Socrates MacSporran

Socrates MacSporran
No I am not Chick Young, but I can remember when Scottish football was good

Monday, 22 January 2018

Daft Irishman - Not Michael O'Neill

SO, Michael O'Neill has said: “thanks, but no thanks,” to the SFA's kind offer of the poisoned chalice of being Scotland manager. Well, I cannot say I am surprised, Michael has always come across as a rather sensible chap.

Michael O'Neill - staying put in Belfast

Right then, who's next? Mind you, I stick by my long-term view, the job of Scotland Manager is the ultimate Catch 22 situation (vacant). It is a poisoned chalice; the SFA, as currently convened, is simply unfit for purpose and, whoever eventually gets to succeed Wee Gordon Strachan is on a hiding to nothing.

It makes no difference whether the Scotland team is managed by the butchers, bakers and candle-stick makers from the SFA “blazeratti”, or by either of the two best Scottish managers of the post involvement with Europe and the world generation – our national team is still shite.

The SFA is the Trabant or Lada of world football – pimp it all you like, it is still shite.

Aye well, while the brains along Hampden's sixth-floor corridor hold meetings about holding meetings, discuss their few options, and listen to the brains trust of the Scottish Football Writers Association, as they pay-back favours to their favourite agents, by bigging-up the chances of these agents' out-of-work manager clients, we will simply slump further.

Here's an idea – give the job to Scottish Women's team manager Shelley Kerr. Last week she showed the right qualities for a Scotland boss – her side lost to Norway. Mind you, the Norwegian women are rather good.

Ach well, speculating about who will get the Scotland job will I dare say keep some of the stenographers and churnalists from having to do any real work – such as telling the truth about the on-going series of Scottish Casualty (a soap opera about car and train crashes and sudden explosions) which is events at Ibrox.

I LIKE Craig Levein, on the few occasions I have met the guy, he has always impressed me; he is not afraid to try things, even when, like 4–6-0 or appointing Ian Cathro, they don't come off.

Craig Levein - winding-up Lenny will go down well with the troops on the terraces

So, I rather enjoyed his post-match comment on Sunday, about “the natural order” being restored, not since Christian Dailly's televised outburst in Dortmund, has a comment by anyone in Scottish football gone down so well with the core support. I bet the banter in the workplaces of Edinburgh and the Lothians was good today.

And, of course, it helped him the other side's manager was Wee Lenny, perhaps the easiest guy to wind-up in Scottish football. Craig cast the bait, Lenny took it – game, set and match Levein.

And still two Edinburgh Derbies to come this season; Ann Budge and Lee Anne Dempster will just love Levein, and his ability to put bums on seats.

I LOVED the banter on the Kilmarnock fans page on facebook, following Saturday's Scottish Cup win over Ross County – and, by the way, for me, it was never a penalty, but, considering Killie once went ten years without being awarded a single spot kick – I suppose we Killie fans should be grateful – we are and, I'll gladly accept the gift.

Onwards and upwards then, with Brora Rangers next-up. You can never say never, but, I will be truly gob smacked should Killie not reach the last eight.

Some of the troops are relishing the prospect of an Ayrshire Derby in the last eight, after all surely Ayr United should be capable of taking care of Fraserburgh, at Somerset Park.

 Ross Tokely - committed the worst foul I've ever seen

Mind you, I imagine any team managed by Ross Tokely, the Brora boss, will not be backward at coming forward and “putting themselves about”. I have long felt, Tokely should have been banned sine die by the SFA back at the start of this century, following his career-ending foul on St Mirren's Chris Kerr, back in the days when I covered St Mirren for the Paisley Daily Express. This remains the worst foul I have seen, it made Harald Schumacher's assault on Patrick Battiston look legal.

THE DEATH this morning of former England captain Jimmy Armfield is particularly sad, because “Gentleman” Jim was genuinely, one of the good guys – a smashing player, who became a very good manager and an even better football writer and commentator.

 In good company, Jimmy Armfield alongside Di Stfano, with Puskas and Bobby Moore behind them as he leads England out against FIFA in the 1963 Centenary game at Wembley

Jimmy was 82, a good innings by any means, he died laden with honours: 43 full England caps – 15 as captain, a one-club man, he played 627 games for Blackpool, starting as a 17-year-old breaking into that breaking-up great team of 11 internationalists – seven English and four Scots.

