Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ibrox investment is small change for Ashley

Mike Ashley likes a punt. He’s been known to win and lose over a £1 million pounds a throw on the roulette wheels of some of London’s swankiest casinos, and of course he has a passing interest in football as well. So far his interest in Rangers extends to £3 million in interest-free, albeit secured, loans.

Rangers, the Scottish Football Blog.
The question for Rangers fans - and by extension all Scottish football fans - is what game Mr Ashley is actually playing. Britain’s 23rd most wealthy individual appears to be taking his relatively modest interest in Rangers seriously.

£3 million may be a few bob more than the rest of us would consider pocket money, but Mr Ashley plays at a different level. Whilst the man in Sauchiehall Street might look to strike it lucky at Supercasino.com Mr Ashley might be more inclined to simply buy the whole operation outright, just for the fun of it. His net worth is estimated £3.75 billion - give or take the small change.

And that’s what makes his moves at Rangers so odd. He can’t buy the club whilst he’s involved at Newcastle, and nobody would ever imagine that he’d walk away from there. He’s ridden through enough stick to have proved that several times over.

So that begs the question, are we simply seeing a sharp eyed business man toying with one of the biggest names in British sport simply for the sake of promoting Sports Direct? Or is this an opportunist smash and grab raid to seize an asset and a brand whilst it is going cheap?

Whatever the underlying intention, there is no doubting that Ashley is taking his interest in Rangers personally: all the recent boardroom wrangles at the club have seen a reinforcement of the merchandising tie in with Sports Direct as well as effectively giving Ashley the whip hand when it comes to shaping the board of the club going forwards. But is a long term involvement really all this is about?

The club insist that of the three offers to refinance recently, Ashley’s proposed loan top-up was the only one that passed due diligence. There is, inevitably an irony in those words being attached to the club at a time of such disharmony, especially since, on paper at least, Ashley’s offer was the one that stood to put the least cash into the club.

With an AGM due before the start of the New Year Ashley’s indeterminate status as a sort of ghost backer cannot be sustained for long. In what has all the hallmarks of a brinkmanship manoeuvre, we are all left waiting and watching.

At the moment there are far more questions than answers at Ibrox. The staff cuts that followed what has been described as ‘Ashley’s power grab’ suggest that his input is being felt in practical day to day terms. Even the SFA have expressed frustration at his refusal to communicate fully with them. Ashley is keeping everyone guessing - and for all the collateral damage, it does appear that that is precisely how he likes it.

What happens to Rangers is not the be all and end all of Scottish football, but television sponsorships are bought and sold on the basis of iconic brands and high-octane clashes between so-called ‘big sides’, not to mention the importance of Rangers’ away support to the rest of the league. Rangers are undoubtedly one of those big clubs, even if they do appear to be being treated as little more than a rich man’s punt right now.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Scotland v Ireland: Bring it on!

There have been moments over the past decade when Scotland's national team have looked in need of a miracle worker.

It's premature to describe Gordon Strachan as that. But maybe he's getting close.

He's certainly worked wonders with me. A dozen or so years ago I walked away after one wet, miserable night in Glasgow too many.

I've returned sporadically. But tonight I'm not only heading to another rainy night in Glasgow, I'm actually looking forward to it.

Expectant. Maybe even slightly confident.

Like our last match against Poland I don't quite see this as a must-win. But it does look like another mustn't-lose.

And I don't think we should have much to fear against Ireland.

That's not arrogance.

They've got good players. They've got a decent manager. They've enjoyed some decent results.

But so have we.

The apparent similarities between the two teams suggests tonight could be tight.

The various subplots over booing, Roy Keane's Gardai incident, the fact that so many players are drawn from the same leagues combine to add another layer of intrigue.

Tight but also feisty. A sell out and partisan crowd. A wet night under the floodlights.

Hold on to your hats.

The reality is, of course, that we find ourselves in a close group, in Strachan's view the hardest.

No team - the Germans are a possible exception - can afford an off night without losing ground.

Ireland know that as well as Scotland.

Winning your home games is vital. A point for Ireland tonight might just feel like a victory for them.

Strachan v Martin O'Neill. Aiden McGeady v the Scotland fans. Roy Keane v the world.

A win would give either team a fresh burst of momentum as they look forward to next year's qualifiers.

For Scotland the promised land of qualification would feel that bit closer.

A tight game. One moment of magic. One mistake. One scrappy, sclaffed shot deflecting past a keeper. That's all it might take.

Bring it on.

And, unfashionable as the sentiment might be in these more enlightened times, "let's get intae them."

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Mike Ashley: What's the cost of a £2 million loan?

Tough times at the Ibrox at the moment, will Mike Ashley be the saviour?
As news was announced that Mike Ashley would be providing Rangers with a £2m crisis loan, the magnate's first order of business was to cull Graham Wallace from the chief executive's position. Wallace, who had been at the club for 11 months, will most likely be replaced by Mike Ashley's good friend Derek Llambias, who has been a long-term associate of the Sports Direct owner and has already been installed as a consultant at Ibrox.

Mike Ashley, the current chairman of Newcastle United, played the hero last Saturday and provided the struggling Rangers with a £2m interest free crisis loan. Not only does he own a 9% share of Rangers, but he also has naming rights to the stadium and will propse replacements for two members of the board who are set to move in.

Does that seem like a pretty fair deal? What's the true cost of this £2m interest free loan?

Well, according to an agreement with the Scottish Football League, Mike Ashley cannot own more than 10% of Rangers while he owns Newcastle United. With other shareholders having more voting rights (as they own more of the club), Mike Ashley needed a way to swing power his way. The loan, presented as an act of generosity, is more likely a political move. The club now has this loan swinging over its head like a weight and Ashley, if needs be, can threaten to drop it when he pleases.

Furthermore, Brian Kennedy, who offered a similar package worth £3m, was quickly met with stern words from Mike Ashley's solicitors. Mike Ashley seemed hell-bent on pushing this deal through and he did, using any means possible.

So, what does this mean for the financially struggling Rangers?

With all this political nonsense going on in the background, it cannot be easy for Ally McCoist to concentrate on what's important: the football.

Rangers currently sit second in the Scottish Championship, seven points behind current leaders Hearts and with a game in hand. A recent 3-0 win against Dumbarton, with goals from Boyd, Wallace and Miller, kept Rangers in touch but Hearts remain undefeated while the Ibrox side have slipped up against both the leaders and fellow promotion contenders Hibs.

It may show that, although things were falling apart in the background, Rangers, who should be up there at the top, can manage with the pressure of their current financial climate. It can't make easy viewing at the moment for Rangers fans, who don't know whether or not their club is going to plummet into administration at any time. This loan from Mike Ashley should be quash those fears for now but raises even more questions about the future.

They next face Dumbarton again, this time in the Scottish Cup. Although on paper it looks an easy game for the Glasgow giants, but that it doesn't make it easy when it comes to football betting.

Could the recent changes create a real stir in the Rangers camp?

St Johnstone couldn't capitalise on any financial fallout on the pitch at Ibrox as Rangers progressed in the League Cup quarter final last night night.

