Socrates MacSporran

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

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Shhh! Don't Tell The Punters

IT SAYS much for the abilities of today's front-line sports journalists in Scotland that, if you want to know what is happening as regards “The Ibrox Three” - messers Warburton, Weir and McParland, the Rangers management team who apparently “resigned” just over a week ago – you don't head to the traditional fountains of truth and fairness – The Herald, The Scotsman or BBC Scotland – no, you go straight to the blog of a Donegal-based Celtic supporter.

Yer man Phil Mac Giolla Bhain has been ahead of the game in matters Rangers since the far-off days when Sir David Murray was master of all he surveyed. Phil might be a Celtic fan with a Rangers obsession, but, he has consistently been a better reader of the complex intrigues around Ibrox than have the sports writers he so-brilliantly dismisses as “stenographers” (tm. Phil Mac Giolla Bhain).

He was at it again last night, in my view correctly pointing-out, if “The Ibrox Three” stand firm in their determination to prove they were sacked and did not resign; if they take it all the way to the Court of Session, then Rangers will need to find some £2-£3 million which they do not currently have, to fight a case they will probably lose. The embattled club is also elsewhere engaged in a legal dispute with Mike Ashley of Sorts Direct, where again, the smart money is on another defeat, and, for all I know, there could be other cases to come.

This, as PMGB delights in pointing-out, from a club without a line of credit from a bank and dependant on “soft” loans from directors to keep going.

But, you will not find such information in the newspapers. Why not? Are they maybe a wee bit feart that Ra Bears, who are not best disposed to the bearers of bad news about their beloved club, might turn nasty?

At least, the esteemed Bill Leckie is telling it like it is. If it was any other club, the fans would be revolting, there would be boycotts, but, maybe it's their creed of “No one likes us, we don't care” or perhaps “No Surrender”, but, crying: “The Big Hoose must stay open”, Ra Peepul will still turn up in numbers to howl their battle anthems at the moon as the footballing ship called “Dignity” founders yet again, under the catastrophic captaincy of an exiled glib and shameless liar.

Turning 70 next week, as I will, I will probably not be around when, after all the legal shenanigans end and the dust settles, someone, maybe that young boy Spiers, writes the definitive book, which spawns the definitive film, which becomes the accepted historical telling of a terrific tale.

I can see it now, some perhaps as yet unborn Scottish actor, a future Gerard Butler (although he's the “wrong” religion for the story) will, clad in a royal blue shirt, with the five stars on the left breast, face the camera and defiantly roar: “We are RANGERS”.

MEANWHILE, has anything happened on the pitch? Well, Aberdeen put Motherwell to the sword in midweek and Mark McGhee made a right tit of himself with some less than sporting Aberdeen fans, and became, in the process, a You Tube hit. Fitting.

That win put the Dons into second spot, ahead of Rangers. Well the stnographers (tm. Phil Mac Giolla Bhain) can concentrate on bigging-up “The Race For Second”, now we know the only question about Celtic's coronation as Champions will be, after which game doe they achieve this?

Elsewhere, Lee Clark has shown rare good judgement and shot the craw to Bury from Kilmarnock. Now there is a club with ongoing problems. I was there in a journalistic capacity the last time things went really tits-up at Rugby Park, back in the day before Bobby Fleeting arrived. I can see that scenario being reprised.

Good luck to Lee McCulloch, in his caretaker role, he'll need lots of it, plus a few goals from Boydie, to keep Killie in the top flight.

I DO NOT pay much attention to the Champions League – comparing the football there to what we are served-up on a regular basis in Scotland, well, it's depressing. I watched PSG take Barcelona apart in midweek, most-impressive, as was Bayern's disassembling of Arsenal 24-hours later. Aye, yon unidentified SFA official who, in the wake of the Real Madrid v Eintracht game at Hampen back in 1960, said: “Of course, Scottish fans would not pay to watch this kind of football on a weekly basis” clearly had his finger on the pulse of a nation. And his descendants along Hampden's sixth floor corridor are keeping the faith.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat

IN MY long media career, I can honestly say I have never been on the merry-go-round which is such a part of being a sports hack in Glasgow – Rangers press conference, Celtic press conference, Scotland press conference; Rangers game, Celtic game, Scotland game, and so on and on until retirement.

