Firhill will always be Firhill.

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The Energy Check Stadium at Firhill for thrills doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Firhill for Thrills as the infamous slogan goes. Partick Thistle selling the naming rights of Firhill is a sign of the times. How commercial football has become that even the most treasured of  homes can be bought for the right price. This is not unusual as in Scotland we have the Inodrill Stadium (Alloa) and Tony Macaroni Stadium (Livingston) to name two that spring to mind. We live in a time where clubs need to look at every opportunity to raise money through sponsorship and commercial partners. But where does it stop.

Pittodrie Stadium was named after the street it was built on likewise Dens Park. Celtic Park on the other hand is affectionately known as Parkhead after the area it calls home. No long serving fan will call their home stadium the rebranded name.  It begs the question then what the commercial value is to the sponsors.  Only the SPFL and Sky sports commentators will use the sponsors name. Maybe that is what they want as all publicity is good publicity. But it is not like the Eithad or Emirates stadiums in England where you are selling to  new fans in new markets.  Scottish fans tend to be traditional the new name will not stick as the name will always be what is handed down through the generations. If a new stadium is built then that changes the rules as there is no tradition. But where clubs play at their traditional home they should be careful not alienate fans with over the top commercialisation.  The clubs do need  to try to gain  maximum sponsorship in the highly competitive entertainment business they operate in. But they should remember though that it will be the fans who ultimately decide what a stadium  is called. Firhill was allways be Firhill.

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Transfer Deadline Day- Overinflated Prices and Overinflated Egos.

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Transfer deadline day always tends to be fairly low-key in Scotland compared to our neighbours south of the border. Down south we have Sky Sports reporters salivating at the thought of Sanchis going to Man City or the  inability of Arsenal to sign anyone. We seem to do transfer day in an understated manner that is typical Scottish. Deals are done  on the quiet then announced via social media to the media. What ever happened to the press conference being hastily called and a  marquee signing being wheeled out to the total surprise of everyone. That is what it is like to follow football in the 24/7 media society we live in now.

It does seem to extremely  bad planning on the clubs to be waiting to deadline day to get a deal  done and bring in  new players. It is a bit like christmas shopping . It doesn’t change,  it is always the 25th December and yet you wait to Christmas Eve to get your shopping done. Whilst the transfer window was introduced with the best of intentions to harmonise the transfer market across Europe post the Bosman ruling .   It now has a 19 different windows in countries across Europe. Whereas transfer deadline day is exciting for those lucky enough to be bank rolled by a millionaire, for many it is  a day to dread. You sit glued to the internet or tuned to  Sky sports hoping that you can hang on to your star striker as without him you are destined for mid table mediocrity. It really is a theatre  only for the wealthy.

As  a kid I remember the joy of reading in November in the paper that Aberdeen had signed Hans Gilhaus. Not a player I was familiar with at that time but a Dutch international . It was that excitement of the unexpected unknown quantity. Now  with the transfer window there is no longer the mystery surrounding signings. We now know when a player is about to sign as the private plane or helicopter is spotted whisking the player of to sign the deal.

At least in Scotland we still  have a quieter  transfer deadline day, most of the deals are done as our clubs need them in place by the start of the season. And in the lower leagues it is still the local reporters who can report the exclusive deals being done. Our transfer deadline day is certainly understated. I mean we still use a fax machine in the SFA to register signings.  Times move on and employment law meant that transfer windows had to be introduced but are they really the entertainment we as fans want.  By having  a deadline it ends up inflating the prices and rash signings being made. Thankfully as there is not much money in Scottish football these days it is quieter and it means us fans can have an early night without fear of missing out a big signing.

Can free to view TV help develop our national game?

crossfade_hp1While reading the Sunday papers today I  came across a story where Ian Murray MP is campaigning to screen Scotland’s International matches on free to air tv.There is a growing campaign in light of Brexit that the UK should review and amend the sporting events which are the sporting “crown jewels”.  In an age of the internet even live TV is taking second place to online  viewing.  But as a football fan I have always felt that TV  and football need each other but the relationship has become unhealthy with one being the dominant power. As Jim McLean once warned football has sold its soul to the devil by doing a deal with the TV companies.

