from JOHN LITSTER, founding editor of PROGRAMME MONTHLY, founder and editor of SCOTTISH FOOTBALL HISTORIAN, and proprietor of PM PUBLICATIONS
Your comments and feedback on John’s Blog are welcomed - email email@example.com
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Friday March 8th
One of the great folk tales of Manchester United’s early history is the
story of how a St Bernards dog played a part in rescuing the club from bankruptcy when it was known as Newton Heath. The dog’s owner was the club captain and Ean Gardiner has charted his life in HARRY STAFFORD,
The right back’s influence on the club’s early years cannot be over-estimated. He joined them in March 1896 after six years at Crewe Alexandra and made 221 first team competitive appearances over seven years. When the club was threatened with closure he spear-headed a fund-raising campaign and, crucially, introduced a local brewer, John Henry Davies, to the Newton Heath club, then playing amidst the industrial smog of Clayton.
hanging up his boots
What starts as a hagiology becomes a more balanced account of the footballer-turned-publican as the author describes his post-playing career, tracking his complicated love-life (adultery then bigamy) and his emigration to the United Stated and onward to Canada.
The story has been meticulously researched and is told with a jaunty turn of phrase, evoking lurid images of life in the industrial north around the turn of the previous century while also charting the faltering early years of what is now one of the biggest clubs in the world.
£10.95 for 280 paperback pages, published by Empire Publications, www.empire-uk.com, ISBN 978-1-909360-59-4.
Wednesday December 9th
BOOK REVIEW MANIFEST DESTINY THE OFFICIAL HISTORY OF ST JOHNSTONE FC 1885-2015 by Alastair Blair and Brian
Doyle St Johnstone emerged from the morass of local clubs formed when football became an organised sport in the last quarter
of the 19th century, to be the focal point of the In common with their fellow town and county clubs, Saints flirted with greatness for brief spells in each decade. They
fielded internationalists in the 1930s, reached a League Cup Final in the 1960s quickly followed by European football in 1971/72,
but the sale of Muirton Park and removal to Britain’s first purpose-built all-seated football stadium in 1989 provided a platform
for the club to aim higher, more often. In 1997 Alastair Blair and Brian Doyle filled a gaping hole in Scottish football’s bibliography
with the publication of “Bristling With Possibilities”, the Official History of St Johnstone FC from 1885 to 1997. Their
300 page book set a new standard for Scottish football club histories. In the ensuing 18 years, the club has experienced good
years and bad; far more of the former in recent times, culminating in Saints’ first major national trophy success in 2014 when they
won the Scottish Cup. That event sealed the inevitability of an
updated version of the book, and MANIFEST DESTINY brings the story up to 2015. It is to the huge credit of both
authors that this is no mere addendum. Further depth has been added to the distant years by two decades of continuing
research, and the additional content is manifest in the new book’s noticeably smaller typeface. Sensibly, the extensive interviewing
which gave the original book so much authority has been retained, and indeed extended into the detailed coverage of the last two decades. The text, liberally interspersed with illustrations, mixes several themes to good effect. The historical narrative is interspersed
with extracts from the club’s minute books and is enlivened by quotations from contemporary newspapers. As the story progresses
through the 20th century, first hand reminiscences from players, managers, supporters and club officials lend authority and insight. Events and decisions which changed the club’s destiny, several of them contentious, are analysed in depth; and if opinions bring the
commentary to a conclusion they are invariably voiced by those who were closely involved, or central to, such pivotal moments in the
club’s history. Space is given to reminiscences from a number of
the club’s supporters, but the entire narrative is soaked in the reverence of their beloved club by the two authors, which provides
a warmth and charm which greatly enhances the reader’s enjoyment. The sum of these parts is a comprehensive, authoritative, but never dull story of one of Scottish football’s major clubs. The first book was notable for its detailed, match-by-match, statistical appendix, which has been updated. Some earlier gaps
in the facts and figures have been filled, and the occasional omission or inaccuracy corrected. This new book has not only updated and improved upon one of the very best football books, it stands in its own right as an indispensible
aid to the understanding of Scottish football history. 350 A4 pages, softback, £25 plus £5 p&p from St Johnstone FC, ISBN
THE OFFICIAL HISTORY OF ST JOHNSTONE FC 1885-2015
by Alastair Blair and Brian Doyle
St Johnstone emerged from the morass of local clubs formed when football became an organised sport in the last quarter
of the 19th century, to be the focal point of the
In common with their fellow town and county clubs, Saints flirted with greatness for brief spells in each decade. They fielded internationalists in the 1930s, reached a League Cup Final in the 1960s quickly followed by European football in 1971/72, but the sale of Muirton Park and removal to Britain’s first purpose-built all-seated football stadium in 1989 provided a platform for the club to aim higher, more often.
In 1997 Alastair Blair and Brian Doyle filled a gaping hole in Scottish football’s bibliography with the publication of “Bristling With Possibilities”, the Official History of St Johnstone FC from 1885 to 1997. Their 300 page book set a new standard for Scottish football club histories. In the ensuing 18 years, the club has experienced good years and bad; far more of the former in recent times, culminating in Saints’ first major national trophy success in 2014 when they won the Scottish Cup.
That event sealed the inevitability of an updated version of the book, and MANIFEST DESTINY brings the story up to 2015. It is to the huge credit of both authors that this is no mere addendum. Further depth has been added to the distant years by two decades of continuing research, and the additional content is manifest in the new book’s noticeably smaller typeface. Sensibly, the extensive interviewing which gave the original book so much authority has been retained, and indeed extended into the detailed coverage of the last two decades.
The text, liberally interspersed with illustrations, mixes several themes to good effect. The historical narrative is interspersed with extracts from the club’s minute books and is enlivened by quotations from contemporary newspapers. As the story progresses through the 20th century, first hand reminiscences from players, managers, supporters and club officials lend authority and insight. Events and decisions which changed the club’s destiny, several of them contentious, are analysed in depth; and if opinions bring the commentary to a conclusion they are invariably voiced by those who were closely involved, or central to, such pivotal moments in the club’s history.
Space is given to reminiscences from a number of the club’s supporters, but the entire narrative is soaked in the reverence of their beloved club by the two authors, which provides a warmth and charm which greatly enhances the reader’s enjoyment.
The sum of these parts is a comprehensive, authoritative, but never dull story of one of Scottish football’s major clubs. The first book was notable for its detailed, match-by-match, statistical appendix, which has been updated. Some earlier gaps in the facts and figures have been filled, and the occasional omission or inaccuracy corrected.
This new book has not only updated and improved upon one of the very best football books, it stands in its own right as an indispensible aid to the understanding of Scottish football history.
350 A4 pages, softback, £25 plus £5 p&p from St Johnstone FC, ISBN 0-905452-79-8
Tuesday September 15th
Tuesday September 15th
SCOTTISH FOOTBALL ALMANAC 2015/16
The sub-title does not lie:
this, the second edition, is The Essential Guide to Scottish Football. The amount of information packed into the
430 pages is astonishing - and all of it relates to a single season, 2014/15.
Three pages are devoted to each League club, with
a comprehensive statistical account of last season’s results, goals and appearances. All the competitive matches
are listed and summarised together, and there is a list of friendly matches. Other useful additions are non-league teams
lines in the early rounds of the Scottish Cup, and reserve and youth team results.
The comprehensive Junior coverage has been extended
to include squad lists, and this also applies to Senior non-league clubs in this edition.
Under “Miscellaneous football” you
will find details of the North Caledonian League, University football, and there are notes on “Unofficial football” in the Isle of
Arran League and Islay Football League.
The huge, country-wide mass of Amateur and Youth football is corralled into summary form, and
for the first time Women’s football is covered, although this is slightly in arrears due to the summer-season format. The book
ends with obituaries.
It is, quite simply, an essential purchase for students of Scottish football, and one has to hope that
it will continue for many seasons to come.
The editor, Andy McGregor, reiterated the rationale behind the book in his introduction. “The volume of information available to football fans through the internet is greater than ever before but it is ephemeral. Fantastic websites can come and go at the whim of their owners and some already have disappeared into the ether. Statistics are often “up” for the current season but are not always retained when a new season starts.”
Available from Rel8 Media, Unit
7 Woodend Business Centre, Cowdenbeath KY4 8HG for £19.99 from www.rel8mediapublishing.weebly.com
Monday 14th September
JOHN FALLON : KEEPING IN PARADISE My Autobiography with David Potter
A Celtic goalkeeper for no
less than 14 years, John Fallon had long spells out of the first team as deputy to a succession of goalkeepers from Frank Haffey,
Ronnie Simpson and Evan Williams to Dennis Connaghan. He made 184 appearances in competitive matches, 20 of them in Europe,
and picked up a number of Championship and Cup winning medals along the way.
He was a durable and dependable deputy, kept at
Parkhead by a life-long love of the club, and an appreciation that the wages and conditions of a full time footballer were better
than those he previously enjoyed as a motor mechanic.
His career at Celtic Park spanned the false dawns of “Kelly’s Kids” and the years
of plenty which followed under Jock Stein, and the Chairman and Manager are not spared critcism in the book’s 230 pages. Such
controversy is isolated, and unbalanced. There is no description or analysis of the good points of both Robert Kelly and
Jock Stein, and only in the last few pages of the books is there a suggestion of discord amongst the Lisbon Lions (Fallon was on the
bench for the 1967 European Cup Final, as the rules permitted a substitute goalkeeper).
There is comprehensive coverage of the
club’s history, and Fallon’s part in it, told in the main from contemporary quotes by newspaper journalists, and it is a pity that
Fallon’s voice, observations and insights into the personalities behind the scenes at Parkhead, are rarely heard. Instead,
this is an account of Celtic’s history over the period of Fallon’s career, written by David Potter. “Even the ranks of Tuscany
could scare forbear to cheer,” as Thomas Babington Macaulay might have said in his Lays of Ancient Rome (page 197). Macaulay
might have said it, but Fallon assuredly did not.
£9.99 from Black & White Publishing Ltd., 29 Ocean Drive, Edinburgh, EH6 6JL,
Sunday 13th September
SCOTTISH HIGHLAND FOOTBALL LEAGUE DIARY 2014/15
race for the Highland League title last season was considerably spiced-up by the prize of a chance to play-off for a place in the
Scottish League. The bookies’ favourites Brora Rangers duly won the League, in some comfort and without losing a match,
and after beating Edinburgh City, lost to Montrose.
The team behind the Twitter account @SHFLdiary recorded all the details of
the Highland League (and Cup) season and have produced their Diary in printed form.
The 260 page softback book starts with the
publication of the season’s fixtures on 1st July 2014, covers pre-season friendlies and lists and describes all of the matches thereonin
in daily diary format.
All of the competitions are summarised, and there is a page devoted to each club, giving key details of
their season, including a full list of goalscorers. Managerial changes are also noted, and the only noticeable omission
in this extremely comprehensive account of a complete season is players’ appearances and movements. Otherwise, it is all
contained in this substantial body of work.
It’s available for £12 plus £2.99 p&p from
Friday April 24th
Fifty years ago today the Scottish football season came to a thrilling end on the last Saturday of April, as was then the custom. On the same afternoon in 1965 the destination of the two principal domestic trophies was decided in two momentous matches which shaped the destinies of two of the clubs involved. Both matches kicked off at ; television coverage was restricted to recorded highlights, on BBC1 and STV, after that evening.
Hearts went into the last day of the season two points ahead of their opponents at Tynecastle,
Thirty five years later, I had the pleasure of interviewing Willie Polland. This is his recollection of Hearts’ last day collapse, in which he participated :
“There were a few Hearts players who “sold the jerseys” that day. Alan Gordon had been out injured for a few weeks, but he insisted he was fit and Tommy Walker selected him. After a few minutes he broke down and – in the days before substitutes – we were effectively down to ten men. Wee Johnny Hamilton, who had played in the previous Championship winning teams, had a nightmare of a match. It felt as if we played with six or seven men that day.
Barry, who took no prisoners, was shouting and bawling to try and gee the team up, but even
Hearts were not the only club to blow the League title that season ; so did third placed Dunfermline Athletic. Jock Stein
left a formidable team behind him at
On the first Saturday (3rd) of April 1965,
Jock Stein administered the coup de grace
to his former club’s hopes in midweek when Celtic beat Hibs 4-0 at Easter Road, while
Few recognised the significance of Third Lanark’s relegation, with
the miserable total of seven points, the worst top division record in the Twentieth century. That fine old club had just
two more years of life. Airdrie went down with them, seven points clear of the third bottom team, and they were
replaced by Stirling Albion, living up to their yo-yo reputation, and Hamilton Accies, making a return to the top division after a
decade in the lower league.
Treble winners the season before, finished fifth, separated by
On the day that
Adapted from “Fifty Years of Scottish Football” by John Litster, http://www.pmfc.co.uk/fifty.html
Tuesday July 2nd 2014
Collectors and traders who have suffered a loss of an item sent by ordinary post over the last year may have come up against a marked reluctance by Royal Mail to offer compensation. Their standard response is that the applicant is required to “provide proof of the cost price of the item along with the eBay details before a compensation payment can be made.” The reference to eBay appears in their response whether or not the lost consignment was transacted through that service. They do not guarantee that a payment will be made in future cases where the cost price is not obtainable.
This seemed anomalous to me, as non-traders could not reasonably be expected to have kept a record, far less a receipt, of items they had bought years, if not decades, earlier. Moreoever, how do they deal with inflation?
I wrote to Royal Mail pointing out that this seemed at variance with the regulations published on their website, where it is stated that compensation for lost items is on the basis of “actual loss, where evidence of posting and evidence of VALUE can be proved. This compensation is subject to the maximum payable being the lower of the MARKET VALUE of the item and the maximum of £20.” The capital letters are mine.
There is no mention in the regulations of “what it cost you to acquire, purchase or manufacture the item,” as demanded by the compensation department, and indeed the phrase “Evidence of value includes but is not limited to ….” is included in the guidelines, allowing the use of alternative and more meaningful measures such as the sales price.