Will a Scottish Cup trip to Dumbarton be trickier? It probably shouldn't be. But you just never know.

Written by Gordon Milligan for the Scottish Football Blog.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Homeless World Cup: Chile look for home double

It's the final day of the Homeless World Cup in Santiago and the host nation are aiming for a 2014 double.

Chile will face Bosnia & Herzegovina in the men's Homeless World Cup final and Mexico in the final of the women's tournament.

The 2014 Homeless World Cup at the Scottish Football Blog.
The men got there with a last-gasp winner against Brazil in a 8-7 victory. It was tight in the other semi-final as well with the Bosnians eventually closing out a 5-4 win over Poland.

Chile's women's team also faced Brazil in their semi-final but enjoyed a slightly more comfortable 4-1 win.

They'll face an on-form Mexico though, with Hungary brushed aside 13-1 in the other semi-final.

The Chilean men will be looking for a second Homeless World Cup in three years having won the tournament in Mexico in 2012 while Bosnia & Herzegovina get their first taste of a Homeless World Cup final.

Having lost the final to Russia last year, Chile's women's team are on the hunt for a first title while Mexico will be looking to win for a second time have lifted the trophy in Rio de Janeiro back in 2010.

Scotland's bad run in Group D ended on Friday with further defeats to Bosnia and Peru.

That left Scotland progressing to the Municipalidad de Santiago Cup.

Defeat to Germany and a win over Austria yesterday mean the Scots face a Municipalidad de Santiago Cup 5th place play off against Greece today.

Eight trophies are up for grabs across the men's and women's tournaments today with every team involved in the final day of action.

And you can watch all the action live at the Homeless World Cup website

Are you in?

The tournament week is just one part of the work the Homeless World Cup does around the world throughout the year.

By joining the Homeless World Cup Supporters Club you can help that work - and be part of something special.

Join now to help beat homelessness through football.

Homeless World Cup Supporters Club

Hibs v Hearts: Here we go again

Jason Cummings is "buzzing". Prince Buaben is ready to face the "chaser." And Fraser Aird would rather be watching Coronation Street.

Hibs and Hearts meet at Easter Road, by Tom Hall at the Scottish Football Blog.
Bad news for Fraser. The omnibus of goings on in Weatherfield will finish on ITV2+1 a full ten minutes before kick off at Easter Road. Maybe there's a soap opera closer to home to distract him.

The second Edinburgh derby of this Championship season is upon is.

The form book is supposed to crash out of the window. But the bookies still have Hearts as favourites.

I don't understand how the bookmakers calculate such things. But I'd reckon the 14 point lead Hearts have over Hibs has something to do with it.

And their 10 game unbeaten run. And three wins from the last three derbies.

Hibs themselves are four games undefeated since their 3-1 win at Ibrox. But last week's 4-0 win at Livingston followed two home draws with Raith Rovers and Dumbarton.

Nine wins from ten games is good going. Four wins from ten games isn't so much.

And Hibs have made a stuttering start to the season, handicapped by a disrupted summer.

History doesn't much help either.

This week Pat Stanton told the BBC:

"Too often, Hearts just seem to brush Hibs aside, there's no real resistance. It's almost been inevitable that Hearts would beat us, and Hibs have accepted it."

And on his blog David Farrell wrote:

"I never felt as a team we were ever as fired up as Hearts were. They were snarling and scratching at you from the tunnel onto the pitch. They were pressing all over us, people like Sandison, Black, Kidd, Mackay, Levein and Robertson galvanising and pushing each other. Make no mistake, they were angrier than us. They were ready for a derby, ready for a scrap."

That sums up the historical drift of these games. Recent history too: Hibs have won just 10 of the last 44.

It's true that this season's opening derby at Tynecastle might have been a very different game if Liam Craig had scored his first half penalty.

He didn't. And Hearts, as so often before, took advantage.

So, having left myself thoroughly depressed, what do I see happening at Easter Road today?

I'll be looking to see that form book hurled through a window. I'll be looking to see Hibs play with a pace and incisiveness that hasn't always been evident at Easter Road this season. Too often at home Hibs have done right the things but at such a pedestrian speed that they've been rendered blunt.

I'll be looking to Hibs give their fans something to cheer about.

And, at the end of 90 minutes, I'd be happy to see a draw.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Homeless World Cup 2014: The action continues

The 2014 Homeless World Cup continues in Chile with 54 teams battling it out in the heat of Santiago.

Scotland have endured some stumbles since their strong showing in the qualifying phase.

Their first game in Group D of saw them slip to a 7-3 defeat at the hands of Lithuania.

And yesterday's two games also ended in defeat with a 9-3 win for Russia and a 4-2 win for Hong Kong.

That opening Group D win seems to have given Lithuania some momentum and they top the group. Scotland, yet to get off the mark, are two points adrift of Peru at the bottom of the table.

Homeless World Cup 2014, Scotland in Group D

Scotland are in action twice today, playing Bosnia & Herzegovina before rounding off Group D against Peru.

Elsewhere Ireland lie third behind Poland and the Netherlands in Group B and Northern Ireland are second behind the United States in Group E.

In Group F England are three points behind leaders Denmark in second place while Northern Ireland are tied with Italy and Switzerland and three points behind Finland in a very tight, four team Group G.

Today's games will decide the final group placings before the teams move into the trophy stage, with every team involved over the tournament's final weekend.

So, although Scotland's chances of winning a third Homeless World Cup are now over, they could still be in the hunt for a trophy come Sunday.

Follow all the Homeless World Cup action live from Chile

It's a dream

The Women's Homeless World Cup also continues in Santiago with 12 teams - including England and Wales - involved.

The Homeless World Cup tournament week is, of course, only a part of what the Homeless World Cup movement does around the world throughout the year.

Partner organisations around the world give people the chance to change their lives by getting involved in football.

Some players, like Norway's Anne Cathrine Johansen, get the chance to travel to the tournament, ambassadors for what the Homeless World Cup achieves.

Anne Cathrine was cynical that football could help her beat her drug addication. But after just five weeks with the Frelsesarmeen football team she could point to positive changes in her life.

And now comes Chile:

"Coming to Chile is something I’ve never thought of. It’s a dream come true!"

What's next? Returning to Norway, finding a job and reintegrating with society.

As Homeless World Cup supporter Eric Cantona said:

"Football and the Homeless World Cup has the power to fire up a person to excel as a human being, to change their lives for the better. It is fantastic that football brings this opportunity to their lives."
Read more stories from the 2014 Homeless World Cup

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Homeless World Cup: Strong start for Scotland

The 2014 Homeless World Cup got underway in Chile on Sunday with Scotland taking their place in qualifying Group B alongside Hungary, Indonesia, Northern Ireland, Norway and South Korea.

And, in just the third game of the tournament, they got off to a winning start with a convincing 8-2 win over Norway.

The first Monday game started with defeat to Indonesia, a tight game ending 7-5.

Back in action four hours later, the Scottish players put that setback behind them with another big win as South Korea were beaten 8-1.

