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 ├ža 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.