Socrates MacSporran

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

Friday, 22 May 2020

I Feel Like Having A Rant

ONE OF the great joys of this current lockdown is – we all have the licence to allow our imaginations to run riot, should we so desire. For me, that allows me to work on my fantasy of which sports clubs I would buy, and how I would run them, if I ever “did a Weir” and won a mind-boggling prize on Euromillions.

All I can guarantee is, I would assuage over 60 years of hurt and Lugar Boswell Thistle would win the Scottish Junior Cup. The notion of buying what remains of Rangers International FC, if the timing was right following what I now see as their almost inevitable liquidation, somewhere down the line, then running the club properly, also tickles my fancy. But, do I really want to open that can of worms?

Speaking of “The Breengers,” I see the acknowledged expert on all matters Ibrox, “Phil Four Names – The Donegal Blogger” had fresh news for his obsessed followers this week, apparently the near-mythical Albion Car Park is up for sale – further proof, should it be required, of what a basket case RIFC currently is.

Of course, what yer man in Doegal is not telling his adoring public is – there is an ongoing case in France, alleging money laundering and nefarious practices by a bank whose majority shareholder is a Dublin business-man, a certain Dermot Desmond.

Well, since Rangers have, what Phil Four Names likes to describe as: “a Convict Chairman,” it stands to reason, Celtic need one as well.

Phil is very good at selective churnalism. When Channel 4 News's Alex Thomson was all over what is now known as “The Big Tax Case” which eventually did for the 1872 version of Rangers, well Mr T was getting daily name checks in Phil's blog and he was the most-wonderful investigative reporter ever.

Some weeks back, Thomson did a piece on the paedophile behaviour which has seen some familiar figures around Celtic Boys Club enjoy Her Majesty's hospitality in her large and forbidding “bed and breakfast” premises in the Riddrie area of Glasgow. Mr Thomson did a piece on the efforts of Celtic FC to put clear water between that club and the Boys Club. However, you would not have read any of that in yer man Phil's blog.

Mind you, to be fair to Phil; we all need a laugh at this time, and I nearly pished myself earlier this week when he had a go at former Rangers' PR guru James Traynor.

As someone who has shared a few press boxes with wee Jim, I am a wee bit disappointed in the way he forgot the first rule of journalism and became the story. In the last few years, Jim has, I feel, let himself down badly (but, he's not the first and will not be the last journalist to do this).

However, if he lives to be 200 years old, the Donegal Blogger can never aspire to getting anywhere close to James Traynor in terms of talent as a journalist. He's a pygmy taking on Muhammad Ali – an Ali who is impervious to the wee man's poison darts.

And in case you're reading this and feeling smug James, remember, you were only ever the second-best sports writer in your family.

No, when it comes to the Bigot Brothers of Scottish football, I fear whitabootery will always be with us. A plague on both their houses.

THE CURRENT pandemic has allowed our broadcasters to dip into the archives and re-run some classic games of the past. I must admit, I am not a fan of such retro programming – although I would dearly love to see the 1967 Wembley game broadcast, since it wasn't shown live at the time.

What I have been watching again is the ESPN series of 30 for 30 films on American sport; there are some cracking films in there, which have made me aware of great stories which were hitherto unknown to me.

Thes films have also made me realise who obsessed our American cousins are with statistics in sport. Baseball, even more than cricket, is ruled by the numbers, and I now know what some previous “gibberish” in baseball stats – rbis, eras etc - stands for.

In American Football, they also love their statistics, passing yards, rushing yards, third and fourth down completions etc; while in basketball defensive and offensive rebounds, field goal and free throw percentages are studied by all the fans.

In ice hockey, we have assists counts, short-handed goals and power plays either completed or burned – even the dumbest fan knows and appreciates such statistics.

But, statistics mean little in soccer (as the Americans call our game). I wonder how some so-called superstars might be assessed, if we had the same liking for statistics. We might, for instance, find that a guy we think of as a great goal-scorer actually only gets three of every ten shots he takes on target, and only scores with one in fifteen of these. We could also find that a supposed midfield general has a pass completion ratio which is so poor, it would get him laughed out of the game if he was an American quarter-back.

Reading the statistics is a core element in “moneyball analysis” of American sports – I don't know how that might work in Scottish Fitba.