But international matches  are different, as a Tartan Army member I attend all Scotland  home games and  as many away games as I can. I have done so for the last 15 years. Admittedly I never went to Hampden as a youngster but was able to follow the national team through radio, highlights and newspaper reports. It is certainly changed days. With the exception of the Scotland v England matches I cannot remember the last home Scotland match which was on terrestrial tv.  The SFA have always argued that they wish to ensure  TV does not detract from the match day attendance there for it has always been subscription tv channels which have screened the home games. In 2014 a £56 million pound deal to screen all Scotland’s home internationals and qualifiers was agreed with Sky Sports.  The qualifiers for the World Cup and European Championships are now centrally marketed by UEFA so the SFA just gets a share of the deal.

The Scotland  away games used to be on terrestrial tv and that made sense as it enabled the whole nation regardless of wealth be able to enjoy watching the national team. But as is always the case money talks and even though BBC /STV or any other tv channel  can bid to screen the away matches it is unlikely they would be able to outbid the subscription sports channels.

Now given that the qualifiers are now centrally marketed by UEFA I would be sceptical if the proposal being put forward by Ian Murray could be implemented. But there surely is a question who is benefiting from the TV  revenue?  Is it the SFA, UEFA, or TV companies ? The one person who is not benefitting from this is the fan. Kick off times are moved to accommodate the tv broadcaster  thereby affecting attendance figures. Now it can be argued that Scotland recent poor performance  in international matches has resulted in a waning interest. But nobody can tell me that the two Leigh Griffiths free kicks against England at Hampden last June did not excite or unite the nation.The whole nation could be heard as those two goals went in. I would imagine that there was kids up and down the country practising in their back garden their free kicks, pretending they were Leigh Griffiths just like I pretended to be Kenny Dalglish.

That surely is the main argument for international matches to be televised on free to air channels, it is to inspire the future generation of footballers. International football unites a nation in way that no other sport can. Die hard Tartan Army members will still turn up regardless of the  opposition and chances of qualification.  But the SFA are responsible  for the development of the game in Scotland. The TV deals should not be short-sighted commercial deals, they should for securing the long term future of the game. TV is here to stay and is required to promote and develop our national game. The SFA should be looking to maximise the national teams exposure and to ensure the widest audience is reached regardless of income. It surely in everyone’s interest to excite and inspire the youth as these kids are the future players and fans.

Summer Football – Best for fans and clubs.

The new season has started . And it is great to be able to attend matches in your new replica shirt  with no worry of the rain or snow starting. Well maybe not up here in the North East of Scotland. But nothing beats attending a game when the sun is shining. Both players and supporters are able to enjoy the match and the atmosphere is very much improved. The kids are happier in  the warmer climate. Pies and bovrils are no longer the required pre match snack  a more cooler refreshment is called for. And yet come December the hardened football supporter is separated from the part timers or glory hunters. It is in the winter that true club loyalty is tested, it is one thing turning up at Hampden on a lovely May afternoon for the cup final, it is quite another to travel to Dingwall or Peterhead to cheer on your team knowing that you may not be able to feel your toes by the end the match. The threat of frostbite is not a major worry for the seasoned football fan.

But yet we are now having a debate in Scotland about summer football again.There has not been much of a pre season break this season as due to such a low Uefa coefficient and the League Cup, clubs were back playing in July. As mentioned in a previous blog I ended up in The Netherlands watching the Women’s European Championships so was not able to attend any pre-season matches.  The debate now is on how to ensure our clubs can stay in European competitions longer. The argument is that summer football would mean our  teams are  at their peak when they enter the qualifying rounds of the Champions League and Europa Cup respectively. As this blog is being written Celtic are still in the Champions League and with every chance of qualifying for the group stages. But Scotland cannot constantly rely of Celtic to prop up our Uefa coefficient. All our clubs need to be  competing at the highest level in Europe.