I have, by and large, avoided having to be nice to both the bigot brothers and the stumble-bums on the Sixth Floor at Hampden. However, I have, occasionally, been forced to attend these gatherings which are such a big part of the life of the Lap Top Loyal, the Celtic Apologists and the PR battalion of the Tartan Army.

One midweek Ibrox gathering, to announce Rangers' having Adidas as their kit sponsors, still makes me chuckle. The cream of Scotland's football writers had queued-up to respectfully discover the views of Mr (as he then was) Murray, the Rangers' Chairman; each one carefully addressing him as “Mr Murray” and only just managing not to tug his forelock as he did so.

Eventually, it was my turn to ask a question: “Davie” I began; you could hear the mass intake of breath, who was this usurper, daring to address Mr Chairman by his first name?

In response, David Murray addressed me by my first name, and, immediately at the end of the press conference, David Murray and I enjoyed a few moments of conversation, before he left. I was then collared by one of the pillars of the Scottish Football Writers Association, who demanded to know what I had been thinking of, addressing the Rangers' chairman by his first name.

I explained: “Ah kent his faither, Ah've kent Davie since he was involved in basketball, Ah've aye cried him Davie, so-what”. That Glaswegian clearly didn't appreciate how we did things in Ayrshire.

Then there was the summer afternoon at Somerset Park. If it wasn't Graeme Souness's first domestic game as Rangers' manager, it was one of the first. Post-match the new Rangers boss emerged from the dressing room to be confronted by the usual phalanx of football writers. Mobile phones were still fairly new and brick-size back then, so, when Souness asked if he could borrow one, he almost did himself an injury, so keen were the hacks to loan him theirs.

The above tales demonstrate, when it comes to the Old Firm, by and large the press are right up the clubs' erses; desperate to be noticed, careful not to offend, almost actively-seeking praise, recognition and a tit-bit from the Old Firm table. This means, straight away, objectivity goes out of the window.

I had a long spell of covering the local team for a local newspaper. We were a one-team paper, as such, we (the paper) were supporters. But, it was a two-way street, we scratched the club's back, they scratched ours. And, it was understood, by us and by the club, from Chairman, directors and Manager down to the lowliest apprentice, occasionally, we would have to criticise.

In nearly a decade in that job, we had one major fall-out, which was down to the Editor sticking his oar in where it wasn't needed. If the Manager, and I worked with five, thought I had written: “a load of shite” about a game, he was free to say this, knowing my response would be: “Aye, it was shite, just like your team's performance”. We never fell out.

OK, I was working with a single team, the hacks in our national newspapers are supposed to be working with 42 senior clubs, plus the various national sides and the lesser teams. They are supposed to treat each club equally, but, as we all know, two teams are more-important than all the rest put together, which isn't good for Scottish football, or the Scottish football press.

Right now, the managerial vacancy at Rangers is, apparently, the only story in Scotland, and, the stenographers (tm. Phil Mac Giolla Bhain) are falling over themselves not to offend Rangers in their coverage.

Rangers are in a mess, but, they've been in a mess for about a decade, since David Murray realised he could not continue to fund the club as he had been. There have been some (a lot) of stupid decisions made by the various people who have had charge of the club since SDM. Some of their signings have defied logic, the whole ethos of the club is wrong, but, not one hack has stood-up and said this. Why not? Fear, ignorance, a wish to not rock the boat? I don't know.

