Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Time for post mortems at Pacific Quay

Blog By Bryan Cooney

TWITTER ye not! There’s an authentic case for adapting the old Frankie Howerd catchphrase and applying it to Stan Collymore’s ongoing battle with internet trolls.   

It seems he has directed the old elbow at his Twitter account. Well, if he’s insistent on distancing himself from an increasingly perverse society, that’s okay with me.

My preference is for Linkedin, an organisation which theoretically puts you together with kindred spirits; why, it even provides comfort for the job seeker, occasionally suggesting a position specifically tailored to your credentials. So far, so good. Until today.

Sometimes I wonder if someone is really paying attention at the hub of Linkedin. In short, do they really give a toss about you, or which juncture you are at in life? An incoming e-mail this morning would seem to support my point. The message reads: Bryan: Amazon.co.uk Limited, ChemTech Consultancy Ltd and BBC are looking for candidates like you.

Really? Well, fuck my old boots, as an old drinking colleague from England’s West Country kept saying in London’s Press Club many years ago.

So, these companies are looking for a creative director for visual journalism and they’ll consider a white-haired, occasionally dyspeptic, dinosaurian git whose maladies include a heart condition, prostate cancer and chronic neck pain that is steering him irrevocably towards distraction? The desperation of
these companies must be worse than I imagined!

But now that we’ve alighted on fantasy, let’s stay with it: let’s suppose, with the wind of David Cameron-speak behind me, that I did apply for the advertised post of BBC creative director of visual journalism (only 101 applicants at the time of writing, after all), and that political correctness persuaded them against discrimination on the grounds of ageism, how would they proceed?

For instance, would they be spoilsports and go seeking character references from various panjandrums in Glasgow’s Pacific Quay, or Inverness? In terms of the latter, would they alight on Jeff Zycinski, head of the radio division?

If so, I imagine his reply would run along these lines: “He worked for me a few times. But he’s a serial agitator, this one. Hey, he wrote a Kindle book about somebody called Gerry Rafferty and upbraided me when I couldn’t convince my producers to get him on one of our shows to publicise it! And then he had the cheek to blame me for not identifying it as being in the public interest. Upset me no end around Christmas 2012, it did. I had more important matters to think about - I was doing my blog at the time.”

Or might they have gone all Glasgow and called upon that ubiquitous commissioning editor, Ewan Angus? Once more, I fear he might have dismissed me in an unfavourable light. “The man’s a bloody nuisance. There was a time he was always suggesting various sports documentaries - but everyone knows that we don’t have money to make documentaries!”

This, belatedly (apologies, but I do tend to wander these days), brings me to the nub of this blog. BBC Scotland somehow shrugged off the yoke of prohibition and raided the Alba division of its piggy bank for Robbie Shepherd, I’ll Be Looking For You. It occupied 55 minutes of my life the other week. The possibly sounds callous, but I fervently wish it hadn’t.

It set me thinking, however. I wondered what two of my old newspaper bosses at the Daily Mail would have made of this programme, which Auntie chose to identify as a documentary.

In my time, Paul Dacre and Charlie Wilson were not so much editors as editorial enforcers. They had patents on straight talking. Their post mortems, after anything smacking of cock-up, were brutal, almost bloody, affairs. There were no appeals against their rulings - no European Court of Human Rights to which to run if their gimlet eyes locked onto you at morning conference.

This was not always popular among the journalistic hoi polloi, but there was no denying its effectiveness, and the papers were all the better for their decisiveness.

Which bring me back, this time swiftly, to Robbie Shepherd, the venerable champion of the Doric. Was there a post mortem at Pacific Quay on the whys and wherefores on what ostensibly was a filmed hagiography? Did no-one query whether this Alba offering was worth repeating on a Sunday evening? Weren’t the producers asked what the hell they were playing at?

I have nothing against the foresaid Robbie Shepherd, nor for his propensity for exporting a dialect that is dear to me (I was born in Fyvie), but I found it quite astounding that such a swathe of prime-time television should be given over to him. Granted, he has a knack of making some people happy but surely his is a limited appeal.