Having received no reply to my letter of 31st March, I wrote to Moya Greene, Royal Mail’s Chief Executive Officer on 2nd May, and received a prompt response from her, with the promise of some action. On 6th June, I received a detailed letter from Peter Clay of the Chief Executive’s Office. He wrote:
“I note your comments and the difficulties faced by memorabilia traders and collectors should they need to make a claim. You will appreciate however that we are a business and must have procedures in place when dealing with compensation claims. The problem we face is identifying what has been a collectible iten and what has been bought in order to sell for a profit.
“Where an item has truly been a collectible and owned by someone for a long period before selling, we accept they may not have the original cost price. We also understand that an item may have appreciated in value over the years they have owned it. In this instance, it would be reasonable to accept the sale value as a way of determining the cost.
“If somebody is a regular trader and claimant with Royal Mail it is reasonable to conclude they are buying stock and selling on items of value for a profit. As opposed to selling something that has been part of their own collection over the years. In these instances, we require the sellers cost price. When we mention marked value this refers to the cost of purchase, manufacture or acquire. The market value and compensation limit on a service are the maximum payable, based on whichever is lower.
“We try to review claims for memorabilia and collectibles on a case by case basis. It may [be] beneficial if any trader claimants having difficulty contact our customer service team and provide examples of their purchase costs, outline how they operate and what profit margins they have. We would then try to come to some kind of agreement going forward.”
In conclusion, I suggest that when you submit a claim for lost mail, for an item out of your collection, you include on the claim form the wording of the second paragraph of Peter Clay’s letter of 6th June 2014.
Monday July 21st
Finished work on the contents of two new books (I just have the cover designs to complete before they can go to the printers). FOOTBALL’S WHITE FEATHERS : Scottish Football’s Battle for Survival during the early months of the First World War, is the story of the Footballer’s Battalion in the 1914-1918 Great War, which is well known, but its formation, and subsequent decimation in the conflict, is merely the tip of an iceberg on which professional football in Scotland came close to being broken up in the early months of the First World War.
In over 100 pages of narrative, Scottish football’s reaction to the outbreak of war is described, followed by the huge public outcry for football to be stopped as it was allegedly preventing young men from volunteering for the slaughter on the Western Front. Football’s climb-down, along with the public relations triumph of the formation of McCrae’s Battalion, is described in great detail, as are the consequences for Scottish football from the disruption of the war years.
Also included are comprehensive statistics from 1914-15 season; full results and scorers, match-by-match appearance grids for all First Division and (uniquely) Second Division clubs, and a detailed analysis of what the First World War did to the footballing careers of the Scottish League players of 1914-15.
Reproduced within the book’s 160 pages are the contents of the 1918 booklet “The “Hearts” and the Great War” by John McCartney.
HOW THE CUP WAS WON : A History of Scottish Cup Finals in words and statistics, has been compiled by Forrest H.C. Robertson. From 21st March 1874 at 1st Hampden Park, Crosshill, to 17th May 2014 at Celtic Park, each Scottish Cup Final is described by a match report, and detailed match statistics, many of them published for the first time. Included are the full names of participating players, non-used substitutes, referees, umpires and linesmen and kick off times.
Following the narrative, the data is then summarised and highlighted, providing a complete alphabetic
list of players of have appeared in Scottish Cup Finals, and lists of players who have made most appearances in finals, scored most
goals, played for different clubs in finals etc. Highlighted are fastest goals, latest goals, youngest and olders players,
penalties, free kick goals, hat-tricks, own-goals, venues, sendings off, referees, relatives, colour clashes etc. Also included
are lists of captains and managers of the Cup Finalists. In short - everything you ever wanted to know about Scottish Cup Finals
will be contained in this 160 page book. A fascinating read - and a great reference book.
The books are likely to sell for around £10 plus £3 UK postage each and full details will be available elsewhere on this site (under BOOKS & CD-Roms and SCOTTISH FOOTBALL HISTORY to name but two) from publication date onwards. If you want immediate notice when the books are ready, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday May 28th
BBC4 broadcast an hour long's tribute to the late David Coleman, and I watched it today on Catch-Up, while sorting out some programme orders. Paul Fox, veteran programme producer, paid tribute to Coleman's great knowledge of sport, and football in particular, and spoke over a recording of David presiding over the Teleprinter at 4.40pm one Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, Mr Fox's appreciation coincided with a rare example of Coleman's fallibility. The scoreline Rangers 1 Celtic 1 came up on the screen and the presenter announced that “the Scottish Cup Final is going into extra time.” He failed to wonder why an unfinished match would have the result appearing on the Teleprinter, the reason being that extra time was not introduced to that fixture until 1980.
Monday May 26th
The journey from Kirkcaldy to Norwich was broken at Burton-on-Trent, where England Under 19s were playing Scotland in a UEFA Elite Group qualifying match. The choice of venue and date were no doubt made many months ago, but one would have thought it not beyond the wit of the FA to realise that Burton Albion might, conceivably, be involved in the League Two Play-off Final at Wembley that afternoon. Hence the attendance of 875. The match provided an instructive, and sobering, view of the immediate future of Scottish football. Three years ago, the Dutchman Mark Wotte was appointed to the highly paid role of Performance Director at the S.F.A., and he has spent that time overhauling the coaching structure in Scottish football. It is certainly too early to judge him, but we should perhaps be seeing the early signs of some improvement in the development of young talent. If there are examples of this, they weren't on view at the Pirelli Stadium. Scotland took the lead early in the second half, but they had been second-best to a more skilful, stronger and quicker England team, who responded to the reverse by hitting the woodwork on several occasions before scoring twice to win the match with a 2-1 scoreline which flattered the Scots.
In the previous day's Scottish edition of the Sunday Times, National team manager Gordon Strachan bemoaned the lack of senior players, midfielders in particular, with the ability to beat players on the edge of the penalty box and create scoring chances. He had to rely on team-work to grind out results, rather than individual brilliance. There would appear to be no future salvation for Gordon at Under 19 level, for the lack of flair in the Scots team was quite apparent, and in contrast to that exhibited by a number of English players. For several years I have attributed the decline in Scottish football principally to the lack of first team opportunities given to young Scots players, with Premier Division clubs in particular guilty of the "quick fix" of cheap signings from abroad, but I am beginning to agree with those who insist that the young players are fundamentally not of sufficient quality. If that is the case, it is because of how they are coached, and that is something Mr Wotte requires to address. There was no evidence at Burton that this is being done.
Sunday May 25th
My prediction that Hamilton Accies would have “too much football” for Hibs in the Premiership play-off final looked to be dashed after Hibs’ 2-0 victory at New Douglas Park in the first leg, but I was proved right at the end of a pulsating match at Easter Road. Accies scored early to open up the tie, but it took until injury time before they equalised, in the most dramatic fashion. Their victory on penalty kicks, after extra time, was simply what they deserved for they were the better team throughout the match and might have had a couple of penalties during normal time. Hibs did not lack effort, but their technique was poor, and the players lacked either the confidence or the ability (or perhaps both) to play a passing game, in contrast to their lower-division opponents.
The near-full house for a match televised live showed the madness of the SPL’s refusal to countenance a promotion play-off over the previous decade, but on the other hand the loss of Hibs to the top division explains the commercial (if not the sporting) justification for that previous obduracy. The play-off place dangled in front of the old First Division clubs to induce them to consign the Scottish Football League to oblivion has claimed a victim of the ubiquitous Law of Unintended Consequences, and Hibs will now join Rangers and Hearts in the Championship next season.
Saturday May 24th
A cracking match at Hill of Beath, where Bo’ness United took a huge step towards the East Region’s League Championship by beating Hawthorn 1-0. The visitors squandered several chances before finding the net, and while they were superior to their hosts, the Haws had a few chances of their own, and certainly made the prospective League Champions work for the points. Bo’ness brought with them the majority of the large crowd, and it was good to see the trim, well-kept ground with a decent attendance.
Three days earlier, I saw Hill of Beath take a first half lead against a very out-of-sorts Sauchie in an East of Scotland Cup tie, but the home team were transformed after the interval, deservedly equalised, missed chance after chance, and won the tie on penalty kicks. The second half was watched from Sauchie’s very impressive modern grandstand, but the rest of the vast arena looked a bit unkempt.
Monday May 19th
A trip down memory late at
Sunday May 18th
For the second successive year, Dunfermline Athletic lost out in the final of
a Promotion/Relegation Play-off at
Saturday May 17th
The Saints Go Marching In, to their first major trophy, in (remarkably) their first ever appearance in the Scottish Cup Final. They deserved their victory over Dundee United, and the breaks that went their way, as they fought hard and played to the peak of their ability. United, on the other hand, did not hit anything resembling top form, although part of the reason for that was St Johnstone’s hard-working and combative performance. The Saints fans, out in unprecedented numbers, played their part with raucous backing, and the atmosphere and overall behaviour of the fans benefitted from the absence of the so-called bigger clubs, and their fans’ pervasive air of superiority.
Friday May 16th
Due to the following day’s Cup Final, much of the Tayside Junior card was moved to the
previous evening, which provided the opportunity of a welcome return to
Wednesday May 14th
Cowdenbeath v Dunfermline Athletic in the first leg of the play-off, and while it was nice to see a big crowd assembled around the ground, the match was fairly dire. A goal apiece towards the end improved the entertainment quotient, but not by much (both goals came from long throw-ins).
Tuesday May 13th
Saturday May 10th
I let the train take the strain for the Peterborough United
v Leyton Orient League One play-off match. There was a good attendance at
Saturday February 8th
It was fourth against first in the Northern Premier League as Kings Lynn Town played host to Chorley. As often happens, the match did not live up to the expectation. It was stop-start throughout, with few attempts on goal. The home team gave a good account of themselves in the first half, but Chorley dominated the second half, and deserved their 2-0 victory. Kings Lynn can console themselves in having handed the goals to the League leaders ; the second a penalty kick, the first a defensive catastrophe when two defenders and the goalkeeper made a hash of a long punt down the middle.
It is always a delight to visit The Walks, a tidy, but essentially old fashioned stadium with a low-slung, pitch length covered enclosure, low uncovered terracing behind the goals, and a substantial grandstand with a standing enclosure in front.
Friday February 7th
An explanation for the long delay in updating this page. You will notice that the website has a different appearance (if you don't, click the icon with the two semi-circular green arrows to Refresh your browser), and that has dominated my days (and sleepless nights) for several weeks. Faced with an insoluble technical problem with the website software I have been using for at least a decade, I finally grasped the nettle and did what I should have done eight or nine years ago; buy some new software, which apart from everything else would enable me to dispense with an old computer which I have latterly used solely for website maintenance. It came as no surprise to discover the extent of the reasons why I have been putting off this process, but the task has been largely completed. Having done it all myself (thanks to no help whatsoever from the suppliers of the old software, NetObjects Fusion, and my server provider, 1and1) I now know why web-site builders charge such a lot of money.
Saturday February 1st
I had the choice of two local matches, Wroxham or Dereham Town, and after the home side lost two goals in the first ten minutes against Waltham Abbey, I began to regret the choice of Wroxham. Despite having apparently addressed their main problem - a goalkeeper - the Trafford Park side looked as hapless as the previous occasions this season I have seen them struggle. Football never ceases to surprise, however, and Wroxham battled back into the match, and in a goal-feast in the last third of the game, finally won it 4-3. Their best two players in a young team shared the goals between them, and the confidence-boost that this result, and performance, must have given them could be a turning point in their fortunes. It turned into a tremendous match - and the right choice on the day.
Saturday January 25th
You never know what you are going to find when you venture into the small towns around and within the M25. Places like Chertsey turn out to be delightful, and I had harboured a hope that Egham would be the same. Alas, the town looked tired and a little bit tatty, which was also how I found the ground of Egham Town, newcomers to the Southern League this season. They hadn't won a home League match on a Saturday all season, but made up for it on my visit by thumping a hapless Potters Bar Town. The ground was well appointed, with covers behind both goals, a pitch-length cover over the main terracing and a distinctive-looking stand. The handful of spectators dotted around the commodious ground explained why there were no funds to tart the place up.
Reports to come from January : a cracking FA Trophy tie between Cambridge United and Luton Town ; first visit of the season to Dereham Town ; a my first League match of the season at Carrow Road.
Saturday December 28th
Staveley Miners Welfare played host
to high-flying Worksop Parramore in the Northern Counties League, and the visitors confirmed their promotion credentials with a comfortable
victory. There was much to admire about the hosts, although not on the park, where they put in a pedestrian performance
which confirmed their recent poor form. Their cause was not helped by the inclusion of 48 year old former England Internationalist
Carlton Palmer, who was playing for Staveley in exchange for a donation to his charity from the club’s owner. In contrast,
Most impressive was the crowd, which amounted to 351. They were knowledgeable and familiar with the home players as befits
the loyal support of a non-league club representing an isolated community. The attendance was larger than seven matches
in the Northern Premier League top division (two steps higher) on the same afternoon, and all but two (at
Earlier that morning was the Sheffield Programme Fair, staged for possibly the first time on a Saturday. With the Football League fixtures being played on Sunday, and Yorkshire being a Premier Division – free zone (apart from Hull City), it allowed fans of local clubs to attend without missing a fixture; and the early start (10.30am) and consequent early finish (1.30pm) allowed non-league fans to take in a match.
Most encouragingly, the attendance was up on the previous two years, which had shown an alarming fall. In contrast the previous day at the Great North West Fair at Altrincham saw the attendance was down by about 10%, at 240. This was the first significant fall at the Greater Manchester venue, which had for many years defied the trend of sharply reduced attendances at programme fairs across the country.
There may have been mitigating circumstances at Altrincham this year, not least the apocalyptic weather forecasts in the days preceding the fair. In the event the weather was dry and pleasant, if a little bit windy.
Thursday December 26th
The Boxing Day fixture of choice in the North West of England was the Runcorn derby in the North West Counties Premier Division. It was first against second in the League, and it remained that way at the final whistle, although Linnets’ 1-0 victory over Town allowed them to leapfrog their local rivals at the top of the table. They looked the stronger and more purposeful team in a hard-fought, but clean and sporting encounter refereed without fuss by an experienced official. Town’s Pavilions ground is rudimentary, with a collection of small coverings and a modern modular stand, and it is dominated by the oil refinery next door. The essential facilities were very good, however, with a pleasant pavilion and an additional Tea Hut on the opposite side of the ground.
