NEARLY half a century ago, as a young wannabe, on the lowest rung of the sports-writing ladder, I was given some advice by one-time Daily Sketch sports writer and foreign correspondent Bernard Attenborough – a relation of the better-known Attenboroughs, David and Richard. Bernard had by then, for bet, written a best-seller and become novelist James S Rand, and, while doing serious damage to his liver, he was a constant presence around Ayr Rugby Club.
Bernard Attenborough/James S Rand
Bernard encouraged me to note the possession stats, insisting – the team which dominates territory and possession normally wins. He added the rider – this only counts if they make their advantage pay in terms of scoring when on top.
This advice from an old-school reporter came to mind this afternoon as I watched the Rangers v Motherwell Betfred Cup semi-final. For a lot of the game, Rangers were in-charge in terms of creating chances and forcing 'Well onto the defensive; and, as chances came and went, I began to get the feeling, Rangers are not going to win this. It is not the first game I have seen in which one team repeatedly made and missed chances – and lost. It will not, I vouch, be the last.
Of course, it was Rangers who failed, so, we will see a media shit storm this week as the stenographers rake over the ashes. I can already see the Chief Sports Subs at the Daily Rangers and The Hun calling-up the cracked crest graphic for tomorrow's edition.
There will probably be polls on Pedro Caixinha's future – assuming he has one. Although, if Rangers' finances are in as bad a state as “Phil Four Names” insists they are, the question is: can the club afford to sack him?
Louis Moult - a goal fit to win any game
As to the game, Motherwell deserved to win it, while that second, clinching goal, from Louis Moult, was fit to win any match and is a worthy addition to the litany of great Hampden goals. But, the main fall-out will be the debate over who was and was not or should have been but wasn't yellow or red-carded.
Tony McGlennan, the SFA's Compliance Officer, is clearly in for a busy week, reviewing the match video, I don't envy him his task. There are one or two controversial incidents to be mulled over, and, it has to be said, Moult's place in the final is by no means certain following his second-half coming together with Bruno Alves.
The respective managers, Pedro and Stephen Robinson, were, of course sent to the stand in the second half following a coming-together between Ryan Bowman and Fabio Cardoso and will have a price to pay for their indiscipline.
Chris Sutton, in commentary, was calling for Bowman to be sent-off for the damage he did to Cardoso's nose in the incident. I actually think, in this instance, Bowman was innocent. The ball was dropping over his shoulder, he was looking back at the ball and to my mind, had no idea where Cardoso was when his leading arm connected with his nose.
Pedro, of course, went ape-shit. He reminds me of Artie Ross, the coach of the short-lived Glasgow basketball club of the 1980s. Ross, court side, was a volcano on the verge of erupting; basketball was regularly televised back then, and one TV producer told me, he had one camera-man each Glasgow game instructed to do nothing but focus on Ross, ready for the eruption. I get the impression those instructions are now given to camera-men covering Rangers' games, while, in England, I am sure someone at each Manchester United game, is instructed to constantly monitor 'The Special One'.
Getting to the final is great for Motherwell, and I suppose nobody will be happier at this turn of events than Police Scotland's Match Commander for big games at Hampden – he and his men will not have an Old Firm final to worry about.
Nothing against Motherwell, but, I rather fancied had the final been another meeting of the Bigot Brothers, 60-years after “7-1 Hampden in the Sun”, either, a dominant Celtic would have had a right good go at replicating that iconic result, or, that would be the game when Celtic's great unbeaten domestic run ended – something which might still happen.
AT LEAST, the much-maligned “Hootsman”, when printing rumour and innuendo in football put such stories in a regular feature - “the Rumour Mill”. Some other papers simply print rumour as fact.
Take today's big rumour – that Dundee United are about to part company with manager Ray McKinnon, for the heinous crime of losing consecutive matches. A wee story here, The first time I ever saw actor-comedian Bobby Knutt, who died earlier this year, was at Batley Variety Club, over 40-years ago. A proud Sheffield man, wee Bobby opened with a gag: “My mate asked me what I thought of football in Sheffield – I told him, it might catch-on.”
This was a reference to the seemingly permanent travails of the two Sheffield teams, United and Wednesday. Well, today, you could almost see Dundee as the Scottish equivalent of Sheffield, when it comes to under-performing football clubs.
If Ray goes, he goes: (Edit. Which he did within an hour of this post going up). However, from the club's formation, as Dundee Hibs and the appointment of their first manager in 1909, they toiled unsuccessfully as the poor relations on Tayside for 50-years. During this period, United changed managers on average every three years. They then appointed Jerry Kerr, then Jim McLean and in the 35-years or so during which these two men guided the club, United upset the pecking order in the city of jute, jam and journalism, and won a trophy or two along the way.
Since McLean stood down in 1993, the club has reverted to giving their manager an average of three years before changing – and gone backwards. Maybe a period of stability is called for, as has happened at another club – Partick Thistle, who have stood by Alan Archibald, amazingly the self-serving Premiership manager, in spite of some poor results. But, of course, the Jags have always done things their way.