Rangers, St Johnstone and Aberdeen all were knocked out by teams from Luxembourg, Lithuania and Cyprus respectively. Of the 3 victors only Trakai from Lithuania were midway through their season. There were of course other factors such as St Johnstone having  only  3 first team  defenders going into the match or in the case of Aberdeen they had lost 2 weeks of recruitment due to uncertainty over their managers future. The  reason for the Scottish clubs exit from European competition cannot be wholly attributed to lack of match fitness, in some cases you have to admit the opposition were just better than our clubs,

A quick look at the remaining teams in the competitions shows that not all the Northern European nations where summer football is played have representatives into the latter qualifying rounds, so it does not guarantee success. What is apparent though that most of these nations do  start at least two weeks earlier than our league. We are only now into the second week of the season and it is fair to say that it is a highly competitive and exciting league . It is in no way a lower standard than many other European leagues, yet Celtic are our only sole surviving club in Europe. We do need to give ourselves a chance and where summer football may not be the golden egg it may well help. We introduced the winter break and many supporters are actually happy with it as financially everyone is stretched in January so some respite is appreciated. The players are able to go away and get some r & r and come back stronger for the second half of the season improving the product on the park. Gone are the boring mid table battles played on a quagmire.

The case for summer football is growing as ultimately it will be a commercial decision. We cannot compare ourselves to our English neighbours or any other league for that  matter we need to find a solution that is uniquely Scottish.  The SPFL is quite innovative when it wants to be, I mean who would have thought the top six split would have been a success but it has increased the excitement and competitiveness of the league. I am reliably informed that there is support in the upper echelons of the SFA for summer football but it is the clubs that are against it.  They believe they would miss out on vital revenue during the winter and that income would reduce during the summer holiday season. Personally I am not so sure , Scotland is a major tourist destination, would these tourists not enjoy taking in a match while on their holidays. Likewise would families here not be more inclined to take their kids along as they try to keep them entertained for 7 weeks of summer holidays.  Football fans tend not to stop watching football they try to get their fix somewhere else like televised international tournaments. The bottom line is we do not know if it would be successful. What is apparent is that we will need to change our league  as it is becoming highly uncompetitive and in the global game that is unattractive to players and commercial partners. Lets move to summer football what harm can it do. But then again it may  be okay to watch a match in December from comfort of the directors box.

A rekindled love affair. Women’s Euro 2017

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Football is an addiction, like many fans I cannot get enough of football, even during the close season. But recently I have grown disillusioned. The game I grew up loving has changed. No longer is it relatable to a normal working guy like myself. No longer is it just a sport it is a business. A business that is running out of control. It promotes huge inequality and fuels excess and greed. We have enough of that in modern life without it being in football. It was reported that Neymar was going to be sold to PSG  for £190 million. Yes let me repeat £190 million , at a time when people are having to go to food banks the world’s top players are being bought for sums that are astronomical and totally illogical , as one player cannot make a team.  Even in Scotland our clubs have become distant from the fans.

It because of this I have always enjoyed following the mens national team because regardless of your status in the club game, when you pull on the dark blue you are representing your country for no personal gain. It really is 11 v 11. But of course the Scottish mens team have performed fairly poorly in recent years. Compare this to the women’s team which is on an upwardly trajectory. So when I heard that they had qualified for the Women’s European Championship in Netherlands it seemed the perfect opportunity to see Scotland play in a major tournament.

Having never been to women’s match I was unsure as what to expect.  The first match in Utrecht between Scotland and England was eagerly anticipated. The official fan zone was a family friendly  atmosphere aiding to the build up. No animosity  that normally goes with this fixture. The stadium was as expected in Holland a modern  facility  with excellent transport links and all at an affordable 10 Euros. The match despite the poor result for Scotland was memorable . The atmosphere was terrific and the pink Scotland shirts lit up the stadium. England deserved to win , maybe not 6-0, but they have players who play at very a high level week in week out.

The next match was in Rotterdam , a modern  city at the gateway to Europe. The atmosphere in the city was lower key than the previous match . But the Tartan Army travelled in expectation, Portugal was a team that we were expected to win against. But then again Scotland was not at full strength in this tournament. It was solid attacking performance from Scotland but defensive mistakes cost us again as they were beaten 2-1.

