Socrates MacSporran

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

Friday, 20 April 2018

Some Comebacks Take Longer And Are Harder Than Others

I AM old enough to remember Accrington Stanley dropping out of the Football League in 1962. I was pleased when the reformed club got back, and am absolutely delighted to see them seal promotion from League Two the first time in both the club's incarnation that Accrington Stanley has got out of the lowest tier of English league football.

Sir Michael Parkinson - a wonderful sports writer and "father" of Stanley Accrington

When the “old” Stanley folded, Michael Parkinson took their name and turned it around, with “Stanley Accrington” becoming his all-purpose name for the journeyman English League footballer. It is great to see the name now restored with pride to its correct order.

The fall, rebirth and rise of Stanley is not unique in football. In England quite a few clubs have hit financial trouble, gone to the wall and been reformed, with the minimum of fuss. Up here, one club went down this route in 2012 and the consequences are still reverberating around the game.

For instance, the present-day Stanley, although only formed in 1970, and not even a Football League club until 2006 is, in the football reference “bible”, the Sky Sports (formerly Rothman's) Football Yearbook, credited with the successes of the old, pre-1962 club. No shouts of “You're deid,” from fans of nearby local clubs such as Blackburn Rovers or Burnley – both of whom of course, being bigger and more successful.

They built slowly over their 46-year banishment from the big team; having failed once, they have built slowly and methodically and cut their cloth accordingly. I cannot help feeling, if the Scottish club that went out of business in 2012 had been a bit more humble like Stanley, and done things sensibly – well, maybe they wouldn't be second in the Premiership today, but they would probably be in a much-better place financially.

I said back in 2012, the reborn club should have been made to start again at the bottom – there was an uneven number of clubs in the Central Second Division of the West of Scotland Junior Superleague they'd have been a shoo-in for that place – then perhaps a lot of unpleasantness would have been avoided. If they had had to start from the bottom, assuming promotion every season they would, this season, have been celebrating winning League Two.

Lee Wallace the only survivor of the 2012 team

But, instead being too-big to ignore, our Scottish club began their recovery from League Two in 2012-13. Interestingly, again courtesy of the Sky Sports Football Yearbook, I can reveal, only one player from that 2012-13 League Two squad is still with the club, that is currently-suspended Club Captain Lee Wallace. Maybe, had they mended their profligate ways and allowed some of the young players blooded in that campaign in the bottom tier to mature and learn the game as they rose through the levels, the club would not be the financial basket case it currently is.

What's that old chestnut about people and institutions repeating the same mistakes in the hope of a different outcome, being a sure sign of madness. Of course, a sensible, planned progression of small steps, via a mainly youthful squad, with a small central core of experienced players, well, that doesn't grab the attention of the cheer leaders in the mainstream media. There is no click bait or big exclusive stories in being sensible.

SPEAKING of sensible. Last night, with nothing better to watch, I took-in the BBC2 Premier League Show, fronted by Gabby Logan. Now, Gabby I can just about take in small doses, but, I have to say, this is one excellent football programme. It looks at the game intelligently and finds different items to broadcast.

Gabby Logan - fronts a very good programme

Last night there was a thoughtful piece on West Ham, with some great input from David Moyes, who has surely began to rebuild his reputation over his very good six months in-charge of the Hammers. Gary Lineker asked some probing questions, well answered by Moyes.

We then had an interesting piece on the soon-to-retire Michael Carrick, all in all, a very good programme I shall watch again. I just wonder if Scottish football will ever be grown-up enough for us to have a similar type of magazine programme on oor ain wee haun'-knitted league. I won't hold my breath waiting, even though, in the excellent Tom English, BBC Shortbread has the perfect man to run it.

A serious programme on Scottish fitba – naw it would never catch-on.

THE GUARDIAN is currently running a series on memorable World Cup moments. Today's piece featured the great Austrian “Wunderteam” of the early 1930s, and a great read it is too.

