Friday, 28 March 2014


By Andy Ritchie

SO, now the annual skittle competition that’s called the Scottish Premiership is over for another season, the questions will inevitably begin.

In fact, they began in my house this morning when a teaser was thrown at me: did I expect both Neil Lennon and Derek McInnes to be with their respective clubs next season?

A long intake of breath was needed over the cornflakes. I replied that I’d only expect one to be there. My questioner was relentless. Which one? If I were given one of those hard-earned pounds that Aberdonians seem to swear by, well, I’d put it on McInnes being at Pittodrie next season.

But, as for Lennon being at Celtic Park? I think not. I’d imagine he’s looked at the equation and decided: “I’ve got to get out of here - it’s time to move on.”

The noises that he may want to go have been flying about for some time. I suggest they will become more prevalent now that the title race has been copper-bottomed with that runaway victory over Partick Thistle.

So I think it’s just a case of playing the countdown game. Who could blame him for looking down the road? Hey, he’s left a legacy by joining the select managerial band of Willie Maley, Jock Stein and Gordon Strachan, who had won three or more titles in a row.

But trying looking for reasons why he should stay is another thing altogether. Anyone who recognises their onions know that, without Rangers in the mix, everything is a hollow victory. Lennon will recognise that better than anyone.

He’ll also recognise the fact that times have changed and there’s a whole different ball game going on with Celtic these days, And it’s official. It’s gone public. In the old days, it was an accepted fact that the Charlie Nicholas and Kenny Dalglish types of this world would eventually play in England. But it was never mooted in public.

Now it’s been discussed openly that the policy is to bring in good, under-the-radar young players, get them developed before selling them on for as big a profit as possible. You’ve got to look at it and say it’s the state of Scottish football. And it’s also the state of Celtic.

You hear from some quarters claims of an upsurge in the game. Really? Well, up at Aberdeen, for instance, there’s a guy who wasn’t good enough to play in the first team last season and who in fact was loaned out to St Johnstone.

It’s now being stated that Peter Pawlett’s an absolute certainty to be playing in England in six months. Yeah, he couldnae get a game for them a year ago and they were undecided if they wanted to keep him. Now he’s the new Willie Miller, or, to put him more in context, Eoin Jess.

So, I’d imagine for the benefit of Neil Lennon and his career as a manager, it would be beneficial for him to be looking at the bigger picture. And that, I’m afraid, is England. There’s nothing radical about that, though, He’s done four years and they’ve generally been good years.

Things have changed for him. It’s only natural if you’ve been in a job this length of time that the rough edges have been knocked off. In Lennon’s case most of them have gone, even if some took a while to disappear.

I think the change in attitude could be traced back to the time he was attacked at Tyne castle - and also the time they beat Barcelona and had a decent run in Europe. That escalated his worth to the football world.

And I think people were making suggestions to him then that it might take a different type of managerial mindset for him to get a job down in England. That’s when the rough edges began to disappear.

It was like he was saying to himself: “If I do have any aspirations as an individual, these issues need to be addressed.” And I think that’s been his purposeful plan as Celtic manager ever since. And, in fairness to him, he’s done very well.

Perfection is nearly impossible, of course. You hear him being interviewed by local reporters in Scotland and then by those from down South. There’s a marked difference for the better, as far as the latter is concerned. Look, it’s not that he’s so much more refined, it’s just that he’s more acceptable to the masses. I sometimes wish he’d add those little touches up here as well.

I remember at the Aberdeen game at Pittodrie when Celtic’s winning streak ended. If he’d put on the diplomatic hat that he wears for the international media, it would have been better. As it was, he was less than complimentary about Aberdeen. A wee bit more humility was required in that situation.

But, on the whole, I think the changes in his character have been for his well-being. Whatever, if and when the day arrives that he makes a move down South, it might be beneficial to him if he leaves a couple of pieces of luggage behind him.

Would he be successful in a far more competitive division? I see no reason why he shouldn’t be. He probably has a head start on many others who are coming to the Barclays Premier League from abroad. He has a grounding in England, knows the game and also the aspirations of the supporters - unlike some who have gone there recently.

Look, when you went to manage in England years ago, it was a 25-piece jigsaw. Now it’s a thousand piece affair and remember you’ve got to put all those pieces together. I don’t see why Lennon can’t make a fist of it down there. Father Time, of course, is the only man who will tell.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014


By Bryan Cooney

WHEN I once suggested that Billy Davies possessed the requisite skills to become a great football manager, one of the game’s most respected soothsayers dismissed it as being highly unlikely.