Yesterday's first game was another close affair but this time Scotland prevailed, winning the sudden death penalty shoot-out after a 5-5 draw with Hungary.

That left a Home International to round out Group B and Scotland and Northern Ireland served up a thriller for the Santiago crowd with the Scots eventually claiming a 10-8 win.

And it was an important win.

One defeat from the opening five games left Scotland in second place behind Hungary in a very close Group B with Indonesia just pipped into third and Northern Ireland a further point behind in fourth. Norway and South Korea finished in fifth and sixth.

Scotland finish second in qualifying Group B, Homeless World Cup 2014

That means Scotland are ready to take their place in Group D as the Homeless World Cup continues today. They're joined by Russia, Peru, Lithuania, Hong Kong and Bosnia & Herzegovina.

They kick off their Group D challenge today against Lithuania at 4pm our time.

You can follow all the action for Santiago live at the Homeless World Cup website.

Scotland at the Homeless World Cup 2014

The Scotland squad is again coached by Ally Dawson.

  • Darren Dougherty
  • Benyamin Aghaei
  • David McKessey
  • Dean McKenzie
  • James McCallum
  • Ryan Murray
  • Sean Stewart
  • Toby McKillop

Read Ryan Murray's story to find out how the Homeless World Cup and playing football has already changed his life

Friday, October 17, 2014

It's all about the money

The BBC's annual Price of Football survey is always guaranteed to generate plenty of chat.

Chat that normally concludes: "The price of football? It's far too expensive."

Which at many clubs it almost certainly is.

The clubs argue that the survey offers no more than a snapshot, a glib spot of attention seeking that ignore the bigger picture.

Hibs, for example, suggested that the headline figure of £405 for an adult season ticket is offset by special deals like £1 offers for children.

(I, like Whitney Houston, believe children are the future. But unless I can borrow one for matchdays, I can't actually benefit from those deals. A lot of people are in the same position. Football's hidden discrimination against the childless is worthy of investigation.)

Is football value for money? Its fiscal beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

How can you even measure value for money? Cost per home win? (So far this season that's £202.50 for me at Easter Road.) Cost per home goal? (So far £67.50).

If you thought about value for money, you probably wouldn't bother going to games.

Supporting a team doesn't work like that.

What the Price of Football survey actually raises is yet another split between clubs and fans.

Clubs operate as businesses. Fans don't - usually - see themselves as consumers.

The more far sighted clubs will try and bridge that gap. But most still use it in the most dastardly way possible to wring every last drop of cash out of supporters. You'll pay for your loyalty, they'll make sure of it.

And fans tend to let them get on with it if the team is performing. It's the rank rotten football of the last few seasons that has left many fans drifting away from Easter Road, not the cost of watching it.

Maybe fans do have a tipping point though. Just last Saturday a revived Scotland were under supported against Georgia at Ibrox.

You might have put money on the befuddled SFA being the organisation that finally pushed its fans too far.

Because that's the one power fans have: to not turn up.

Unfortunately for many people that option is actually worse than going and paying inflated prices.

It's "our" team. And what else would we do on a Saturday afternoon anyway?

So we let the clubs get away with it.

And so it goes on. Until next year. When the BBC Price of Football 2015 will reveal exactly the same thing again.

The pies have it

One thing that is in my control - a boycott of the catering kiosks at Easter Road.

I give them chance after chance.

Last Saturday I bought a pie. Here are the results of my exclusive survey:

Queuing time: 16 minutes
Cost: £2.30
Taste: 0/10
Enjoyment time: 0 seconds

Never again. And this time I really mean it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Euro 2016: Tough group, different Scotland

Three games played, four points secured.

Other countries have made more spectacular starts to Euro 2016 but Scotland can be reasonably happy.

Last night's draw in Poland - after a seriously enjoyable ninety minutes - keeps us nicely placed in Group D.

Three points behind the Poles and Ireland, level with Germany and with arguably our two toughest away fixture out of the way.

Gordon Strachan at the Scottish Football Blog
Germany's defeat in Poland on Saturday and home draw with Ireland last night has left the top of the group more bunched than I might have expected.

History suggests that Germany will take care of themselves. It would have been far more damaging to find ourselves six points behind Poland this morning.

So while Scotland's recovery from Alan Hutton's early mistake fuelled second half dreams of three points, securing a draw would probably have satisfied most of us before the game.

If last night wasn't must-win it might just have been approaching mustn't-lose. In which case, as with Saturday's win against Georgia, job done.

There's also something increasingly appealing about this Scotland team.

Watching a team that seem to "get" their manager, that are prepared to show the right attitude and are capable of playing some really nice football (see our equaliser last night as Exhibit A) is refreshing. We've had occasional flashes in the last few years but too much of what Scotland have done has been pedestrian. Not now.

Gordon Strachan seems to be relishing the national job. And that's increasingly showing in the way his players are responding to him.

Not that qualification is going to be easy. Right now four teams are pushing for three spots, including the world champions. Somebody's going to be going home with a hard luck story and regretting an opportunity missed. As Strachan said last night:

"I said it after the Germany game and this confirms it: this is the hardest group, this will go to the last day."

Strachan may or may not be right about Group D being the hardest group of all but his conclusion looks bang on.

Playing Gibraltar away on the last day might yet be a serendipitous spot of scheduling.

What we can say is that, with three games played, Scotland can still claim to be in control of their own Euro 2016 destiny.

And they look better equipped to handle that responsibility than they have in many years.

Greer today but not gone tomorrow

Last year Gordon Greer became Scotland's oldest debutant in over 50 years.

Last night, just short of his 34th birthday, he made his competitive debut. And thirty-somethings across the land applauded him. Or at least this thirty-something did.

The Brighton captain also drew one of Gordon Strachan's more memorable post match quotes:

"Gordon Greer is fantastic. He looks nothing like a footballer; he looks like a rock star turning up at a testimonial game."

Strachan followed that up with: "And he's absolutely fantastic."

Hard to argue on a night when Scotland's most costly defensive lapses came from player with far more international experience.

The centre of defence has looked to be a weakness of Strachan's Scotland revolution.

Greer's belated emergence and the way he seamlessly replaced Grant Hanley in the starting XI is another encouraging example of how Strachan is getting the very best out of all available resources.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Euro 2016: Poland v Scotland


Gordon Strachan's immediate assessment of Scotland's 1-0 win over Georgia on Saturday was effusive.

And, if a 1-0 win over a team ranked outside the world's top 100 can hardly be considered the stuff of sporting legend, a lot of what Strachan would have wanted was delivered.

Scotland were positive, dominated possession, created the overwhelming majority of chances and seemed undaunted by the burden of being favourites from the start.

More goals would have been deserved - and would have meant a calmer climax to the game. But as Georgia grew more adventurous with the clock ticking down, Scotland just about coped.

Job done. If Georgia felt unlucky not to have nicked a late goal they were equally lucky not to be down by more than one goal.

Three points secured. And they probably had to be. If the Republic of Ireland's demolition of Gibraltar was expected on Saturday evening, Poland's win over Germany provided the first shock of Group D.

