at the very heart of Hibs.

How do the generations that have come since Lawrie Reilly’s career was ended by injury before he reached the age of 30 measure his contribution and impact?

The statistics are worth revisiting:

38 Scotland caps - the biggest haul of any of the Famous Five, more caps than any other player has won while playing for Hibs.

22 Scotland goals - beaten only by Kenny Dalglish, Denis Law and Hughie Gallacher. Although on a goals to game ratio only Gallacher tops Reilly.

187 goals for Hibs in 233 leagues games and another 47 in cup competitions - only Gordon Smith, a first team regular for longer and whose career covered the years of the Second World War scored more.

But statistics don’t tell the whole story.

The league goals contributed to a period when Hibs won three league titles, when the Famous Five's battles with the Iron Curtain of Rangers defined the post-war boom in Scottish football and when the honours in that clash of collectives so often came back to Leith.

The five goals against England at Wembley, including the important late goal in 1953 that earned him the nickname "last minute Reilly."

For a heady period in the early 1950s Hibs fans must indeed have felt that they were living in 'Reilly time' - when no defence was safe from a player Hugh McIlvanney described as an "unsubduable plunderer."

And then there's the Boy's Own stuff:

The young Hibs fan who played for his childhood heroes for the length of his career.

The Edinburgh boy who inherited a love of Hibs from his father and grandfather, who went on to become one of Easter Road's most celebrated players, a forward feared throughout Britain and beyond who didn't have to leave Leith to find acclaim.

A career from a different age that has echoed down the years.

There was steel in there as well, defenders in Reilly's era didn't believe in half measures. Reilly took the knocks and still scored goals.

The stubborn streak that saw him recover from injuries - and from the pleurisy that kept him out of the 1954 World Cup - manifested itself in a financial dispute with Hibs. Although eventually resolved it was a disagreement that robbed him, at the peak of his powers, of the chance to increase that impressive goals tally.

The stories that will be recounted in the coming days about the life and times of Lawrie Reilly are too plentiful to do justice to here.

A couple:

Of a young Lawrie, awestruck but emboldened, asking Gordon Smith if he fancied coming home for tea after he’d watched the great Smith play for Hibs at Tynecastle. Smith politely declined, within a few short years the great winger would be creating goal after goal for his young fan.

A favourite, if apocryphal, tale of many a Hibs fan of a certain generation - of Reilly marking another headed goal for a select side by shaking his fist at the celebrated Stanley Matthews: "When Gordon Smith crosses the ball he makes sure the laces are facing away from my head."

Among all the changes that Scottish football has seen since the pomp of Lawrie Reilly, the greatest is perhaps the idea of Hibs producing a one club man who could be so widely celebrated across the game.

When Hibs inaugurated their Hall of Fame a few years ago, Reilly and Turnbull were the only living members of the Famous Five.

Turnbull, walking with the aid of sticks but the fire clearly still burning, was as forthright and rumbustious as ever.

It was Reilly, however, who resonated most with the crowd:

"I was born a Hibby and I’ll die a Hibby."

As ever with Lawrie Reilly, a simple statement of fact. One that has come to pass sooner than we hoped or expected.

I was lucky enough to be in his company on a few occasions. If he seemed slightly bemused that younger generations remained starstruck by his achievements, he could still delight in a shared support for Hibs.

I passed him on the stairs leaving the stand after the 6-2 win over Hearts. The beaming smile reflected how we all felt.

Not that his support wasn't healthily critical. At a Q&A session a few years ago he was asked about the current Hibs team. Gentleman to the last he apologised for the language he was about to use before describing the side - of Paatelainen or Hughes vintage - as being "crap really."

A few months ago Pat Fenlon said he hadn’t really been aware of the richness of Hibs' history in his first months as manager at Easter Road.

He could have done worse than sitting down for a chat with Lawrie Reilly - the fan, the history, the legend and the ambassador rolled into one.

The last of "them," the best of Hibs.

Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull, Ormond we won’t see again.


But their memory marches on.