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).