“The trouble with Billy is that it seems he can manage down, but not upwards,” he said, referring to the fact that Davies’s diligence in handling players sometimes failed to extend to his associations with members of the boardroom.

“You can’t go around telling the chairman to eff off,” my advisor continued. “Until Billy accepts that the word discretion deserves to be in the English language, there is always going to be a struggle.”

Davies’s struggle against life’s changing fortunes continued on Monday when a ribbon of breaking news on Sky Sport declared that he had been sacked for a second time in three years by Nottingham Forest.

It had all gone quite splendidly until a few weeks prior to this. Davies had virtual autonomy of the club. The often absent owner, Fawaz al-Hasawi, was in raptures. Nine million pounds of his money had been spent - but the Premier League was shimmering like a mirage. Who cared?

Then an injury-weakened Forest went eight Championship games without victory, were trounced 5-0 by Derby at the weekend, and filtered out of contention for a play-off place.

There was only one recourse. So, if you take into further consideration Davies’ abrupt dismissal by Derby in 2007, you are reading a rather repetitive narrative.

This particular departure was more damaging then most, however. If Davies had gone without seemingly a murmur of protestation, the recriminations became the property of others. Notably the Daily Telegraph.

In my days as Daily Mail Head of Sport, the Telegraph were considered to be the champions of the soft-shoe newspaper shuffle. But here they were applying hobnail boots to the retreating backside of the Scotsman.

It was reported that “the Billy Davies circus had been run out of town, after more than a year of drama, fall-outs, multiple sackings, conspiratorial messages - and sometimes football matches.”

Ouch! A man hoping to retain a foothold in the football world could do without that attached to his c.v. But the Telegraph weren’t finished. “Davies was given sole control, working closely alongside his cousin and agent (and former lawyer) Jim Price. But it seemed at times they were more preoccupied with settling personal vendettas than winning three points on a Saturday. Davies is now battling to save his own reputation.

You didn’t need a forensics department to identify that a schism had developed between that particular writer and the pugnacious little Glaswegian. But is such a withering opinion justified?

Allow me to consult my personal history with the man. First, let me say that I like him, but add that there’s an undoubted schizophrenia in him: one minute he’s charming your ears off with brilliant chat, the next he’s removing them by force. This version of split personality is not uncommon in football managers, as readers of this site will know.

I’ve been texted by him, talked to him on the telephone a couple of times - once with the receiver held at arm’s length to protect myself from the invective that was pouring out of it - and met him twice, where he’s been most agreeable.

We had lunch on the second occasion which was back in September of 2011 - three months after he’d been initially sacked by Forest. I didn’t anticipate we would have the company of Jim Price, but I was presented with a fait accompli. No matter. Here is a sample of what I wrote back then:

INTERVIEWING Billy Davies is a complex affair. There’s a lawyer at his shoulder, three tape recorders on the table (one belonging to the said lawyer) and enough off-the-record interludes to constitute a Downing Street briefing.

But, according to my companions, this is the anomalous shape of football, circa 2011. Managing a club in these impatient times goes beyond difficult. The game has a foothold in Whitehall farce, so a man needs a team around him to assess the authenticity of the cast-list and determine whether the greasepaint is kosher.

Even, evidently, when that manager is out of work. This guy from Govan qualifies on that count, Nottingham Forest having divested themselves of his services just over three months ago.
But what’s with the lawyer and the tape recorder? Surely these precautions are indicative of suspicion in Davies?

“I’m protective of me and my family. This is the world we’re in now. I think you need to be a professional. A football manager needs a team - an accountant, legal advisors and agents because of what you’re dealing with.

“There are websites, fans forums, phone-ins and all these access points to creating stories, claims and counter claims. I don’t have an agent as such, but what I’ve got is a very good family member, an excellent contractual lawyer and an advisor who’s second to none.

“You talk then about the big animal (within) that the manager has to deal with: there are chief executives, general managers, football consultants, there are transfer acquisition committees. Yeah, there’s a big monster out there. That’s why a manager’s job is now so precarious.