The great Matthias Sindelar scoring for the Austrian Wunderteam

The article put the team's all-too-brief period as arguably the best team in the world as starting with their 5-0 Vienna victory over Scotland. There was an interesting sub-text to this, in that it identified an early influence on Austrian football as a Rangers' team which had toured that country in 1904. The Rangers party played six games in Austria and Czechoslovakia, winning them all and scoring goals for fun in the process.

Such was their effect on Austrian football, the locals began to play the Scottish-style of passing and moving which Rangers had taught them, and, by 1931, were able to show Scotland how to play it better than the originators.

Mind you, Scotland and Austria have been involved in one or two “kicking matches” since then, and I cannot help but feel – perhaps the Rangers influence on Austrian football has something to do with the way Celtic v Rapid Vienna games seem always to descend into violence. Just saying like.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Sporting Success Is Mainly A Mind Game

MY OLD mate, rugby writer Stuart Bathgate, came up with an absolute cracker for the Offside Line website, when he spoke to Glasgow Warriors' Assistant Coach, New Zealander Jason O'Halloran this week.

Stuart Bathgate - a cracking piece of work

One gets the impression the normally reticent O'Halloran went somewhat “off message” when he opined that Scottish rugby players and Scottish rugby were 20-years behind his native New Zealand in their attitude to the psychology of high-performance sport.

I can just see some of the Murrayfield “suits” squirming at the blunt-speaking from the Kiwi, as he revealed Warriors are seeking to recruit a sports psychologist to help the players' mental preparation for games.

Jason O'Halloran, a typically blunt-speaking Kiwi

O'Halloran told Stuart Bathgate and Offside Line:

From my point of view, as a Kiwi having come over here two years ago now, that’s the biggest area for growth in Scottish rugby, the whole sports psych thing. I don’t think it’s done particularly well at all. It’s often just seen as a bit of voodoo and witch-doctor stuff, which is where we were at in New Zealand probably 20 years ago. It’s a crucial part of the game and I think it’s something we could do a lot better.
I must admit when I came here, that was a real eye-opener for me, just how far behind New Zealand we are and how that affects our players as individuals – particularly around how they accept feedback. Sometimes Scottish boys can see any sort of constructive feedback as ‘You’re having a go at me’. That’s a big issue and dictates the way you coach and the way you give feedback or constructive criticism. That continues to be a balance for us as Kiwi coaches.
With Kiwi boys, you just give it to them and they either take it, take it on board and do the things you asked them to do to improve, or there are four others waiting and the sheer competition means they will lose out. They’re probably a little more motivated at times.”
O'Halloran was of course, speaking about his football code but, it would be fair to say, his criticism of Scottish egg-chasers applies equally well to our footballers. We might laud Sir Alex Ferguson as the Master of mind games, yet for all the received wisdom the hardest part of an athlete in any discipline to train-up to peak efficiency is that six-inch area between their ears, that line about: “It’s often just seen as a bit of voodoo and witch-doctor stuff” has resonance in Scottish fitba.

In Scottish football, more-so than in Scottish rugby O'Halloran's final paragraph, above I reckon applies – particularly that bit about the sheer competitiveness.

In fact I have seen imported coaches left scratching their heads at some attitudes in Scotland. I remember an American basketball coach telling me: “You tell a kid back in the States – 'You have a weakness here, go and do this to cure it,' he generally will do this. But, I have seen boys in Scotland, when told to go and work on a weakness maybe do this for five minutes, then they go back to doing something they are good at.”

A football genius, but, a rapscallion 

Maybe it's a Scottish thing. We give icon status to guys like Jim Baxter, Jimmy Johnstone and Billy Bremner, who, for all their wonderful talent, were perhaps better-known for indiscipline and breaking the rules. Guys like John Collins, who try to set examples of real professionalism we tend to disparage, or label “strange” for trying too-hard to better themselves.

Sports psychologists are nothing new, they have been tried before in Scottish football, who knows, maybe if O'Halloran and his boss Dave Rennie, can find the right guy, put him in place and we see Glasgow performing even better than they already are, to the extent they start winning the big prizes, it might spark an explosion in their use across Scottish sport – including fitba.

Mind you, given the Warriors already work at least twice as hard on their game than some other full-time Glasgow sports clubs we could name it might take a wee while for this to catch on.