FURTHER proof, should it be required, of the truth of the “Syemour Skinner Dictum: “You Scots are a contentuous people,” came this week in the latest chapter in the setting-up of the new West of Scotland Football League.

As part of the tidy-up, the currently suspended West of Scotland Regional Leagues of the Scottish Junior Football Association decided to settle final positions, by placing the clubs in order, according to the average number of points per game they had won.

This meant that Auchinleck Talbot were awarded the league title, in spite of them being in third position, but with a large number of games in hand over the teams above them.

To me, it seemed like stating the obvious to award the title to Talbot. Every season, because they play so-many Scottish Cup ties – both Senior and Junior, come the light nights, the 'Bot are engaged in playing twice or three times per week as they catch-up. It is always thus and, invariably, when the fat lady finally sings, it is to award the biggest prizes to the Talbot.

But, jealousy runs deep in the juniors and one or two clubs – who haven't beaten Talbot since before Willie Knox became their manager, back in the mid-seventies, are unhappy with the decision.

The fact, a Talbot official was involved on the committee making the decision, has not gone down well in some quarters – cue outrage.

In fact, there were more complaints about Talbot being awarded the title than about Celtic getting the Premier League one – by the same process.

The Scots - a contentuous people indeed – particularly when it comes to fitba.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

In Scottish Football It Is Pointless Change For Pointless Change's Sake

I have not been blogging on Scottish Football for some time – since I have found much of what has transpired this season – even before the shut-down – has been beyond parody or comment. Scottish football, and in particular the way it has been run, has been beyond satire. However, given the present moger, I felt I had to say something – so:

EXPERIENCED observers of Scottish football are not getting worked-up about the current on-going battles along that notorious sixth floor corridor at Hampden Park, where reside the great and the good of our game. Why not, because, they've seen it all before.

If, as Principal Skinner of Springfield Elementary School in the good old U S of A remarked: “You Scots are a contentuous people,” well perhaps nothing better exemplifies our natural ability to cause a row in an empty house than how we run Scottish football.

We introduced league football into Scotland in 1890, and, in the 130 years since, we have employed 33 different examples of how we organise this league – that works out at a change roughly every four years.

Thirteen of these revisions have been undone a year later, while over the 130 years, we have had seen the original ten clubs be joined by up to 55 other clubs in enjoying “senior” status for at least one season.

Mind you, we appear to have stopped acting like deckhands on the Titanic, the deck chairs on the sinking ship which is Scottish Football, have not been re-arranged this century, since the current 12-10-10-10 format was introduced in 2000.

Since then, the “blazeratti” have restricted their need for tinkering and change to finally adopting a play-off system which gives the best club between the Highland and Lowland Leagues that year the chance to pick-off, if they can, the worst club in the Second Division (actually the fourth) in the Scottish Professional Football League.

Currently, they are taking advantage of the game being halted due to global pandemic, to think again of change. Mind you, based on watching how our administrators have operated for the past 50 years, I cannot help thinking, if they do opt for change, they will get it wrong – again.

The basic fact, which the guys running our game refuse to admit, is – we have too-many so-called “senior” clubs in Scotland.

The population of England is just under 56 million; they have 90 “senior” league clubs (I have discounted the two Welsh-based clubs). In Scotland, our 5.5 million population's needs for senior league football is serviced by 42 clubs.

These figures mean, in England, there is a senior football club for every 622,000 people. In Scotland, there is a senior club for every 129,000 people. If our number of clubs was in proportion to the English game, we would only have between eight and nine “senior” clubs.

The biggest problem we have, in my opinion, is the presence among us of our two “Super clubs.” The Old Firm effect totally distorts our game. For instance, either Rangers or Celtic has won the Scottish League title every year since 1985 – a 35-year duopoly. This hegemony takes boredom to a whole different level.

If the Big Two had not been around for these past 35 years, the league championship would have been shared thus:

Aberdeen 11 wins
Heart of Midlothian 10 wins
Motherwell 6 wins
Dundee United 3 wins
Hibernian 2 wins
Kilmarnock 1 win
Livingston 1 win
St Johnstone 1 win

Even if we only look at the 20-year term of the current four division set-up, we find stagnation and familiarity. Here, tabulated, are the various “classes” of Premiership clubs; this is based on where each club has finished over the past 20 seasons.