Well, one guy has had a go, consistently, and that is Bill Leckie of the Sun. Bill is a guy I have known for over two decades, he is a shining star in the firmament of Scottish sports journalism, and I commend his Monday morning piece on events at Rangers to the country.

It is a pity a few more of the stenographers (tm. Phil Mac Giolla Bhain) don't have Bill's balls. And, by the way, for the avoidance of doubt – BILL LECKIE IS A ST MIRREN FAN, believe me, he knows what it is like to suffer for your club.

SO, what happens next at Rangers? Your guess is as good as mine. There is an obvious press campaign to have: “A Real Rangers Man” installed as the next manager. OK, name me a RRM who is a good enough manager to take the current lot and bridge that chasm between them and Celtic?

Even if such a creature existed, remember, he has to do it with a Chairman who is, according to one of the top judges in South Africa: “A glib and shameless liar”, an opinion which might well be endorsed by a top Scottish judge by the time the various court cases involving the club are resolved.

Whoever comes in, even in a caretaker capacity, will have to work with the flawed squad he inherits, and, even to get rid of the obvious failures will cost the club money it clearly does not have. No manager with even half a brain would touch Rangers just now.

Except, someone will. Somebody desperate for a job, somebody, maybe a RRM, will have the ego to think: “I can turn this club around”. Aye Right.

The stenographers (tm. Phil Mac Giolla Bhain), are busy bigging-up their favourites. The usual suspects – Billy Davies, Alex McLeish, Derek McInnes are being named. Honestly, I don't think the stenographers (tm. Phil Mac Giolla Bhain) are doing these guys a favour.

Rangers are in a mess, indeed, they are in such a mess I can honestly see them being back in administration before the end of the season – the situation is that serious.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

ALL together now: “Let's all laugh at Rangers, let's all laugh at Rangers, na, na, na, na, na, na”

No caption needed

YOU would honestly think the clowns at the top of the marble staircase at Rangers' Ibrox Park are deliberately trying to ruin this once great club, so-poor has been their decision-making of late. And I do not limit my criticism of the club's High Heid Yins to the current sad bunch.

I know Graham Spiers, for one, would love to write a “proddy” version of 'Downfall', I would too, but, I think getting to the truth of the matter will have to wait a few years yet, until all the legal issues are resolved and the actors have calmed down and can reflect honestly.

Nobody comes out of the whole saga with any credit – from Sir David Murray, via the SFA, SPL and SFL, through various managers, to poor wee Davie Whyte (was he a crook or a deluded fall guy?), via Normandy Charlie Green, the saps at Duff and Phelps, the Three Bears, one or two interim chairmen to the Glib and Shameless Liar and his cohorts, currently frantically bailing to try to keep the footballing ship called Dignity afloat.

It's a gie weird affair when “General” Mike Ashley, arguably the biggest “villain” in English football, certainly around Tyneside, emerges as one of the few guys who has acted with any consistency and good faith. Love him or loath him, Mike has defended his own interests better than anyone else.

Of course, our wonderful Scottish fitba media has again been – er, is shite a strong enough word. The way this lot have covered matters Ibroxian over the past five years makes dear old Alex Cameron's midnight telephone call to the Sports Desk, when they told him him that Rangers were going to sign Mo Johnston - “Don't be ridiculous” was “Chiefy's” response – look like great journalism.

I said at the start of this whole sorry affair: there are lawyers set to make a rich killing, and, if the football powers-that-be had done one of two things:
1, regard Chuck Green's club as a “successor club” and kept “Rangers” in the top flight;
2, told Green – you're a new club, start in the Juniors, or the Lowland League, this whole matter would have been sorted-out lang syne.

There was a third option, which I personally favoured. This was, Green, or whoever, should have bought Rangers, and, at the same time, bought Portsmouth, which was up for sale at a knock-down price, merged the two clubs and the single club thus former – “Portsmouth Rangers” or whatever, should have played out of Ibrox, in the English League. Now, I know setting this up would have been difficult, but, it would not have been impossible. Mind you, we'd have missed a lot of fun over the intervening period.