Poland v Scotland, the Scottish Football Blog
There's a couple of ways to look at that Polish win. It could make Scotland's ability to win plaudits but no points in Germany more painful. On the other hand on Saturday Scotland dominated a game without taking full advantage but were able to close out the win, something Germany failed to do a couple of hours later.

It's unlikely that the German's metronomic qualifications methods will be significantly disrupted by such an early setback.

Scotland will still expect to be battling for second and third with Poland and Ireland. Saturday might have muddied the waters, when they clear we can still confidently expect Germany to drift away from the chasing pack.

But that shock three points does give Poland a bit of a competitive edge in these early skirmishes.

Beating Scotland this evening would strengthen Poland's hand even further. That doesn't mean this is a must-win game for Scotland. But to lose it would leave us on the backfoot going into next month's home game against Ireland.

If Poland win and Germany beat Ireland then Poland move six points clear of us, with Germany and Ireland three points ahead. A point keeps the deficit to Poland at three points and - again banking on a German win - puts us just two points behind Germany and Ireland.

Just three games into qualification the former scenario would be far from insurmountable but the latter is much preferable. A win in Poland would, of course, be even better.

There's an extent to which the improvements Strachan has overseen with the national side and the way he's assiduously cultivated public enthusiasm might have slightly blinded us to the obvious. We took a look at Group D and saw a great chance to qualify for Euro 2016 - but Poland and Ireland saw exactly the same chance.

And, while the extended format of the tournament proper hasn't been universally lauded, it does seem to have added a certain vigour to the opening stages of the qualification process, as recent results for Spain, Holland and Germany show. It's not going to be a particularly easy for many teams.

How will Poland react to their first ever win over Germany? Hopefully the hangover will have lasted long enough to dull their senses tonight.

In reality we're likely to see a clash of two fairly evenly matched teams. Poland made Germany pay for not taking their chances at the weekend. Thankfully Georgia couldn't inflict the same damage on Scotland at Ibrox but it's important that we avoid such profligacy tonight.

Performances against Germany and drubbings of Gibraltar are all well and good. But the situation in Group D hasn't changed all that much - the team that gets the better of the clashes between Scotland, Poland and Ireland will likely snatch the second automatic qualification place behind the Germans.

Tonight's match won't be easy but it does give Scotland the chance to strike an important first blow in that mini-tournament.

A costly mistake

Group D looks to be Scotland's best route to qualification for a major championship since Craig Brown led us to the 1998 World Cup in France.

Saturday's match against Georgia always looked like a fantastic opportunity to get off to a winning start at home and in Gordon Strachan we finally have a manager who really wants to build a connection with the Tartan Army.

So you'd have expected Ibrox to be close to full on Saturday. Instead just under 35,000 turned up.

The hike in ticket prices must have something to do with that. Over £40 quid for the Georgia match was too much. £250 quid for a season ticket for five games is too much.

When we look to be getting it right on the pitch the SFA cock-up off the pitch. It's all depressingly familiar.

I've already paid for my Scotland Supporters Club membership this season and close to £90 for the games against Ireland and England at Celtic Park.

I chose not go to the Georgia match because I've also paid £405 for a season ticket at Easter Road. With Hibs kicking off at 3pm and Scotland kicking off at 5pm on Saturday it was impossible to do both.

I've missed one league game at Easter Road already this season. If Hibs don't reach the play-offs and I go to every remaining SPFL fixture I'll have paid an average of £23.82 per game to watch an average Championship team.

It would be a good idea for clubs and the SFA to stop taking the piss out of fans as quickly as they possibly can.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Scotland: Georgia on my mind

The new world champions given a fright at home. Six games undefeated before that.

A new tournament format making qualification for a major championship a less daunting proposition.

Scotland are being unusually generous in offering us reasons to be cheerful at the moment.

Scotland at the Scottish Football Blog
Today offers a chance to add some substance to the idea that Gordon Strachan might just be on the verge of achieving something with this Scotland squad.

Georgia arrive at Ibrox outside the world's top 100 (an altogether unreliable gauge but being outside the top hundred is never a positive). In the last two years Liechtenstein and Saudi Arabia, a goalless draw with France arguably providing the brightest moment of a run that includes 10 defeats in 15 games.

Strachan has mentioned this week that being the better team, having the better players, being meticulously prepared can all be meaningless if you just end up having 'one of those days.'

We've all seen it happen.

It can't be allowed to happen today though. While we were taking plaudits and no points in Germany, Poland and the Republic of Ireland were taking three points against Gibraltar and Georgia.

Just the opening skirmishes but it gave them a start on us. Ireland will likely build on that against Gibraltar this evening. If we can beat Georgia and Germany - as expected - beat Poland we'll be in fine fettle going into the game against the Poles on Tuesday night.

A win today would also mean any faint hopes Georgia have of challenging for second or third, in theory allowing us to concentrate on getting ahead of Poland and Ireland.

Won't be easy. Never is. And Georgia have bitten us on the bum when we've had high hopes before.

Charlie Mulgrew is suspended for being stupid but Strachan has a settled squad to choose from.

There are weaknesses, most notably at the centre of defence. Long gone are the days when redoubtable Scottish centre backs seemed everywhere and Craig Brown could jealously stuff them into each squad.

Elsewhere however there are, if not an embarrassment of riches, certainly a number of options. Will Steven Fletcher and Steven Naismith start together? I'd suspect not but it's another nice option to call on.

David Marshall looks set to start ahead of Craig Gordon. I'd take either in my team, the loss to injury of Allan McGregor just highlighting how well served we are for goalkeepers.

Scott Brown will return in midfield with today offering exactly the sort of game that he should relish, a chance to show his seniority in this squad and push the team on.

The signals from Strachan this week have suggested quiet confidence but no complacency.

Sounds good to me.

It might be exactly the right mix to beat Georgia. And after that? It's game on in Group D.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Homeless World Cup 2014: 10 days to go

The countdown to the Homeless World Cup 2014 is on.

We're just 10 days away from the big kick off in Santiago. 10 days to go and 10th October is Homeless World Cup.

A perfect time to get in the mood for Chile by reliving the best moments of the Homeless World Cup 2013, when 500 players representing 103,000 participants in Homeless World Cup project around the world came together in Poznan, Poland.

After seven days of competition Brazil faced Mexico in the Homeless World Cup final:

In 2014 Scotland will join Italy and Brazil in taking a shot at winning their third Homeless World Cup title.

Out last victory was in 2011, edging out Mexico in the final:

Find out more about the Homeless World Cup

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

When Jock Stein went to Leeds

Billy McKinlay's departure from Watford after a little over a week and two games in charge provides us with another of football's "what the actual f---" moments.

The brevity of his reign will be added to the annals, alongside Leroy Rosenior's 10 minute stint at Torquay and Dave Bassett's four day jaunt at Crystal Palace.

Jock Stein at the Scottish Football Blog
And, of course, the failed appointment that has become the most famous of them all - Brian Clough's 44 days in charge of Leeds United, the stuff now of novels, film and legend.