“I know I’m simply a temp. Every manager is. I’ve got this short window of opportunity. Forget building a team over three years. You’re looking at three and four weeks before people start calling for your head. The good, old days of team building have completely gone. So what I know now is that I’m a temp manager who’ll go in and work for a period of time until it’s time to move on. Then the club brings in a new face and a new voice.”

As it was, that window of opportunity closed on Davies on Monday. By staying 13 months, he’d taken temping to new levels of longevity. But, it is alleged, there was a tempest forever raging within the club.

So, what lies ahead of him? He is already an extremely wealthy man with all these financial settlements, but you wonder if he will ever learn discretion and whether, having mastered the technique of managing downward, he’ll ever learn to manage upwards.

The suspicion is that he needs football to survive. We shall learn in time whether football needs him.

Thursday, 20 March 2014


By Jim Black

WHAT are we doing to our children?
Sorry, I’ll start again: What is television doing to our children?

The proliferation of “Reality TV” programmes has me scratching my head in disbelief that those charged with deciding the daily schedules actually imagine that the majority of us want to watch wall-to-wall poverty porn.

“The Scheme” and “Benefits Street” are two prime examples of producers having lost the plot completely.

The aforementioned “The Scheme” featured residents of a Kilmarnock council estate and traced the lives of six families.

Not all who have the misfortune to share their lives with the “stars?” of this pitiful attempt by BBC Scotland to highlight “real lives” exposed themselves to ridicule in this cheapskate production that attempted to create personalities out of scumbags.

Watching a collection of degenerates behaving in a threatening and violent manner, exposing children to a diatribe of foul language, making their neighbours’ lives misery and generally acting in an offensive and underhand way is compulsive viewing apparently.

God save us from a repeat, or even worse, another series featuring such pond life as Marvin, who should be locked up and the key thrown away.
Yet this grim offering was deemed worthy of a Bafta award.
Difficult though it may be to comprehend, Channel 4’s “Benefits Street” is an even more horrific concept.

The idea here, it would appear, was to highlight the virtues of “cheating the system” while also attempting to turn the principals into loveable rogues and largely irresistible characters.

James Turner Street in Birmingham became famous overnight for all the wrong reasons. It portrays society at its worst – a litter-strewn road, children left to fend for themselves while their parents share a beer and a fag, and a self-proclaimed “Godmother” in the form of an odious, unattractive benefits cheat who looks to be in need of a good wash.

I refer to “White Dee,” who, having been sacked from her job as a council administrator for stealing £13,000, now offers advice to neighbours on how to claim handouts.

She is also the mother of a five-year-old who has been taught how to start a blaze using a lighter and deodorant can by two of the resident drunks, swear like a trooper and defy all forms of authority. How sad that this little boy will grow up never having had a chance.

Not everyone who resides in what is claimed to be one of Britain’s most benefit-dependent streets is a criminal, an alcoholic, a drug abuser, a drug pedlar or a benefits cheat, just the majority.

Apparently “White Dee” and her pal “Black Dee” have been offered a twin naked photo-shoot by a grubby porn magazine, such is the extent of their new-found status as TV personalities.

There has also been talk of “Black Dee” entering the murky world of politics. I ask you, has the world gone truly mad?

It would be laughable if it wasn’t so disturbing. But as many as five million viewers tuned into this expose on “Scumbag Britain” – if Channel 4 is to be believed. Mercifully, the other 55 million or so Brits did not.

Perhaps they were saving themselves for the next instalment of another Channel 4 production, “Embarrassing Bodies,” which regularly features displays of genitalia by individuals who are sadly lacking self-respect, apparently in the name of medicine.

Or maybe they were preoccupied by thoughts of “The Street,” another attempt by BBC Scotland to tickle our taste buds for “no-holds” reality documentaries.

The idea was actually not a bad one. Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street is after all world-famous and must have a million stories to tell.

Regrettably, executive producer Ewan Angus chose to focus to a large extent on a take-away owner who experienced difficulty completing a sentence without the use of the “F” and “C” words and a street musician who has a habit of getting up other people’s noses.

The fact that Sauchiehall Street has a proud and rich history was completely glossed over. One wonders what the City Fathers made of it all as a marketing disaster ahead of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games?

But does TV care? Not a bit of it, as long as the viewing figures stack up.
The age of innocence is long gone. TV has decreed that we will all live in the “reality” world, regardless of what long-term damage that is doing to the minds and wellbeing of youngsters who are being conditioned to think that bad is good.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


By Andy Ritchie

NOW that their League Cup euphoria has been exhausted, fans of Aberdeen FC are perhaps entitled to ask: whatever happened to Niall McGinn?