So, “the Magic Hat”, “the Admirable Warburton”, call him what you will, has gone. Well, the “stenographers” (tm. Phil Mac Giolla Bhain) will now have a feeding frenzy as they speculate on who is next up for the Ibrox Bum of the Season campaign

At least the cannon fodder in Joe Louis's “Bum of the Month” boxing campaign, knew they only had to worry about “the Brown Bomber” hitting them – hard. Whoever succeeds Warburton will have to worry about the forces marshalled by Brendan Rodgers, Derek McInnes, Ian Cathro and Co hitting them head on, while the GASL and the stumble-bums in the Blue Room try to knock their feet from under them.

The new guy, whoever he is, will have to operate with a squad which has demonstrated it is not fit for purpose; reinforcements cannot be summoned-up before the close season, and then, some of the dross will have to shovelled out of the door, incurring severance costs which close observers of matters Ibroxian are positive the club cannot afford, before replacements can be recruited.

And, all the while the Donegal Diarist will be reminding his thousands of followers: “This is a club without a line of credit from a bank”; a club relying on loans from the directors to meet regular monthly commitments and whose “Glib and Shameless Liar” of a chairman has apparently misplaced the key to his £50 million “war chest”.

This is comedy gold. It is great for the sales of popcorn, jelly and ice cream in Croy and other havens of the members of the Celtic family, but, family doctors and pharmacists in Larkhall, Kilwinning, Drongan and the other reservations wherein Ra Bears live will need to stock-up on tranquilisers and anti-depressants in the months to come.

Both writer Armando Iannucci and star actor Peter Capaldi from the TV comedy series 'The Thick Of It' are Glasgow-born Scots-Italians. This would appear to make Celtic Park their natural football home, if they indeed have any time for the Beautiful Game. How I would love to see them tackle the whole Rangers saga, it would be comedy gold – but, could it come close to the real thing?

Mind you, this being Scotland – they would have to give this well-known Scottish actor a part.


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Feeding Frenzy From The Bottom Feeders

JUST occasionally, I feel sorry for the stenographers on the sports desks of the Glasgow-published papers, as they struggle to maintain the artery-blocking, obesity-causing over-feeding of the Old Firm fan-base, who will swallow just about any old shite concerning their clubs.

The stenographers really come into their own during those frenetic periods of the year when the transfer windows are open, and they can excel themselves writing exclusives about who is going to be the next big signing by one or other of the Bigot Brothers. Of course, this isn't as much fun these days, with one half being skint and forced to deal in the Poundstretcher and Bargain Basement end of the market, while the mob across the city can at least afford to shop in Lidl and Aldi.

But, to their credit the Lap Top Loyal and the Celtic Apologists still manage to come up with the goods more often than not. I was particularly impressed this morning by one piece in what used to be a serious broadsheet, this reckoned, because Celtic are currently rolling in cash, they ought to splash out and buy a second club in some other continent.

Pure pish. Now, I have no problems with any top-flight Scottish club setting-up a feeder club, but, I would prefer that feeder club be firstly, Scottish, or, secondly, based in one of the other nations of the UK. I appreciate there might be obstacles to, for instance, Rangers buying Ayr United or Celtic buying Dumbarton and running them as “feeder” clubs.

Some would argue, if this were to happen – and I plucked those two clubs out of thin air as it were – should the Scottish Cup draw come out: Ayr United v Rangers, and Celtic v Dumbarton, then there would be suggestions the ties would be fixed. That is understandable.

But, look at it this way; there is no way either Rangers of Celtic would willingly “throw” a Scottish Cup match against what would be an associate club. To suggest that is preposterous. OK, theoretically, there could be an attempted betting coup, but, in Scotland, the bookies would surely spot the trend of money going on the outsiders.

