Why Tommy Wright should replace Gordon Strachan?

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Well it never went as planned last weekend. Gordon Strachan has now been relieved of his duties as Scotland coach and Malky MacKay is the interim coach. The usual suspects are being linked with the job including David Moyes, Paul Lambert, and Ally McCoist. Whoever gets the nod has a tough job on his hands. This is not a job for a young ambitious manager this is a job for a tried and experienced coach with new ideas.

One of the biggest mysteries in Scottish Football is how Tommy Wright is still at St Johnstone. He is a manager who has time and time again defied the odds and guided St Johnstone to european football year on year. St Johnstone  are not a fashionable club and Tommy Wright is probably not a fashionable manager.

Tommy Wright started as a manager  over in Northern  Ireland and  held a number of goalkeeping coach positions before joining Steve Lomas as his number two at Perth in 2011.  Within two years  Steve Lomas had made the Saints a top six team and regular European  qualifiers. When Lomas moved on Tommy Wright stayed and stepped up to the role of first team manager. In this time he has achieved some impressive results including consistent qualification for Europe.

Tommy Wrights Managerial Record to Date

Team From To Games Won Draw Lost Win %
Limavady United Nov-03 May-05 54 23 15 16 42.59
Ballymena United May-05 Apr-08 117 44 29 44 37.61
Lisburn Distillery Sep-09 Nov-11 97 36 16 45 37.11
St Johnstone Jun-13 Present 195 86 39 70 44.1
Total 464 189 99 176 40.73

All in all  it is not a bad record. But  the stats only tell part of the story. This is a manager who has produced  real results  in big matches. In fact his first match in charge in 2013  he masterminded St Johnstone’s first away win in Europe against a club of proven European pedigree, Rosenberg. That season St Johnstone went onto to win the Scottish Cup. The first time in their history. No mean feat by any means. And where we measure success in football with silverware,  it doesn’t do Tommy Wright justice. As St Johnstone are  a smaller provincial club and tend to lose  players every season to bigger clubs. This has resulted in Tommy Wright having to rebuild year on year.  That is not an easy task especially in a league like the SPFL Premiership.

So why do I believe that Tommy Wright should get the Scotland job. We need someone who has a proven record of over achieving . Tommy Wright has done this for the last four years. He has achieved so much with what can be only considered as an average squad. His ability to turn players careers around should not be understated. Danny Swanson Murray Davidson and Michael O’Halloran are prime examples. These are  players whose careers were faltering  and yet Wright was able to get the best out of them.

In 2015 -2016 he won the Scottish Premiership manager of year award for a fourth place finish. It is this continuous high achievement which is so admirable. Some managers achieve success but are unable to maintain it, continuous success with scarce resources should not be understated.

If you watch St Johnstone they are an extremely tough and physically team to play against. They make the opposition work and are difficult to break down. Something that the Scotland National team has lacked in the last campaign. Tactically Tommy Wright  is astute. Many claim it is due his career as a goalkeeper which has given him insight into the tactical nuances of the game.  This was demonstrated well in a recent  game against Celtic at Celtic Park. St Johnstone matched up tactically well with the Scottish Champions. This tactical awareness is a skill required by international managers as they have to make do with the players they have.

Tommy Wright will not be at the top of the bookies list to succeed Gordon Strachan. But he should not be discounted his domestic record is impressive. We need some one who can get the best out of the current crop of players and help build a successful national team by promoting new young players. He may well wear woolly jumpers and come from Northern Ireland but he has the experience we require. We need a long term strategy to regenerate the national team and Tommy Wright could well be that man.

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Dare to dream

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Being a Scotland supporter is never easy, It is either a feeling of ectasy or agony. Thursday night was a night of ectasy. A late winner against Slovakia. Hampden roared again. The old stadium hailed our bravehearts. A performance which looked impossible 5 games ago. This team doesn’t seem to know when it is beaten. But that is why we love being Scottish football fan. A run of 1 draw and 3 wins has put us in a position where a win will be good enough for us to earn a play off place. The Moscow misson is still possible.

Slovenia match tomorrow will be a tough game. The team and nation this time travel in expectation. An expectation that if they play as they have in the last 3 games then we will get another crack at it in November. Some players may well be rested as two matches in 3 days can be stamina sapping. A nation lies awake in excitement and antcipation. Gordon Strachan is now the darling of the media. An unlikely hero has stepped up in Chris Martin. But  can he deliver again.

We as a nation dare to dream again.

Football Programmes in the Digital Age.

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Is a football programme, a souvenir, a magazine or a book of memories? For many fans can be either one or all of these. The match day programme has been published by clubs since as long as football matches have been played. Yet there has been a decline in sales so much so that some clubs including SPFL clubs no longer print them. In the ever increasing digital age the humble programme is no longer necessary reading.

A football programme used to be a simple team sheet with some stats and local advertisements. Over the years it has changed to include more opinion pieces from players, and historical articles. The internet and social media are now the favoured channels for clubs to communicate with fans. This makes sense as we live in a 24 hr media culture where fans have a thirst for information and clubs are able to use this to their advantage communicating and interacting with fans on twitter.  In essence clubs now use the match day programme as a small revenue earner.

There are some fans that live by the motto if you don’t have a programme you weren’t at the game. But these fans are probably a dying breed. There are a few anoraks out there that still collect football programmes merely for the sake of collecting sake. But for the fan it is more a keep sake, a souvenir to show you were there when your team won its first trophy or avoided relegation on the last day of the season. Recently whilst clearing out my flat I came across some old programmes stored in a shoe box. These were from my childhood, my first match, my first cup final, the legends, the old grounds. It was sheer nostalgia. Two hours lost in thoughts and memories. The programme is merely a key to unlocking those memories. These matches are probably on You Tube somewhere.  TV can capture the moment but they cannot record the physical feeling you have at that moment.  Scottish football fans do like to look at the past as our game was in a healthier state then. The football programme helps fans remember the glory years and provides a hope that they may return.

The programme is still for many a part of the match day experience. Although in recent years it has become an expensive extra to your admission fee. The standard of programme does vary greatly across the divisions. Clubs depending on there resources produce different styles and formats of programmes. Many of the larger clubs will essentially produce a magazine including articles from mainstream journalists. The smaller clubs will focus on stats and local advertisements. But these differences are reflected in the price of the publication. The main resource in producing a programme is probably the time of the editor and contributors.  And it this strain on resources where clubs may make commercial decision to stop producing programmes as they can communicate the same information online.  A growing amount of clubs have developed digital copies of the programme. Some fans though will always want that commemorative publication.

Clubs in England and Germany have been innovative in producing programmes as it competes with the digital media outlets. In Germany a programme is free and distributed at the ground by the clubs. It is a fairly thin publication but list players and some stats but serves a memorabilia publication. A growing number of English clubs have developed digital programmes which are available to buy online trying to cut production costs. Other clubs have experimented in producing £1 booklets on match day and produced a monthly magazine with more detailed articles. Clubs are continually trying to improve how they can communicate and engage with fans through media outlets and the match day programme is one such channel.

The move to digital match day programmes is inevitable as the cost of publication will be minimal. But the traditionalist in me thinks and hopes that the printed form will always be part of the match day experience. The digital age is here to stay and football clubs and fans need to embrace this. But much like the rise and fall of the E- book, the printed book was able to survive and thrive as people craved something tangible. Clubs need to explore how to produce a match day programme that meets fans needs, as it part of our football culture.

This article first appeared on Scottish Supporters Network Website.

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.

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.