McKinlay eclipses another Scot in English football's managerial shorts hit parade, Alex McLeish lasting just 40 days at Nottingham Forest in the winter of 2012/13.

But we've got to return to Leeds United to find an often overlooked example of the "in and out" managerial reign.

It involves maybe the greatest of all Scottish managers. Of our Holy Trinity, Bill Shankly and Matt Busby performed their miracles exclusively at English clubs.

Jock Stein is unique in achieving his footballing immortality without leaving Scotland. Sir Matt Busby tried to persuade him south to Old Trafford but Stein wouldn't budge.

It wasn't until after his departure from Celtic that he crossed Hadrian's Wall, joining Leeds United in 1978 at the age of 55.

And, just four years on from Clough's explosive time at Elland Road, Stein too would last just 44 days in Yorkshire.

Stein must have looked like the sort of candidate that could return Leeds to the glory days of the Don Revie era.

Indeed Mick Jones, Leeds United's centre forward of the time, reckoned that Celtic were the finest team Leeds had played against when Stein trumped Revie in the 1970 European Cup semi final.

Even then it's been suggested that Stein was only the board's third choice. Stein might have known that - he didn't have the chance to be picky because the job offers were, amazingly enough, not rolling in.

At the same time, however, Scotland were in a state of flux. Ally MacLeod was limping along as manager having taken the national side to Argentina and not, as it turned out, winning the 1978 World Cup after all.

MacLeod lasted just one more game after the 1978 tournament. Which left the position of Scotland manager vacant with Stein, the obvious candidate, weeks into a new job.

United's Eddie Gray believes that Stein saw the Leeds job as a bargaining chip in his quest to get the Scotland job on his terms:

"In my deepest subconscious I felt Big Jock was trying to force the SFA's hand. The big man wanted to be the fulltime manager of Scotland and when he moved to Leeds he made the SFA change their way of working and made him the most powerful manager they'd ever had."

If Gray is correct then it's a fairly impressive illustration of the size of Stein's personality and the value he saw in the Scotland job that he was prepared to use a club like Leeds as a pawn in his game of chess with the SFA. That Stein apparently never had a contract with Leeds and didn't move his family south might support this theory.

Others are less convinced that he had a predetermined idea of how it would end.

Rather they saw him bereft at being jettisoned by Celtic and the Leeds job coming along at the right time. It was a marriage of convenience that his heart was never really in.

His record at Elland Road reads ten games played, four wins, three draws and three defeats. Respectable but not stunning.

The Scotland job was his get out clause - just days after MacLeod was sacked Stein was privately briefing journalists that he'd be interested in taking the national job.

Leeds refused permission for the SFA to talk to him but they could do little to prevent him resigning. That's exactly what he did.

He was officially appointed Scotland manager on 5th October 1978 - the day of his 56th birthday. He'd remain in the post until that tragic night in Wales in 1985.

The sparks didn't fly. Novels would not be written. When Jock Stein left Leeds United after 44 days there was regret in Yorkshire but nothing like the scorched earth recriminations that followed Clough's departure.

Stein was able to move into the role that he saw a more natural progression for his post-Celtic career.

And his time at Leeds United is proof that even the greatest managers can sometimes find themselves in jobs that just don't suit them.


Daily Record
Hail Hail Media
The Mighty Might Whites

Monday, October 06, 2014

David Moyes deserves a shot at redemption

There seemed to be an attempt to re-brand yesterday's Manchester United v Everton game as the "Davie Moyes Derby."

A re-branding exercise that dripped with sarcasm.

A new conventional wisdom is popping up that places Manchester United's decision to appoint Moyes as a catastrophic error not just in hindsight but because they should have been able to see that he'd been a crap at Everton in the first place.

There's a harsh revisionism of his achievements taking place that is really not deserved.

His season at United was a disaster.

Can't argue with that. Sir Alex Ferguson's perception of his own powers extended to the rewriting of history. I think he'd almost begun to see Manchester United as a gift passed from Sir Matt Busby to him.

Forget the years of failure in between. One canny Scot to another canny Scot. Where else do you turn but another canny Scot?

That the Scot in question was likely to be so respectful that he wouldn't question the glaring gaps in Ferguson's legacy was probably even better.

Or maybe Ferguson's humility - admittedly a little seen humility - kicked in. Maybe he really didn't realise that it was basically his influence that carried United to his last title and he thought Moyes could pick up where he left off.

Moyes couldn't. And he faced a double whammy: United fans used to success were bereft and fans of every other club, so used to United's success, were gleeful.

Moyes seemed unable to grow in the role and United - dazed and confused at the loss of Ferguson - seemed to suffer a collective collapse of confidence.

The players didn't like what they were seeing, the season drifted away and Moyes looked ever more haunted on the touchline.

United were forced to act. Moyes was sacked. And that simply confirmed the idea that had grown over the season that Manchester United were particularly stupid for listening to an out of touch Ferguson and giving the job to a hapless managerial Inspector Clouseau.

David Moyes at the Scottish Football Blog
Which, as Daniel Taylor pointed out over the weekend, left Moyes dealing with both the biggest catastrophe of his career (as a manager, I well remember him losing the 1991 League Cup to Hibs as a Dunfermline player) and the stigma that everything he'd achieved in his career up to that point was a mirage anyway.

Sir Alex Ferguson's place in the pantheon of managers will be debated for a long time. But we can say that his was a unique career in its longevity and because it spanned football's transformation into a multi-billion pound global entertainment industry.

A hard to act to follow. United need a giant personality, Moyes isn't that. Louis van Gaal could be but even he might currently attest that it's not the easiest gig in the world.

David Moyes would probably never need to work again. No financial issues there and who needs the stress?

But he surely work again. There must be chairmen and chief executives in England and elsewhere looking at his work with Everton and wondering if he could do the same for them. If he wants to go through it all again he probably could.

He might not want to. But it would seem unduly harsh if his dream job turning into a nightmare means he never gets another chance.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

SPFL Premiership: Celtic's stumbles give Deila food for thought

Yesterday I was writing about how the SPFL Premiership has been been a bit of an oddity this season.

It gets odder.

Celtic could have jumped up to third by winning today's home game against Hamilton.

Then this happened:

Celtic 0, Hamilton 1, the Scottish Football Blog

Celtic 0, Hamilton 1.

Which leaves the table looking like this:

SPFL Premiership league table after Hamilton beat Celtic

Hamilton top, Celtic sixth.

Maybe the drama of Hamilton's defeat of Hibs in the play-off matches has given them a momentum that survived the summer.

Maybe it's just a flash in the pan.

Hamilton won't win the league. But Celtic need to do more than just win their game in hand to get back to the top of the table.

When Ronny Deila was given the Celtic job a lot of people asked "who is Ronny Deila?"

It's a problem for him, not yet a fatal problem but an issue nonetheless, that we're into October and people are still looking at each other and asking "who is Ronny Deila?"

Sixth in the table after eight games and no Champions League football (despite getting a couple of chances to make it).