MEANWHILE, the fall-out from Sunday's brutally one-sided Old Firm match continues. Yesterday, Kenny Miller and Lee Wallace were suspended, pending an internal investigation into their full and frank exchange of views with interim Manager Graeme Murty, following the debacle.

OK, Miller, the club's “Senior Professional” and Club Captain Wallace were probably mightily pissed-off by not being selected and unable to play respectively, and by the paucity of the opposition provided against Celtic.

But, football's Omerta demands such fall-outs are kept behind firmly-closed dressing room doors. I remember, more than 20 years ago, a St Mirren player and his manager came to blows in the dressing room, we didn't hear about it for ten days, by which time all was again sweetness and light – that's the way well-run clubs do things.

Another time, fed-up with a run of poor results, Tony Fitzpatrick, then managing Saints, called his squad into the dressing room, locked the door and convened a no-holds-barred meeting. But, before he locked the door, he told the squad: “Anyone who doesn't want to play for me – leave now.”

Fitzie maybe got a shock when Jim Dick accepted his leave-now offer

I remember one of the players telling me later: “We were all sitting with our heads down, looking at the floor, and I remember seeing a pair of legs and feet walking past. I did not make eye contact with anyone, and it wasn't until after the meeting that I knew who had walked out.”

The dissident was midfielder Jim Dick, who had been transferred to Ayr United within the hour. Again, that's how well-run teams do things.

Still, there are things to enjoy about the current turmoil at Ibrox. The so-called Angry Bears have apparently taken a vow of silence and will refuse to vocalise their support for the club until things are sorted out.

So, no blood-soaked trouser legs for a wee while to come. Let's be thankful for small mercies.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

And Today's Rangers' Crisis Is

ANOTHER day, another Rangers crisis. But, not that serious a crisis – the cracked logo template wasn't called-up for back age application by either the Recor or Sun sports subs. Or is it just that, Rangers 2017-18 is one of those Russian dolls, in a football kit – no sooner is one crisis removed, than another is revealed.

Today's Rangers Crisis, featuring Kenny and Lee

A wee word here to the celebrating Celtic Family, enjoying extreme schadenfreude at the ongoing clusterfuck which is life at Ibrox; your turn is coming. Since 1888, the story has been a period of Celtic dominance, followed by a period when the other lot are cocks of the walk, before the pendulum of power swings back the other way. You would think the fans of a club whose theme song includes the line: “if you know their history” would guard against over-confidence and gloating.

The GASL will not always be there, messing-up Rangers, they will be back. That's a statement of the obvious, I would far-rather see a couple of other Scottish clubs, as Abrdeen and Dundee United managed under Alex Ferguson and Jim McLean, rising to offer a genuine challenge, only, this time one which lasts longer than the half decade or so the New Firm managed. I may have a long wait or this, however.

But, to return to that unfolding horror that is Rangers this season. When the Club Captain and the Senior Professional are in open conflict with the caretaker manager, not only does it virtually guarantee, that caretaker, in this case Graeme Murty, will not inherit the throne. Mind you, that will be no bad thing for Murty, being Rangers manager is more poisoned chalice than throne these days. But, we all know this.

I am actually glad I am no longer “on the tools” full-time. It must be Hell being a football writer on a Scottish title today. Trying to sell the shite we are subjected to on a Saturday is bad enough, but, how much worse is it trying to find something new to say about events around Rangers, while avoiding the elephant in the room – the fact their Chairman's level of incompetence and failure to accept reality is making President Trump and Prime Minister May appear competent in comparison.

Mustn't speak the truth, less it forces the lieges to rise in revolt. That's the problem with Rangers' fans – they haven't revolted. Celtic, back in the 1990s, were on the verge of collapse, but, at the 11th hour, the wee man in the bunnet from Croy emerged to save the Hoops.

The Wee Messiah in the bunnet - how Rangers could do with someone like him

In 2012, nobody came forward to save the jerseys and Rangers went under; unless the GASL is removed, it could happen a second time at Ibrox; and that is not scare-mongering.

