Women’s Euro Championship.A Game Changer

og-default

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

6186463074_3bf2dcb074

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

965px-hibernian_fc_logo-svg

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.

 

2677

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.

95326083_martincel2_sns

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.

The danger of cult heroes becoming coaches.

47182933_barry_ferguson_blazer_466b_

In the last few days Barry Ferguson has been linked with a return to the Ibrox in a coaching capacity.Some Rangers fans do not seem too happy after his record as a manager at Clyde. This seems highly unfair, that failure can hinder one’s coaching career. It is of course true that often you learn from your mistakes.

I  remember when  Willie Miller took up the manager role as manager at Aberdeen after his playing career had ended. It never went as well as he would have liked but I am sure even he learned from it and took those experiences into his future roles. But there is some who may feel his cult hero status is slightly diminished . I am not one. .

The same is true of Frank Sauzee who as a Hibs legend stepped in to the vacant managers position at a time of need, but unfortunately was found wanting at a managerial level. There is a real danger for former players to coach or manage at their former clubs that they may not have the same success as they did in their playing career. At the moment Richie Foran is have a tough battle to ensure Inverness  survive in the SPFL Premiership. He like many former players  managing at clubs which they were cult heroes at do get  more goodwill and time from fans than others would normally. And as we know time is not something that managers normally get.

But Barry Ferguson return to Ibrox should not be affected by his performance at Clyde as he would be returning as a coach rather than a manager.  He is bound to have learned from his experiences at Clyde. It is clear when you listen to Barry Ferguson on the radio  that he has developed in his knowledge. But we should not forget that coaching part-time players is difficult especially if you have never been a part time player yourself. He will have learned a lot from that experince. Finally as fans we should certainly have more understanding of the management role and ensure that former players are always helped in high regard. Coaching and playing are different careers and we should recognise that, being a great player will not guarantee that you are a great manager and vice versa. But their achievement ssould be acknowledged on merit.

Scottish football magazines/fanzines in the internet age.

fanzine-1

Today I done something rather unusual . I actually read the matchday programme at Pittodrie . Nearly every week I buy a programme, mostly as a memento of the match. Some fans treat their programmes with white gloves and store in airtight pockets,never actually reading them. I do not read them but end up curling the programme in my pocket and storing  it once I get home in a shoe box. But not today. I read the articles during the warm up and at half time and have to say I was impressed with the quality of the articles. Why had I never taken the time before? Of course the programme has the usual contributions from players and management but it is the other articles which make this publication such an enjoyable read. There are articles from established journalists and broadcasters.But it is the articles on matches from the past or the  fans view from abroad that provide an alternative dimension to the matchday programme.

Matchday programmes used to  be a team list and have a managers column in amongst all the local company advertisements.They were quite small publications. For detailed analysis and comment about their team fans would buy a fanzine. I  have only ever bought a fanzine a couple of times  mainly because I didn’t like the editorial line my clubs fanzine took.  These fanzines are now in decline which is sad as many a talented football journalist started out writing in fanzines. The fanzines provide real critical analysis and views which usually differed from the official club line as it was written by  fans for the fans. Many fanzines were influential in communicating with the wider fan base and were important in campaigns to save clubs and oust managers and directors.  Some printed fanzines are still kept going by committed volunteers  but their print runs can be very low. In this internet age there is plenty of media outlets for fans to follow whether it is  online fanzines, magazines or forum sites. All these have contributed to the decline of the printed fanzine at a time when it is probably just as needed as it ever has been.

There is a revival of printed football publications with the launch of magazines such as the Scottish Football Periodical   Nutmeg and The Blizzard . At a time when football  news is dominated by a 24 hour news culture  fans are looking for magazines/websites that provide  critical analysis of the game. In many ways clubs have been able to manipulate the media for their own means.  Now fans are looking at outlets where they can voice their own views where they are not moderated.  Of course there is plenty of websites,social media  and online forums that allow this. But actually fans voice can get lost in the internet as it is so vast. There is something far more powerful in the printed word. The printed word is not of course eternal although can be perceived to be, which is more important when you are trying to make your point.

The matchday programme will always be an official club publication , to inform fans, provide a souvenir  and raise money for the club. I would dread to think that this would move to an electronic format like the daily newspapers have.  So I certainly will be buying my matchday programme at every match. Ironically as I write this blog I am all for supporting the fanzines and magazines which have given fans a voice for many years and hopefully many more. We certainly need publications that enable fans to articulate their views otherwise we may lose our game to the money men.  And of course equally they are a good read as well.

PS: National Library of Scotland is trying to preserve some of the old club fanzines.NLS

Scottish foreign transfers

We all know that Scotland is a nation of migrants. They reckon that there is more folk of Scottish descent living abroad than living in Scotland itself. This has happened through the ages. Scottish football is no different from other industries,our talent has been exported throughout the world.

Recently the BBC Football Focus TV programme  interviewed Oliver Burke the £13 million pound Scottish international now playing for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga in Germany. It is fair to say he has made quite an impact as RB Leipzig are second, chasing Bayern Munich.