For the first time in more than 50 years of watching football, I saw a football rebound from an overhead power cable, the line of pylons bisecting the pitch and well placed to interfere with a high clearance. The commendably large crowd of over 800 was comfortably accommodated around three sides of the ground, with the narrow strip of hard-standing behind one goal closed to spectators.
Saturday December 21st
Several Junior matches in the East of Scotland fell victim to the previous day’s heavy rain, and the preferred match, Hill of Beath Hawthorn v Bo’ness United, was switched to the other side of the Forth So it was Kelty Hearts v Tayport on a cold, raw, damp day which both sides overcame to serve up a thoroughly entertaining match. The visitors are some way short of their former power under manager Dave Baikie, back at Canniepairt for the third time, but they showed plenty of spirit and initiative in keeping within touch of Kelty. Tayport looked the likelier team to score in the closing stages, but lost 3-2. The match was well controlled by an experienced and undemonstrative referee, who kept 22 players on the field.
Tuesday December 17th
The only midweek match in
Saturday December 14th
It was a good day for Raith Rovers in the promotion race in the First Division. Results elsewhere went their way, and they beat Dumbarton 2-1 at Stark’s Park despite having a player sent off, and being second best to an impressive visiting team whose only failing was an inability to finish their good play with shots on target. On the two occasions I have watched Rovers this season, they have been second best at home, but won both games by a single goal. It could be the form of a promotion winning team – or they might just be short of what it takes.Saturday
Norwich United, the cinderella team of the
Saturday November 30th
Bury Town v
Thursday November 28th
bonus from a short pre-Christmas visit to
The switch was made from Rapid’s own ground (named after a former player) in anticipation of a crowd of 35,000, getting on for twice the capacity of their own ground. The following morning’s newspaper reported a crowd of “34,000”, although that looked to be a bit of an over-estimation, as the ground looked only just over half full.
The programme situation was interesting, with the club’s magazine (ie souvenir catalogue) and a sports supplement to a newspaper distributed free around the perimeter of the ground. If you wanted one of the 24 page match programmes, you had to help yourself from the piled stacked just inside the turnstiles.
Transport to and from
the stadium, by underground, was excellent, and this added to the very positive impression given of central
Saturday November 23rd
There was a choice of two local matches ;
Saturday November 16th
Another one bites the dust with a first visit to VCD Athletic, newly promoted to the Ryman League. They play
in Crayford, the V stands for Vickers, the defence manufacturers, and there is no explanation in the glossy, but quickly-read programme
of what the D stands for (
Thursday November 14th
It has taken five-and-a-half months, but I have finally sent my new book 50 YEARS OF SCOTTISH FOOTBALL to the printers. It amounts to 308 pages, plus a cover, and for a flavour of its contents I suggest you read the previous entry for October 18th. Chosing a title and sub-title is tricky; you want something that can be picked up on internet searches, but at the same time a bit humourous and stylish. For a front cover sub-title, I have settled on “From Baxter to Balde, from The Beatles to Bankruptcy.” My mate Charlie came up with the best suggestion, but I’m not sure “50 Shades of Green and White” would have given the correct impression of its contents. May I suggest you buy it and see ?
Saturday November 9th
A long detour on the road from Kirkcaldy to
Saturday November 2nd
Spoiled for choice in Junior matches in
Friday November 1st
The Queen’s Park Football Club Society is 100 years old, and had a Dinner to celebrate. I was a substitute speaker, and had the pleasure of talking about the Society’s history. I’ll write something about it in a forthcoming edition of Scottish Football Historian; it’s a fascinating story. It was a lovely evening, in the company of real football fans and several famous names from Queen’s Park’s past, all of them extremely warm, friendly and courteous. In many ways, it was a reminder of what football used to be like.
Wednesday October 30th
Tuesday October 29th
Stirling Albion v Albion Rovers
in a ??? Division match (fourth, I think, but it’s called League Two). A cracking match between two keen, fit and enterprising teams,
spoiled for a while by a first half sending off. By the letter of the law, the referee got it right, but the dangerous tackle seemed
to be more clumsy than malicious, and it was not a dirty match. The visitors changed their tactics to try to hang on to a point and
only came out again after
Saturday October 26th
Fifty years to the day after my grandfather took me to my first football match (Raith Rovers 1 Alloa 2 on 26th October 1963), I took my two grandchildren to Raith Rovers 2 Morton 1. Rovers have started the season well, in League and Cup, but have yet to convince that they are set for honours. Morton have hardly kicked a ball since they put Celtic out of the League Cup, and looked to have earned a point with a battling performance, until Rovers’ scored a slightly undeserved winner in the third minute of injury time. It spoke volumes for their grit and determination, but it was a cruel blow to Morton. Apart from the main stand, the ground is much-changed from my first visit half-a-century before, but the attendance hasn’t - 40 less than in 1963. Then, the club was part-time. Now, it has to fund full-time players on gates hovering around 1,500.
Friday October 25th
The journey north was broken by a stop-off at Shildon, where Ashington were the visitors. I have been to
Friday October 18th
Today I finished writing a book, which I started in early June. When I discovered that the last Saturday in October was the 26th, it occurred to me that it would be 50 years, to the day, since I attended my first football match, and that I would like to write about my experiences of working in, watching, and following Scottish football over the intervening five decades. 50 YEARS OF SCOTTISH FOOTBALL will be published, all being well, by the end of November, and it will contain some of my footballing experiences, interwoven with a history of Scottish football, season by season, over the past half century, some untold stories from my years working in football, plenty of observations, and analysis of the changes that have taken place. I commend it to you all (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I ....)
Saturday October 12th
In my quest to visit every League, and non-league, football ground
in England down to and including Step 4, I have a bit of work to do this season, with quite a lot of new entrants to the lowest level,
which I have not visited when they were at Step 5 or lower (plus a couple of ground changes). On a weekend break to
September and October
Please forgive the lack
of match-by-match coverage, but I have been preoccupied with writing my book, and in any case my football travels have been confined
to non-league matches around
are under new management (the old one, which achieved a lot of success in League and Cup have gone off to AFC Sudbury) and their play
this season is less regimented and more entertaining. They are an strange team, capable of excellent, flowing, attacking
football, and in the same match some quite awful passing. They are also in sore need of a decent goalkeeper. I have seen them
twice so far, weathering a storming performance from Burgess Hill Town in a Cup replay, to out-score them in the second half, and
earlier racing into an impressive lead against AFC Sudbury, only to be beaten in another second half shoot-out. They may
not have a successful season, but it might be quite entertaining to watch, and will hopefully attract the crowds back to
Kings Lynn Town are another club capable of patchy
form, and I saw them comfortably beat a poor looking
A cup tie drew me to Needham Market, which I last visited about five or six
years ago when they were still in the Eastern Counties League. They looked to be in difficulty early on against a confident
Tuesday September 3rd
I have left the best until the last match of my four games in
overall impression of my four Irish League matches is that the standard of entertainment was excellent. There was no evidence
of the over-coaching which has stifled good football in the upper reaches of Scottish football, and lower divisions of the English
League. The default attitude is to attack and to try to score goals, and as a consequence the games were exciting, open and
competitive. The grounds are in the process of being done up, thus presenting a mixture of good, modern facilities, and
the remaining evidence of their particular charm and history. The whole experience reminded me of Scottish football twenty
or more years ago, before the influx of foreign players, stultifying coaching and anticeptic grounds ; in other words the good old
days. One discordant note : the catering was, with the singular exception of Glentoran’s Milk Bar, quite awful, hopefully
not an indication of the
Monday September 2nd
Solitude. Not the state of mind or physical isolation, but the name
of Cliftonville’s ground. They are the oldest club in
The football match was excellent. Cliftonville are reigning League champions, got off to a flier this season, then lost on Friday at home to Portadown (the glossy, colourful programme is a double-issue). They lost again tonight, to a well organised Coleraine team who went 3-0 ahead midway through the second half. The home team had their chances, but lacked conviction and commitment. They got a goal back with ten minutes to go, but deserved no more.
Saturday August 31st
main purpose of this four match, five day visit to
Traditionally, the Linfield v Glentoran match is between the Irish League’s “Big Two”, but Linfield went into this match at the bottom of the League after a win-less start to the season. Glentoran were mid-table, and played like it, showing little invention or imagination. They failed to take advantage of a Linfield player being sent off for stupidity midway through the first half, but evened things up after the interval when one of their players was sent off after his second caution. Linfield looked the better team, but simply couldn’t score. A decent forward is all they need to get back on track. The game was the poorest of the four watched on this trip, but at 0-0 with both teams striving for a goal, it held the interest to the end.
WindsorPark must be a source of bemusement to visiting international fans. Hemmed in on all four sides, on two of them by traditional terraced housing, the ground is from an era in which spectators either walked to the game, or were bussed in. In due course, new stands will rise to the South and East, and from within it will look like any other smallish all-seated ground, but in an old fashioned location.
Friday August 30th
My first ever match in
Wednesday August 28th
On the night Celtic’s European Cup tie was televised live, there was a decent crowd for the kick off at Newlandsfield for Pollok’s League Cup semi final against Lesmahagow. The home team scored early on, and there were fears that this was going to be a one-sided affair, but full marks to the Lanarkshire club for clawing their way back into the match, and equalising. In the last third of the match Pollok moved up a gear, and won comfortably.
Tuesday August 27th
a day working at Hampden, I had planned to go to Partick Thistle v Cowdenbeath in the League Cup, but it occurred to me that it would
take me no longer to drive to
Saturday August 24th
Kennoway Star Hearts have joined the East of Scotland Junior League, and are at home to Thornton Hibs. I last visited Trenton Park in the small village of Star of Markinch about twenty five years ago, for a Raith Rovers youth match, and a lot has been done to it in the meantime. There is now a car park at the opposite end of the farm track which leads to the extremely rural ground, the pavilion has been extended to include a snack bar, and floodlights have been installed. The views are spectacular, as befits the open, elevated, isolated location. If you are visiting in the winter, wrap up well. There was a programme too, simply produced but informative, and bizarrely priced at 90p. The match was a typical blood-and-thunder Junior match, which the referee just about managed to keep under control. Yet another hugely enjoyable, and extremely civilised, afternoon at the Juniors.
Wednesday August 21st
The timing of this visit to
Tuesday August 20th
Dunfermline Athletic v Raith Rovers in the Challenge Cup (sponsored by Ramsdens), the first
Saturday August 17th
The journey north afforded the opportunity
to see Willington’s return to Northern League football, against
Tuesday August 13th
The first midweek competitive matches of the
non-league season were being played, and I thought I should get into gear for the season ahead by going to a local game. Colin Boulter had rung to say that he was in the area, and would be at Norwich United v Kirkley & Pakefield, so I went to PlantationPark
in preference to Wroxham. It was a pleasant evening in the company of Colin, with football reminiscences taking our minds
off a very poor game, in which neither goalkeeper got much practice. The home team, containing a few familiar faces from former
Wroxham teams, scored from the only concerted attack of the evening. The most notable aspect of the visitors was that
Saturday August 10th
For some years, I have vowed to avoid
pre-season friendlies, and have therefore found other things to do over the previous month than attend meaningless, largely pedestrian
games disrupted by incessant substitutions. A short break in
Sometime in July
The SPFL have announced that their four divisions will be called Premiership, Championship, League One and League Two. Now where did they get that idea ? From the same place they got their Chief Executive and the bulk of the new signings for clubs in their top division ; other clubs’ cast-offs. The bright new tomorrow of Scottish football sees its fourth Division called League Two. Oh dear.
Wednesday June 12th
Today began the process of winding up the Scottish Football
League after 123 years. Only 6 of the 29 clubs at the Special General Meeting in
The necessary majority was achieved by many of the smaller clubs, otherwise content with their membership of the SFL and the way it was run, having a gun put to their heads by the majority of First Division clubs. The root cause of that is their insistence on remaining full time, despite every economic, financial and statistical argument to the contrary. How football clubs who can count on barely 2,000 fans, can think they can continue to pay full time wages, beggars belief.
The second unsound premise which underlies the migration to the hugely expanded SPL is the question of governance. For all its faults, the SFL was competently run, and democratic. The same could not be said for the SPL. Thirty more football clubs are now part of an organisation which has spectacularly failed to achieve its stated ambitions throughout its short history. The SPL consists of several near-bankrupt clubs ; assisted Dunfermline Athletic and Rangers towards bankruptcy ; made a complete botch of the Rangers succession last year, and advocated a lunatic reorganisation of the Leagues just a few months ago. Moreover, the two-club veto still applies in its voting structure.
No-one could argue that Scottish Football needed one League organisation (indeed it has been forgotten that for many years there was criticism of there being two organisations, the SFA and SFL, far less the recent triumvirate) but surely this was not the way to achieve a concensus.
The Scottish Football League had simply run out
of leadership, those in positions of power proving to be either compromised or not up to the task when the final battle was fought. There are echoes of history in this. In 1707, the majority of Scots were against the
The Chancellor of Scotland, the Earl of Seafield, in 1707
Monday June 10th
For this spectator, the 2012-13 football season came to an end at Newlandsfield, the well-appointed (and well filled) home of Pollok, where the home team beat Ashfield in the Central League Cup Final. Both teams looked tired and ready for the beach, and there was none of the spark shown in earlier games by Ashfield. Pollok are very well supported, and their ground is quaintly located and proportioned, giving a friendly and welcoming ambience. There looked to be more than the reported 800 at the match, and there was the disappointment of no programme being produced. Another discordant note was the quality of the pies ; something really has to be done about the standard of Scotch Pies at many of our football grounds. They may be cheap, but they are practically inedible.
Saturday June 8th
Linlithgow Rose showed their class in inflicting a heavy defeat on Camelon in the final of the
Friday June 7th
At the Kirkcaldy Galleries for its official re-opening, following the refurbishment of the old Library, ArtGallery and Museum. Several football history books are testament to the long hours I have spent in this building over the previous four decades. The most impressive speaker was the crime writer Val McDermid, whose father served Raith Rovers for many years as head checker and Fife scout (the latter ironic as he was one of a horde of Boys Brigade officers who held positions at the club). Main speaker was Gordon Brown, who predictably made no reference to the source of so many of the ArtGallery’s superb collection of Scottish paintings – Michael Portillo’s grandfather. The jury is out on whether the changes are to the benefit of users, but one is left to reflect that the Royal Burgh’s bailies who decided to spent John Nairn’s donation on that site, showed remarkable foresight. They could scarcely have thought, nearly 90 years later, that the good people of Kirkcaldy could borrow a book, look at a painting, or admire an item in the museum, while they waited for the traffic lights to change outside the Adam Smith Centre.