Mostly Premiership
Mostly Championship
Mostly League One
Mostly League Two
Hamilton Academical
Ayr United
Stirling Albion
Dunfermline Athletic
Forfar Athletic
Ross County
Partick Thistle
Alloa Athletic
East Fife
Heart of Midlothian
Queens Park
Dundee United
Queen of the South
Brechin City
Albion Rovers
Greenock Morton
St Johnstone
Raith Rovers
Elgin City
Inverness CT

Annan Athletic
St Mirren

Edinburgh City

Cove Rangers

Only four clubs: Aberdeen, Celtic, Kilmarnock and Motherwell have been top-flight ever-presents over this period. Hearts have been in the top flight for 19 of the 20 seasons, Hibs for 17 seasons, Dundee United and Rangers (following their liquidation and banishment to the bottom division) for 16 seasons each, St Johnstone for 13 seasons, St Mirren and Inverness Caledonian Thistle for 12 seasons and Dundee for 11.

If we ignore Rangers' first two seasons on their road back, then we have 12 clubs who have never been out of the top two divisions.

A further six clubs have enjoyed a taste of top-flight football over the 20 years of our four division set-up: Hamilton Academical have enjoyed nine seasons in the top flight and Dunfermline Athletic eight; three clubs: Livingston, Partick Thistle and Ross County have each enjoyed seven top-flight seasons this century, while Falkirk have had five top-flight seasons. These clubs amount to 43% of our 42 senior clubs.

A further 13 clubs have played at least one season in The Championship, our second tier. Of these, the most-consistent has been Queen of the South, with 17 Championship seasons under their belt, Greenock Morton, with 13 Championship seasons and Raith Rovers with 12 seasons.

Of those teams who have spent most of the past two decades in the lower leagues, some have had, or still are having, a good spell in the second tier. Ayr United and Clyde both have nine Championship seasons to their names, Airdrieonians have eight, Alloa Athletic seven, Dumbarton six, Cowdenbeath four, Brechin City and Arbroath each has three Championship seasons to show and Stranraer and Stirling Albion each has had one season at that level.

Of the remaining 11 clubs, seven: Forfar Athletic, Stenhousemuir, East Fife, Peterhead, Queens Park, Albion Rovers, and Montrose have spent the past 20 seasons pottering around between the bottom two divisions, while Elgin City have spent 20 straight seasons in the bottom tier, as have the three newest clubs: Annan Athletic, Edinburgh City and Cove Rangers. Although we should pay tribute to the last-named, who seemed set to win the Third Division in their debut season in the SPFL before Covid-19 came along.

Therefore, we have a neat 50/50 split among the 42 clubs, with 21 who are normally to be found in the top two tiers, while the other 21 clubs are more frequently to be found in the bottom two flights.

That 50/50 split surely indicates, the “tail” of Scottish football is wagging the dog. If we are to push up standards, then we need to see a smaller corps of full-time clubs, playing good, exciting football, while at the same time arranging a “soft” landing for those clubs who appear, over the years, to merely be filling-out an over-stuffed fixture list.

Re-arranging the deck chairs in the hope of something different happening will not work. If we are to have change, and I feel change is a must; it has to be change for the better.

Somehow, nothing in their past record leads me to believe the blazeratti will grasp the nettle and make things better.

As to what those changes should be, I will return to in the next part of this blog.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

Andy capped - but what of Alex and the rest?

A STORY in the Edinburgh Evening News this week got me and some other Scottish football History “anoraks” in a wee bit of a tizz. The excellent Barry Anderson of the EEN ran a wee story about the SFA presenting former Hearts centre half Alan Anderson with a cap, to mark his participation in the 1967 World Tour.
Gary Locke presents Alan Anderson with his cap
picture courtesy of the Edinburgh Evening News

This tour was made by “A Scotland XI” rather than “Scotland,” and the 19 players who took part were never awarded full caps – since the international sides they faced: Israel, Hong Kong and Australia (three internationals), were not considered worthy of facing us in full internationals. There was also an “international” against Canada, however, this game, in Winnipeg, was against the Canuck's amateur Olympic Games squad.