Oliver Burke Interview on BBC Football Focus

This got me thinking about how little Scottish players are actually now playing abroad.Apart from Ryan Gauld at Sporting Lisbon I am struggling to think of a notable Scottish player playing abroad. There are of course others but at the top-level we have struggled with our foreign exports. This  obviously correlates with our football standing in the world. It was not always like this. You can go back to the 19th century and find Scottish football exports like Thomas Donohoe.who introduced football to Brazil.

Through the years players have moved abroad to further their career , like Dennis Law, Steve Archibald, Paul Lambert and John Collins to name a few. Some of these players were playing at the top of their game when they transferred. But not all , Paul Lambert was in my opinion  fairly average player at Motherwell before signing for Borussia Dortmund where he went on to play a key role in winning the European Cup.He developed into an accomplished midfielder adored by the Dortmund fans. It is fair to say that the Scottish national team and Celtic who he later played for benefited from his development.

Scottish footballers seem to be attracted down south to the big mony in the lower English Leagues rather than think of their  own career development. Playing in a foreign country is a huge personal challenge, as well as adapting to the different footballing style there is the adapting to a new language and culture.  But history shows fortune favours the brave. You learn more about yourself when you move out your comfort zone.

The SFA is developing the game through its Project Brave initiative. This will focus on home-grown talent and how we can develop the talent here in Scotland. But we should not forget that players can develop in other countries and systems. If I was to use an example of our country’s greatest sportsman Andy Murray . he went to Spain to develop as a young player as the British  tennis system was not right for him. We should not discourage our young talent from  moving abroad and developing. If we get the structure right the opportunities will arise but we need our footballers to be brave and ambitious to move to where the challenges are. Other smaller nations like Croatia, Czech Republic, Slovakia have weaker leagues but their players ply there trade all over the Europe. This has had a positive effect on their national team and the game in their own country

.In order for this to be achieved it will require a cultural shift and a real change in the national mind-set .But it is happening  Gordon Strachan, Brendan Rodgers and Ian Cathro to name a few of the coaches now  travel all over Europe looking at new coaching techniques. This personal development  needs to be enforced throughout our game as we have become too insular in our outlook of the game.

Dementia in Football.

250px-mcneill

This weekend we heard the sad news that Billy McNeill the former Celtic captain is suffereing from Dementia. A much as it is a sad story it has brought to the fore the need  for an investigation into neurological conditions and football.  It has taken some legends of the game to bring this to the attention of the governing bodies. Recently I read about Ron Yeats and Tommy Smith both former Liverpool captains  suffering from dementia. More former footballers conditions will no doubt emerge. I am not old enough to remember the heavy leather footballs which players in the 1960’s and 70s had to play with. But it doesn’t take a medical degree to know that blows to head can cause severe damge.
American football in the US and also rugby have done some extensive research which has found a corelation. That athletes from these sports have been found to be at higher risk. There has not been sufficient studies into football. Why is that? Thankfully Alzeihmers Scotland will be holding a summit into this with the football authorities and medical professionals. Dementia is on the rise across society  and there for it maybe that the high profile former professional footballers are an unfortunate coincidence. But given the amount of money in the professional game now it is only right that some of that is reinvested back into  medical research. After all many of these players brought us manys such joy.
We should not forget that football is a sport and should be enjoyed by all who play it. But it is also a career and the Health and Safety at Work  Act is equally applicable to professional footballers. The clubs have a duty of care and the associations have a responsibility to ensure that matches are safe for all participants. Hence the suggestion that players may have to sign a disclaimer from dementia is ludicrous. Everyone should be working together to ensure that footballers at all levels are able to enjoy the healthy benefits the game can bring.

Bring back the Reserve League.

Malky Mackay the new SFA Performance director has called for the reintroduction of the reserve league. His voice adds to many who have voiced there views that the the U20 development legaue is not helping in our developing of talent.
Its a bit like when you play mates every week down the local 5 a side centre. You ain’t going to improve or test yourself against new and better players. I remember the Scottish Premier League reserve league it was  of a good standard and actually it was an honour to win the league . But more importantaly it aided the 1st team by keeping there players fresh, developing new young players and a means to get injured players fit quicker.

In days gone by the reserve league was played on a Saturday while the first team was playing away. This provided extra income and  for fans an opportunity to see some football without travellling away. Young players were able to devleop quickly as they had to learn how to play against some fairly seasoned professionals or wee talked through games by veterans. Some healthy attandances were ahieved  in the reserve league as its often remebered, an Old Firm reserve game which got over 35,000 attending it.

Nobody expects us to go back to those days as squads are smaller and fans have other options where to spend there Saturday afternoon. But Scottish football cannot rest on its laurels. The development league has not worked. Any young talent is fast  tracked to the 1st team and any talent ends up moving south. we have to be innovative. The reserve league can be rejuvenated to enable talent development and actually stimulate some excitement into a fairly stagnent game at the moment.Finances will dictate this but if fixtures are arranged at an alternative time and fans offered incentives, like children for fee. we could develop an attractive alternative to the current set up. This is not innovative as it going back to the original set up but it could well differeiate us from other leagues around.