Wednesday June 5th
A little bit of a bonus from the search for an interesting match at the fag end of the season. Pumpherston
had promotion to win as they journeyed to
Monday June 3rd
A cracking League game from Pumpherston and Whitburn,
the former winning a fiercely contested, and very entertaining, match to sustain their long end of season push for promotion. Little has changed at the big bowl of a ground since my last visit about 15 years ago, apart from the banner on the pavilion proclaiming
the club sponsors to be The Rising Sons of Carson, a reminder that parts of
Sunday June 2nd
At KelvingroveMuseum and ArtGalleries for a Meet The Experts afternoon, in conjunction with the football exhibition currently running. A hot and sunny afternoon greatly affected the attendance.
Saturday June 1st
annual gathering of the great and the good in football programme and memorabilia collecting at the Premier Programme Fair in central
Tuesday May 28th
my latest book. In 2000, I was approached by Tempus Publishing to compile “The Football Programme : A History and
Guide”. This was reprinted twice, but is now well-and-truly out of print, and the publishers are long-since defunct, so I decided
to publish a new version, entitled “A History and Guide to Football Programmes”. The narrative content has been
updated and augmented to include coverage of the subsequent impact of eBay, and the majority of the 140 illustrations have been replaced
by different ones, to give owners of the original work an excuse to buy the new one. Text has been brought down
a size, and space-wasting eliminated to reduce the size of the book down to 132 pages, and therefore compliant with a reasonable level
of Royal Mail’s Pricing in Proportion. As a result, you can buy it for £11.20
Monday May 27th
A significant day in the history of Kirkcaldy YM Juniors – they won their first ever promotion with a comprehensive victory at Steelend Vics in their final match of the season. After a nervous opening – despite an early goal – YM overcame a game and in-form Steelend team to finish above Dundonald Bluebell, and await the outcome of Kinnoull’s final match at Rosyth to see if they could add the championship. There was also the bonus of the usual informative programme.
Sunday May 26th
Another Scottish Cup Final, (my forty-somethingth) and another defeat at that stage for Hibs, who at least “turned up” this year. Celtic won without unduly exerting themselves, to complete the double, and they certainly looked like a decent team. The £5 programme was sold with a set of cardboard sun glasses, the main feature of the perfect-bound production being several 3D photographs. To this cynic, it was a gimmick which did not compensate for a short fall in reading material.
Before the game, I finally (after many years of promising) found the time to take a book for a walk. I took my Third Lanark history, complete with 19th century street map, and identified the site of the first CathkinPark, with many of the landmark buildings still in existence. The area is now completely covered with housing, but you can still envisage the site as a first class football stadium. I spent so long doing that, I didn’t leave enough time for a long look around the second CathkinPark (once again comparing its present state to the photographs and diagrams in the book). Another time.
Saturday May 25th
Faced with a quite a bit of travel in the next two days, I opted for a local match, Dundonald Bluebell v Rosyth, with Moorside Park benign in the sunshine. Bluebell were just far too good for the visitors and underlined the gap between the top three in this division, and the rest. Unfortunately, only two are to be promoted, and Dundonald’s efficient and comprehensive victory was insufficient to dent Kirkcaldy YM’s progress, despite a nervous performance in a 4-3 victory at Scone Thistle
Wednesday May 22nd
Port Glasgow Juniors have moved into a new ground, the clumsily titled Port Glasgow Community Stadium. It is not far from their old Woodhall ground, but tonight, it is their tenants, Greenock Juniors, who are at home to Auchinleck Talbot
in the Evening Times Trophy.
Tuesday May 21st
Another trip down memory lane, a first visit to Camelon in over 30 years. It’s a smashing, old fashioned ground, with well maintained facilities. A good game too, against Musselburgh in a local cup tie. Junior football at its best.
Monday May 20th
The last time I was at SaracenPark, Ashfield, it was a Greyhound Stadium. Now it is a Speedway Stadium, and it has to be said that the current tenants have made a good impression on the old ground, which is looking a lot tidier than I remembered it from about 35 years ago. The 1920’s grandstand is still in use (a 300 seater), and there are good sightlines on both sides of the ground, with crush barriers retained from the days when 20,000 would pack in. Ashfield beat local rivals Petershill 1-0 in a tense and hard-fought cup tie. In reflective moments of a visit to historic grounds such as this, I try to imagine some of the famous players playing there in the glory years. It takes a huge leap of imagination to envisage Alex James playing for Ashfield.
Sunday May 19th
dilemma for Raith Rovers fans. Do they want their bitter rivals Dunfermline Athletic to suffer relegation, or do they
want them to stay in the First Division, and contribute about £100,000 to the budget for next season. Alloa make the decision
for them in the Play off Final second leg, conceding only one goal of the three goal lead they brought from the first leg. The young
Saturday May 18th
A thoroughly wet, miserable and dull day did not deter the footballers of Kirkcaldy YM and Bankfoot from serving up a goal-laden, and entertaining League match, another step in YM’s quest for their first-ever promotion. A couple of YM’s goals, scored at a vital time to thwart any comeback from a lively and enterprising visiting team, looked decidedly offside ; a reminder of the difficulties for referees operating without the benefit of neutral linesmen.
Friday May 17th
The plan was to call in at Spennymoor, for the final Northern League match of the season, on the journey north, but a toilet stop at Scotch Corner services, and a quick scan of the sports pages of the Northern Echo, discovered a Wearside League match at Annfield Plain, further north and with an earlier kick off. Not only was this the opportunity to arrive in Kirkcaldy earlier, but a new ground, albeit one that hosted Northern League football some decades earlier. The ground, with a bit of tidying up, could serve as a level 5 or 6 venue, fully enclosed (although the side fence adjoining the public park was distinctly see-through), hard standing all round, and a covering-come-stand. Somewhat predictably, and certainly ironically, there was a “This is Annfield” sign on the side of the pavilion. A full blooded and entertaining match against Seaton Carew (who sported Celtic tops) was a reminder of the skills still evident in amateur football throughout the country.
Thursday 16th May
will continue to turn a blind eye to the ongoing farce of Scottish League reconstruction. There are enough idiots pontificating about
it without this one adding to the lunacy. Instead, you are invited to arrange the following phrases into a coherent paragraph
; protecting excessively paid jobs and positions ; no leadership or vision ; entire process founded on a ruinous premise (that
Nor will time be spent on the long-anticipated demise of Dunfermline Athletic. If and when a detailed account is written of the last decade of that club’s finances, it will be mind-blowing, and the tentacles of this particular giant squid will draw in many other parts of Scottish football (and the country’s already disgraced financial sector).
The last month’s football spectating in and around
Not so successful were
More good news for City was the capture of the
FA Youth Cup, with home and away victories over holders Chelsea in the final. Many commentators point to
Saturday 13th April
Saturday 6th April
The use of a season ticket led me to
Tuesday 2nd April
On the journey south, it was Newton Aycliffe v
Monday 1st April
Easter Monday, and while the football fans in
Saturday 30th March
The pick of the junior matches this weekend is unquestionably the Scottish Junior Cup quarter
final between those fierce local rivals, Linlithgow Rose and Bo’ness United. Prestonfield was packed for the match, on
a nice warm, sunny afternoon, but unfortunately the game was a bit of a non-contest. The very impressive home side raced into
a three goal lead before half time. It will take a very good team indeed to get the better of this side. The opening
goal, scored by ex
Wednesday 27th March
“More Than A Game : How
Tuesday 26th March
Against hopes and expectations, it is a football free midweek for this spectator. Due to the
Saturday 23rd March
More snow and ice meant the junior card was practically wiped out, so it was a case of playing safe in travelling to Alloa, where it was first against second in Division Two on the plastic pitch. Queen’s, runaway leaders, were fortunate to get the verdict against a very keen and enterprising home side, hoping (now via the play-offs) for a second successive promotion. One wonders why their manager, Paul Hartley, and Colin Cameron, who has done so well at Cowdenbeath, are never quoted when it comes to SPL club jobs. It would appear that SPL chairmen have an aversion to taking a chance on young, up-and-coming Scots managers, as they have with players of that ilk.
Friday 22nd March
Tuesday 19th March
This time last year,
Sunday 17th March
The Scottish League Cup Final was one of the most entertaining in years, and St Mirren just about deserved their win over a Hearts side which had back luck with the woodwork, and contributed to an exciting finish with a late goal which pegged the scoreline back to 3-2. What was particularly pleasing about Saints’ victory was that it provided overdue consolation for their undeserved defeat against a 9-man Rangers team the last time they reached this stage. It was also nice to see manager Danny Lennon earning a League Cup winner’s medal, having been cruelly denied by injury from captaining Raith Rovers in 1994. A good game, in a civilised atmosphere, in front of an impressive attendance – proof that Scottish football can exist without the Old Firm.
Saturday 16th March
The journey from
Saturday February 16th
One of the reasons for the paucity of football spectating in recent months - apart from the weather - is the bizarre
Today is one of those
Saturdays, but a “get out of jail / house” card has been dealt by the aforementioned Norfolk FA. Wroxham are in the semi final
of the Norfolk Senior Cup, and they are away to Spixworth of the Anglian Combination, the clubs just a few miles apart. So it is off
to the satellite village to the North of Norwich, where a large field has been pressed into service as a car-park, opposite the village
football ground. The large crowd (possibly in excess of 500 - roughly as many as turned out at
The programme opened with a Welcome from Danny Brown, the football club secretary, who provided some flavour of the quaint, if not quite rustic, background to the match. He wrote : “A lot of you will know that this football fixture is not the only performance being played out at Spixworth today. The Spixworth Amateur Players are hosting a matinee as you read this in the Village Hall [which adjoins the Football Club Social Club and pavilion] and have an evening production also.
“In order for these two events to run smoothly alongside each other, Spixworth Football Club would like to thank the Spixworth Amateur Players, the Spixworth Parish Council, The Village Hall Committee, and the Social Club. All of these parties have worked tiresley [sic] behind the scenes to make this happen and it has not gone unnoticed.”
There are 48 places between
the clubs in the Non League Pyramid, but there was no sign of that in the first 20 minutes as Spixworth “got stuck in”. Wroxham opened
the scoring however, and shortly afterwards got another from a penalty award which also saw a home player sent off. The tie
was effectively won and lost in that moment, and Wroxham scored a third goal two minutes from time. They fielded a number of fringe
players, and their third choice goalkeeper - former
Saturday February 9th
winter-free Saturday at last, but the footballers of
Saturday January 19th
Thick snow and freezing conditions in
The Premier League
The simple fact of the matter is that none of the proposals, 14-14-14,
Instead of tinkering with league sizes, with dangerous consequences in a few years
time, those in authority, and in control of clubs, should be addressing the real problems of league football in
Solutions to major problems are best kept simple, and this is no exception. There should be Leagues of 10, 10, 10, 12, leading ultimately to four leagues of ten, with clubs told that the next two to go into liquidation will not be automatically re-admitted to League football. Champions to be promoted, with a second promotion place available via the play-off system which has proved to be such a success for the Scottish League. Radical transformation of the central funding model, to spread commercial income more equitably across the top two divisions, thus providing a softer landing for clubs relegated from the top division. This money to come from the top two, who presently receive 33% between them of total SPL central funding. The losers will therefore be Celtic, who with the size of their crowds can afford it, and, in the fullness of time, Rangers, who for the next few years do not even have a vote in the decision making process to shape the future of Scottish football.
Friday January 18th
It’s been a bad week for business failures. HMV, Blockbusters and Jessops look set to follow Comet and Woolworths
out of the High Street. The latest three in particular were fairly predictable. They are victims of modern technology,
in that we now download our music, and our movies (mostly illegally), and take our photographs digitally or from our mobile telephones.
It’s all part of the process which has been experienced in the football memorabilia business, which is now utterly dominated by eBay.
The repercussions of this were felt at the two big fairs in the North of England between Christmas and New Year. The attendance at
Saturday January 12th
First visit for quite a while to Kjng’s Lynn Town, who are slowly crawling back up the pyramid after
a bizarre multi-demotion a few years ago. This season, they created waves in the FA Trophy, and today they sought to make
At the risk of being mistaken for Victor Meldrew, I do despair about
the standard of behaviour in
Some of these clubs can be spotted a mile off ; the ones that ask for an entire season’s worth at the start, and then protest when I send them the first batch only. The correspondence ends with them pulling the plug on a deal that they never intended to honour. Whitley Bay last season and Stalybridge Celtic this season were the two most blatant examples, but none so bad as Barnet this season. I have so far resisted the temptation to send copies of the emailed correspondence with David Bloomfield to his Club Chairman, but it does nothing to promote the club’s image. It’s all quite dispiriting.
Tuesday January 8th
The journey from Kirkcaldy
Saturday January 5th
Arguably the highlight of my recent football spectating was my first sight of Kirkcaldy YM Juniors this season, who thumped league leaders Lochore Welfare in Crosshill. It was a tremendous performance by a team that has been transformed by a new manager since the end of last season. A slight disappointment was the lack of a programme from a club which has, in the (distant ?) past issued.