He was considered the best right-back in the world, when oor ain Eric Caldow was the best left-back and they were the rival captains for the 1963 Wembley match which saw an early leg break end Eric's Scotland career and Jimmy's mistake gift Jim Baxter the first of his two goals.

Jimmy was an unused player in the 1966 World Cup win, looking after the non-players, whom he called: “My lot” as a prequel to “Donal's Donuts” from a later British Lions Tour.

He picked up the pieces at Leeds United after the mayhem of Don Revie leaving and the disastrous 44-day reign of Brian Clough, and took them to the European Cup Final, where one of the most-corrupt refereeing performances ever saw them lose to Bayern Munich.

Jimmy left Leeds in 1978 and became a much-respected football writer and radio summariser. He was a consummate professional, a consultant to the FA, and he gave readily of his time to local causes in Lancashire.

He was made OBE, then CBE, he was a Deputy-Lieutenant and High Sheriff of Lancashire. The FA inducted him into the England Football Hall of Fame, Blackpool into the club Hall of Fame. The Football League awarded him its prestigious Sir Tom Finney Merit Award, while he was President of the Sir Stanley Matthews Coaching Foundation and awarded an honorary DL (Doctor of Letters) degree from Lancaster University, and, in 2009, along with “His Lot”, he was retrospectively presented with a World Cup winner's medal from 1966 – presented by Raith Rovers fan Gordon Brown.

Armfield was also, for over 30-years, organist, church-warden and treasurer of his local church in Blackpool. A quiet, humble, gentleman he was known as “the Conscience of English Football”, and as, “The Gandalf of Radio Commentary”.

I have two abiding memories of Jimmy Armfield. The first is of a conversation we had while I was watching Leeds United's youth team train. The young players were finding it impossible to get the ball off their coach - “The Wee Barra” himself, Bobby Collins.

Bobby's still got it,” I said to the guy next to me, then turned to see it was Armfield, then Leeds boss.

Yes, if I could get new legs grafted onto his body, I'd put him in the first team,” he said.

The second story is legendary. He was covering a Nottingham Forest game and, at the post-match press conference, Brian Clough was baiting the press. “You lot, you write about football, but, you know nothing about it, you never played the game,” said Clough.

Warming to his theme, he continued: “I won two caps for England, should have had more, so, come on, how many England caps have you lot got?”

He was then left speechless when, from the back of the room, Jimmy broke the silence with one word: “Forty-three.” This is widely held to be the only time Clough was ever lost for words.

Monday, 15 January 2018

Could The SFA Ever Be As Bold As The SRU?

IF YOU are a reader of The Herald, or one of the more downmarket newspapers, or if you get your sports news from BBC Shortbread, STV, and whatever Scotland's commercial radio stations are called these days, you will probably be unaware of this, but, right now the world of Scottish Rugby is much agitated, change is in the air.

Because, the SRU is attempting to totally change the club game, by introducing six franchised, semi-professional clubs, abolishing the BT Premiership, the top level of the club game in the process.

To explain how this works, I will have to explain their system. At the top, we have the Scotland team; below them we have the two Scottish sides which compete against the Irish, Italian, South African and Welsh sides in the Guinness PRO14 and in the Champions Cup – the rugby equivalent of football's Champions League, and the Challenge Cup – the rugby equivalent of the Europa League.

(I should perhaps say, at this point, although both clubs are wholly-owned arms of the SRU, we should regard Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh as the rugby equivalent of the Old Firm. They are the only two full-time professional clubs in Scotland, and, as such, they dwarf all the rest. They attract the biggest crowds, they have the best players and so on.)

 Andy Irvine - his club faces being downgraded

The next level down is the BT Premiership, here you will find some of Scotland's oldest and most-distinguished clubs: Heriot's, past players – Ken Scotland, Andy Irvine and the “Three Bears”, brothers David, Kenny and Ian Milne; Watsonians – home club of Gavin and Scott Hastings; Hawick – the club which gave us Hughie McLeod, Jim Renwick and today's biggest star, Stuart Hogg; Melrose – hosts of the famous annual Sevens, and the club which gave us Jim Telfer, Keith Robertson, Doddie Weir, Craig Chalmers and Brian Redpath; Stirling County – where Finn Russell first picked-up a rugby ball; Marr – home club of Peter and Gordon Brown and Billy Cuthbertson; Boroughmuir – club of Bruce Hay and Iain Paxton; Currie – the club of Scotland squad member Matt Scott; Glasgow Hawks – an amalgamation of GHK and Glasgow Accies, home clubs of the likes of brothers Richie and Jonny Gray and the father and son act of John and Johnnie Beattie, and Ayr – home club of current Scotland squad man Gordon Reid and former Scotland caps Steve Munro and Derrick Lee, but where players from other Ayrshire clubs such as Derek Stark and Mark Bennett got their senior chance.