Thursday's Europa League win over Dinamo Zagreb was a bright spot. The continued rehabilitation of Craig Gordon to fill the gap left by Fraser Forster's departure is another.

His is a team in transition. But being Celtic manager means making your mark on the team while still winning games. If you don't get the knack of that quickly you've got problems. Ask Tony Mowbray.

And the weight of expectation and the evidence of history combine to make unusual defeats look more meaningful than they actually are.

So this wasn't just a bad day at home to a useful Hamilton side.

This was a first home defeat to this opposition since Neville Chamberlain was still trying to appease Hitler.

It ends a run of home form that stretched to 34 games undefeated.

Celtic's strength is usually to rise above the rest of the teams, a refusal to get embroiled in that aspect of the Premiership which means anyone can beat anyone else on any given day.

To do that you need to be winning more than 50% of your games.

He's won four from eight in the SPFL and seven from 17 in all competitions. That's not good enough.

As I wrote yesterday, Celtic will win this league. The board should also show patience with Deila, they need to back their man.

But the patience can't be endless. Spending much longer than a quarter of the season mucking about in mid table isn't acceptable.

My personal view is of a manager still uncomfortable in a new role in a new country. I don't think he's handling the press particularly well and, Celtic fans might want to correct me, I don't sense a huge connection with the support.

Sometimes managers, however good, just don't "fit" with certain clubs. Deila's not yet convinced me that he's not fallen victim to that situation.

After the game he told the media:

"I'm not worried."

Any more results like today and he'll probably be feeling a lot less sanguine about his team and about his own position.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

SPFL Premiership: Spinning me around

It suddenly strikes me that for the first time in nearly eight years of the Scottish Football Blog, the team I support isn't in Scotland's top division.

(Obviously I have been aware that Hibs are now playing in the Championship, I just hadn't really thought about it in the context of the blog before. More in the context of "why has this happened? Why, why, why?" The answer is, of course, because Hibs were crap.)

The lack of emotional involvement should probably help the blogger go about his or her business with a more professional detachment.

But in my case the blogger watches Sportscene in the pub every Sunday with the disinterested air of the lord of the manor forced into attending the chambermaid's wedding.

Which explains why taking a proper look at the Premiership table tonight left me to conclude, with stunning clarity, "what the actual fu..."

If Hibs have offered little else over the last few seasons it now seems they did at least bring the security of a little sanity to proceedings.

And now what?

SPFL Premiership analysis by the Scottish Football Blog

Take a look at it. A nonsensical oddity of a league table.

Ross County down there at the bottom. That might not be a massive surprise.

They'll stay there even if they win tomorrow.

But if they lose Inverness will go top with Dundee United.

Unless Hamilton beat Celtic. Then Hamilton will go top.

If Celtic win they'll be on the same points as Hamilton and Kilmarnock.

That's newly promoted Hamilton and the just-avoided-play-off-spot-thanks-to-the-main-striker-who-then-buggered-off Kilmarnock. That Kilmarnock.

What's it all about?

The prediction that will burn millions of pounds if it doesn't happen: Celtic win the Scottish Premiership with a month or so of fixtures to spare.

Ronny Deila's got a hell of a lot to worry about if they don't.

Aberdeen on their current run (four wins out of five games undefeated) should be capable of making a run for second.

Dundee United might curse a lack of consistency in finishing third. That's the same lack of consistency that Jackie McNamara warned of and suffered last season. Biting him on the bum again this season. He needs to sort that.

The rest?

What the hell do you mean "the rest?"

I've got no confidence in the top three, so - Celtic apart - the rest is a horrible mizture-maxture of unknown unknowns.

Ross County don't look likely. I'm not convinced the managerial change will work. But they do love a January transfer window in Dingwall.

I thought St Mirren made a mistake appointing Tommy Craig as manager. Some people are natural assistants. People like Tommy Craig.

Tommy Craig would vehemently disagree with me. This is his chance to prove me - and others - wrong.

And what of Motherwell?

What of Motherwell?

Two wins and a draw from nine games. That's bad form. It can be recovered. But bad form can suck you in and drown you.

I've seen it happen. Believe me, I've seen it happen.

I take part in a SPFL Premiership predictor league at work. When I finished bottom last season I blamed it on my emotional predilection for backing Hibs to win every week.

I got a bottle of Buckfast for my troubles.

I'm struggling along close to the bottom this season as well.

I blame that on the Premiership being a league that has, in the most entertaining way possible, taken leave of its senses.

The best way to deal with that?

Keep smiling, enjoy the ride, celebrate the craziness.

And keep a bottle of Buckie on hand when you're checking your betting slips.

Friday, October 03, 2014

2014 Homeless World Cup - the countdown

Time to turn the Scottish Football Blog over to a good cause.

As Hibs don't yet qualify as a charity, I'm sending my annual greetings to the Homeless World Cup.

This year's tournament - beating homelessness through football - will take place in Chile and kicks off in just over a fortnight, on 19th October.

Regular readers will know the drill. If you don't here it is:

  • The Homeless World Cup uses football to help people change their lives
  • It works with 70 partners around the world, supporting grassroots football programmes
  • The annual Homeless World Cup tournament celebrates that work by uniting teams of homeless people from around the world

69 teams from 43 countries will compete in Santiago this month.

They're expected to play in front of 100,000 spectators over the course of the week.

Every player will meet at least one of the eligibility rules:

  • Have been homeless at some point after 1/10/13 in accordance to the national definition of homelessness
  • Make their main living income as street paper vendor
  • Asylum seekers currently without positive asylum status or who were previously asylum seekers but obtained residency status after 01/10/2013
  • Currently in drug or alcohol rehabilitation and also have been homeless at some point in the past two years

The players making up the eight members of each national squad are ambassadors - representing the thousands of other players who are working with their national Homeless World Cup organisations each week throughout the year.

And lives will be changed.

David Duke played for Scotland at the 2004 Homeless World Cup in Gothenburg. Today he runs Street Soccer Scotland, using football to help thousands of homeless people here:

"The Homeless World Cup was the rope that allowed me to pull myself out of a very dark hole. It helped me and now I can help others. When homeless people say to me I can't change, I say yes you can. I did. So can you."

Patrick Mbeu played for France in the 2007 Homeless World Cup in Copenhagen. In 2011 he was part of the organising for the Homeless World Cup in Paris and work as a coach with PSG:

"My participation in the Homeless World Cup brought about a profound personal change. It allowed me to regain my self-respect to take important steps in my life and I was also able to regain a high standard of play in my game."

Two stories. Two of thousands. Not everyone who has benefited from the Homeless World Cup will have a story as a spectacular but all will be as important.

Finding work, rebuilding family relationships, beating addictions. The same stories repeated thousands and thousands of times.

Thanks to football.

Follow the 2014 Homeless World Cup

I'll be following the 2014 Homeless World Cup on this blog and on Twitter.

You can find out more about the tournament and the Homeless World Cup's global impact on their website.