Wednesday January 2nd
Times have truly changed in
The New Year’s match was traditionally attended en famille, with the only appearance of the season of the uncles who had watched
the club in their youth, but had long since given up on regular attendance. An illustration of the drawing power of the New
Year fixture can be drawn from Raith Rovers’ history. On
Playing on these
public holidays was a long established practice which recognised that football matches had to be staged when it suited the public
to attend them. That appears to be no longer the case, as
Saturday December 29th
On the journey back to
Wednesday December 26th
the programme fair at
The early non-kick off gave me time to find an alternative, as I continued my journey southwards,
and I decided to go to
Last fortnight before Christmas
this late stage of writing, it makes little sense to share my experiences of the succession of Scottish League and Cup matches I attended. The proximity of the majority of Scottish League grounds to Kirkcaldy, in stark contrast to the long journeys required in Norfolk,
means that I tend to go daft when I come back to Fife, and so it proved again with Cowdenbeath v Livingston in a downpour (two layers
of waterproof clothing and a golf umbrella meant that I was one of about a dozen who watched the second half from the main terracing),
East Fife v Stranraer featuring the biggest player I have ever seen in a senior football game, Amand One, the Stranraer striker, East
Stirling v Montrose confirming my prejudice that Third Division football is the most open and entertaining in Scotland, and Cowdenbeath
v St Johnstone, a much postponed Scottish Cup tie, in which Cowden gave a typically game performance, but lost the match. The last mentioned match was notable for two things ; obviously, the fanastic match programme, certainly the best read in
Saturday December 15th
The journey north from
Saturday December 1st
The first Saturday in December
was, for many years, the worst of the winter in
Plans for League reconstruction tend to be like buses ; you wait ages for one, and then two (or more) turn up at the same time. The response of the SPL to the SFL’s proposals was to announce a counter proposal. Before we get into the merits of the respective plans, a brief summary of the history of League reconstruction may be instructive.
The Scottish League was formed in 1890, with ten clubs. It was formed
for three reasons ; the example shown in
The single division was increased by two the following season, and then reduced to ten again the following year. A year after that, in 1893, a Second Division of ten clubs was formed, largely because those clubs had quickly formed themselves into alternative Leagues, and the SFL thought it best to bring the ambitious onboard, safe in the knowledge that promotion to the top division was by their invitation, rather than playing merit.
There followed seven years of stability, until Queen’s Park were finally persuaded out of their sulk, and put straight into the top division, which ran with 11 clubs in 1900-01. It was back down to 10 the following season, and the additional member of the Second Division was joined by a further recruit, to take its numbers up to 12.
The League then embarked on a period of notable expansion. In 1902-03 it was 12 clubs in the First Division and 12 in the Second ; then 14-12 for two seasons ; then 16-12 in 1905-06, and 18-12 the following year. In the wake of the Ibrox Disaster, more clubs were turned into Limited Liability Companies, and with this one-off injection of new funds, they improved facilities and employed more (and better) players.
The 16-12 formation lasted for six seasons, until
1912-13 when two clubs were added to the Second Division, in preparation for an 18-12 set up in 1913-14. The League had adopted
the principle of getting as many clubs as possible into the top division, a practice continued to this day by the Football League
The First World War gave clubs an opportunity for a complete re-think at its conclusion, and rather than revert to a two divisional structure, 1919-20 saw a single division with 22 clubs. It is quite possible that the majority of those clubs would have been content with such a structure, but for the exclusion of several ambitious clubs who took advantage of the separation of registrations between the SFA and SFL, and signed internationalists in dispute with their League clubs, with impunity.
The League clubs were therefore forced to concede the reformation of a Second Division, and the introduction of automatic promotion and relegation. Season 1921-22 saw two large leagues, of 22 and 20 clubs. In pre floodlight days, there weren’t enough Saturdays for a 42 match programme, so the following season saw two clubs leave the League, and divisions of 20 and 20 were formed in 1922-23.
Apart from the peripheral aberration of a Third Division for three seasons, there followed the longest enduring period of stability-in-numbers for the League, with the minor caveat of the Second Division falling to 18 clubs in 1932-33, through to the Second World War.
The arguments which surrounded League reconstruction over the last few decades were nothing compared with the rancour which erupted after the Second World War. The top clubs wanted to form a single division, of 16 clubs, by invitation, from the centres of large populations. It took two transitional seasons before the League settled on a 16-16 set up for 1947-48, with the handful of excluded clubs, and some up-and-coming ones, accommodated alongside Reserve Teams in two regionalised third divisions.
On the evidence of attendances, and the spread of major honours amongst many clubs (ie not just the Old Firm), it has to be said that the 16 club top division was a big success. There were, however a couple of major anomalies. From below, there was the continued exclusion of ambitious ‘C’ Division clubs ; from above, the threat of relegation for big clubs. With most clubs enjoying huge crowds, thus allowing them to pay their better players as much as they could earn with the Old Firm or in the English First Division (where the maximum wage restricted wages), the 16 club division was hugely competitive, the relegation battle each season involving one whipping boy, and a fraught battle between six to eight other clubs to avoid the second bottom place.
Recent Scottish Cup finalists
Both anomalies, and Motherwell’s despair, were alleviated by the change to 18 and 19 club divisions in 1955-56, and that is how things remained for nearly two decades, the ridiculous situation of an odd-club-out each Saturday in the re-named Second Division being resolved, briefly, in 1966-67 when Clydebank were admitted, following the ES Clydebank episode. Third Lanark spoiled the symmetry within a year by going out of business. Tellingly, there was no mood to replace them.
By the early 1970s, society’s changing habits had caught up with Scottish League football. There was more emphasis on European competitions ; an increase in the number of competitive international matches ; a stronger League south of the border which was draining the talent from Scottish football, a decade after the abolition of the maximum wage ; and an increasing number of alternative ways for men to spend their time, and disposable income, on a Saturday afternoon.
Gates were falling to an alarming extent, and clubs were frustrated at losing their better players to English clubs, being unable to compete in financial terms. Moreover, it was perceived that the bulk of League matches, in a long division, were fairly meaningless and boring. The general consensus was that more competition has to be introduced to Scottish football. Crucially, the driving force of change was an alliance of the top six clubs.
The press got behind the proposals. Alex Cameron in the Daily Record (
The solution, accepted by all in the game apart from the half-dozen or so clubs ejected from the top division, was a 10-club top division (renamed the Premier Division), with clubs playing each other four times a season. For the remaining clubs, two divisions of 14 were formed, the initial home-and-away format (with a Spring Cup filling in the last two months of the season) lasting only for the inaugural 1975-76 season, to be replaced by each club playing the others three times. In conjunction with these changes to the League schedule, the League Cup was eventually reorganised into a swift, knock-out tournament.
is fair to say that the reorganisation of the Scottish League in 1975, the most radical in its long history, halted the decline in
the sport’s popularity. The top division was indeed competitive, with Dundee United and
Scottish clubs playing in European competitions reported that the 10 club top division was the envy of many Leagues on the continent, and the obvious objection to clubs playing each other too often each season was met with the response from those with experience of North American sport, where teams meet several times a season, that fans “can’t get too much of a good thing.”
As before, there were two major anomalies within the new Divisions, this time both came from below. A 10 club top division left a large number of ambitious clubs frustrated by their exclusion, although the two-up, two-down promotion and relegation gave clubs who were prepared to do their complaining on the pitch, a fair opportunity to put that right. Those clubs reinforced their case by asking the top ten “how would you like it to have the venue of a third of your league matches decided at random ?” There may not have been much substance to the latter complaint, as those of us involved in First and Second Division clubs at the time found the arrangement quite painless.
Pressure for change caused an expansion to a 12 club Premier Division in 1986/87, but it was unpopular with the top clubs – not least for the 44 League games it entailed – and it lasted only two seasons, before it was reintroduced again in 1991/92. The big clubs had had enough, and got together to form a putative Scottish Super League of 10 clubs. Faced with this threat, the smaller clubs backed down, and in 1994-95, the Divisions were changed again, into four of ten clubs, with two clubs added to the membership. Space constraints, and your continued patience, prevent a listing of the various changes to the composition of, and number of games played in, the lower divisions, and the various transitional arrangements.
The next convulsion in the Scottish League came from the
top, and for very different reasons to those which had provoked earlier changes. Rangers had changed the face of Scottish football
in 1986 when they appointed Graeme Souness as manager, and backed him with apparently limitless resources. (It should be noted
that this was initiated by the club’s owner Lawrence Marlborough, and not David Murray, to whom
The other big clubs, Celtic, Hibs, Hearts, Aberdeen and Dundee United, decided to attempt to compete with Rangers, only Celtic (eventually, following the reconstruction of the club by Fergus McCann) succeeding. The others, along with the Old Firm, simply accumulated financial losses as their wage bills soared.
Those clubs, and whoever joined them in the Premier Division, became frantic in their attempts to balance their budgets, and decided that they were sharing too much of the increasingly important centrally-earned funding (television, League sponsorship contracts etc) with their fellow League members in the lower divisions. So they broke away, forming the Scottish Premier League in 2000.
Unfortunately, to do so quickly and without the need for protracted and expensive legal battles, they needed the support of two more clubs, and so the SPL was formed with 12 clubs, the age-old problem of the number of League matches being addressed by the awkward spring “split”, reducing the last quarter to an eighth.
meantime, the top two clubs got bigger, and the rest got smaller. Gates fell quicker than salaries, hence the mess the game is in
at present. The solution, once again, is perceived to be another reorganisation of League football in
The organisation which escaped with least damage to its reputation from the shambles of Rangers’ collapse over the summer months was the Scottish Football League. Thus encouraged, they have come up with a reorganisation plan headed by a 16 club top division. This has two major problems ; the lack of fixtures (30), and the danger of sliding back into the situation which saw the 18 club division abandoned in 1975, namely insufficient competition to hold the interest of spectators, due to meaningless matches.
The increase in the size of the top division will inevitably encourage smaller clubs to continue with the financial folly of full time football. As it is, too many of them are paying out more in wages than they are earning in income, in the hope of gaining the one promotion place to the top division.
The reaction from the Scottish Premier League is a counter-proposal of two divisions of 12. Where does one start to pick this apart ? Two divisions with a spring split instead of one ? What happens to the
other 18 clubs ? Is there to be no relegation from the bottom 12 ? Are they seriously suggesting 24 full time
This smacks of people trying to hang on to their well-paid jobs, which brings us back to perhaps the root of the major problem with Scottish football, the existence of three ruling bodies, jostling for positions in presiding over a shrinking product. Would they not be better employed in solving this problem, than in shuffling the Leagues around ?
Public opinion is hugely in favour of teams meeting only twice a season, once at home and once away, and that is a sentiment that commands easy understanding and sympathy. However, is it the frequency of opposition that the fans are bored with, or the standard of entertainment, skills and excitement that is being served up each Saturday ?
To save Scottish football, there are bigger issues to be addressed than the size of the Leagues, including clubs living within their means, a better standard of entertainment on the pitch, a fairer distribution of central funds to encourage competition and indigenous growth, and a halt to the mass importation of very ordinary foreign players. Neither of the plans for League reorganisation currently on the table come close to addressing these fundamental problems ; instead, they may further exacerbate these difficulties. Change for change sake is a dangerous move, as is change motivated by personal gain. What Scottish football desperately needs is new, and effective, leadership.
Wednesday 21st November
What’s a delay of a fortnight on a seven year project ? The promise to have the Pre-War Record of Scottish League Players ready by “early November” was postponed by two weeks. The cause of the delay was the amount of work needed to complete the latest version of the Post-War Record of Scottish League Players, which once again incorporates the last two seasons, but also to add in several new features (the long promised Junior Cup finalists, Amateur Internationals, Managers, and several others). I have also tackled most (but not all) of the careers of the increasing number of foreign players in Scottish football. This information is readily available online, not least on Wikipedia, but over-and-above the question marks over that website’s accuracy, there is the feeling that internet-based information may prove to be of a temporary nature.
We greatly benefit from this information being available free of charge, but it is not free of cost. People require to be paid to run websites, as do the companies who store and disseminate the information from the host computer servers. Those of us who run websites are charged for the amount of computer space we take up, plus VAT, and it is already noticeable that archived material is being deleted from websites, to save money. Unless this information is stored, and made available off-line, it may be lost for ever.
Work on both CD’s has now been completed and they are being sent out to purchasers. The amount of work that goes in to updating the Post War Records, every two years cannot be justified by the number of sales generated, and the next update, in two years time, may well be the last.
The Pre War Database has no such open-end, of course, and it is a huge relief to finally publish this after seven years of work. It was done in three phases. The longest was in researching the data, mostly from newspaper archives. That took five years. The second and third phases were quicker, over the last two years, but more intense. The second was to turn the collected data into summary statistics (appearances and goal scored per player per season), which was a huge and boring task. The third was to sort the information into player order, which was done over the summer months of this year. There were more than 90,000 rows of data on the spreadsheets, and the target was to sort 3,000 of them per day. At a rate of 500 lines per hour, that was a lot of time spent staring at a computer screen.
Saturday 10th November
It has taken me more than 30 years, but I have
finally seen a Maidstone United match in
Friday November 9th
Apologies for the delay in updating this blog - I am still very much preoccupied with finishing the Pre War and Post War Scottish League databases. Ironically, it is the Post War one which is taking up most of my time (the major Pre War exercise is now in publishable order) as there have been many improvements and additions to incorporate, over and above the last two seasons. It will be a huge relief when both databases are ready for publication, in around a week, when there will be time for more blogging, and something resembling a normal life.
Thursday November 8th
Sympathy for the SFA does not come naturally, but they don’t deserve all of the approbation which has fallen on them for the clumsy, and some would say belated, sacking of Craig Levein. Their major problem is that their top officials are “holed below the water line” ; Chief Executive Stewart Regan for his appalling handling of the Rangers debacle during the summer, and President Campbell Ogilvie for his prolonged and central position at Ibrox. Anything emanating from the Board is automatically criticised.
It would appear that Levein needed a couple of miracles to keep him in a job - a result in Belgium against a team filled with players who are the stars of this season’s English Premier League, and a lot more luck than that which patently deserted him in Cardiff. Public opinion - and the fear of fans not turning up at forthcoming home matches - demanded that the SFA Board sack him, but will any other manager fare better ? Those harking back to the results gained under Alex McLeish and Walter Smith should consider that they were ground out of the same sort of defensive tactics for which Levein has been criticised. Regan and Ogilvie limp on, hoping that the fans will turn up for the next home match which will help pay the new team manager’s salary - and Levein’s for the 20 months which remain on his contract.