The status of the Hong Kong game remains in doubt, but, the Israeli and Australian football authorities have subsequently faced Scotland in full-cap internationals, and indeed, these games in 1967 have subsequently been upgraded to “full A international” status by them – but, not yet by the SFA.

Anderson, who is now in a care home, played in seven of the eight games in the tour, including the “internationals” against Israel, and all three in Australia. Awarding him the cap is a nice gesture from the SFA, but, if they can do this for Alan Anderson, why not for the other five players who played in these non-cap internationals, and never in a full-cap game.

Leading this quintet is a certain Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson, who scored our winner in Tel Aviv; bagged a brace in our 4-1 win in Hong Kong; got the only goal in the first international, in Sydney; then scored both goals in our 2-0 win over the Socceroos in Adelaide. Six goals in five internationals – and a total of ten goals in seven tour games; not bad going.

Five internationals, six goals, Fergie could play a bit

The others who never got a cap were goalkeeper Harry Thomson of Burnley, Harry Hood, then of Clyde, former Partick Thistle full back Hugh Tinney, then plying his trade with Bury and Anderson's Tynecastle team mate, Jim Townsend.

For the record, the remaining players, all of whom either already had been, or subsequently would be capped, were:

Willie Callaghan (Dunfermline Athletic
Eddie Colquhoun (West Bromwich Albion)
Jim Cruickshank (Heart of Midlothian)
Doug Fraser (West Bromwich Albion)
Joe Harper (Huddersfield Town)
Bobby Hope (West Bromwich Albion)
Jim McCalliog (Sheffield Wednesday)
Jackie McGrory (Kilmarnock)
Tommy McLean (Kilmarnock)
Willie Morgan (Burnley)
Andy Penman (Rangers)
Ian Ure (Arsenal).

Spare a thought for the final player, John Woodward (Arsenal) – who played in three games: against the New Zealand Under-23s in Wellington, the Auckland Provincial XI in Auckland and Vancouver All-Stars in Vancouver, but didn't feature in the internationals. Indeed Woodward played as many games for the Scotland XI on that tour, as he made first-team appearances for the Gunners, three, before going on to make 167 appearances for York City.

Actual international caps are not that expensive; the SFA would only need to requisition and buy five – so why not? And, if not before, would presenting these caps to him and the other players might be a good, and popular way, of marking Sir Alex turning 80 at the end of next year.

Or, they could requisition and present special tour caps, to all 19 players.

Over to you Ian Maxwell.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Why Cannot Scottish Football Put Its Trust In Scottish Footballers?

THE 1950s and 1960s were a simpler age for fans of Scottish fitba. Uncle Rupert wasn't trying hard to brainwash us into believing that the English Premiership was the only true football league; European campaigns were an exotic adventure; and we still believed Scottish football could compete at world level.

I refuse to believe this can never happen again

We were also certain the domestic Scottish League was a good competition, rather than a glorified pub league. Of course, we knew it wasn't perfect, but, we were largely content with our lot.

On 19 October, 1957, Celtic beat Rangers 7-1 to win the 1957-58 Scottish League Cup final, in front of over 82,000 fans, at a sun-dappled Hampden. That victory has since entered Celtic folk lore, but, what the Celtic Family did not know, as they danced with joy, was, the win would be their side's last taste of silverware for nearly eight years, encompassing competition for 23 domestic prizes, before they defeated Dunfermline to win the 1965 Scottish Cup final.

It is interesting to review the teams on that October day. Celtic lined-up: Dick Beattie; John Donnelly, Sean Fallon; Willie Fernie, Bobby Evans, Bertie Peacock; Charlie Tully, Bobby Collins, Billy McPhail, Sammy Wilson, Neil Mochan.

The Rangers team read: George Niven; Bobby Shearer, Eric Caldow; Ian McColl, John Valentine, Harold Davis; Alex Scott, Billy Simpson, Max Murray, Sammy Baird, Johnny Hubbard.

The Celtic side included seven full internationalists – Fernie, Evans, Collins and Mochan were Scotland caps, Peacock and Tully were Northern Ireland caps, and Fallon was a Republic of Ireland cap. In addition, Beattie was a Scotland Under-23 cap.