Also, what a gift to the main club, if the feeder outfit won. After all, Ayr and Dumbarton, the teams I am using for demonstration purposes, would be there to develop new talent for Rangers and Celtic. What a boost for the big two to realise, they had genuine quality players coming through, and what a wake-up call to their players, to realise, within the broader club umbrella, there are players ready to come in and displace them.

It is often said, well it was before Warren Gatland went down the road of picking Welshmen first, Englishmen second, Irishmen third and only picking Scotsmen when everyone else was injured, that if you were picked for the British and Irish Lions rugby squad, your biggest opponent was the guy you were battling for the Test match shirt.

It would be the same if a feeder team met the big team; the players in the big team would know – the kid I am going head-to-head with is after my shirt, well, he isn't getting it. Nine times out of ten, the big team would win, in fact, I would say, more than 90 times out of 100, the big team would win.

Say Celtic, because let's face it Rangers are skint so they don't have this option, was to go for a feeder club outwith Scotland. Where would they establish such a club? Well, they could look to England, picking a League Two or League One side. Then, suppose that side was to get into the Premiership, well, there you have it, Celtic in the top flight in England, the dream for a few on the board and many in the stands.

But, given the club's Irish heritage, Celtic taking over, or even establishing a team somewhere in the Republic of Ireland would make sound business and sporting sense. Similarly, Rangers could well think of a team in the (Northern) Irish League as one worth buying – but, would Linfield appreciate the approach?

If it worked for the Big Two, why not for Aberdeen, or the Edinburgh or Dundee clubs too?

WEE Jim Spence, well-known “Ginger” and Dundee United-minded journalist has caused a wee bit of a stooshie in Jute City this week, with his suggestion that Dundee and Dundee United might amalgamate and form “Dundee City”, making the City of Discovery a one-team city.

Needless to say, on Tayside, this went down like a fart in a space suit. I fear the lovely Jim might need to seek refuge in Glasgow for a time. Such is the tribalism in Scottish fitba, that one is as much of a runner as the late, great Wallace Mercer's abortive attempt to form Edinburgh City by amalgamating Hearts and Hibs.

Mind you, Jim has a point, we have too-many “senior” clubs in Scotland. I reckon, at most, we should have a 20-club senior division, below that, the clubs should be part-time, “community” clubs, geared to bringing through local talent and selling these players on to the senior clubs.

HERE we are, two months into 2017, the European competitions are about to kick-off again, but, Scotland's top clubs are out in the cold. What can we do?

Can I resurrect a suggestion I made some years ago? Why doesn't the SFA contact their friends in Scandinavia and see about restoring the old Royal League to the football calendar, but, with Scottish clubs participating?

The Royal League was a competition which ran for a few seasons during the 2000s, involving the top four clubs from Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Put four Scottish clubs into this and you have a 16-club competition which would surely, if our big two were involved, win TV coverage and mean additional European exposure for Scottish teams and players.

If it worked, perhaps the Icelandic and Finnish leagues would wish to become involved, and, who knows, if proposals to make the Champions League even more of a closed shop for the major leagues, this competition could become popular among the small and mid-ranking European nations.

FINALLY, perhaps because last weekend was a Six Nations Rugby one, I saw one or two commentators suggesting it was time we brought Television Match Officials into football. This followed Celtic getting a penalty that never was at St Johnstone.

One wee problem with that particular spot kick. The incident would not have come under the remit of a TMO in rugby. A second wee problem is, football is more free-flowing than rugby; the fans wouldn't like constant interruptions while the TMO is consulted. We have to remember, football players and coaches are more-argumentative than rugby players, unless a tennis-style challenges system was introduced, games would last two days, with all the arguing that would ensue about whose ball it was.

I can accept the benefits of TMOs, but, bringing them in will mean crossing a legal mine field.