Wednesday October 31st
The headlines on the newspaper billboards
the following day were “City Beat Spurs in Thriller”. The writer must have turned up for the last ten minutes, because much
Bale opened the scoring in 66 minutes with another long-range effort, and Spurs looked like hanging on to a lead which their marginally
better play just deserved. Then came the final ten minutes. Jan Vertonghen maintained my run of own-goals in 83 minutes, followed
by another goal for
Tuesday October 30th
On the journey south from Kirkcaldy, I was spoiled for choice for a match
to break the trip. There were League Cup ties at
This was an ancient mobile stand, which unfolded from a trailer and was constructed from a bewildering array of struts, hydraulics and a battered fabric roof. The bench seats were padded, the capacity far larger than the ubiquitous modern Atcost prefabricated stands, and the height of the back row was quite impressive, but it had seen better days. It is the most incredible stand I have seen at any of the hundreds of football grounds I have visited. Go and see it before it gets towed away. The home team looked to have the game won until they conceded a bizarre own goal, the goalkeeper hitting the ball against a defender in the goalmouth, but they eventually prevailed against a team which has more than a sprinkling of players of Chinese descent in it. I would have liked to have learned more about both clubs, but their respective website were either inadequate or hopelessly out of date (in Eccleshill’s case). The programme wasn’t any help either, but there could be no criticism of the photocopied four pager which was handed out free on entry.
Saturday October 27th
The sports pages of today’s Scottish daily newspapers were dominated by £ signs ; Hearts in trouble with the tax man, and asking their fans to buy shares that will do no more than go to the Inland Revenue should they lose their case ; a mass resignation of Dunfermline Athletic directors, that news accompanied by details of the Pars catastrophic financial situation ; and Charles Green rubbing his hands the prospect of yet another Rangers share issue (why do their need more share capital when they are playing in front of 40,000 in the Third Division, and next season the Second, and the First the season after that ?) Then there’s the rolling speculation as to the future of the international team manager. This is the current state of Scottish football. Occasionally, a ball gets kicked.
Off to a proper game in the afternoon, the Junior Cup tie between Lochgelly Albert and Johnstone Burgh postponed from the previous Saturday. Burgh, Junior Cup finalists 12 years ago, are at a low ebb, and are effectively amateur. They should have been several goals in arrears by half-time, at least one of Lochgelly’s goal-mouth misses being in the “I do not believe it !” class. The Albert paid for their profligacy in the second half, as Burgh got their tactics right and scored with their first shot on target, a direct free kick. The home team tried hard, but lacked the guile and good fortune to score an equaliser, while at the other end, the Albert goalkeeper kicked the ball against a Burgh forward and its rebounded into the net for a second goal.
The 24 page programme was quite superb,
glossy, full coloured and packed with information, including the little nugget that on
Saturday October 20th
It’s Junior Cup second round day, and the most attractive tie in
The consequence of this was that both teams were well-drilled, and intent upon not losing goals, rather than scoring them. There was little evidence of the youthful enthusiasm, and craft and guile of experienced Juniors, which normally characterises this level of Scottish football. There are times when people with money to waste would be doing football a service by keeping their hands in their pockets, rather than fuelling their egos.
Sunday October 14th
Cowdenbeath v Partick Thistle in the semi final of the Ramsdens Cup. Cowden gave a stirring performance against the League winners, but Thistle were worthy of their 1-0 win. The progamme sold out quarter of an hour before kick off, and no wonder. The “Blue Brasilian” remains the best read in Scottish football, a bargain at £2.
There was an impressive turn out from Thistle, considering the game was broadcast live on television, albeit on BBC Alba (best watched with the volume turned down). Central Park is never the best place to have an uninterrupted view of the pitch, thanks to the floodlight poles and Stock Car safety fence, but there was further proof that the television people are now the most important part of Scottish football with the construction of a camera gantry IN FRONT OF the terracing, rendering an unimpeded view of the pitch impossible other than at the corner flags.
Saturday October 13th
The journey north was broken at Ramsbottom, where the local United, newly promoted to the Northern Premier League, played host to Prescot Cables. The “Harry Williams Riverside Stadium” was delightful, and must have been one of the best in the North West Counties League. On a lovely sunny afternoon, the views from the ground, which sits in the valley across the river from the town centre, were the tree-lined rise up a Penine hill, with the spires of the Town Hall and various churches peeping above the foliage; behind the opposite goal another Penine ; along one touchline the river ; and across the boundary wall from the other touchline the local cricket ground, which looked capable of staging county matches. On the opposite side of the cricket field was the shared boundary wall with the paper mill, which is in the process of being demolished, ending the visible link with Ramsbottom’s industrial heritage, and reason for existing. Still in use was the railway line which was a matter of yards behind the town-end goal, now purely for tourist purposes, with scores of railway enthusiasts trundling back and forward in ancient carriages pulled by old and noisy diesel units. The game was a cracker too, and those in the crowd of over 300 who were encouraged to visit their local ground on Non League Day, would have received good value for their modest admission charge. Topping it all was an attractive, informative and colourful programme.
Wednesday October 10th
It has always been a bit of a mystery to this poorly informed observer, but just how many of the Met Police football team are serving police officers ? The centre half’s language throughout the match would have got him arrested if he had used it on the street.
Saturday 22nd September
A friend, having broken his lifelong habit of supporting his senior
club, home and away, spends his Saturdays watching cup ties, starting with the Scottish Cup in its early, non-league rounds, and then
picking up on the Junior Cup. I needed no convincing of his logic, and thought of him during and after today’s cracking
FA Cup tie. Keen readers of this blog may recall my praise for
Playing their skillful, passing game, Dereham built a merited 2-0 lead, and were comfortably holding off a fight-back when they were awarded a very soft penalty, which the Chasetown goalkeeper saved. The home team then lost their nerve a little, ceded possession and tried to defend their lead. With more than 10 minutes to go, Chasetown’s relentless attack finally made a breakthrough. The final nail-biting minutes saw Dereham hold on and move into the unchartered territory of the 3rd Qualifying round, just two stages before the League clubs are brought in.
was a good old fashioned cup tie, designed to revive the jaded palate of any ground-down football fan. It cost £5.50 to get
in ; not much more than a pie and a bovril at a Premier League match. The only disappointment was the size of the crowd. With
Wednesday 19th September
Just as the the first cuckoo heralds the dawn of spring, so the first edition each season of “Northern Ventures, Northern Gains”, the superb magazine of the Northern Football League, reminds us that all is well in the world of football. The editor, and League chairman, Mike Amos, is one of my football heroes, and if you want your faith restored in all that is good about the sport, read this monthly magazine.
Monday 17th September
autumn edition of the splendid Groundtastic magazine reproduced an article by Nick Pigott of ‘The Railway Magazine’ in which he described
the proximity of football grounds (specifically in
The article opened : “The oldest football
club in the world - Sheffield FC - was established in 1857, which means that soccer and railways have developed roughly in parallel
for a century and a half or so. “In parallel’ could also refer to the juxtaposition of many of the clubs in relation to railways,
for a remarkable 72 Football League grounds in
This should come
as no surprise when one considers the history of development of urban
Today, we think of stations as being in or near the town centres, but when they were built, they were on the edge of town. Once built, they encouraged industry to be established around them, houses for the workers were then built, and so the town was expanded beyond the railway. It should also be remembered that the population of this country has almost trebled since the railways were built ; the urban population even more so.
Football grounds too were established on the edge of urban settlements. Most “parks” were former grazing areas, marking the point where the town finished and countryside started. When football first started in towns, the prime requirement was for a patch of flat grass, with no thought to access, terraces etc.
Both the demand and supply of suitable land for football and railway pioneers in the second half of the 19th century were therefore identical, so it is little surprise that rail tracks border the majority of football grounds.
The article in Groundtastic omitted any mention of Scottish grounds, and there would be an interesting debate on which of these was closest to a railway. Stark’s Park would take some beating. The West terracing was formed from the railway embankment, and the north-west corner flag can be no more than 20 yards from the East Coast mainline. Paul Gascoigne, in describing his days as a Rangers player, recalled taking a corner kick and looking up to see a train coming towards him.
Sunday 16th September
The Sunday papers make uncomfortable reading for fans of clubs who have lost the previous day, but today’s sports pages would have brought a chill to the heart of those in Scottish football. The biggest crowd in the Premier League was at Hibs, who are vying with Motherwell for the top of the table - but it was less than 10,000. The empty Ormond Stand on television coverage of the early kick-off was explained by the reported 6,700 at the St Johnstone v Celtic match.
The figures in the First Division were even more worrying. The top two teams,
away from home, attracted 1,745 and 1,021 to
The response to the game’s current difficulties from those who run the clubs in the top two divisions - those clubs attempting to sustain full time employment of players - is to blame the football authorities for not attracting enough sponsorship, and for the structure of the leagues. The collapse of Rangers this summer disproved the popular misconception that football clubs were exempt from the normal consequences of failing businesses, and while it may be too late to save some clubs, this season’s attendance figures should surely propel the football authorities into meaningful action.
That doesn’t mean re-arranging the deckchairs as the ship heads towards the iceberg. Changing the format of the leagues will only tinker around the edges of the problems confronting the Scottish game, which are :
Live television, of both Scottish and English matches, is decimating attendances
The product isn’t good enough ; the football isn’t entertaining enough ; fans want a lot more than a grim 1-0 win or 0-0 draw on a Saturday afternoon
In the current - and likely prolonged - economic climate, admission prices are too high
There is probably no solution to the first problem. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle regarding televised football, as predicted by people in the game several decades ago. Successive legislators were castigated for their resolute opposition to the live broadcast of matches, and I recall hearing Jock Stein, while manager of Celtic, criticising Radio Clyde for its pioneering coverage of Saturday afternoons, accusing them of providing football fans with coverage of their club’s games without the need to attend them.
The quality of entertainment can be addressed by club owners instructing their managers and coaches to put out attacking teams, irrespective of the consequences in results ; and admission charges have to be reduced. For about a century, football was very skillfully priced at a level where the ordinary working man did not have to think about whether he could afford to go to a match on a Saturday. With little change out of a £20 note in the First Division, and the need to hand over two large banknotes in the Premier League, this is no longer the case.
How do you fund this ? You pay the players less ; you employ fewer of them, and the First Division players should be part-timers. The alternative is extinction. The clubs would be best served by their national legislators if they sat them all down and led them through a collective solution to their economic suicide mission.
Saturday 15th September
Three Bridges FC are newcomers to the Isthmian League, having been a force in the Sussex County League for some
years. They are at home to Ramsgate on a very pleasant warm, sunny afternoon, at their neat, tidy Jubilee ground which, although
situated in the eponymous area of
match was a cracker with four (top quality) goals in the first 19 minutes, and end to end action thereafter. Three Bridges had the
better of the second half, but it was Ramsgate who scored the winner near the end. It was a lovely afternoon, a real reminder
of the delights of (proper) non-league football, much more enjoyable and half the price of the previous Saturday at
On the way to the ground, spectators walk past the Arthur Hopcraft Gymnasium, home of Crawley Amateur Boxing Club. Investigations on the day - confirmed by the less-than-infallible Wikipedia - show that this was a different Arthur Hopcraft to the former sports journalist who wrote the best football book of all time, The Football Man.
Thursday 13th September
After 23 years, the truth has finally emerged about the Hillsborough Disaster. This has come about not through investigative journalism, the social media movement, film or television documentaries, but an independent report ordered by the government, which gave access to official documentation which would otherwise have remain buried. Dogged and relentless determination over two decades by the bereaved families finally persuaded the authorities to investigate, and this was one official report which was not a waste of time, effort and resources.
The findings confirmed, and put on record, what we have known all along - that the fans’ behaviour was not the root cause of the disaster. This vindicates the campaign by the bereaved families, but of course it will hardly satisfy them, as their loss is inconsolable. It will also be of no consolation that their loved ones did not die in vain. The enforced changes made to football grounds in this country, and beyond, as a consequence of Hillsborough, Bradford and Heysel, have unquestionably prevented further loss of life.
The tragedy, and this report a generation afterwards, can have further lasting, beneficial consequences. What the report unearthed was a comprehensive and systematic cover up by public agencies ; police, ambulance service, and local and national government. The very bodies whose purpose is to serve the public, colluded in a cover up to disguise their failure. Worse still, some of them invented lies to deflect the blame.
The report has broken the surface of the cesspit of public service and, sure enough, what comes to the surface stinks. One doubts that the bereaved familities will see the report as an end in itself, and will continue to work towards bringing to account those responsible for the tragedy, and its shameful aftermath. There are many lessons that can be learned about the accountability of the police service, and its relationship to the government. That too would be a positive legacy from the Hillsborough Tragedy.
Saturday 8th September
To Rodney Parade, the third stadium in which I have seen
The players looked big and muscular, and they
were well drilled and organised, leading to a pretty sterile match after some early enterprising
The upside of the experience was the ground,
which was an excellent venue for a match at this level, and would be an welcome addition to the Football League should
The ground was well maintained, the approach to it,
past some sports pavilions and an enclosed grass training area, quite pleasant, and the atmosphere inside was very good, giving the
impression of a larger crowd than the reported 2,300. County have done very well to recover from their exiled days in the Hellenic
League, and even better to move from the Athletics Stadium at
Monday 27th August
Following the nightmare journey on Saturday afternoon, I was dreading going back on the M25 on Bank Holiday Monday,
but the trip to Brighton went extremely smoothly. I was headed for Whitehawk, who have enjoyed uninterrupted success over recent
seasons. For much of last season, I made no effort to visit them, because I had read somewhere that they were moving into
Withdean Stadium, following
It appears that Withdean has come to Whitehawk, because on two sides of the ground are stored the superstructure, and seats, of temporary grandstands. Nothing appears to have been done to improve the ground, however, as the facilities are extremely basic (although there is a big social club) and an entire side of the ground, opposite the small stand, has been fenced off. The visitors were Hendon, not without ground troubles of their own, and the thought occurred that any Hendon fans of a certain age, who had been brought up to see top grade amateur football, and home matches at their well appointed Claremont Road ground, must scratch their heads in bewilderment when they come to grounds like East Brighton Park.
The upside was that it was pleasantly rural, with the aforementioned closed side at the bottom
of one of the
The match was dire, with no prospect of a goal. Whitehawk have had to taste regular defeat for the first time for several seasons, and have tightened things up while they find their feet in their latest exhalted division. Hendon just frustrated their travelling fans, and didn’t even sport their famous green jerseys, inexplicably wearing their change strip against the red-clad home side. Another £2 programme, impressively produced in full colour on glossy paper, but it amounted to just 16 pages, contained a lot of adverts, and not a lot of information.