These are the current top ten, but other famous clubs such as Edinburgh Accies, Gala, Selkirk – home club of the peerless John Rutherford, Jed-forest, home club of Roy Laidlaw and his nephew Greig and Kelso, who gave us John Jeffrey, Rodger Baird and Ross Ford are in the next league down.

IF the SRU's Super Six plan goes through, all of these great clubs will lose their senior status. Imagine the furore if the SFA was to unilaterally decide that the Old Firm would be untouchable, but the two Edinburgh clubs and the two Dundee clubs would need to amalgamate, only one team could operate in Lanarkshire and Ayrshire and the rest of the teams in the SPFL Premiership, Championship and Leagues One and Two would be reduced to junior football status, without compensation or consultation.

Well, basically, that is what is happening in rugby.

But, worse than that, the SRU will be taking a stake in each of the proposed six new franchised clubs. They will have a say in appointing coaches and, while they will be putting some money into the new entities, the bulk of the money has to be raised by the club itself, and, that will include installing a new 3G or 4G pitch at a cost of upwards of half a million pounds.

Now, I have long felt, we have too-many “senior” clubs in Scotland. I don't think we need four senior leagues, under-pinned by the Highland and Lowland Leagues. So, maybe a similar scheme might work in football. But, given their management of the national side, would you really want the SFA interfering in the management of your club?

We cannot really compare like with like when it comes to football and rugby, yes, both games are a form of football – but, we are, I feel, back to apples and pears here. Still, the SRU has decided, in spite of the national side currently enjoying its highest ranking ever, fifth in the world - (image the Scottish football team being that high up the rankings) – they need to do better, and, the SRU's Performance Department (does the SFA have such a thing?) feels their chosen franchise system is the way to go.

They are, in spite of a lot of criticism, prepared to give change a chance - would Hampden ever be as bold as Murrayfield and take such a huge step into the unknown?

I don't think they would dare.

The SRU has a reputation as old-fashioned, stuck-in-their-ways fuddy-duddies, slightly out-of-touch and unhappy with the modern world, but, in being prepared to try new things, in spite of opposition from among the clubs, they are giving the guys along Hampden's sixth-floor corridor a lesson in leadership.

Might the SFA get the message and try to be innovative, or, will they stick to their familiar well-trodden path of “Aye Beenism” - as in: “Naw son, ye canna dae that, it's aye been din this wey?”

Friday, 12 January 2018

Cut The Advertising - Give Us More Real News

THE essence of mainstream media can be distilled into that great, now 100-year-old quote from William Randolph Hearst, the great American media tycoon, immortalised in Orson Welles' movie masterpiece 'Citizen Kane.'

William Randolph Hearst - definied the difference between news and advertising

Old Bill, who knew a thing or ten about selling papers, said: “News is something someone doesn't want revealed – everything else is advertising.” So, right now, the churnalists and stenographers in the mainstream Scottish media, are doing a wonderful job advertising Scottish Football, but a lousy job in getting Scottish football news out to the football public.

So, while breathlessly telling us that Rangers crushed the Brazilian equivalent of Albion Rovers 1-0 in Orlando, will, perhaps, persuade a few additional punters to shell-out for today's Daily Ranger, the report says nothing about the real story around Rangers, which is – the club could well re-enter (if you accept the current Rangers as a continuation of the club formed in 1872) or (if you follow the “new club” line), enter administration, sometime between now and the end of the season.

To be aware of this possible scenario, you need to be “an obsessive” - a Celtic fan who reads the Donegal Blogger's blog, or one of the other off-message non-mainstream media outlets, such as the one you are currently browsing.

All is not well with Rangers. The club does not have a credit line at any bank; it is dependant for survival on “soft loans” from directors and well-heeled fans. It has an absentee Chairman, who has been described by a leading South African judge as: “A glib and shameless liar” and who is up to his knees in court cases in Scotland, and has singularly failed to keep any of the promises he has made as regard funding the club he leads.

