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