My surprise, however, doubled last Sunday when the documentary makers offered us a profile on the Alexander Brothers, of Nobody’s Child fame. If I found I’ll Be Looking for You rather ponderous and one dimensional, I rejoiced in this latest one. It was funny, poignant and very relevant to an age that sadly will never be replicated. It might have concentrated more on the brothers’ relationship over the years, but that is merely an observation, not an objection.

There was a major criticism, however - it was far too brief. It was 30 minutes as opposed to the 55 minutes allotted to The Robster. To my mind, here was another comprehensive error of judgment.

Media post mortems may not be everyone’s favoured option, but they tend to concentrate minds that might be experiencing complacency. It’s important that BBC Scotland employs someone who has the ability to direct shoe leather towards backsides, wherever appropriate, with unerring accuracy.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Has Kenny Shiels lost it?


IS Kenny Shiels operating a Community Outreach Scheme at Morton? It certainly seems so.

Cappielow has become a haven for waifs and strays since Shiels took over as manager, but if he seriously thinks he can change certain players’ outlooks and attitudes I reckon he’s sadly mistaken.

If Garry O’Connor wasn’t prepared to run about for £20,000-a-week in Russia, why would he suddenly be willing to bust a gut for a few hundred quid a week at Morton?

O’Connor’s not the only one. Shiels has brought in David Robertson, the former Dundee United and St Johnstone player, Slovakians and a Belgian, Kabba-Modou Cham, who is reportedly on £700-a-week.

It’s like Shiels is saying I’ll change their ways and turn their careers around because they’ve still got a lot to offer. Oh really?

The chairman, Douglas Rae was making noises 18 months ago about the club reverting to its previous part-time status unless the team went on a run and they did that at the time.

A year ago Morton were sitting second top of the league with the chance to go top if they beat Partick Thistle. In the event they drew 2-2 at Cappielow and were unlucky not to win.

Just 12 months after finishing second, Morton is five points adrift at the bottom. Yet, after saying at the start of the season that he was cutting the budget, the chairman must have reopened the purse strings.

The guys they’ve signed haven’t come to Greenock for three bangers and a balloon! So there are a lot of mixed messages coming out of the place.

Morton is effectively on their third team in a calendar year. The side from 12 months ago was broken up, then they created another one in August and that was also broken up and the manager sacked.

Now Shiels is creating his team and they are still struggling, rooted firmly to the bottom of the league in a desperate fight for survival to remain a full-time club.

Usually when a new manager takes over you get a positive response from players, but after Shiels came in the team went something like six games without a win in the SPFL Championship.

Are the rumours true that he lost the dressing room almost straight away – if, indeed, he ever had it in the first place?

I’m told before one game he began his pre-match team talk at two o’clock and was still talking at twenty to three while the players were desperate to do their warm-up.

Apparently when he was interviewed by the local TV station and asked why the new signings hadn’t made an immediate difference he replied “There is a problem with the association of the units.” Sorry, you what?

No much wonder his doctor told him to stop doing media interviews and shouting and bawling during games.

The doctor must obviously have diagnosed that he was suffering from a bad dose of bullshit and advised him to stay quiet for a few weeks!

Frankly, I think Shiels might well have lost the plot. Mind you, I find it strange that a man who was being interviewed for one of the top jobs in the Premiership at Inverness took the Morton job in the first place.

I fear for my old club. Maybe last weekend’s very good win at Livingston was the start of a bright new dawn, but the team needs to go on a run of four, five or six games to give themselves a chance of staying up.

Besides the Livingston result, the only other highlight this season was the League Cup win over Celtic.

I went with my pal Gerry Collins to the Raith Rovers game a couple of weeks ago, which finished goal-less, and the feeling I got from the crowd was one of grim acceptance that relegation is inevitable.

There was a lack of a supportive atmosphere and I thought “Oh, God this doesn’t bode well.” Not that I blame the fans.