The Northern Ireland forward was a bit of a performer last season, with 21 goals to his eternal credit. In reality, he was just about the Dons’ only goal-scoring option.

The difference this season has been next door to astounding. Yes, he’s managed to stockpile nine goals so far, but a study of their chronology makes for slightly more disturbing reading.

Three of these goals came early on in the campaign. Then he went 11 games firing blanks, before securing another six from eight attempts. Cue another serious famine: up until the League Cup Final, he had gone 14 domestic games without embarrassing the opposing goalkeeper.

Last Sunday, the chance to be a hero arrived all over again when, late on in normal time, he rounded an Inverness CT defender and discovered the goal virtually at his mercy. The ball, unfortunately, seemed to bobble and the chance was squandered.

A certain fairytale became a possible nightmare, and some people were left wondering whether his bubble, or bobble, had finally burst.

The bacon rations were only saved by the fact that the Dons clawed their way to victory on penalties in front of 43,000 of their magnificent fans. Significantly, McGinn was not one of the four penalty takers.

Now, I wouldn’t wish to sound like a wise man after the event, but I predicted to anyone who would listen last summer that Niall would find it difficult, if not damned impossible, to scale such goal-scoring heights again.

He has never been what I would consider to be a natural goal-scorer. He is sometimes a scorer of great goals, but not a great goal-scorer.

His career with Celtic and Brentford, however, has always suggested that he prefers to be out wide. And in recent games, I’ve noticed that he often retreats into areas 30 to 40 yards from goal. These can be comfort zones for some players, but they’re not the natural habitats of born strikers.

I can’t abide the term “one-season wonder” because it’s too trite and probably a bit insulting. But sometimes it conveys at least a little bit of the truth. Is it possibly applicable to McGinn? I would say that if he ever scores 21 goals again, most of them would have to be from the penalty spot.

Not that this somehow transforms him into an ordinary player. He is far from that

My point is that you must possess a certain mindset to be a scorer. Go back in history and you find it everywhere. Denis Law had that certain something. Joe Jordan, too. Andy Gray and Joe Harper - they were around when the gifts of arrogance, courage and confidence were handed out.

Coming up to date for a second, Billy Mackay has it - forget that missed penalty kick on Sunday, and Stevie Mays is also blessed with it. And I know I bloody well had it.

In my senior career, I received many compliments. Jimmy Homes, my colleague at Morton, used to say I was the coolest man in the penalty box. Dundee United manager Jim McLean said I came close to genius.

Seriously, though, I used to think about scoring goals before every game and I didn’t mind how they came about. I remember being farmed out to junior club Kirkintilloch Rob Roy at 16 from Celtic.

I was partnered by a guy called Jimmy Murphy, who’d scoot around like a burst hose pipe. He provided the sweat and the graft and all the activity that leads up to the scoring of goals.
At one point he put a cross into the box and there was I, standing with my back to the goal. It didn’t matter - the ball went into the net via my arse! Trying calling that cool!

I only played 17 times for Rob Roy before I was recalled to Celtic. But those were times I needed to score. Like against Vale of Leven. I was a boy - and we were facing a team of full grown men - yet I scored five times in a 7-2 victory.

Listen, I don’t know what I did for Jimmy Murphy, but I know what he did for me and I still appreciate it. Don’t know if his appreciation comes my way, mind. Maybe he’s sitting someone sticking pins in my doll right now!

From what I know of him, Niall is a nice guy. He’s not a problem player with an outsize ego. Goals or not, he makes valuable contributions to the team, with his link-up play and his passing, and as far as I know, his commitment to the cause is not in doubt.

But he’s sort of made a rod for his back in many ways. He doesn’t need to be a goal machine, but he’s got to get into that mindset of old, restore his confidence and get back to the basics of where he was when times were good. I’m sure his manager, Derek McInnes, will provide encouragement for him in this way.

So, too, will those magnificent fans. What a show they put on last Sunday. And I would hope that they turn out in massive numbers this weekend when Aberdeen face Kilmarnock. They should welcome their team home in style.