But the Scottish women are made of stern stuff. Many had written them off going on into the final match with Spain. But in typical Scottish fashion the girls put in a tremendous performance. Gemma Faye, the Scotland keeper put in a tremendous performance pulling off a couple of top class saves to keep Scotland in the match. Then a rather unconventional goal aided by a deflection  from Caroline Weir put them in front. They held on heroically  and could even have snuck the 2-0 win they required. As it was they went out of their first finals tournament  on goal difference. Another chapter in the Scottish book of near misses.

I  attended the first two matches and watched a lot of the other nations matches on the television and have been impressed at the quality and commitment that is shown. It can be seen that  international football is the peak of the women’s game.   New stars have been created in this tournament  and a generation of young girls now have relatable role models to look up to.  It was such an enjoyable experience as  promotion of the game was the main focus of UEFA. There was no over commercialisation of  the tournament allowing football to promoted to all fans. Scottish football will have benefitted greatly from this experience. And  hopefully more will turn out to follow the women’s’ world cup qualifying campaign. I certainly will try to attend some of the matches, as this has reignited my faith in the beautiful game.The womens game will grow and hopefully professional leagues will develop and standards improve by increased participation. But I really hope that some of the less appealing  elements of the mens game are not copied. Somehow I don’t think they will be .As when the game is played purely for the love of the game it really is inspiring.

 

Women’s Euro Championship.A Game Changer

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This week I will be heading off to the main sporting event this summer or at least it should be the Women’s Euro Championship in The Netherlands. For the first ever time Scotland’s national women’s team has qualified. Now I am no expert on the women’s game but the more I read and watch it is a really refreshing and growing sport. The women’s national league in Scotland is still part time and amateur in status. But it has come along way from the time when woman were not able to play on any SFA affilated club pitches.

Nutmeg magazine had a wonderful article on Rose Reilly recently . Who? I hear you ask well she is someone who actually has no equivalent in the Scottish male game. In fact she is claimed to be Scotland’s biggest footballing export due to the titles she won in Italy and France. And yet she is relatively unknown. The same can be said of Kim Little the current star player for the Scotland national team. Unfortunately she will not be in The Netherlands due to injury but her achievements in the womans game should not be understated. Kim  Little was voted a couple years back as the FIFA  World Player of the Year. At a time when the men’s game in Scotland is struggling we should be applauding the women for their progress. Against what can only be described as casual sexism. Which is why the Scottish women’s team media strike against the SFA was such an ahievement. It was moral victory a victory for fair treatment.  We need to tackle this in Scotland as the women’s game is huge in other parts of the world. In the US  where KIm Little was playing up to last year  crowds are often  over 50,000 and it is the fastest growing sport.

This summer our Women’s national team will compete against the best  teams on the continent. For a football obessed country like Scotland we should be right behind them. I certainly will be. The women’s game needs increased exposure and investment and this could well be the catalyst. What better role models for nation’s girls than real sporting stars who play merely for the love of the game.

A New Season, A New Hope

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Well the new season is just about to start . Even before Wimbledon has finished the SPFL teams will be back in action. Rangers and St Johnstone  have already become victims to European giants from Luxembourg and Lithuania. But this is Scottish football, no longer able to eat at the top table of European club competeitions we have to settle for early matches against teams  currently mid way through their season. The average player in the SPFL is lucky if he can get his 2 weeks holiday in Benidorm before having to come back and start the rigours  of pre – season training. Of course whilst the players are topping up the tan the managers are scouting or signing new additions to the squad. Unless you are Derek McInnes where you are able to take time out from a holiday in the US and fit in a job interview in the sun before realising that despite the hype something in Scotland allways keeps you here. Fans know this and maybe now the media might start to learn. Scottish football despite it flaws is an addiction.

The transfer  window is still ongoing and more signings will come into Scottish football. Rangers have already signed the cast of a South American soap opera in the hope to close the gap with Celtic. Even Hibs have made a couple of shrewd signings whilst Hearts have bolstered their squad. And Aberdeen now look they have some money to spend after letting Johnny Hayes go to Celtic. We may not have the £75 million pound deals of Lukaku but we have signings which excite our fans . I mean how can the Hearts fans not get excited about Kyle Lafferty. Seriously it is the excitement of reading the latest transfer rumours,  who your club is being linked with. Even now with twitter fans are able to know if a player has passed his medical even before the player actually does. The excitement of seeing that player  being rolled out in front  of the media may have lessened with social media but the rumours and even the false stories still excite us. Some of course are more believable than others.