And, if you can afford to, you can also make a donation to support the Homeless World Cup this year and for many more years to come.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Hibs: The poll of polls

It's been a couple of months since I wrote about Rod Petrie.

And that's because I've moved on.

So have Hibs. Leeann Demptster is in charge. Changing personnel to empower Alan Stubbs.

Hibs, The Scottish Football Blog
Empowering him to a win at Ibrox no less.

So all is well in Leith and Easter Road is again basking in that singsong sunshine?

It's actually amazing how much difference a good result can make.

Hibs have had two. That 3-1 win at Ibrox came hot on the heels of a 2-0 win at Ross County. A struggling Ross County, but a win and a clean sheet on an away trip that has too often proved a miserable journey is to be welcomed.

When I wrote yesterday that I skipped down the platform at Newcastle station on hearing that Hibs were 3-0 up I might have been guilty of exaggerating.

But not that much. While I might have lacked the unbridled gaiety of a Victorian schoolgirl given a glowing report by her house mistress, I certainly had the spring of a pretty chuffed young gentleman in my step.

But discontent remains. Since the anti-Petrie rally that greeted Leeann Dempster's arrival in the summer I've been at a seemingly endless series of meetings.

Some have been organised by fans, one was organised by the club itself.

All have focused - more or less - on plotting a future for Hibs in the post  Sir Tom Farmer era.

(Unless something changes in the next few months - and it might just - we can take the post Sir Tom Farmer era as being the same as the post Petrie era. They go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong.)

And, because having their say in the most important decision Scotland has faced since 1707 wasn't enough, Hibs fans have also been surveyed, canvassed and grilled.

Hibs themselves polled fans on issues like fan representation on the board, fan membership schemes and fans getting involved in the ownership of the club.

And Supporters Direct Scotland surveyed fans on issues like fan membership schemes and fans getting involved in the ownership of the club.

Which does all sound a bit like two dogs pulling at opposite ends of the same bone.

Maybe common ground will be found. Maybe not.

In the meantime the fans have shown that they've got opinions and they're happy to share them.

Hibs haven't yet announced the results of their survey. Supporters Direct Scotland (with the advantage of an earlier closing date) have.

Over 4000 people completed the survey. In this era of astounding turnouts Supporters Direct Scotland claim that as the biggest response they've ever had for a survey about with a Scottish club.

The results:

It is known that the current owners are willing to discuss change and offers have been made. Do you believe it is time for supporters to discuss the ownership of Hibernian and look at different options going forward?

  • Yes – 84%
  • No – 10%
  • Don’t know – 6%

Would you be interested in attending an event where clubs such as Borussia Dortmund, Portsmouth and Dunfermline share how their ownership models work and the experiences they've had?

  • Yes – 69%
  • No – 18%
  • Don’t know – 13%

If fans got the chance to become more involved in the ownership and running of the club, would you be willing to join a membership scheme to provide extra income?

  • Yes – 68%
  • No – 20%
  • Don’t know – 12%

If so where would you prefer the income to be spent? Player Squad, Youth Academy or stadia and facilities?

  • Player squad – 73%
  • Youth Academy – 13%
  • Stadia and Facilities – 7%
  • Other – 7%

Do you agree that Easter Road Stadium should be safeguarded as the future of Hibernian Football Club and any decision to change this must be made by the supporters?

  • Yes – 80%
  • No – 16%
  • Don’t know – 4%

So a majority of fans believe in fan ownership but a smaller majority would be willing to pay up to join a membership scheme. A majority of fans think money should spent on the team (plus ça change) and an oddly sizeable 16% don't think Easter Road should be safeguarded.

What does it all mean?

It's not a comprehensive poll of the Hibs support. But, until the club release their own results, it is the largest survey of the Hibs support that's been shared publicly.

The fans want change. There is not - and will never be, unless something drastic (more drastic than relegation?) happens - 100% agreement that the Farmer-Petrie duopoly should be chased out forthwith.

All of which ties in with the conversations I've had over the last few months, the last few seasons and the last few years.

Rod Petrie still has some faithful followers but those numbers are dwindling.

There is more appreciation than loathing for Sir Tom Farmer but an increasing consensus that his time as sole owner, sole "benefactor," is coming to a close.

There's an interest in fan ownership but genuine questions and concerns over what that means.

There is also a real desire to see the fans and representatives of the various fans groups that came together at the time of the Petrie Out rally to offer more leadership and operate with more transparency - both things that many people have wanted the club itself to offer more of in recent years.

I've written before about the disconnect between football club and fans at Hibs.

A survey generated by a group that represents fans and a survey generated by the football club might just show how much common ground there is between the two.

At the same time, because the two surveys are seen as "official" and "unofficial," the process of finding that common ground risks increasing the disconnect.

Nothing's ever simple at Easter Road.

What's next?

The club will, I'd expect, release the findings of their survey and perhaps outline a provisional plan of action based on those findings to coincide with the upcoming AGM.

The Hibs fans willing to play an active role outside any proposals from the club should be emboldened by the Supporters Direct Survey. But they should also realise that things have to move on from endless meetings and ad hoc attacks on Rod Petrie.

That they are "unofficial" but have a very real emotional attachment to club should be a positive. Their approach need to reflect that.

There will continue to be stories in the press about this "successful entrepreneur" or that "rich businessman" being interested in buying Hibs. Both the club and the fans have every right to be extremely wary of any such characters.

And there is a risk that the club and those fans willing to back an "unofficial" grassroots movement become ever more divided even as survey and counter-survey suggests they've got a lot in common.

They'll struggle to work together on a positive future as long as what many people - myself included - see as relics of the past remain on board and, indeed, on the board. That's an unfortunate stumbling block but one that raises such big issues of trust that it can't be ignored.

We are surely in the end game of Sir Tom Farmer and Rod Petrie having control of the majority of Hibernian Football Club's shares.

Unfortunately, we're no clearer on what things will look like when that end game has played itself it out.

The future's unclear, the future's green and white.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Whatever happened to the joy of not knowing

In 1973 an episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads called No Hiding Place was first shown by the BBC.

The basic plot, allowing for the usual ebb and flow of a superior sitcom, had Terry and Bob trying to avoid finding out the score of an England game before watching the highlights on TV.

Scottish Football Blog - Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads
(Younger readers might remember a 2002 remake starring Ant and Dec. In PJ & Duncan, the new millennium truly got the Likely Lads it deserved.)

Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads has actually aged remarkably well (you can probably catch it on a digital channel near you sometime soon. It's still on quite a lot.)

But that episode has become something of a relic. So many channels now show so many live games, so many websites provide so much 'unofficial' live coverage of an even greater variety of games.

You can take your pick of the best betting apps to follow every corner, throw-in, free kick and attack of games around the world.

You can follow live text commentary on Twitter and almost every newspaper website.

The idea of locking yourself away from the world to wait for Sportsnight with Tony Gubba seems impossibly redundant now.

I'm on holiday this week. I finished work at 5.15 on Monday evening. Sitting on the train south I decided I'd switch of my data connection and do without WiFi for the week.