Morton is drinking at the last chance saloon as far as Championship survival is concerned.

But I have been invited to be patron of the Morton Supporters’ Trust and I take the position up next month, so I have been watching closely what is happening at Cappielow to ensure I’m in a position to offer constructive thoughts.

Maybe the third team Shiels is putting together in the space of a year will get us out of the mess, but he’ll need to use all his experience, otherwise the spectre of part-time football looms and whatever that might mean in the longer term.

If that happens Morton will also miss out on what is shaping up to be a very exciting league next season with Rangers and Hearts involved.

There has been a quick change over of personnel and it takes a new team of players a while to bed in and respond, time Kenny Shiels may not have to make a significant difference.

I don’t deny I fancied the job as manager after Allan Moore was sacked. But my comments aren’t sour grapes, believe me.

I only want what is best for Morton and what the club needs right now is to show a bit of fighting spirit.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Billy McMoyes must look for the hero inside himself


IT doesn’t take a forensic inspection of his teenage years to reveal that Davie Moyes the footballer used to idolise Billy McNeill the manager.

There was, of course, much to idolise. McNeill was the dream role model at Celtic: the first British captain to hoist the European Cup. He was tall, authoritative, closing in on imperious, with a back that was fashioned out of a ramrod.

You are not allowed such idolatry in a football dressing room, however, without there being a payback from the less charitable elements of this crazy place. Moyes was promptly rechristened Billy McMoyes.

I’m trying to find some charity in me and therefore won’t criticise him for hero worship of Big Billy. It’s quite natural to have heroes. Listen, when I do my wee, if infrequent, spots of karaoke in a certain tavern, I imagine myself as Glasgow’s answer to Michael Buble. In my mind, if no-one else’s, I am Michael Buble. I’m not so sure the Canadian would give me a similar endorsement.

Getting back to the point of this blog, however, you imagine that Davie (or his alter ego Billy McMoyes), in his new situation at Manchester United, would want to replicate the bearing of his one-time hero. Instead, he looks very alone, even isolated, at the moment.

As United head towards a Premier League appointment at Chelsea this Sunday, some recent memories of him are less than flattering. When they played and lost to Swansea in the FA Cup, the TV cameras were panning in on him and he looked more facially distraught than I’ve ever seen him.

It didn’t seem to me as if there was anyone to help him in that dug-out. And that, to me, was his first big mistake. To bring someone in with you to Old Trafford is one thing, but to turn over most of the backroom staff must have caused some upheaval, because these people had been there for some time and had developed relationships with the players.

You know what the Dutch are like. They love each other. Well, most of them do. The talk flying about the business is that Robin Van Persie is not happy that Rene Meulensteen (now manager of Fulham) was bagged - if in fact this was the case. I see Moyes claimed recently that it was the Dutchman’s own decision to leave. Indict me as a cynic if you choose, but I can’t say I’m altogether convinced of that.

And what about Mike Phelan, Fergie’s assistant? He has made noises that he would like to have moved out on his own, but he hasn’t got a job yet. Shouldn’t there have been a place for him in that Theatre of Dreams, even if it wasn‘t plum centre of the orchestra stalls? So I imagine there might every well be a bit of disquiet in the dressing room over their twin departures.

Whatever, Moyes had people in there who’d been over the course and knew what was required. They were very good at their jobs: Fergie wouldn’t have kept them if they had been dummies. He was a damned good manager, and liked to keep damned good people around him. Yet roughly a week after Moyes was appointed, they were out.

In came people like Phil Neville, who hadn’t even been on the Everton coaching staff for very long, Steve Round and Jimmy Lumsden. Coaching-wise, they’re about as anonymous as David Cameron’s PR assistants.

Now, people have suggested that the team which won last season’s Premier League was the worst in the history of that Premier League. Well, if that were true, it must have had a good backroom staff to get them across the line. The help that they could have supplied to the newcomer would have been very beneficial at this moment. But that’s gone and Moyes finds himself behind the eight ball. Whether he is good enough to escape from this tricky situation is another matter.