A return to McGinn goal-scoring form would suit them admirably. I imagine that the player longs to place the cherry back on his cake. I don’t know if what happened to him last season came as an almighty shock to him: a bit of a thunderbolt.

But I’d love to see more from him. And if he wants the best advice available about how to get himself back on that standard, then he needs to look no further than Joe Harper, a true Aberdeen legend.

How many goals did Wee Joe score in his career? Google tells me it was 232. And I tell you this: it was all about hard work.

He didn’t score as many as that by cracking jokes with centre-halves.

My best advice to Niall McGinn would be to sit down for half an hour with Wee Joe and soak up any advice he offers. If anyone can put him right, it’s Harper.

Monday, 17 March 2014


By Bryan Cooney

THE ascent to Area 410, Row N, Seat 12 of Celtic Park’s North stand Upper might have been acceptable to a man possessing not only the lung power of a Chris Bonnington but his mountaineering pedigree.

This old guy, without having the benefit of either, was consequently looking for an oxygen tent only a couple of minutes into the climb. The compensatory factor was reaching the summit and finding himself besieged by a red and white bedlam.

Two important points were proved. Firstly, 43,000 Aberdeen fans, 150 miles from home, were demonstrating that if Scottish football is close to self immolation, then the North-east obituarists have yet to be notified.

And secondly, joy of joy, those roistering, raucous, rambunctious fans seemed intent on ridiculing the indictment that they suffer badly from inhibition and indeed are dedicated rustlers of sweetie papers.

Hey, legendary producer Phil Spector once nurtured what was described as the Wall of Sound, an impenetrable, multi-layered onslaught of orchestra-inspired music that monopolised the senses and the pop charts in the early 60s.

He should have been in the East End of Glasgow on Sunday afternoon to record something that came very close to his concept of noise. This was one that steamrollered the senses; one that you could almost touch; one that made you inordinately proud to be an Aberdonian.

Now, I have pursued the fortunes of this wildly idiosyncratic team for 65 years. I have never heard anything like this before - even on a night of Pittodrie mayhem which I shall come to in due course.

Suddenly, all supporter sacrifice made sense. The myriad tears, disappointments and disaffections were forgiven and forgotten. And this, you should note, was before the League Cup Final between the Dons and Inverness CT had even begun.

My youngest son had kindly bought the tickets for this match and wouldn’t accept payment. The largesse extended to a pie and a soft drink. Was this his way of repaying me for introducing him to Aberdeen FC at a fairly early age?

But let’s go back to those 65 years: if this promised to be an occasion for nostalgia, I determined to indulge myself. I remembered the 1949 day my dad took me to Pittodrie for the first time.

Soon, he was wishing he hadn’t troubled himself. How do you constrict the conduct of a venturesome four-year-old who was fascinated by everything aside from the football?

I heard Dad complaining about someone fiddling. I began looking around, perhaps expecting to see a string quartet of string violinists in the immediate vicinity.

My father became agitated, possibly because of the home team’s shortcomings, most probably because of my finite attention span, and soon he’d had enough. He grabbed my hand and marched me down the stairs of the main stand. As far as I know, he never called in at Pittodrie again.

But sometimes it takes only one visit to be infected with the football virus. And so, when age permitted, I became a Pittodrie regular. I began to identify heroes and there was not a fiddler among them.

Their names adorned my autograph book: Jackie Hather, of the double shuffle, Paddy Buckley, Harry Yorston and ultimately Graham Leggat. They won the First Division championship in 1954-55 with a manager called Dave Halliday. They added a League Cup victory a year later with a new man at the tiller: Davie Shaw.

In spite of this success, we were destined for the football boondocks. This didn’t deter a few young men from Aberdeen Academy. Guys like Ivor Finnie, Gordon Donald, John Dingwall and I decided we would join the official supporters’ club, which comprised a handful of men from another generation and a couple of highly emancipated women.

The chairman, a lovely yet intensely garrulous guy, had a serious speech impediment and if you were in the front row at a meeting, you had to duck, bob and weave, like a professional boxer, to avoid taking direct hits from his saliva.

You required dedication to be in our small gang. Our red army didn’t even constitute a platoon as it made its way all over Scotland kitted out in red and white caps and scarves. We even bought ourselves blazers and badges at a later, more sophisticated, date.

Campbells, of Bon Accord Square, provided our transport and, normally, one bus was sufficient for our needs. Our travels were not without incident, however: we left Ibrox one year with a hail of stones bouncing off the framework of the bus; we retreated from Kirkcaldy severely depleted of our numbers. 