A wee tip of the hat here to the four-named Donegal Blogger, for a quite brilliant line yesterday. Describing how, in his opinion, The King based south of the Limpopo has based his stewardship of Rangers on operating on “OPM – Other People's Money”, he described the King's financial dealings as: “the OPM of the masses.”

  The Donegal Blogger - an obsessive, yes, but so-often ahead of the mainstream

Now old Phil Four Names gets treated with scorn and derision by the RRM – that's Real Rainjurrz Men – by the mainstream media and yes, he is I suppose, an obsessive, who has taken schadenfreude to excess, but, that does not say he is wrong. And, he is giving the highly-paid troops of the Scottish Football Writers Association and their elite senior officer class – the Lap Top Loyal, weekly lessons on unearthing real news, and not simply being an advertising copy writer.

With the return this season of the mid-season break, the churnalists and stenographers again have two shots at doing what they do best, printing “Jackie Baillie” - the new approved Scottish synonym for pish – fed them by agents etc. I refer of course to the transfer speculation which fills space when nothing else is happening.

Ah, remember those heady days when, for every £5 Celtic spent, Rangers would spend £10. What fun we had, reading how one or other of the Bigot Brothers was about to buy everyone from Diego Maradona to Wan Fittit, who was unhappy with the resigning offer Invertottie Howkers' manager Wullie Singum had made him. What rollicking summer entertainment, and all pure Jackie Baillie.

Well, they are at it again right now, with the January window open. By the way, who leaves a window wide open, in Scotland, in January, and expects anything good to come of it?

At the moment, Rangers are apparently “eyeing” Burnley's Scott Arfield. Of course they can look, but, if anyone really believes Rangers can in their current state of financial embarrassment, make a realistic offer for a guy on English Premiership wages – well, they ought to seek treatment.

The Ibrox club are also, apparently, in a three-way tug-of-war with Kilmarnock and Hearts for out-of-favour Norwich and Scotland man Stevie Naismith. Stevie is 31 now, and probably looking for that last reasonably-big signing-on fee, to top-up his retirement pot. The notion of coming back up the road will appeal, he could lengthen his playing career in Scotland compared with England – but, he has always been a Stewarton boy, so, perhaps is drawn to a choice between Killie and Rangers, rather than going to foreign climes in Edinburgh.

As a Killie fan – I would love to see him return to his first club; a final hurrah of the Boyd/Naismith partnership, under the terrific managership of another Ayrshire boy who has come home from England, Stevie Clarke – what's not to like here in East Ayrshire.

 Steven Naismith when he had hair - I wouldn't mind seeing him back in these colours

He TUPE-toed out of Rangers at a time of financial turmoil, I doubt if he would fancy going back there when the financial turmoil is still ongoing. And, in any case, the question has to be asked – can Rangers afford to recruit him? I think not.

I mean, they were meant to be buying Jamie Murphy; that has turned into a loan deal. We hear players have to be moved on, before they can be replaced, and other clubs are not exactly lining-up to take the dead wood off Graeme Murty's hands.

Rangers have Andy Halliday and Michael O'Halloran back on the books, after they were cast aside by Pedro the Portuguese – can they afford to take on anyone else?

Maybe, getting answers these pertinent questions, would be a better use of scarce and costly staff journalists' time than breathlessly re-printing agents' flyers and repeating transfer tittle-tattle. But, as always with the Scottish dead trees press, there is the number one rule – don't upset Ra Peepul or the Celtic Family with bad news, or, they will stop buying the paper.

Well, I have news for adherents to this credo – the public has been less-inclined to buy your papers over the last few years, and a few stories which embarrass football clubs is not going to make the circulation downturn any worse. Indeed, a few good, true stories, as opposed to glossy PR for two clubs, just might maintain your falling circulations.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Should The SFA Stay, Or Should They Go? We Might Never Know Given How They Operate

IF EVER a line of poetry summed up a commentator's opinion of Scottish football, it is surely these words from the Bard: “An forrit, tho' Ah canna see – Ah guess and fear.”

Because, those few of us remaining in the media who are not members, “in good standing” of Lodge 1690, “the Lap-Top Loyal”, Lodge 1888 “the Celtic Apologists” or churnalists and stenographers – who dutifully re-write every item of pish they are fed from high Level PR exponents, of “family” members – we fear a dark future for the game which Scotland taught the world.