So, operating with one hand tied behind their backs, the churnalists and stenographers have to write something, anything. Mind you, whatever they do write will be read. In this morning's list of most-read stories on The Herald's website, the stories ranked 1st, 3rd,th, 8th, 12th, 17th and 19th were all Rangers stories. Is nothing else happening in Scottish football?

Nothing is surer than, for the rest of this week, the football agenda will be driven by the Miller-Murty-Wallace menage a trois, which aint no happy three-in-a-bed romp. The stenographers will be thumbing through their contacts book, trying to decide which of the usual suspects can say the most-outlandish thing about the whole sorry mess, to prop-up their paper's slipping circulation.

BACK in 2010, during the World Cup in South Africa, Frank Lampard fired in a shot which came down off the German crossbar and, as TV pictures demonstrated only too clearly, hit the ground over the line. The ball then spun backwards and was clutched and cleared by a grateful Manuel Neuer.

Lampard hit the shot at 37 minutes, 14 seconds into the game, but, at 38.06, at the opposite end of the park – play having continued from Neur's throw-out, Lukas Podolski fired a shot a foot wide. Now, supposing that Podolski shot had gone in – cue uproar.

Any way, it has taken a number of years, but, the furore over the Lampard no-goal has eventually led to the introduction of the VAR review system. However, this has not been welcomed with universal approval, and, the doubters got another reason to be upset yesterday, in the Bundesliga.

The referee in the Mainz v Freiburg match, Guido Winkmann, missed a cross from Mainz's Daniel Brosinski striking the hand of Marc-Olivr Kempf of Freiburg. He then blew for half-time and off the players trotted, only for the VAR official to bring the handball to Winkmann's attention and suggest he award a penalty.

 For you zer is no argument, ze penalty has been given

Some five minutes after they left the park, Winkmann recalled both teams and, nearly seven minutes after the original incident, Pablo di Blasis fired home from the spot. The players then trotted back off to resume the half-time interval.

I have seen rugby matches restarted with a penalty from half-way after a bit of silliness, maybe Winkmann should have let the interval run, then had the penalty taken before the second-half kicked-off.

I remember saying, at the time of the Lampard ghost goal, the fact football is such a free-flowing and fast-moving game would make video refereeing decisions difficult to bring in. Football is not stop-start like rugby.

Aside from the fact, the Mainz penalty looked, to me, to be ball to hand, the delay in calling the penalty, then having it taken, demonstrates the difficulty of adapting video technology to the game.

The fans' view - a shite decision and here's the paper to clean it up

Never mind, if Question of Sport lasts another 40 years, it will come up again as a What Happened Next question.

It is maybe just as well the SFA and the SPFL cannot afford VAR, just imagine what might have happened had that been an Old Firm game, or another of our little local clan battles passing for football.

If VAR ever reaches the juniors, it will bring a whole new level of intensity to such local friendlies as Auchinleck Talbot v Cumnock.

Monday, 16 April 2018

A Longer, Harder "Winter" Beckons For Ra Peepul

SEVERAL of my uncles were: “not unfamiliar with wearing an apron,” to use a good auld Scots euphemism; a couple of others had special collarettes, which were seldom off their necks in the “marching season”. Ma Faither didn't have a sash, or an apron, but, he subscribed to the popular an all-too-common thinking in the East Ayrshire coalfield, perhaps best summed-up as: “We Are The People.”

Rangers winning the Ne'erday fixture, particularly if it was played at Celtic Park, was a good excuse for extra large hauf to wash down the steak pie which was the staple of the Ne'erday Dinner. To them, the traditional and normal order had Timmy bowing to the superiority of Billy.

Broonie gets slightly carried away with one of Sunday's goals

Sadly for Scotland, these days are not yet over and consigned to the dustbin of history – and, after yesterday's William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final demolition of Rangers by Celtic, a general air of gloom has descended over the working-class end of God's County.

That's ten-in-a-row games in which Brendan Rodgers has presided over a Celtic win. The Celtic Family is delighted, and dark mutterings can be heard emitting from behind the firmly shuttered windows of the “ludges.”