Saturday 25th August
It’s August bank holiday, there are matches on Saturday, Monday, so I have booked myself a mini-break (although the laptop has come with me) to tick off a couple of new grounds. The journey to Guildford was a nightmare ; held up for nearly an hour on the M25, with the prospect of another hour’s delay, so I took a circuitous route, the last part of it a demanding drive through the towns and villages of Surrey.
The reward at the end of
it was a match in an Athletics stadium. Senior non league football has come back to
The compensation was in the match itself, a goal feast, won 5-3 by the home side. If
there was a defender on the pitch, I didn’t see him, but the home team’s goals, in particular, were top quality.
Because of the unscheduled length of the journey to the match, I didn’t have a chance to see anything of
Saturday 18th August.
The sun is out, there isn’t much to inspire on the local fixture list, so I decide to spend the afternoon in the garden - working. After 8 years’ fairly steady toil, I am determined to complete the Pre War Database of Scottish League Players. In October 2007, I produced an interim version, detailing registrations. Since then, I have added the appearances and goalscoring records. The actual research ended about a year ago, but collating the data has consumed much of the last 12 months. Now, it has to be put into sensible - and publishable, order. A fortnight ago, I set myself a target of finishing this within 30 days. There are 90,000 lines on three separate spreadsheets, and I can just about manage to do 3,000 lines a day, amounting to at least 6 hours work each day. It is taxing on the concentration, the eyesight, and my will to live. Hence the lack of enthusiasm, and energy, for a long trip to a football match. Those who jib at the price of £19 may wish to consider that it probably equates to 1p per hour of work which has gone into completing it.
Saturday 11th August
The Road to Wembley started with the Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup, at least a week earlier
than usual, and the explanation for the uncharacteristically early start to the League season the previous week. Another
local tie, this time at
Saturday 4th August
The start of non-league football in
This fairly modern, but nicely laid out stadium would be pleasantly rural but for the noise of the speeding traffic on the adjacent A47 dual carriageway. The match was no better than okay, underling my fears that the standard of this League has been steadily eroded by the migration of its better clubs to the Southern and Isthmian Leagues over the last five years. There was the usual neat little programme, which was reasonably informative without exerting itself.
Sunday July 29th
New Rangers made their debut at Brechin today in the Ramsdens Cup. Hopes that a new era, of realism and altruism, was about to dawn in Scottish football were somewhat dashed by the pre-match interview given by Charles Green to BBC Scotland, when he described the opposition he has encountered.
"Some of it has been driven by bigotry, some of its been driven by jealousy and some of its been driven by all the wrong motives," he said. "My frustration's been, after 30 years of business, I have never experienced anything like the last three months. Some of the business decisions that have been made really have been nonsensical from a business point of view.”
The new, humble, contrite
Rangers didn’t last very long, did it ? It would appear that Mr Green has not been listening, or paying attention, to what has
been happening across
I have just finished reading an autobiography by journalist and broadcaster Alan Biggs, who has
reported on sport, principally football, in the
Incidentally, did you notice, a couple of weeks ago, the side-bar story in several daily newspapers headed “Ten things you
should know about Rangers in the Third Division” ? I saw this in at least two of the nationals, so it was presumably contributed
by an agency. One of the “facts” was that only two of the Third Division clubs had previously played Rangers in League
Saturday July 28th
The last Saturday in July and, consistent with
recent practice, the start of competitive football in
In a telephone conversation with another veteran football follower this week, we bemoaned the long, and early, diet of pre-season matches, and reminisced about the old fashioned way of clubs limbering up for the new season. They played six matches in four team sections in the League Cup, twice a week for three weeks, starting on the third Saturday in August.
of us could summon up much enthusiasm for today’s matches ; his team was playing north of
Friday July 27th
For the first time ever, I watched the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games on TV, mostly out of curiosity following the media speculation of the top-secret contents. It deserves all the praise it has received, and the largely unchoreographed bit, the lengthy parade of all the competing countries, while a wee bit boring, was quite charming and uplifting with television pictures of happy, healthy and attractive young people.
A couple of gripes, however (how does that surprise you ?). The beaming smiles were a testament to good health and orthodontics the world over, a timely reminder that Danny Boyle’s centrepiece salute to the NHS could not have included its fast disappearing provision of dentistry.
At the start of the ceremony, there were
recordings of national songs from the other parts of the
Saturday July 21st
The journey south was broken in the North East, as I tick off another ground in the Northern League (just five to go). Marske United’s GER Stadium proved to be an unexpected pleasure. I had envisaged a modern, soul-less, out of town ground, with a backdrop
Visitors were Glossop North End, and the match was absolutely dire. I had vowed earlier this summer to give pre-season friendlies a miss, and only the unexpected trip north provoked a change of heart. This poor game reinforced the good sense of my broken promise. In fairness, the only admission charge was £1 for a programme, which was an excellent example of pre-season production, 8 informative pages inside a full colour standard cover. The Marske programme, edited by Moss Holtby, as been a serial winner of non-league programme of the year awards in recent years, and this excellent issue proves that the accolades are justified.
Thursday July 19th
Proof, once again, that I have a good face for the radio. BBC filmed me for a piece on Raith Rovers’ connection
with the 2012 Olympics. Reigning Olympic ladies football champions
Bill Dowie lived at
I was filmed beside the Fife Cup, which Rovers currently hold, providing a link (if somewhat removed and tenuous) between the club and the current Olympics. For Bill’s great grandaughter, an Olympic gold medal is in prospect - for me, I suspect, the cutting room floor.
Saturday July 14th
Stark’s Park, for Laurie Ellis’s Testimonial. You don’t see many of these nowadays given the ease with which players can move from club to club, and indeed the beneficiary’s 14 years with Raith Rovers has been broken by two seasons at St Mirren, and single seasons at Cowdenbeath and Stirling Albion. Rovers looked the better team in the first half, but Hearts dominated the second, and scored at will. There was a decent turnout, and a very impressive brochure-sized programme.
Friday July 13th
After a week of frantic (and at times hysterical and histrionic) activity in the corridors of power, the fate of Rangers is finally sealed. The buck had been comprehensively passed by the SFA and SPL to the SFL, and the poor cousins of Scottish football’s bewildering array of administrations exhibited the first sign of moral fibre in the whole sorry saga. In defiance of the wishes, blandishments and threats of the SFA and SPL and their own Board, the Scottish League clubs stood by precedent and their rule book, and voted to admit Rangers to the Third Division. This has been seen by many to be a triumph for ‘fan power’, with the media (new and old) venting the outrage of fans of other clubs at Rangers’ corporate failure. I would prefer to think that the Scottish League club owners and chairmen have taken a principled stance that rules are rules and they should be followed. I also think that many of them have resented the pressure they have been put under by the football hierarchy over the previous week. At a meeting of League clubs earlier that week, addressed by the Chief Executives of the three bodies, one club owner said something along the lines of “Having put all my money into my club, I won’t be told what to do by overpaid administrators like you.”
It is to be hoped that some good will come from all this, with more responsible economics in Scottish football and perhaps an overdue appraisal of the suitability of the game’s upper management. All previous reviews and reports on the game (Ernie Walker’s Think Tank and Henry McLeish’s Report spring instantly to mind) have been poorly targeted, and failed to address the fundamental structural problems which blight the sport in this small nation, but then, turkey’s won’t vote for Christmas.
Saturday July 7th
unscheduled trip to
Wednesday July 4th
At last, some decisive action in the Rangers saga. They will not be playing in the SPL next season, thanks to the collective actions of all-but-one of the other SPL clubs – and to think their chief executive was advocating further prevarication, to pass the buck to clubs from another association.
At the time of posting this, we still don’t know where Rangers will be playing their League football next season, and adding to the confusion is the somewhat worrying utterings of the Chief Executive of the SFA. Quite what he has got to do with the composition of League football in Scotland is beyond me, and if he argues that it is part of his remit to regenerate Scottish football, then in my opinion he is going in completely the wrong direction.
The biggest objection to including Rangers in the First Division next season (and there are many others) is that there is simply no provision for it in the SFL rule book, nor is there any precedent. My understanding was that the SFA, as the court of final appeal, was there to make sure that the SFL, as with any other affiliated organisation, was always acting within the terms of its rules. Now we have the SFA advocating the exact opposite.
Hopefully, the SFL member clubs will have enough sense to question some of the extremely dubious assertions made by the Chief Executive. A three year absence of Rangers from the SPL (in reality the collapse of the next Sky TV deal) would cost all Scottish clubs £16 million. Not if they cut their wage bills – and how can the majority of SFL clubs lose money, when they will all have a turn of two home League games against Rangers ? The game will suffer a slow, lingering death if Rangers are absent from the top division for three years. Just what has it been doing for the last 20 or 30 years ?
It is my belief that the game would benefit from Rangers’ absence for a few years. Even before Rangers’ collapse, SPL revenues have failed to generate sufficient income to improve playing resources, far less begin to pay back the vast historic debts run up by virtually every club.
No amount of PR spin can disguise the downward trend of turnstile and season ticket income, as supporters react to the falling standard of (over-priced) entertainment, exemplified and exacerbated by the continued failure of clubs to develop young Scottish talent, preferring instead to import increasingly inferior borrowed and foreign players.
The SPL’s chosen measure of success is not the progress of its teams in European competition, or its contribution to a successful
They may benefit from considering an alternative. An SPL without Rangers for a number of years would certainly cause short-term financial problems for most, if not all, clubs, but it could prove to be the noxious potion which can purge from the body of the sport that which is slowly killing it.
It could also be the stone which could kill two, big, birds. The term “Old Firm” was coined over 100 years ago when the two largest clubs were accused of conspiring in unison to draw cup ties in order to benefit from the turnstile income from replays), and their mutually beneficial antagonism persists to this day.
Celtic’s multi national team would surely romp to an easy victory in a Rangers-less SPL next season, but with consequently diminishing revenue, they, like the other clubs in the League, would inevitably be forced to rely on cheaper, home-reared talent in following years.
Reliance on indigenous playing strength would produce a more level playing field, which would in turn lead to closer competition. The lesson of history is that any club mounting a meaningful challenge to the Old Firm will reap the rewards through the turnstiles, and consequently increase other commercial revenue.
Teams filled with hungry young Scots would be better motivated to compete in European competition (Scotland’s only two European cup
winners, Celtic and Aberdeen, fielded only Scots), and a more realistic wage structure would allow clubs to operate in a more rational,
stable fashion without the monthly frantic scramble to gather funds for a bloated wage bill. In the fullness of time, the
A radical financial restructuring could also provide a life-saver for First Division clubs in the SFL, most of which continue to haemorrhage cash by employing full time footballers despite hopelessly inadequate income.
This is a glorious opportunity to change the balance of power within the SPL, and re-arrange the distribution of SPL funds, which
has ruinously seen 34% of the income given to the “top two” clubs. In major sport in the
The choice which confronts the SFL club owners is : more of the same suffering, or a lot worse to get a lot better. This is a seminal moment for Scottish football, and there is an argument that Rangers’ demise is the biggest single event in the game since another collapse at Ibrox, 110 years ago.
Then, it was a vast
wooden terracing, during the
Today, most clubs play in modern, safe stadia, but many are now less than half full on a matchday. A full circle has been turned on the matter of personal liability, however, as many clubs are hugely in debt to the individuals who will deliberate on Rangers’ future, and as a consequence their own.
Will they have the foresight and resolve to decide on short term pain, for long term gain ? Will this be just a seismic shock, or a turning point in the history of Scottish football ?
Tuesday July 3rd
The Chief Executive of Barclays Bank has quit. The only surprise to me is that there is surprise at the latest example of cut-throat behaviour by the banks. It has been obvious for many years that the old image of banks as being steady, reliable bastions of integrity is as outmoded as a ten bob note.
The examples of their atrocious business practices are more widespread than rate fixing, sub-prime lending and reckless betting. Just about every one of us has been on the receiving end, from excessive and cumulative bank charges, to the universal practice of attracting savings by offering bonus rates of interest, in the hope and expectation that when the bonus period expires, the saver will be too busy / ignorant / negligent to do anything about it, permitting the bank to quietly pull the savings rate down to 0.5%, or lower.
The politicians say they will do something about it, but how can they ? If they want to wipe out unethical behaviour by the banks, they will have to shut down every single one of them, such is the widespread deceit right across their normal operations.
Frankly, I can’t understand what the fuss is about, following the latest revelations about manipulation of the Libor rate. They did it because they could, and because it is now in the nature of banking and bankers. The only lesson we can learn is that the rest of us have to be more careful in our banking practices, always conscious that the people with whom we have entrusted our savings simply can’t be trusted.
Sunday July 1st
Spain win their third successive tournament, and are being hailed by some as the greatest ever team, while others (before their exhilarating performance against Italy in the final) have been complaining about them being boring. On the latter point, there are times when their critics have a case, not least during the last World Cup finals, when they won the tournament while barely scoring a goal per game. Their philosophy seemed to be “the opposition won’t score while we have the ball, so there’s no point in us losing possession by trying anything as reckless as a shot at goal.”
The Spaniards’ style,
in particular in their heavily manned midfield, was of particular interest as I have been reading the excellent biography of John
Are the Spaniards the best team ever ? Comparisons across decades are impossible, and few are alive today who saw the great teams of the pre-war era, or the Austrians and
Hungarians of the immediate post-war era. The oft quoted contender for the contentious title is the
It’s an argument that can never be settled, which will not be bothering the Spaniards right now.
Saturday June 22nd
“Your comments of 14thJune are just typical of the frenzied hysteria among supporters of other clubs who have a “ now is our chance to get them “ attitude to the situation. What about the hundreds of thousands of ordinary Rangers supporters who have loyally supported their club for many years and had no part to play in this disastrous situation caused by a handful of, as it would appear, crooked individuals. Do you care one hoot for them ?
The “newco” who are trying to ensure that we have a club to support have no association with the previous regime so why do you think that they should pay for past faults. Does this happen in any other walk of life with a company going into liquidation and being rescued, I think not.
As a lifelong supporter of the club I do not care what division we play in as long as we have a team to watch. We have had many critical periods in our existence and have come through them all, this will be no different.”