Thursday, 2 February 2017


ALTOGETHER now – you all know the tune: “The cry was no defenders.....”. The parody on one of Ra Peepul's traditional battle hymns was again in evidence last night, as Rangers, stumbled, staggered and finally crumbled to an embarrassing 1-4 loss to Hearts at Tynecastle.

Embarrassing is maybe kind to the shambles that was the Ibrox defence, this was humiliation on a grand scale. Causing a mass exodus of Bears midway through the second half is supposed to be a Celtic trick, now here were Hearts having the temerity to get in on the act.

And, had the game finished-up 6-2 or 7-2 (taking heed of that superb reflex save from Jack Hamilton's during Rangers wee spell of good play late in the first half) nobody could have complained. It is now quite clear, Rangers is a club in deep, deep doo-dah.

I was speaking, over the weekend, to a couple of absolute Ranger' fanatics. Guys who have centre stand season tickets at Ibrox, whose support goes back to the days of, if not the Iron Curtain team of 1949, then at least as far back as seeing Geordie Young, Ian McColl, Sammy Baird and the Scott, McMillan, Millar, Brand and Wilson forward line.

Both, while not prepared to give up on a lifetime obsession are adamant: “We're skint, there are players getting a regular game who are not Rangers' class, our board hasn't a clue, the chairman is a charlatan and I have my doubts about the manager. Oh, and Rangers should not be signing players from the lower leagues in England, our demands should be for better-quality personnel”. That is a paraphrasing of what these two were saying.

Difficult to argue with their analysis.

MEANWHILE , without hitting their straps, Celtic comfortably beat Aberdeen, to move 25-points clear of the field at the top of the Premiership, and extend their winning domestic run to 28-games. And remember, for all their dominance, and superbly-consistent domestic form, this is a far from vintage Celtic team. What is to be done about Scottish fitba?

AS FOR young Ian Cathro, I was delighted for him. I still maintain, being the Honcho at a club is a lot different from being a mere coach, even a very good coach – which is what wiser heads than I have been saying about Cathro. He has not had his troubles to seek, but, last night's win – and for all Rangers' defensive travails, Hearts played very well – will, hopefully, be replicated on a regular basis and we will see genuine competition for the runners-up spot. Then, hopefully next season, at least one, hopefully two or three clubs will find the rhythm to challenge Celtic for the title, and do well in the Europa League.

By the way, kudos to the Hearts' fans for that chant with which they sent the early-departing visiting fans on their way: “Fucked by a lap top, you've just been fucked by a lap top”; terracing humour lives.

THE draw for the fifth round – the last 16 – of the Scottish Junior Cup has been made and it is:

Auchinleck Talbot v Luncarty

Dunbar United v Glenafton Athletic

Gartcairn v Carluke Rovers

Kelty Hearts v Kilwinning Rangers

Maryhill v Linlithgow Rose

Penicuik Athletic v Kirkintilloch Rob Roy or Musselburgh Athletic

Petershill v Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic or Kilsyth Rangers .

Renfrew v Sauchie

Some famous big name junior clubs still in there. Rob Roy and Glenafton, the two leaders of the West Premier Division are still alive, and, while Kilwinning Rangers might be holding up that table, the Buffs have a proud Scottish Cup tradition.

East Superleague leaders Kelty are still in there, as are second-placed Bonnyrigg Rose Athletic, fresh from their Senior Scottish Cup heroics, and, as ever, Linlithgow Rose are still going strong.

And, of course, having disposed of cup holders Beith, at their own Bellsdale Park in the last round, Auchinleck Talbot are in their customary position of cup favourites. With a home tie, at Fortress Beechwood, against Luncaty, will anyone bet against Tucker Sloan's men being in the last eight and going all the way?

I will be interested, in particular, in the Dunbar United v Glenafton clash; Dunbar is one of those places you don't want to have to go to if you harbour Scottish Cup ambitions, and, if the Glen can go there and not lose, we will be getting a wee bit excited down in this part of East Ayrshire.