Checking-out the “highlights” on Sportscene last night, I fear, this long, hard winter has some way still to go for “Ra Peepul.” Pity the poor fitba-writing churnalists and stenographers, charged with spinning a positive line out of this latest disaster for Rangers.

A fish, we are told, rots from the head, and, until enough of Ra Peepul decide, enough is enough, and turn-on and remove the GASL who is running things at the club, using OPM (that's Other People's Money), we can look forward to continued Celtic dominance of our domestic game.

Or, just maybe, a provincial challenger will emerge, well-enough managed and more-importantly, well-enough funded, that they can defy the inevitable Glasgow media campaign to get their best players sold off to the Old Firm, or the machinations of rapacious agents, selling these same better players off to Championship clubs in England, prepared to pay them over the odds to strut their stuff in England's second tier.

MIND YOU, the GASL has more-urgent concerns to address. Sunday's huge reddy was, we understand, the last straw for a lot of guys who were prepared to give the management team a bit more time.

I hope Graeme Murty has been keeping a daily journal since he arrived at the club. His book about his experiences, if he has kept the right notes, should be a best-seller and will tide him over as he endures what will probably be a lengthy wait for compensation, when, somewhere around the end of the season, he is thanked for his efforts as caretaker manager and shown the door.

 Graeme Murty - his Rangers Diary might be worth reading

Sure, as a young manager, making his way in the game, Graeme has made mistakes, but, to use an auld Scots expression – he could only pish with the cock he was given, and that was inadequate for the job of keeping Rangers ahead of Celtic.

Murty will depart, and a medium-sized forest in Finland will be felled to fuel the ferocious fervour of the dead trees press to identify and interview the next big name who will be invited to sit in the office at the head of the marble staircase an turn things around.

Except, the word is out in football, and only the deluded and the truly-desperate would go near a club which is football's equivalent of an HIV-positive leper.

Football today, being money-obsessed, whoever the next Messiah turns out to be, he will want backing with real, hard cash – where is that to come from, since only the deluded would now give their money to the GASL?

The churnalists and stenographers of the Lap Top Loyal will be expected to put a positive spin on things, but, even that is becoming more and more difficult, old Abe Lincoln's words about how often you can fool Ra Peepul is certainly coming into play after Sunday's latest eye-opener.

I fear it is going to be a long, hard and very-difficult winter for Ra Peepul, and, the prospect of ten-in-a-row is becoming ever more possible.

But, all is not lost. In the long wilderness years between winning the League in 1938 and the return of Stein in 1965, Rangers were as-dominant of Celtic as the reverse is the case today. But, for all that, there were the occasional shafts of sunlight for Celtic: the Scottish Cup win in 1951, the victories in the St Mungo and Coronation Cup competitions, the Double in 1954, “Hampden in the Sun” in 1957.

A rare ray of sunshine during Cetic's wilderness years

This kept hope alive even while Rangers were winning 11 of the first 20 post-war league championships and going far in Europe, while Celtic players didn't need passports. Towards the end of this long spell in the doldrums, at least, Sir Robert Kelly, with the Kelly Kids was building for the future, although it needed the return of Big Jock before that future become today.

Rangers in 2018, with their obsession with money and buying-in ready made, are not even husbanding their meagre resources as well as the notoriously miserly Kelly and the “Biscuit Tin” board did back all those years ago.

On average, during the “Wilderness Years”, Rangers finished 16 points ahead of Celtic (I did the calculations at 3pts for a win, so as to level the playing field with later comparisons). However, towards the end of this sorry era, as I said, Kelly was building for the future. When Stein arrived, only Willie Wallace of the Lisbon Lions was not already at the club, a tribute to the ability of Kelly, and, it should never be forgotten or under-estimated, Sean Fallon, to spot a player.

Fallon and Stein - Sean's part in building the Lions has maybe been understated

Is there today a Jim Craig or a John Clark, perhaps the least-lauded of the Lions, waiting there in the Rangers reserves, for a coaching genius to arrive and sport their potential? I doubt it.