It's not as if I am every going to run out of subjects to blog about. Why, four days into 2018, we have already had the truly offensive behaviour at football, which saw rubber fake eyeballs thrown at Dean Shiels, the news that fewer Scots are playing in the top flight in Scotland, the way in which m'learnd friends are continuing to make money out of the demise of Rangers in2012 - or the subject I am going to focus on today – the continued argument over whether or not Hampden should continue to be our “National Stadium.”

 Hampden Park

Let me say, immediately in entering this debate, given their standards of fiscal management of Scottish football has been so-good, that the SFA seemingly cannot afford £3 million, which is the going rate for an average Championship defender in England – to implement goal-line technology, there is no chance whatsoever of the necessary cash being found to bring Hampden up to standard any time soon.

Thus, we are looking at:

  • The status quo – with the fans continuing to complain about poor sight lines and the other apparent drawbacks of Hampden as it now stands.
  • Cup finals and internationals going to Murrayfield
  • Cup finals and internationals going to either Celtic Park or Ibrox.

It is often, if not overlooked, more, rarely-mentioned, but, the fact the SFA's corporate offices are situated inside Hampden is an impediment to quitting “the Old Lady.” If the SFA pulls-out of Hampden, they will need to re-locate. I haven't a clue what the going rate for office space in Glasgow is, but, I doubt if they could secure as good a deal elsewhere as they currently have at Hampden.

Or, would the SFA be bold enough to quit the city they have called home since 1872, perhaps moving to the capital, or elsewhere in Scotland? Certainly, this would answer those critics who refer to the organisation as: “The Glasgow Football Association”, but, it would go against the association's institutional mind-set.

Might Rangers be able to offer office accommodation in one of the office blocks around Ibrox – or would this be unacceptable to the rest of Scottish football, reinforcing, perhaps, the view that the Ibrox club is treated as somehow “special” along the corridors of power.

Might Celtic, with their ambitious moves toward creating a “sport village” along London Road, be able to provide the necessary office space, in return for hosting the big games?

Of course, were the SFA to opt for taking big games to Ibrox, Celtic Park, or sharing them between both grounds, it would be further confirmation of the hold the Big Two has over the rest of Scottish football.

These two clubs are already the richest in the land, surely letting them host the bigger games would only take them further away from the pack, and increase the already large imbalance in Scottish football finance.


The objections to taking the internationals and big games to Murrayfield are immediately obvious – that would be an awful lot of cash leaving football for a rival code. But, IF the correct financial package could be negotiated, and in CEO Mark Dodson and Chief Operating Officer Dominic McKay, at Murrayfield, the SRU employs two guys who are sharp negotiators, and who would demand a hefty price for hosting football.

But, an additional 15,000 bums on seats for a big game – a potential 29% increase in gate receipts, etc. for sell-out games - well, that's a big incentive to switch to Murrayfield.

Mind you, the good citizens around Murrayfield, while quite happy to tolerate the upset of having up to 67,000 fans invade their space for three Six Nations games, two or three Autumn Internationals and Cup Final Day every year, might not be so-sanguine, if, the invading fans came complete with the attitude: “We Arra Peepul” and their accompanying triumphalism and belief they have a divine right to march down the middle of the road, or can pee in a convenient doorway. And, that's before we get to friendly exchanges of “banter” or worse bottles, with opposition fans.

OK, one or two rugby fans, fuelled by drinking if not wisely, too well, can go over the score, but, these are but a blimp in comparison to the Bigot Brothers' fans' propensity for offensive behaviour at football matches. This would not go down well with the douce burghers of our capital city.

As I have frequently said – ideally, we build a brand-new, state of the art truly National Stadium, on a greenfield (or brownfield) site, with good road and rail links, somewhere in the central belt. But, until then, expect the arguments to continue, and Hampden to deteriorate until moving away is the only option.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Another Stormy Year Ahead For The Real Rainjurrz Men

AM I the only person who thinks 2017 did not end well for Rangers? Sure, confirming Graeme Murty as manager for the remainder of the season might have bought them time, but, the fact is – the team is well off the pace in the league, the financial situation isn't getting any better and the divided board is beset by problems on all sides.

Graeme Murty - a period of stability, but, rather him than me

The principal problem, of course, is the Chairman, the King over the water remains more of a liability than an asset to the club. He is still a Glib and Shameless Liar and many Real Rangers Men, are beginning to see King Gasl as more of a “Reel Rainjurrz Man”.