Rangers' Caldow, McColl, Scott and Baird were full Scotland caps; Simpson was a Northern Ireland internationalist; Shearer would go on to win full Scotland caps, Murray was an Under-23 cap; Hubbard had played for a South African representative side and Niven was a Scottish League cap, who was injured at least thrice and unable to play for Scotland after being selected.

So, on the day, it might be argued, Celtic had the more-honoured side.

The Old Firm would not go head-to-head again in a domestic cup final for seven seasons, covering 14 cup climaxes, until they met in the 1964-65 League Cup Final, on 24 October, 1964, when Rangers won 2-1. The teams that day were:

Celtic: John Fallon; Ian Young, Tommy Gemmell; John Clark, John Cushley, Jim Kennedy; Jimmy Johnstone, Bobby Murdoch, Stevie Chalmers, John Divers, John Hughes.

Rangers lined-up: Billy Ritchie; Davie Provan, Eric Caldow; John Greig, Ronnie McKinnon, Wilson Wood; Ralph Brand, Jimmy Millar, Jim Forrest, Jim Baxter, Willie Johnston.

Only Eric Caldow had survived from the 1957 game. However, it should be noted, all 11 of the Celtic team had come through the ranks, being signed from youth or junior football and developed at Celtic Park. Of the Rangers XI, all bar Millar and Baxter, bought respectively from Dunfermline Athletic and Raith Rovers had been home-bred and come through the ranks at the club.

Of the Celtic team, only Kennedy was a full internationalist, but Gemmell, Clark, Johnstone, Murdoch and Chalmers would go on to immortality as “Lisbon Lions” and they, along with Hughes would win full caps.

Rangers' Ritchie, Provan, Caldow, Greig, Brand, Millar and Baxter were already full caps, while McKinnon, Forrest and Johnston would go on to win full caps.

So, in 1957 the victorious Celtic team had been the more-mature unit. For the majority of that team, 7-1 was virtually a last hurrah in the hoops.

In 1964, the losing Celtic team was the less-experienced squad, however, as we now know, they were on the cusp of greatness. Four months on from losing to Rangers, Celtic would make the crucial move in swinging the balance of football power across the city – when they recalled Jock Stein as manager.

Losing that 1964 game was in some ways the last straw for the Celtic fans. They had become, if not accepting of failure, fed-up waiting for the glory days to return. Many were unhappy with the lack of trophies, but, others were confident the club's youngsters – the Kelly Kids, would come through and bring back the great days.

As we now know, while some of those Kelly Kids, such as Fallon, Young, Cushley and Divers failed to “train-on” to become full caps – Sir Robert Kelly's belief in home-grown talent finally paid off, not least in Lisbon on that unforgettable night in May, 1967.

Nine of the Lions were home-grown, only Ronnie Simpson and Willie Wallace having to be bought. (I know Bertie Auld was also bought, but, in his case, he was bought back from Birmingham City – he learned his football at Celtic). And, never forget, every single Lion was born within an hour of Celtic Park.

So, what's this got to do with the price of bread, you ask?

Fast forward to this week, and the two clubs' adventures in the Europa League. The Rangers' team which beat Braga was: McGregor; Tavernier, Goldson, Edmundson, Barisic; Hagi, Jack, Davis, Arfield; Kamberi, Kent. Substitutes: Foderingham, Ojo, Halliday, Aribo, Kamara, Katic, Stewart.

The Celtic team which lost to FC Copenhagen was: Forster; Jullien, Ajer, Simunovic, Taylor; Forrest, Brown, Rogic, McGregor; Elyounoussi, Edouard. Substitutes: Bain, Frimpong, Bitton, Hayes, Bayo, Bolingoli-Mbombo, Griffiths.

Of the Rangers squad, only Allan McGregor came through the ranks, but, he left the club and had to be brought back; while Greg Stewart was allowed to depart their Academy aged 13, before eventually being bought back. Every other player was bought-in. Of the Celtic squad, James Forrest and Callum McGregor came through the ranks, every other player was bought in.

Of the 18 Rangers players stripped for the game in Braga, only McGregor, Jack, Halliday and Stewart are Scottish, while only Taylor, Forrest, McGregor, Bain and Griffiths of the 18 Celtic players stripped at Celtic Park are Scottish.