When, after Stein's return, the power pendulum swung Celtic's way, their average points margin over Rangers was 10 points per season, but, in 9 of the 21 seasons between Stein's arrival back at Celtic as manager, and Souness arriving at Ibrox, the Old Firm finished first and second 9 times, Celtic being top 8 times and Rangers once during these 1-2 seasons.

During Celtic's wilderness years there was never an Old Firm 1-2, with Celtic finishing ahead of their traditional rivals just twice, during their Double season in 1953-54 and again the following season, 1954-55.

We once had genuine provincial opposition to the Old Firm

Unlike today, however, the provincial teams could, and did, offer stern opposition, with Hibs, three times, Hearts, twice, Aberdeen, Dundee and Kilmarnock all winning the league in this period.

Even during the Stein-dominated era, albeit after he had left Celtic and before Souness arrived, we had that all-too-short age of the New Firm of Aberdeen and Dundee United. I do not see a provincial challenge on the horizon today.

Last season, the gap between Celtic and Rangers was 39 points; this season, it is already 13 points, so Rangers are still a long way behind. I fear, from a Rangers perspective, that gap will take a lot of bridging, and I don't see the engineers arriving any time soon.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Why Import Non-Scots To Produce This Low-Quality Rubbish?

I MISSED the early part of the second-half of yesterday's William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final, between Motherwell and Aberdeen, while I watched the Scotland v South Africa match at the Commonwealth Games Sevens.

 Scott McKenna - one of the minority of Scots playing at Hampden yesterday

But, from what I did see of the game – it was shite. Aberdeen were terrible and to be fair, Motherwell didn't have to be particularly good to beat them. But, really, if that is a sample of the quality of football on offer in the top flight in Scotland – WE ARE ALL DOOMED!!!

Quite honestly, if that's the level of football you get when you pack both sides with cheap imports – WHY BOTHER. Aberdeen used 14 players, only 6 of whom were Scottish, while Motherwell's 14-man squad was even less tartan, with only 4 Scots. I accept Aberdeen were minus at least two Scottish automatic picks, but still.

Aberdeen began with: Lewis; Ball (both English), Arnason (Icelandic), McKenna, Considine (both Scottish), O'Connor (Republic of Ireland), Nwakali (Nigerian), Stewart, Christie, May (all Scottish), Rooney (Republic of Ireland). The three substitutes used were: Mackay-Steven (Scottish), McGinn (Northern Irish) and Cosgrove (English).

Motherwell used: Carson (Northern Irish); Kipre (French), Aldwel, Dunne (both English), Rose (Australian), Tait, Campbell, Cadden (all Scottish), Grimshaw, Main, Bowman (all English). Off the bench came Newell (English), Ciftci (Turkish) and MacLean (Scottish).

If the Scottish footballing public is to be asked to pay good money to watch such shite, well, the Scottish Football Association ought to be insisting, it's Scottish shite we see. The SFA's is charged with fostering and encouraging the game of association football, that is its core mission.

Frank Sauzee - that level of quality we will accept

I do not see how allowing our leading clubs to pack their squads with, at best journeymen non-Scots, to the detriment of home-grown Scottish talent meets this core mission. Nothing wrong with seeing quality non-Scots such as Brian Laudrup, Paul Gascoigne, Henrik Larsson or Frank Sauzee, strutting their stuff in Scotland, but, we should be positively discriminating in favour of home-grown talent.

I repeat an argument I have used before, if Premier Rugby and the RFU (Rugby Football Union) in England can insist each club fields a match-day squad which is 70% “England-qualified”, then why cannot the same criteria be introduced by the SFA and the SPFL?

This 70% threshold means, there has to be 16 England-qualified player in each 23-man match-day; if that criteria was introduced into Scottish football, each 14-man useable match-day squad would need to include at least 10 guys qualified to play for Scotland.

We do not even need to insist on that high a percentage of Scottish players, we could go back to the old “eight diddies rule”, or, as it was known across the rest of the football world: “the three foreigners rule.” What is wrong with that?

I KNEW you can take very little on trust in football. One of the joys of this game is, it can rear-up and bite you on the bum at any time, particularly when you try forecasting results.