Then, to add to the woes, on Hogmanay, Nottingham Forest sacked Mark Warburton – which I reckon could mean Mr Warburton being more than a little-more interested, now he has spare time on his hands, to secure his financial future by extracting the moneys he thinks he is due from Rangers.

Add the ongoing situation apropos King Gasl's dispute with the Take-Over Panel and, it is clear, m'learned friends will continue to get a good living out of the club.

Then there was yesterday's Old Firm game at Celtic Park. With my long-held refusal to have anything to do with Sky, I was forced to listen to BBC Radio Shortbread's commentary and, quite honestly, from the chances Celtic missed in that first half, Brendan Rodgers would be quite within his rights to fine his players for sloppiness.

 Brendan Rodgers - could well fine his team for sloppiness

Of course, as anyone with the faintest level of football knowledge will tell you, this is not a great Celtic team, so, in their second-half fight-back, Rangers could and should have won the game. However, if the current Celtic team is a pale shadow of the Lisbon Lions, the current Rangers team is even further off the level of the great Rangers teams of the past, such as the Scot Symon outfit in which Jim Baxter pulled the strings or the all-conquering Iron Curtain Defence team of 1949.

That's another wee problem to be sorted. Mr Murty has apparently been told, any recruitment at the January sales has to be on a one-out – one-in basis, and one or two of Pedro the Portuguese's recruits, having failed to set the heather on fire, will need to be off-loaded at a loss.

On the other hand, all seems sweetness and light across the city. Except, while out on their own in Scotland, Celtic will I feel certain, struggle in the Europa League. The cry is no defenders for a start. It will be interesting to see who comes in, and who goes out, over the next month.

Elsewhere, the return of Niall McGinn might well prove to be a great boost for Aberdeen. They are worthy of their current status as the second-best team in Scotland, but, are not that far ahead of the field and a bit behind Celtic.

My own personal hope for 2018 is that the Kilmarnock revival continues and they can cement their Top Six place. Killie has the best manager in Scotland in Stevie Clarke, the question is, how long can they hang onto him? Boydie has his mojo back, suddenly we are smiling again in East Ayrshire.

The feel-good factor has extended into South Ayrshire, where Ayr United will go into 2018 at the head of the SPFL's League One. They have a two-point advantage over the chasing Raith Rovers, although, the Fifers have two games-in-hand. This particular championship race will run and run, but, under Ian McCall, something approaching the Ally Swagger is returning down Somerset Road.

Forgive me that small diversion away from the Premiership, which, regardless of the quality, certainly has width. Only six points, or two wins, separate the teams in sixth and eleventh places, and that, in any division, far less a 12-club one, adds up to a competitive division.

Owen Coyle - you can never write-off one of his teams

Ross County are in the dangerous relegation slot, but, you never write-off an Owen Coyle-managed team.

The Championship is traditionally the toughest division to get out of, but, given the several happy years I spent covering St Mirren, I have a soft spot for the table-topping Buddies and nothing would give me more pleasure than to see the friends I made there, who are still at the club – guys like Tony Fitzpatrick, Campbell Kennedy, the Commercial Manager, and super groundsman Tommy Docherty back in the top flight.

They will face a tough fight with Dundee United for the automatic promotion slot and, while these two look like at the very least being in the play-offs, who joins them is a serious dog fight.

THE Scottish Junior Cup, third round backlog continued on Saturday, with the four outstanding matches again falling foul of the bad weather.

But, there was one significant result on the day, with Kilwinning Rangers travelling to Fortress Beechwood and beating Auchinleck Talbot 1-0. The Buffs have been on a downer in recent seasons, but, are now coming back, and currently lead the Super Premier Division.

In fact, there is a strange look to the table, with the three Garnock Valley clubs – Kilwinning, Beith and Kilbirnie in the first three places, ahead of Talbot. There's a long way still to go, but, this is a great way for North Ayrshire, which has been playing the poor relations to the East Ayrshire Trinity of Talbot, Cumnock and Glenafton in recent seasons.

And, speaking of comebacks, it is good to see Petershill, unbeaten after ten games, leading the West First Division, while Craigmark Burntonians, who nearly went out of the game at the end of last season, are leading the Ayrshire League.

That's it for 2017, see you across the bells in 2018 and, a Happy New Year, when it comes.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

As Edinburgh Showed - Foregone Conclusions Sometimes Don't Turn Out

I DO NOT suppose anyone around whatever the Rangers' training centre at Auchenhowie is called now noticed – football people are so-far up their own arses, the world might end and some would not notice until they couldn't find BBC Shortbread Open All Mikes – but, exactly a week ago, an Edinburgh rugby team, fully-expected to lose, went down a man to a fifth minute red card, and still beat a supposedly superior Glasgow side, in the first leg of the 1872 Cup.