A Cup defeat proved unpalatable; the local police unforgiving.
On another Cup adventure, this time under the managerial stewardship of Eddie Turnbull, we took a respectable following to Easter Road, and only a last-minute equaliser secured us a replay at Pittodrie.

By now, I was working in the Press & Journal editorial but was granted a night off. I squeezed myself into the Merkland Road end as 44,000 rolled up that Wednesday evening.

The crowd groaned collectively as it was announced that the pugnacious Ernie Winchester would be playing. They changed their minds when he scored twice.

Winchester, who died only last year, was an inspiration, but not as far as Hibs centre half John Madsen was concerned. He later informed anyone who would listen: “Tonight I met a madman!”

But pay attention, if you will, to that figure of 44,000 on a hysterical night in March of 1967. It brings me back to the hysteria of Sunday and the pretty surreal fact that 43,000 of my ain folk had converged on Glasgow to ostensibly take over the city.

The football game began, but to call it a game is taking a liberty with the English language. Thankfully, as far as this person was concerned, it was over fairly quickly, not of course before nails had been gnawed to the bone and penalties had been missed (by Inverness) and converted (by my heroes).

But as we prepared to leave Celtic Park, my eyes were drawn to the seats immediately in front of us and a little boy clad, like his father, in red. He was bright-eyed and pumped full of mischief, sticking his tongue out at anyone who looked his way.

It was pretty obvious that he hadn’t been paying a blind bit of notice to what was going on down on the pitch. What a good judge he had been!

He can be forgiven. Perhaps this was his first football match. His initiation. Play was so puerile that perhaps he was looking for a fiddler in the roof the stand, just to take the edge off the boredom.

There again, maybe, just maybe, he’d caught the virus that makes professional football so compulsory - the one that infected me 65 years ago. I wondered whether he’d still be supporting his team in the year 2079.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

ROVERS AND OUT! - By Andy Ritchie


MY time as Albion Rovers’ player-manager was so short-lived that I am struggling to even recall exactly when it was and how long it lasted.

But it was certainly eventful. Ashtrays full of fag ends and a bath that looked like it had been used for dipping sheep!

I even had to share an office with the old guy who was the handicapper for the dogs after he had threatened to throw me out.

Cliftonhill Stadium has never been a place for the faint hearted. Did I just say ‘Stadium’ – now that’s really pushing it!

I was persuaded by my former Morton boss, Benny Rooney, to become Andy of the Rovers at the end of the 1984-85 season – I think – as they were desperately short of players. They must have been to want me.

Then Benny left to join Partick Thistle and the Rovers chairman, the legendary Tam Fagan asked me if I fancied the job of player-manager.

I was 28 at the time and I ended up playing six games and scoring twice. But, for the life of me, I can’t remember how long my brief managerial reign lasted. Not long, that’s for sure.

The legend that was former Hibs, Torino, Arsenal and England striker Joe Baker was about the place as a sort of jack-of-all-trades, head sponge man and chief motivator, that sort of thing.

Joe was working as a scaffolder and just wanted to have an involvement in the game and I wasn’t going to turn him down when he asked to stay on.

He was, in fact, the best thing that happened to me. A true gent, Joe had played at the highest level and I fed off his stories and knowledge of the game, so having him around was a godsend.

My first day in the job I arrived in the manager’s office to discover a desk and a chair and little else, apart from an old tin ashtray that was overflowing with 150 dog ends and hadn’t been emptied in months.

The office was in such a filthy state of disrepair you wouldn’t have kept horses in it! But I quickly discovered a canine connection!

Suddenly the door burst open and in walked this gnarled old guy who asked what I was doing sitting there in his chair. I informed him in no uncertain terms that I was the manager and that it was my office.

What do you mean, your office? You’ll need to find somewhere else,” he shot back before proceeding to come round the desk and open a drawer.

I was none too pleased, I can tell you. But it turned out he was the handicapper for the dogs after they had switched from speedway to greyhound racing.
I thought to myself, “How the mighty have fallen.” But I won the argument all the same.

Mind you, I don’t know why I bothered. The place was a tip. It hadn’t seen a lick of paint in years and the bath in the home dressing room looked like it had been used to dip sheep.