Mind you, I am delighted St Mirren will be back in the Premiership next season, following yesterday's home draw with Livingston, which got them over the line. I hope they have a great night celebrating, and that they can hold onto their top-flight status next season.

I thought Ayr United would have enough to beat Stranraer at Somerset Park, but, fair play to the men from the head of Loch Ryan. As I said, they like nothing better than sticking it to United or Queen of the South – their two closest neighbours, and they certainly put a spanner in the spokes in the Honest Men's seeming free-wheel into the Championship. And, with Raith Rovers making no mistake at home against Queens Park, that automatic promotion place is not as clear cut as it was prior to kick-off yesterday.

Ayr's defeat was met with particular joy just up the road in Kilmarnock, as, well Ayrshire football rivalry being Ayrshire football rivalry, schadenfreude is the rival fans' default setting. That feeling being even more-enjoyable, with Kilmarnock winning at Hamilton – as The Fat Man scored again, and making a real push for the highest-possible top six finish.

 Could Boydie and Stevie be celebrating again next month

Who would have thought, incidentally, that, in 2018 we would still be witnessing Kirk Broadfoot and Kris Boyd, Kilmarnock's goal-scorers at Hamilton, making headlines in Scottish football. Thirty-three-year-olds from Drongan, such as big “Clubfoot” and 34-year-olds from Tarbolton like Boydie, are normally to be found, if still playing, wearing the colours of one of the top Ayrshire junior sides, rather than still strutting their stuff on the senior stage. Football is indeed a funny old game Saint.

Those of us who are Rugby Park-minded are all hoping against known procedures that oor ain Boydie and Super Stevie Clarke can defy the Lap Top Loyal and the Celtic-Minded among the football-writers and be voted Player and Manager of the Year. Given his dabbling in the media and former Rangers service, I would say, Boydie has more chance of getting the nod than his gaffer, when the winners are finally announced next month.

SPEAKING OF Ayrshire rivalry, Kilbirnie Ladeside took bragging rights in the Garnock Valley Derby, by beating West Superleague table-toppers Kilwinning Rangers at Valefield.

This defeat cut the Buffs' lead at the top of the West Superleague to a mere two points, and, assuming they win their four games in hand, Auchinleck Talbot are now the favourites for the title. Mind you, they are not the only team who can now dream of the title.

Speaking of the mighty 'Bot, they suffered a rare home defeat in yesterday's Scottish Junior Cup semi-final, going down 1-0 to Lochee United. Next week's second leg, up in Dundee, promises to be an epic. Lochee better be ready for a siege, Talbot will throw everything, including yon statue of Desperate Dan, at United.

In the other semi-final. It's advantage Hurlford United, whose jaunt up the A71 yesterday saw them beat Wishaw 1-0 in the first leg of the other semi-final.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Stuff Fitba, Let's All Take Up Boolin'

RIGHT, after watching the Commonwealth Games, I think I have the answer for Scottish football. We turn every pitch into a bowling green, and we concentrate on a sport Scotland is good at. We sent ten boolers, male and female out to the Gold Coast, every one came back with a medal of some sort.

Alex "Tattie" Marshall - the epitome of Scottish sporting greatness

Alex “Tattie” Marshall, in skipping the victorious Four, took his gold medal tally past that of Allan Wells to become Scotland's most-successful gold medal winner in Commonwealth Games history. Nae harm to the great “Tattie”, but, he is surely the benchmark for a successful Scottish sportsman – baldie-heided, several stones overweight, but, absolutely brilliant at what he does. I've seen our sporting future.

THIS is Scottish Cup semi-final weekend. I will deal with the William Hill version of the national trophy below, but, I intend to start with real fitba, and the Junior Cup semi-finals.

That Auchinleck Talbot are involved is no secret, and nothing new. In today's first legs of the two-legged semis, they entertain Lochee United at Beechwood Park, obviously hoping to build-up a sufficiently-big first-leg advantage to make the second leg, in the City of Discovery, a formality.

But, the real surprise package this season has been Wishaw Juniors, who have home advantage in their first leg, against Hurlford United. Ever since an influx of sponsorship money and the arrival of Darren Henderson as manager, United have gone from being just another struggling Ayrshire side, to one of the regular contenders for the major honours.