I wouldn't even lumber Hibs with the added burden of a fiver placed on my favourite betting app as they made the daunting trip to Ibrox.

I'd had enough of the internet and everything in it.

Then the texts started.

I had to check twitter.

Hibs were 1-0 up.

Hibs were 2-0 up.

Hold on to your hat.

Hibs were 3-0 up.

Fling your hat in the air and skip down platform three at Newcastle station.

Destination one of the trip reached, I watched the last 15 minutes of the game. Breath held every time Rangers entered the Hibs half.

Hibs did their job. And I had failed to turn my back on digital connectivity. I'd lasted less than 90 minutes.

It would be easier to do when I actually got abroad.

But this is a European week. There are Champions League accumulators to put on, results to check. Gordon Strachan was naming his latest Scotland squad.

There were, more importantly, reports and reactions to be read from Ibrox.

A quick blast on my phone when the plane landed wouldn't hurt. Or cost too much.

And no free WiFi in the hotel rooms (apparently the plane travelled back in time as it delivered us to another country) so the tablet would be reserved for public areas only.

15 hours later I was at reception buying WiFi access. 21 hours later I'm writing this blog and waiting for tonight's Champions League games.

Turning my back on football's digital overload in 2014?

Unlikely, lads.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Happy birthday Pat Stanton

I know best.

No, I know best.


We'll run a poll and find out.

OK. But if you're running a poll I'll run a poll as well.

My poll's better than your poll.

It's not the future of the country.

Hibs are more complicated than that.

So we seek solace in our heroes.

The Famous Five.

Joe Baker.

Turnbull's Tornadoes.

And, from Turnbull's Tornadoes, the main man.

Mr Hibs.

Hibs fan. Hibs player. Hibs manager. Hibs ambassador. Hibs legend.

Pat Stanton.

70 today.

Hibs will celebrate his birthday. He'll be roared onto the pitch.

Roared onto the pitch by guys that grew up with him, who saw him live their dreams.

And roared onto the pitch by those of us who didn't see him. Denied by birth.

Lucky enough, maybe, to see a Sauzee vintage, a Latapy vintage. Or maybe a Mowbray vintage when youth ruled the world and Rod Petrie was a younger man.

We'll rely on fathers to explain to sons how good Pat Stanton was. Or, as time marches on, maybe it's now grandfathers explaining to grandchildren how good Pat Stanton was.

I'm too young (yes, that's true) to have seen Pat Stanton play football.

My first memory of him is a sad one:

Hibs sacking him as manager.

That's a thing Hibs have done over the years.

Sack managers.

I remember my brother, older than me but only eight then, writing a letter to Hibs berating them for treating a legend like that.

The letter would be ignored. That's been Hibs for too long as well.

I never saw Pat Stanton play. But this week I can't walk half a yard on Easter Road without bumping into someone and having to ask:

"How good was Pat Stanton?"

"Fucking brilliant."

Fucking brilliant.

My legs get a bit wobbly whenever I see Pat Stanton. He talks about Hibs - he points out what's going wrong, what could be improved, how simple steps could solve big problems.

And I think "why can't Pat Stanton be in charge of everything Hibs do?"

His love of Hibs comes through constantly. And maybe, as much as it's nice to dream, it's too much love to run a football club.

But our greatest player? Our greatest ambassador who should have a bigger role in our Petrie-fied landscape?


Greatness recognises greatness: Jock Stein took Pat Stanton to Celtic. Pat won medals, Hibs got Jackie McNamara and everyone was - eventually - happy.

Pat Stanton got medals because Jock Stein wanted to sign him.

That might say it all.

Hibs shouldn't need to ask thousands of people to turn out for him for free. Thousands should turn out for him without the freebie.

He was that good.

This summer he was prepared to stand up and say exactly how it felt to see his team relegated, prepared to say it because he's never lost the determination, the pain, the struggle of being a Hibs fan.

He was prepared to put his head above the parapet. Not being overly political, not being particularly militant but being passionately critical as he remembered what had once made his football club a great club. The genius looking forlornly at the mess that followed him - could anybody at Easter Road use that against him?

They wouldn't dare.

When I meet Pat Stanton I'm starstruck. Every time. And I've met him a lot. It's embarrassing for me, it could be worse for him.

But that's not Pat. I really just need to look at his approach to life and study his demeanour to be reassured me that I'm just meeting a fellow Hibs fan.

I'll still feel awkward though. Because I'm meeting the best of us.

He's a modest man with very little to be modest about. He could scream his brilliance from the rooftops.

He won't.

But he should.

Hibs have given their fans the opportunity to do that for him today.

And, as bad as things might be, it's an opportunity that shouldn't be missed.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

2014 World Cup: Van Gaal thrives as Oranje charge

Germany's Joachim Löw characterised last night's semi final as a "battle of the continents." Europe 7. South America 1.

Tonight it's time for round two. Argentina v the Netherlands. It will take a stunning performance from one of them to dislodge Germany as tournament favourites on betfair.com.

Argentina will, once again, rely on the genius of Messi. The Dutch will look to Arjen Robben and hope Robin van Persie's guts have cleared up.

And they'll also look to the touchline, seeking inspiration from Louis van Gaal. It's safe to assume that he'd have it no other way.

After the understated (maybe overwhelmed) approach of David Moyes, his successor at Manchester United is unlikely to be blown off course by a lack of confidence.

The stories of Van Gaal's often unconventional methods abound, the managerial heavyweight literally prepared to show his players that he's got the balls for the job.

Yet when he was announced as Manchester United manager a feeling persisted that this might be a fading superstar, still capable of talking the talk but with the true glory days left behind, now just statistics in the record books.

Intentionally or not, Van Gaal has spent the last few weeks in Brazil roaring against that theory.

There was the demolition that dethroned Spain in just the third game of the tournament. There was the water break tactical switch against Mexico that left him telling reporters that "this manager wanted to win."

And then on Saturday night the brinkmanship of replacing his goalkeeper just before the end of extra time.

The drama and sense of timing meant it must have appeared to some Costa Ricans that Tim Krul wasn't just a fine goalkeeper but also a penalty saving Superman who could read their thoughts.

A gamble but a calculated one. Krul confident that his manager needed him and believed in him. The Costa Ricans left wondering what the hell was going on. The manager got his calculations right. When a gamble pays off people forget what the original risk was.

Adaptable. Ready to spring a surprise or two. And absolutely comfortable in the cult of the manager. Throughout the tournament - perhaps to shield his players, perhaps through narcissism - he has in fact tossed the press line after line to help write the cult of Louis van Gaal.

Whatever happens tonight, the Dutch have made the final weekend of the World Cup. There were concerns that such protracted engagement in Brazil might work against Van Gaal making the quick impact at Old Trafford that Manchester United to make up the ground lost during the non-season they endured under Moyes.

Yet such has been his appetite for the fray, it seems that United will now welcome a manager rejoicing in his own ability and apparently ready to find a way past any obstacles in his way.

Louis van Gaal might not win the World Cup. But few managers will have ever found a month of tournament competition such a rejuvenating experience.