It maybe the sun, it may be absence of football for a short time, whatever it is, us fans come back with a renewed hope and believe. Dreaming of a season of success whether  that is a cup run or a European place. Regardless of our team or our history we always live in hope. Hope is the addiction in Scottish Football as no one not even the Old Firm ever achieves their dreams. We are perennially disappointed,but for a brief couple of weeks every year we live with a real sense of youthful excitement that maybe this year we can do it.

Welcome back Hibs

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Yesterday Hibs won the SPFL Championship with a 3-0 win over Queen of the South. It puts an end to a 3 year leave of absence from the top league in Scotland. They have had their trials and tribulations in that time. Even after both Hearts and Rangers were promoted in successive seasons Hibs still had to see off  Dundee Utd. But credit where credit is due they have perserved and after last seasons sensational cup win they have built on this success. The appointment of Neil Lennon was an ambitious appointment and has proved to be a shrewd one.

The SPFL Premiership will be a better league with Hibs back in it. They are a major club in Scottish football not just there fan base and history but the football they are playing at the moment will enhance the league. In Jason Cummings the have a real talent and it will be a real test to see if they can hang on to him and can if he perform in the top league consistantly. As he was just breaking into the first team when they were relegated. The signs are he will be a real star.  John McGinn the Scotland  midefileder is another that needs to grace our top league. He is a quality player and deserves to be playing at the highest level. Many of the other players have top level experience so it will not be a problem to make the step up.

Of course having Neil Lennon back will add to the spice of the league. Love him or hate him you have to admire his achievements at managerial level. Jim Duffy will be happy to see the back of him but there will be managers and referees in the SPFL preiemership who maybe won’t relish the return of Lennon. Don’ think Cathro will for a start. One thing is for sure it will be lively.

And the one we are all waiting for if the Ladbrokes SPFL Championship player of the month for March  Efe Ambrose will still be at Hibs. This is a man who is a joke amongst most fans and yet he has been a stand out since signing for the Hibees on loan from Celtic.  Neil Lennon has managed to turn his career around and it would be good to see if he could continue that in the top league. He certainly looks like he is enjoying himself.  Efe Backflip

It has been a couple of years longer than some would have liked but now the Hibs are back in the big time and Scottish football is all better for it. Welcome back.

Rodgers – A man of influence.

 

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Brendan Rodgers last week signed a new contract with Celtic committing himself to the Parkhead club. The influence that Brendan Rodgers has had on Celtic cannot be understated. This is a man who has taken what was an underperforming team last year and moulded them into a team that is dominating the domestic game and aiming for a historic treble.

As a Celtic man Brendan Rodgers was always going to be a popular appointment in the eyes of the Parkhead faithful. But Rodgers certainly came to Scotland with a point to prove after his departure from Liverpool. There will be many down south who would have looked in disdain as Rodgers moved north. It was a major appointment for Celtic but there was allways the danger that this was a fleeting visit. Not any more, Brendan Rodgers is here to stay. And we in Scotland should all be pleased.

Rodgers is a coach of undoubted ability and the gulf in class between Celtic and rest should not diminish what a revolution that has occurred at Parkhead. And it is a revolution that it is not finished. The players are clearly enjoying their football. he has managed to lift the performance of the players especially Stuart Armstrong and James Forrest, now international calibre players. The signings of Sinclair and Dembele was equally astute , by signing players that had a point to prove. And  boy, have they. On the Champions League stage against Man City they proved a point to those that belittle the SPFL  and big up the EPL. But it is clear that there is still unfinished business in the Europe . Rodgers will want to emulate both Strachan and Lennon and take Celtic into the last 16 of the Champions League. And nobody will now doubt his committment to do that now. He has already indicated that he wants a big name signing this summer to excite the fans. We can all wait in anticipation as Rodgers will be able to attract players of real calibre, as he is a man who can make careers as the current players are finding out.