Do I feel sorry for him? No. I can’t say I’d extend empathy to any managers. They’re paid plenty and are old enough to understand the rules. Davie, for me, is not my kind of guy: he’s a bit of a cold fish, but I must admit I was quite impressed by him before he secured the biggest job in English football. He had an extended time at Everton and probably was in line for a long-service medal from the dear old chairman, Bill Kenwright. Yeah, he did very well, although, significantly, he didn’t fill up the mantle-piece full of silverware. But Everton is an entirely different animal from United.

In many ways, I was surprised at his appointment. Should I have been surprised? Perhaps not. Let’s be honest: there wasn’t a queue the length of Sauchiehall Street of managers with the right credentials who were pushing themselves forward. People in the game thought it was like trying to follow Frank Sinatra at a karaoke (there I go again). Who would want that kind of responsibility?

They would be following the most successful manager in the game. Ever. God in a tracksuit. The percentages state that you’ll never live up to such high expectations. No, the managers who should have been in the frame - JoseMourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola, Fabio Capello - would have been thinking to themselves: “No, after you - I’ll let someone else have it before I have it.”

Smart thinking from them. I don’t believe for a moment that Davie Moyes would have been No 1 on the list. There would have been others, but any approaches would have been all done on the quiet. How many more names were on his list? One thing is certain: Alex Ferguson wouldn’t have picked someone who would have refused him.

But ask yourself this question (it comes with a 50,000-dollar price tag): would Alex Ferguson have followed himself at Old Trafford? Oh, I very much doubt it.

When he was in situ, Fergie had the power and, being the kind of person I think he is, he would have enjoyed that power. He thrived on being all-seeing and all-conquering. Listen, you couldn’t change the toilet rolls in the Old Trafford dressing room without it being run by him..

Now we’re in a situation where someone else has come in and maybe he’s not having the same response. Fergie got an extra 50-60 per cent out of those players last season. Davie Moyes isn’t getting the same.

You would love to be a fly on the various walls of Old Trafford. What is the situation between Moyes and Ferguson right now, for instance? Well, I imagine they’ll be trying to avoid each other. Fergie can’t be seen to be chapping on the manager’s door and, if things aren’t all that good within the squad right now, certainly Billy McMoyes can’t be seen to be chapping on Ferguson’s door. That would be a sign of potential weakness.

So I’d imagine they would be avoiding one another rather than partaking of a glass of wine after every match. That’s the way they’d love it to be, with Man U rolling over the top of people every week. And the fact is that the team will have to return to those ways before Davie Moyes can be considered a success and any kind of worthy successor to Alex Ferguson.

So Davie Moyes is desperately looking for heroes to pull himself out of the soft stuff. But first, as the M People song indicates, he must search for the hero inside himself - if one, other than Billy McNeill, exists.