Thirty-six players stripped for the two games, and only nine – or 25%, are Scottish, this is a dreadful example of the two premier clubs in Scotland's attitude to young player development – and an even-bigger indictment of the Scottish Football Association's failure to follow one of their prime responsibilities, and promote Scottish football and footballers.

Received wisdom these days seem to be that the days when 11 Scots could win the European Cup and a further 11 could win the Cup-Winner's Cup are in the past, and in the past they must remain. Well, Scottish clubs have won one European Cup and two Cup-Winner's Cups, by fielding all-Scottish sides – we have won nothing by importing non-Scots – just saying like.

Buying-in cheap foreign imports, and increasingly today expensive, probably woefully over-priced foreign imports, hasn't worked. Let's get back to believing in talented, hard-working, home-grown Scopttish players and give it a go.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Dear Oh Dear Oh Dear - Disaster For Rangers

SINCE I find the 2019-20 vintage in Scottish football undrinkable, I have deliberately avoided blogging for some time. However, after watching last night's BT Sport broadcast of Kilmarnock v Rangers, I have been moved to return to my keyboard.

It wasn't a bad game; ok, it reaffirmed my belief that the skill level in our game is woefully low and reinforced my belief that the bulk of the current Rangers' squad are most definitely, as my late Father would say – NRC: Not Rangers Class.

Faither was born when King Edward VII was on the throne, and he got into Rangers when Bill Struth was just starting off as Manager. All future Rangers players, to the Old Man, were judged against Davie Meiklejohn and Alan Morton, while Jimmy Fleming, the great centre forward of the 1920s and 1930s, was a distant relative.

The Old Man was an unreconstructed Hun, who would be horrified at some of the things going on around Ibrox today.

The level of class player absent from today's Rangers squad

Me, while I believe Jim Baxter was the greatest Scottish footballer, I avoided Hundom, Kilmarnock has my heart, so, I was very happy with last night's result – I think we showed, in the second half, a greater desire to win, and got our just reward.

But, what really bugged me was the utter undisguised bias of the BT pundits. In the post-match summing-up, it was almost a case of: “How did that happen, little Kilmarnock have no right to beat the mighty Rangers.” Their comments were boak-inducing.

Even Chris Sutton could barely hide his disgust, that Rangers had lost, while their puerile arguments around the lead-up to the first Killie goal had me pondering the question – did James Traynor write that bit of the script?

We don't have VAR in Scotland. In fact, we will only have it, when UEFA and FIFA order the high heid yins at Hampden to introduce it. I reckon VAR will very-quickly demonstrate just how many “honest mistakes” our referees make in a season – particularly in games involving a certain two Glasgow clubs.

VAR is, as I understand it, supposed to clear-up decisions, where there is: “A clear and obvious error by the on-field officiating team.”

Now, I am willing to conceded the ball may have hit Roddy McKenzie on the arm, in the build-up to Stephen O'Donnell's goal. Personally, I have my doubts (but I would). If it did hit his arm, it merely brushed against it, however, even after several replays – there was no clear and obvious arm to ball contact. Therefore, the goal stands.

The “experts” were also convinced Rangers were denied a penalty. Maybe so, but, to me, the first use of the arm was by Morelos, and, in any case, having been earlier booked for “simulation,” I am still trying to work out why he wasn't given a second yellow and sent off, for a later, equally blatant, dive.

Just about the only person on the night who showed genuine “Rangers Class” was Steven Gerrard, post-match. He accepted responsibility for the loss, he would not entertain any “hand ball” claims and he showed, to me, that he has the makings of a top manager.

This Old Firm bias has been at coronavirus levels in the Scottish media for years, and, to my mind, as the papers shed readers faster than leaves in autumn, the bias has got worse. It's as if, in the minds of the guys at the top in the various media outlets, only the Old Firm fan base can read, listen to radio or watch TV. So, everything they produce has to be skewed to sate this market.

I was so pleased to see Alex Dyer sending his side out for the second half at Rugby Park last night, with clear instructions to have a go at Rangers. I wish more Scottish managers would be as gung-ho.

As I have said, this is a poor Rangers team. The Celtic squad is better, but, to me, it is still a poor Celtic one. If, by some miracle, the current lot could be matched against the Lisbon Lions of 1967 – I fancy Big Billy & Co would win with goals to spare.

Scottish fitba really is going to the dogs – on and off the field.