The email is a reminder that the innocent victims of this saga are the tens of thousands of Rangers supporters who support their team by buying match tickets and season tickets out of their taxed income. I recall asking an Airdrieonians fan of his thoughts when that club was in the process of dying. He replied : “You expect your mother and father to die before you, but not your football club.”
Football clubs rarely die, of course. Airdrieonians immediately metamorphised into Airdrie United ; Clydebank came back as a junior club, Gretna as a non-league club - all three in greatly reduced circumstances due to the manner of their earlier demise. Rangers, irrespective of what League they will be in next season, will still be playing at Ibrox, but the scenario of a newco continuing to play in the SPL provokes anger amongst many football fans.
Sandy Plant believes that this arises from a “now is our chance to get them” attitude. Not in my case, I can assure him. If Rangers emerge from this situation comparatively unscathed, it will set a precedent for any other Scottish football club to do the same in future - walk away from their debts and carry on as if nothing has happened. The consequence of that will be that no-one will ever again lend money, or extend credit, to a football club, and players’ and employees contracts of employment will be meaningless documents, providing a problem to every football authority, and the Players Union.
Aside from that distinction, if a trading company goes bust, and starts up again the following day with the same staff, premises, assets and trading style, its suppliers, customers and fellow traders have a choice as to whether they trade with this phoenix company, either on moral or practical grounds. That is precisely the debate which will be taking place round the SPL boardroom table.
That moral debate is also taking place
in the minds of supporters of other clubs, who pay to see their favourites play Rangers four times each season, which entitles them
to express a view on the matter. Few, if any, would deny Rangers, and their supporters, the right and opportunity to start up a new
company, and continue playing, but most, if not all, would expect the same rules to apply to Rangers, as they did to
The suggestion in my Blog of 14th July was an attempt at a pragmatic solution which would satisfy those at both ends of the debate : the ones who want Rangers to remain in the top division, and those who are outraged at the unfair advantage obtained by Rangers over the past decade thanks to the policy of successive owners on debt and taxation. In twelve years of self employment I have never thought about Rangers when I write the bi-annual cheque to HMRC, but I certainly will be at the end of next month.
Friday June 15th
Quite a few dealers and collectors at the Premier Programme Fair (see 2nd June) asked me what I thought of the recent Royal Mail price hike. I have been criticised in the past for ranting about that organisation, and its performance, so I will reprint the following article, from the Eastern Daily Press, without comment.
NO POST. A number of businesses have been told they will not
have mail delivered on rainy days after a postman slipped and injured himself on a wet pavement. Royal Mail said it had
been forced to suspend deliveries during “adverse wet weather conditions” after a postman slipped on algae and moss on the pavement
and broke his shoulder. Instead, customers in South Parade,
Thursday June 14th
Rangers will be liquidated, following the formal rejection of the CVA by the major creditor, HM Revenue and Customs. There is, of course, much more to come in this saga, including from this commentator. In the meantime, a suggestion for the owners of the SPL clubs who will decide Rangers fate over the coming weeks. Morally, and probably legally, Rangers should be expelled from the SPL and the SFA, but in the likely event of SKY pulling the plug on the television deal next season, in the absence of the contracted four Old Firm matches, the clubs would be faced with a reduction in revenue. Consequently, they are liable to ignore moral considerations, and vote to keep Rangers in their gang. Their biggest task is to find an alternative form of punishment for Rangers, which would provide a fig leaf of respectability.
Here’s a suggestion. Tell Rangers that their share of the SPL central funds will be given to their Creditors, until such time as all debts have been paid. That may also send a signal to any other club who may in the future pull the same stunt as Rangers, safe in the knowledge that the precedent of continuous membership of the SPL has been set.
Sunday June 10th
The European Championship Finals are well under way, and the matches have been extremely enjoyable so far. Those which started as cat-and-mouse affairs ended in thrilling climaxes, and it is to be hoped that managers and coaches in domestic football will take note, and set their teams out to score goals, rather than to prevent their loss. We can but hope.
Saturday June 2nd
Over 700 collectors attended the Premier Programme
The instant feedback from the stallholders was, as usual, mixed. Some reported an excellent day’s trading, others commented on the “good attendance, but a reluctance to spend.” There are several reasons for the parsimony of an increasing number of collectors - lack of personal funds through inflation and loss of work, the belief/hope that rare items might be bought for 99p on eBay, collections nearing completion to name but three - and it will come as little consolation to those who had a disappointing day’s trading to learn that the organisers suffered a little too.
There was an unprecedented number of collectors who attempted (and in some cases succeeded) to avoid paying
the £1 admission charge. There is of course an argument that there should be no charge to such events ; after all you, you don’t pay
to get into Tesco. The counter argument is that the hire of a large
Wednesday May 29th
Yesterday, the administrators of Rangers were successful in the
Court of Session in
However, I am firmly of the belief that Rangers administration is the biggest single event to hit Scottish football since the Ibrox Disaster in 1901, which resulted in the widespread adoption of Limited Liability Companies by the country’s football clubs and authorities, and a revolution in the design of sports stadia.
This time round, the lessons have to be financial and economical, and no matter how smart, duplicitous, crafty or conniving the people involved in this modern saga may be, its repercussions will be deep and long lasting.
The other lesson that will be learned, repeatedly thoughout the life of this event, is that the “Law of Unintended Consequences” is always present.
There was something “not quite right” about the SFA’s belated, and heavy handed, intervention in this matter, but there is also something vague about the decision of the Court of Session to refer it back to the Appeals Tribunal. The SFA has an unhappy history of clubs taking it to court. Despite the catch-all “we can do anything we like to anyone in football” clause in its rule book, the Court of Session found in favour of St Johnstone in December 1964, when they challenged what they considered to be an unjust fine (of £25). It is usual in describing Law Cases to refer to the appropriate reference in the Scots Law Times ; instead, I will refer you to page 26 of issue 83 (Autumn 2002) of Scottish Football Historian.
So much for the precedent ; what of the consequences of this case, and in particular the unintended ones. The newspapers have been full of FIFA’s dire warnings against dragging national associations into the court room, but the Rangers administrators may have to fear retribution from closer to home. Not only have they alienated several of the SPL club chairmen who will shortly decide the club’s fate, but they have also pulled the beard of the SFA.
The spectrum of sanctions which the ruling body can apply to Rangers is wide, one extremity imaginable by asking the question : “What would the SFA do if a First, Second or Third Division club was guilty of the misdemeanours perpetrated by Rangers ?” Expulsion.
It will be fascinating to see what the SFA do, given the personalities involved. Its Board is dominated by representatives of the SPL, who have a vested interest. Its President is heavily implicated in Rangers’ long term Income Tax problems, and its Chief Executive is a newcomer to Scottish football (as is his counterpart in the SPL). You couldn’t make it up.
Tuesday May 28th
Spent a couple of hours emailing Southern England’s daily and evening newspapers, in the last part of the publicity campaign for the Premier Programme Fair this coming Saturday (see the Home Page, or Fairs, Auctions etc opposite, for full details). For the first time, not a single letter was sent to programme editors, magazine and newspaper sports editors, and radio stations, everything was done by email. Hopefully, these will get to their intended destinations in a way that can no longer be guaranteed by an old fashioned letter, and the digital nature of the message also makes it easier for any sports editor to “cut and paste” the text for inclusion in his periodical. The downside is that the soul-destroying task of sending hundreds of individual emails takes a lot longer than stuffing a photocopied letter into a pre-addressed envelope. Hopefully, these long hours of repetitive key strokes will be rewarded with a bumper crowd on Saturday.
Saturday May 26th
certainly my last game of the season, although there will be plenty of junior fixtures over the next fortnight in
Wednesday May 23rd
Having set the digi-box to tape the Rangers documentary at, it was off to Kelty Hearts v Broxburn Athletic in the semi final of the
Tuesday May 22nd
They don’t get much lower than Steelend Vics in the pecking order of East of Scotland Junior football With only the perennial cannon fodder of Luncarty below them in the basement division, the Vics don’t have much going for them, but they served up a smashing game against Bankfoot, coming very close to getting a deserved draw. Not only was there a programme, but it came with an updating wraparound covering the issue from the postponed match the previous Saturday. From the informative contents, I discovered several scheduled fixtures which were omitted from the East Region website – so-called old technology proving to be more useful than the information super-highway.
Monday May 21st
First visit to The Show Park,
Saturday May 19th
I’ve been at every Scottish Cup final since 1968 bar one (the following year’s Old Firm match when I was but a lad) and by some distance Hibs are the worst side I have ever seen in the fixture. To call them a pub side would be a disservice to the nation’s footballing boozers.
Parked very early and walked to the ground to buy a programme, to take it safely back to the car. When I returned to the stadium, half an hour before kick off, the programmes had sold out. When are the SFA (or their programme producers) going to learn that there are two different types of Scottish Cup final programme buyers – the Old Firm (who largely don’t buy), and the rest (who will buy, if they can get a hold of a copy) ?
Wednesday May 16th
A packed **** Stadium (sorry, I don’t believe the ground has ever had a proper, non sponsored name) as Dumbarton beat Airdrie United 2-1 in the first leg of the Second Division play off. Another compelling match, this time with goals, as the Sons’ high endeavour gains reward against an Airdrie side which looked capable of over-turning the deficit at their place (see below).
In anticipation of a potential lock-out, I arrived early ; the guy sitting next to me didn’t, and complained that the programmes had sold out half an hour before kick off.
Tuesday May 15th
Junior Cup finalists Shotts Bon Accord have a huge backlog of League matches to fit in over the next three weeks, plus a few Cup ties, including the Junior Cup Final. Tonight they were at home to Cumbernauld United in the League, and they made heavy weather of a 1-0 win, to keep them on track for a League title. They missed a penalty, and a succession of chances, but the vital statistic may be the two injury-induced substitutions they had to make before half time. Fielding eleven fit players may be their biggest challenge.
No programme, perhaps understandably, although a several spectators were clutching copies of the special edition issues for the home leg of their semi final. The vast and impressive Hannah Park has been kept tidy, and the large social club appeared to be the hub of that evening’s community activities in Shotts. The cloudless sky was a rare treat, not so the biting cold wind, which was little surprise as the ground is at the highest point of the town, which in turn sits atop a windswept Lanarkshire moor.
Saturday May 12th
To Arbroath, for the League play off match against Dumbarton. It is always a pleasure to visit Gayfield, so neat and well kept, particularly when it isn’t blowing a gale. The Lichties had 90% of the game, but couldn’t make inroads on Dumbarton’s 2-1 first leg lead, largely thanks to a superb performance by Steven Grindlay in goal. The play-off games, determining which standard of football the competing clubs will be playing at next season, are compelling viewing for the neutral, and torture for the fans of both sides. There was no pleasure in watching the agonies endured by Dumbarton die-hards Jim McAllister and Graeme Robertson, as their side somehow survived to draw 0-0.
Apart from the lack of goals, the other disappointment of the afternoon was the match programme, which was a poor effort for the four-figure crowd, and contained no mention of the previous Wednesday’s first leg.
Listened to Sportsound on Radio
Friday May 11th
The SFA have released the document which details the findings of the Judicial Review into the actions of Craig Whyte and Rangers, which resulted in hefty fines and various bans. Downloaded, it is the equivalent of 56 A4 pages, and is written in a somewhat unpolished legal style. Towards the very end, in justification of the panel’s judgement, the style changes into a subjective vocabulary, and a wee bit of a rant.
Life is too short to comment on the details, or indeed the whole sorry scandal surrounding Rangers Despite having no sympathy with their self-induced plight, I can summon little support for the SFA’s actions.
It smacks of kicking a corpse, and if the SFA was so concerned about the image of the game and the damage done to a “proud club”, why didn’t they intervene in the immediate aftermath of Whyte’s takeover, when every rumour indicated that he was not a “fit and proper person” to be a director of a football club ? A few clicks of a mouse would have discovered that he had served a period of disqualification from being a company director, and early intervention could have saved Rangers’ creditors – and the taxpayer – several millions of pounds. Who will sit in judgement on the SFA’s role in this affair ?
Questions also arise from the terms of the enquiry. Amongst the charges against Whyte was not filing annual accounts on time, not paying the taxman, and not holding an annual general meeting. Is every Scottish football club to be subjected to the same scrutiny, and punishment ? If so, the Registration Department will have a very quiet 2012-13 season.
Wednesday May 9th
They say all you need for a long journey is a good companion, but a stop midway for a football match is a good alternative, especially if it is as delightful as St Cuthbert Wanderers v Threave Rovers.
St Mary’s Park, in the beautiful riverside town
His concern was realised when the floodlights were switched on ; eight poles each bearing two lights – and only nine of them worked. One pole has nothing at its top, the light fitting lying against the pavilion wall.
The ground, situated next to the River Dee,
is in one of the most picturesque settings in
The referee looked – and acted – young, and his linesmen were pre-pubescent, one of them wearing glasses. It was he who was hit by the ball struck in some anger by the home goalkeeper, who was booked for his temper, inflamed by the award of the opening goal to Threave, which did not look to have crossed the goal-line. FIFA’s reluctance to introduce goal-line technology was acutely felt in Kirkcudbright. The second goal was a comedy of errors, but the next two came from good play from the superior Threave side, who led 4-0 at half-time. Bookings out-numbered goals, by one.
In the gathering gloom of the second half, Threave hit the bar twice before St Cuthbert got on the scoresheet via a penalty. The visitors retaliated by scoring three times, and the young ref continued to outpoint the scorers with another five bookings ; ten in all, with scarcely a bad tackle all night ; indeed I could not recall play being stopped for treatment to any player. The referee’s notebook was carried off on a stretcher.
£3 to get in, and the crowd continued to grow throughout the match as locals meandered up, possibly in the knowledge that the gateman packed up 15 minutes into the match. Most of the crowd were there in family groups, adding to the friendly atmosphere, and ensuring a brisk trade at the refreshment window, which benefited to the tune of £1.70 for a pie and Bovril, which together provided me with a month’s recommended salt intake.
The evening, and indeed the detour off the M74, was delightful – apart from the midgies - and a reminder that real football still continues to be staged, and played, far from the madding crowds.
Saturday May 5th
Cup Final day in