Monday, 6 January 2014

Tribute to a true legend: Eusebio - By Jim Black

(First published in the Scottish Daily Mail
HE was born Eusebio da Silva Ferreira into poverty in the Portuguese colony of Mozambique on January 25 1942.
To the rest of the world he was simply Eusebio - aka The Black Panther and the Black Pearl.
The latter nickname fitted him best, for he was a sparkling gem in a generation encrusted with great players.
Unquestionably one of the greatest of them all, Eusebio died yesterday at the age of 71 of heart failure.
He had been in ill-health for some time with heart and respiratory problems and his passing was not entirely unexpected. But the news that the beautiful game had lost one of its most talented entertainers came as a shock all the same.
But while the football world mourns the passing of one of the sport’s true gentlemen it will also take time to reflect on the skills and remarkable achievements of a man who whose ready smile and modest personality instantly endeared him to all who had the good fortune to encounter him.
I was not one of those fortunate enough to know Eusebio but I had the privilege to see him perform in the flesh, as it were, when Celtic were drawn to play Benfica in the European Cup in November 1969 on their way to a second final.
That was in the days before I became a fan with a typewriter and it was perhaps only my second visit to Celtic Park.
I had gone there from my home in Arbroath with a close pal and died-in-the-wool Celtic fan not to offer my support to the Hoops but simply to marvel at the skills of a player who 18 months earlier had thrilled millions of TV viewers in a classic final against Manchester United.
History records that the Red Devils beat The Eagles 4-1 in extra-time after Eusebio had the chance to snatch the winner in regulation play.
But my abiding memory of that May evening at Wembley was not of Eusebio’s missed opportunity but rather his graceful acknowledgement of Alex Stepney’s remarkable save when he stopped to applaud the goalkeeper in recognition of his accomplishment.
They say that it is sometimes best never to encounter your heroes up close and maybe there is some truth in that, for, regrettably - for whatever reason - the Eusebio who faced Celtic that evening at the age of still only 27 did not light up the stadium in his customary fashion.
Perhaps by then he had been hacked down once too often in his career by unscrupulous defenders hell bent on negating his threat by fair means or foul.
The Black Panther was still blessed with an electrifying burst of speed, wonderful technique and athleticism, but it turned out to be an occasion when dour defending won over God-given skills.
Celtic were simply devastating and Benfica were forced to withdraw Eusebio at the interval so as to switch to a defensive formation in an effort to contain their rampant rivals.
In the end, they settled for three goals, but with Eusebio sparking a shock revival in the return in Lisbon by scoring the opener, Celtic’s fate rested on Billy McNeill guessing correctly on the toss of a coin!
It later transpired that Jimmy Johnstone had tried to persuade Eusebio to sign for Celtic.
The thought of Eusebio gracing Scottish football’s stage in partnership with Jinky makes the hairs on the back of one’s head stand up even now.
For Eusebio later said in praise of the winger: “I am sure I would have scored many more goals with Jimmy supplying the crosses, because he was one of the best players in the world.”
Eusebio also formed a close friendship with another great Scot, the late Jim Baxter adding credence to the suggestion that the man voted the ninth best player of all time in a millennium poll liked a drink and knew how to enjoy himself away from the pitch!
But it is as a footballer player of rare genius that Eusebio will best be remembered for his many achievements in a 15 year career with Benfica, whom he joined in 1960 from Sporting de Lorrenco Marques, a feeder club for the Portuguese giants.
His many honours are too long to list individually here but among his achievements were 11 league titles, five Portuguese Cup triumphs, the European Cup in 1962, in addition to three other finals, European Player of the Year in 1965 and Europe’s Golden Boot winner in 1968 and 1973.
Eusebio also scored a staggering 679 goals - most with his ferocious right foot - in 678 official matches in a 22 year career, which included a spell in North America before a persistent knee injury forced his retirement. He is also Benfica’s all-time record scorer with 638 in 614 appearances.
He played for Portugal on 64 occasions, scoring 41 times, and helped his country to third place in the 1966 World Cup finals in England where they lost to the host nation in the semi-finals.
Eusebio, who began playing the game in his bare feet at the age of eight, was also top scorer in the tournament with nine goals, four of them in one game against North Korea
From his retirement until his death at his Lisbon home in the early hours of Sunday he was one of the football’s foremost ambassadors, praised worldwide for his sense of fair play and humbleness.
Last night as the legends of the game queued up to pay tribute to one of their own, the words of Eusebio’s Benfica and Portugal team-mate and close friend Antonio Simoes summed up the man’s brilliance, influence and phenomenal goal-scoring prowess.
“With Eusebio we could be European champions,” said Simoes “without him maybe we could win the league.”
It is an indication of the esteem in which Eusebio is held the Portuguese government has decreed three days of national mourning with flags flying at half mast.
As a further mark of respect Eusebio’s coffin was taken to Benfica’s Stadium of Light to allow his tens of thousands of fans to pay homage to “Africa’s first great footballer and the greatest ever.”