Scorer Chris Dean gives a piggy-back to Jaco van der Walt as they celebrate his match-winning try in the Edinburgh v Glasgow rugby last Saturday. Might Edinburgh's against-the-odds win inspire Rangersagainst Celtic this afternoon?

What's this got to do with fitba – I hear you ask? Well, it is just the latest in a lengthy litany of sporting occasions in which the unexpected result happened. When it is a case of one team against another – now and then, shite happens, as it certainly did for Glasgow last Saturday at Murrayfield.

So, if Rangers are looking for inspiration for this afternoon's visit to Celtic Park, then they need only look towards the capital and the way the handicapped Edinburgh stuck to their guns. Dumbfounded the supposedly superior attacking skills of Glasgow, and won the day.

There have been spells in the past when one or other of the Old Firm clubs was supposedly far-superior to the other. There have been previous cases of the dominant party putting together lengthy runs of league and cup successes, but, always, in among the long winning runs, there was the odd, “shock” result, when the supposed underdog emerged victorious.

I am not really expecting today to be such a day, but, you can never say never, and, that is why I am temporarily taking-over the late Jimmy Sanderson's perch on top of a fence post.

To quote old “Solly”: “Only a fool forecasts the result of an Old Firm game”. I still fancy Celtic to win again.

TO PRO-INDEPENDENCE types such as I, it all seems to be coming together in a perfect storm. We have a Tory government, vying with the Rangers board for the title of the worst management team in the UK; we have Brexit going tits-up before our eyes; we have a Labour Party who seem to be a case of the blind leading the blind, and now, right on time for the Independence cause – we have cabinet papers being released which seem to demonstrate – the Scots weren't being paranoid when we thought Maggie Thatcher had it in for us – she really did.

 Maggie's No to Hampden, just one example of her disinterest in Scotland

If the revelation that the then Conservative government didn't want Glasgow to become European City of Culture back in 1990 isn't enough to demonstrate to those still prepared to give Westminster another chance, the perfidious nature of London rule – then maybe the revelations about the bourach which was the Hampden re-development of the same era, and the stuff coming out about the closure of Ravenscraig will.

And, of course, as befits their vision of themselves as “The Queen's XI”, dear old Rangers were in there, fighting against the move to modernise Hampden, for all they were worth.

By the way, back then, Rangers were still the dominant force in Scottish football – today, that role is in Celtic's keeping, and, what do you know, with updating Hampden again an issue – wee Peter Lawwell reckons they would be as well doing without and playing the big games at Celtic Park.

When, oh when will the other stumble bums along the Hampden sixth floor corridor and in the board-rooms of Scottish fitba realise – the Old Firm are not your friends; they are the oppressors, only interested in themselves, and, if the door to English football ever opens even a chink – they will be through it and gone, like rats up a drain pipe.

If Peter Lawwell, allegedly the most-influential man in Scottish football, really cares all that much – then, how about him voluntarily donating the £3 million it would supposedly cost to install goal-line technology to the SPFL – I mean, his club has just come into an unexpected £7 million windfall from Virgil Van Dijk's move from Southampton to Liverpool – it's not as if Celtic doesn't have that spare cash lying around.

Any way, I am not holding my breath on that one.

FOUR of the third round ties have still to be played, but, the fourth round of the Scottish Junior Cup was drawn this week.

The locals sometimes get a wee bit excited when Cumnock and Talbot clash

And there is no surprise concerning what is being seen as the “tie of the round”; Tom Johnston or Ian McQueen must have misplaced the oval and square balls, because, Cumnock and Auchinleck Talbot were drawn to meet at Townhead Park, on Saturday, 20 January. And there was me thinking, after their last little contretemps, some years back, when police horses had to be deployed to separate the fighting fans on the hallowed Townhead turf – which has now, by the way, been ripped-up and replaced by plastic – I understood the polis and the Scottish Government made it clear, they didn't want the ancient rivals meeting again anywhere short of the final.

Mind you, if Newtongrange Star can get past Cumbernauld United, in a tie due to be played this afternoon, then they will meet Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic in a sort of better-mannered East Lothian version of the old East Ayrshire tribal pitched battle.