What has not been highlighted though is the positive effect Brendan Rodgers has had on the Scottish game as whole . As a coach he is highly intelligent and is willing to provide advice to the SFA and anyone else to improve our national  game. Which can only be a good thing. Much this year has been about the race for 2nd. But actually the other managers in the league are being inspired by the Rodgers revolution, and raising their game. There are some good managers in Scotland  the most notable at the moment are McInnes and Wright, but even Alan Archibald is maturing into a very capable manager. When a man of  such reputationa as Rodgers comes in  to  manage in our league it does  raise the standard and our profile. Of course we would love it if there was a more competitive league but without a huge injection of cash the other teams will struggle to compete. But for now we should enjoy the influence Brendan Rodgers is having on our domestic game as it is not just Celtic he is improving.

What a week for Scottish Football.

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They say a week is a long time in politics. Well the same can be said of Scottish Football. Last week I travelled to Hampden in trepidation that our qualifying campaign for the World Cup was about to be ended by Slovenia . Gordon Strachan was battling to save his job.But in typical fashion we pulled out the hat a performance when we had been written off. Leigh Griffiths hitting the woodwork twice and a disallowed goal seemed to signal that lady luck was not going to be on our side once again. But step forward the unlikely hero, Chris Martin. A man most Scotland fans would rather have his namesake’s wife Gwyneth Paltrow playing instead.  The substitution was widely booed by the Hampden faithful but wee Gordon had the last laugh. as did Chris Martin when he latched on to delightful Stuart Armstrong pass and calmly dispatched past the Slovenian goalkeeper in the 87th minute. This sent the Tartan Army into delirium as is the case with the Scotland national team  there is no middle ground we live in a state of despair or euphoria. When the chips were down the Scottish football team produced a tremendous performance to relight the path to Russia. Match Report

Many in the run up had questioned the team selections of Gordon Strachan and his doggedness to play his favourites rather than those on form. Well he pulled an absolute master stroke. At a time when confidence was lacking he picked  6  Celtic players who were not lacking in confidence and know each other well. This enabled a strong core in the team which could be built around. The real diamond was the inclusion of Stuart Armstrong a player who is at the top his game and pulling the strings for Celtic. Well he was able to come in and play with no inhibition at a higher level than  the SPFL. It really stuck it to those that try to dismiss the standard of  our domestic game. It really shows that if players are playing and with  confidence that is far more important than wasted talent on a clubs bench when it comes to the national team.

Just as we were  getting back down to earth after the international break comes the Hibs v Morton match. A match which was a top the league clash although Hibs were  10 points ahead it could have relit the championship title race. It turned out to be quite an eventful 1-1 each draw. Two sending offs and the managers involved in an angry fracas in injury time. Neil Lennon and Jim Duffy both experienced managers were seen to be held back by their own players from coming to blows.Highlight video

Neil Lennon in his normal combative manner defended his actions at post match press conference. Siting the Morton player Oyenuga for play acting something that tv evidence supports. Jim Duffy was equally as bullish in his defense. All this has done is ratchet up the tension for the next match in a couple of weeks at Cappielow.

Finally Friday football  excitement came back with a bang. The media were already crowning Celtic  as champions and predicting that Aberdeen may throw the league away early. But in a game on paper which should have been tough for Aberdeen, instead they won 7-0. It was another  unlikely hero which made the headlines. Andrew Considine. a player who is Aberdeen through and through.In the past Aberdeen fans have given him some stick and he has been prone to some defensive mistakes. But in last two years he has become a dependable player, wherever he is asked to play he does it with no fuss. Nobody though would have predicted Andrew Considine playing at left back would score a hat trick. It was Roy of the Rovers stuff especially a day before his birthday. Many Aberdeen fans are saying this was the best performance in years. It certainly was a good way to start the weekend and end an eventful week Scottish football

This was just three of the stories this week. A few weeks ago a certain journalist was asking what the point is of Scottish Football is. Well after a week like this one it is evident why Scottish football is so addictive to many, as the theatre and drama has to be seen to be believed.