Weeshee” meanwhile have been in the doldrums for years. They are currently lying in mid-table in the McBookie, Central District First Division – albeit with a lot of games in hand and facing an end-of-season fixtures pile-up. That's the third level in the West, while Hurlford, although struggling in the relegation zone, play their bread and butter league football two leagues higher up.

On paper, United should win, but, this is knock-out, Junior Cup football and anything can and probably will happen. With near-neighbours Motherwell involved in the senior semi-final, against Aberdeen today, this is a big day for Motherwell and Wishaw.

 Scottish fitba's most-enduring love affair Tucker, Talbot and the Junior Cup

As I said above, Talbot will be firm favourites to make home advantage count against Lochee, but, Talbot boss Tucker Sloan will be taking nothing for granted and will treat the visitors with the utmost respect. These should be two good games – which isn't always the case with the tensions evident in semi-finals.

Elsewhere in junior football, and in God's County of Ayrshire - there is an intriguing local derby in the Garnock Valley, with West Premier Division leaders Kilwinning Rangers making the short trip to Kilbirnie, to take on fourth-placed Ladeside. No love lost between these two, ever, so this clash should be tasty, and Valefield Park no place for the faint-hearted.

THE Senior semi-final interest has, naturally, given the attention-span of the average Scottish fitba-writing hack, been all about the Bigot Brothers.

Can Rangers knock known form and league position on its head and win Sunday's meeting of the mindless at Hampden? Of course they can, particularly with a local derby but, that said – anything other than a Celtic win will be a major surprise. Brendan Rodgers and his squad really want that second straight treble, and should manage it.

But, as the late, great “Solly”, James Sanderson always cautioned, never forecast what will happen in an Old Firm game.

Today's first semi-final, between Aberdeen and Motherwell has, not unexpectedly, been somewhat overshadowed, but, of the two ties this one is the harder to call. On league position and current form Aberdeen should win but, Motherwell have turned them over already this season and, with the Dons missing three key men, are quite capable of doing so again, to set-up another cup final crack at Celtic.

MY MATE Johnny is getting a wee-bit excited this week. Johnny is a regular Somerset Parker who is hoping for an upset this afternoon, when Queens Park travel to Starks Park to take-on Raith Rovers.

Because, should the Spiders, languishing at the foot of the table, upset the odds and do a number on Raith, and the Honest Men turn over Stranraer at Somerset, United will win Ladbrokes League 1. Ian McCall's men have a five-point advantage over the Fifers, with just three games remaining, which, on-paper is a nice wee buffer to have.

Ian McCall - his Ayr team are on the cusp of promotion

But, there is nothing Stranraer like better than going up the A77 to put one over on Ayr – well nothing other than heading along the A75 to upset Queen of the South; so nobody around Somerset Road is taking anything for granted.

The automatic promotion spot to the Championship is now United's to lose, and, while the party might have to wait another week or two, I cannot see such an experienced boss as McCall letting such a great position slip.

GREAT expectations too, at the Paisley 2021 Stadium this afternoon, where St Mirren need a mere one point to clinch their return to the top flight.

The Buddies will be hoping to clinch that elusive point this afternoon, but, it will not be easy, since their visitors are second-placed Livingston. Everything adds up to another big day in Paisley, and, having lost to Dundee United last time out, Jack Ross will certainly want promotion done and dusted ASAP, which means tomorrow.

As an old Paisley Daily Express hand, I have a huge soft spot for the Buddies plus a good few friends who will be anxiously hoping to roar their favourites home this afternoon.

LADBROKES League 2 is all-too-often overlooked in Scottish football, which is a shame this season. Because the promotion and title battle in the bottom division has been the best over the four senior divisions.

The fight for the automatic promotion spot, between leaders Montrose and Peterhead, who trail the Gable Endies by three points, looks likely to go down to the wire. It's a case of top v bottom today, with Montrose entertaining second-bottom Berwick, while Peterhead host the basement-occupying “Blue Brazil.”