I think the club only had something like nine registered players and as we had a Lanarkshire Cup-tie coming up against Motherwell I told Tam that I would need finances to make signings.

The old boy told me to go ahead and sign whoever I liked and I knew the very man who could do us a turn, Bernie Slaven, who had just been released by Queen of the South.

Bernie was considering an approach from junior side Rutherglen Glencairn, who were offering him a £250 signing-on fee and twelve quid a week, and I said we’d match that.

Bernie accepted my offer and agreed to complete the formalities the following day. But when I told Tam he almost burst a blood vessel.

“He’s s...e,” he exploded. “You’re no signin’ him. I saw him play for Queens last season and he was f.....g rubbish.”

But I said I would pay Bernie out of my own pocket, if necessary and retain his registration. I wish I had after what later transpired.

Tam told me I could do what I liked. But the following morning he reappeared with 250 of the grubbiest one pound notes I’ve ever seen and the deal was done. He also informed me there would be no more cash for players.

I wonder how the old boy reacted when Bernie scored 27 goals that season and Rovers later pocketed £35,000 when they sold him to Middlesbrough?

Bernie, who also made it into the Republic of Ireland squad for the 1990 World Cup finals, was a lovely lad and he once left a couple of bottles of champagne on my doorstep as a ‘thank you’ after he had been presented with a case of bubbly by a newspaper for his scoring exploits.

Things have clearly changed at Rovers since my time. The people now running the club have smartened the place up and given it an occasional much-needed lick of paint.

Rovers are also enjoying a Scottish Cup cash windfall from their quarter-final against Rangers and the additional money they’ll get from the replay being on Sky.

That will make a huge difference to them and could lead to a dramatic revival in fortunes and bring the club into 2014. I certainly hope so.

The personnel running the club had replaced the dead and dying who used to inhabit the boardroom, but maybe some things never change.

I wonder if they’ve found any skeletons in the cupboard – those of dogs, sheep and old nags?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014


By Jim Black

SANDY LYLE has long since given up on his dream of European Ryder Cup captaincy.

The only one of golf’s so-called “Famous Five” – Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Nick Faldo are the others – not to be afforded the honour, Lyle must have secretly hoped that he would be in the running when Gleneagles was chosen as the venue for the biennial match.

But the 55-year-old Scot was yet again overlooked. Instead, Paul McGinley was chosen, not altogether surprisingly, given that there was a feeling within the corridors of power that it was appropriate to appoint an Irishman for the first time in view of the success enjoyed by their golfers.

McGinley recently named Scotland’s Sam Torrance and compatriot Des Smyth as two of his vice-captains and will appoint two more once his team is finalised in early September.

That leaves the door open for Lyle, but I suspect the remaining spots will go to current players, with Paul Lawrie, Thomas Bjorn and Jose Maria Olazabal seemingly very much in the frame.

But surely there is a place for Lyle, not as the tea-boy or the JCB driver – roles, he says, he would willingly fill.

An assistant to Ian Woosnam at the K-Club in 2006, when Europe triumphed by a record points margin, the two-time major winner is entitled to believe he is due the courtesy in his homeland.

Lyle lives just 40 minutes from the venue and would walk all the way to Auchterarder to be part of the team.

How about special advisor to the captain? Or why not senior Ryder Cup ambassador with special responsibilities for promoting the event on the global stage?

As Scotland’s most successful post-war golfer, he is generally regarded as one of the game’s good guys, a respected figure popular with his colleagues and the public alike.

If they could give Nick Faldo – I refuse to refer to him as “Sir,” an honour he was unworthy of, in my humble opinion – the job of captain in 2008, when he demeaned the role in a bumbling fashion that had his players and his peers cringing in equal measure, surely his great rival is deserving of far greater acknowledgement.

It would be an opportunity missed if Lyle were to be overlooked and a decision that would reflect badly on those charged with ensuring that the Samuel Ryder trophy remains in European hands.

MEANWHILE, I am once again forced to pose the question: What the hell are ScotRail playing at?

This is not the first time I have visited the subject of weekend rail travel and I fear it will not be the last.

A month after experiencing the loutish behaviour of a section of Aberdeen fans on the Saturday evening “cattle train”, I had the misfortune to encounter Scotland rugby fans behaving every bit as badly, if not actually far more menacingly.

I refer to the 7.50pm train from Edinburgh to Inverness in the wake of Scotland’s defeat by France at Murrayfield.

On they poured at Haymarket, headed for various stopping off points in deepest Fife, it turned out.

I am reliably informed that rugby supporters are a much more civilised breed than their football counterparts; a jolly, lager-swilling lot who refrain from acts of violence and intimidation.

Really? Not this particular bunch of morons who invaded first class as their right despite having purchased second class tickets.

When one unfortunate traveller, who had paid for the privilege, tried to claim his rightful seat he was informed by one of the yobs that he was a “sheep-s......g b.....d” and “who the f..k” did he think he was?

Well, actually he was a bona fide traveller, entitled to the seat he had paid for. But this was a matter of complete indifference to my fellow travellers.

Mercifully, there was no act of physical violence in the wake of the verbal sort, but the atmosphere remained tense, to say the least.

When those same rugby fans departed at Kirkcaldy one of their number, a lady (???) stated sarcastically in a stage whisper, “They’ll be delighted that’s the scum gone” for the benefit of the occupants of the compartment they had invaded.

Yes, madam, you are indeed scum – you and your kind.

But the most worrying aspect was the absence of a ticket collector.

Earlier, having taken one look at the situation, she turned on her heels and fled only to resurface after Perth, when the refreshment trolley also miraculously appeared.

When asked why it had taken two hours for her to check our tickets, she replied that the train had been extremely busy.

I’ll remember that next time I purchase a second class ticket and use the first class facilities!

You really couldn’t make it up.

But ScotRail employees not doing their jobs appears to standard practice these days. 

I wonder what the excuse and justification will be when they carry off some unfortunate traveller in a body bag?

Friday, 7 March 2014

Rapha misses an important date with Gerry Rafferty - By Bryan Cooney

UNLESS there has been a seismic shift in relationships, one notable name will be missing from the cast of singers and musicians celebrating the life of Gerry Rafferty in Paisley next month.

The colourfully named Raphael Ravenscroft, it seems, continues to occupy the role of bete noir with the Rafferty camp, and you imagine even the diplomacy of a United Nations peacekeeper would struggle to soothe minatory brows.

A couple of years ago, Radio Four made a documentary about Baker Street, the most famous, if not most accomplished, Rafferty composition; the one driven by Ravenscroft’s mesmeric alto saxophone riff.

And yet there was a significant omission in that 30-minute programme. The BBC producer later told me that, try as she might, she couldn’t persuade any of the contributors to mention the sax player by name. Rab Noakes merely dismissed him as The Saxophonist. It was difficult to believe anyone could be so childish.

We return to 1978 - when the haunting pop song initially hit pay dirt - to discover the genesis of the rancour. Ravenscroft, as a young and fairly impecunious musician, was called to the Chipping Norton Studios, where Rafferty’s City to City album was being assembled. He was a replacement for Pete Zorn.

His rags were transformed into riches: not long after his stint was completed (he was paid £27.50 but later claimed the cheque had bounced), he was enjoying international recognition by playing for such luminaries as Pink Floyd and Marvin Gaye. His session fees rose astronomically as a result.

Being something of a natural showman, unlike Rafferty, Ravenscroft embraced first fame as he might a beautiful woman - and history suggests there were plenty of them in evidence at the time. He was Mr Showtime: they say he would sweep imperiously into his workplace, accompanied by two Irish wolfhounds and an entourage fit for royalty, and nominally take charge of proceedings.

Significantly, even if his ego had found a niche market of its own, he insisted on repaying old friendship. He signed for Portrait Records of America (a subsidiary of Sony) and made a solo album, Her Father Didn’t Like Me Anyway, in 1979It was a Rafferty composition, suggesting at the time that both men were on equable terms (although, allegedly, this later would change).

Rafferty didn’t feature on the album, but he was perhaps about the only man in Britain who didn’t. An incredible 60 session musicians were called upon and paid for, presumably out of the Ravenscroft purse. That makes any fair-minded person believe that perhaps he wasn’t such a bad guy, after all.

It’s now just over three years since Rafferty died. So why does the stench of hostility linger after all this time? In the eyes of many, Rapha - as he favours being called - had committed the cardinal sin of claiming at least some responsibility for the composition of that saxophone riff, which propelled an already wonderful tune into the Tin Pan Alley stratosphere.

In an interview with The Times in 2006, he recalled being presented with a song that contained “several gaps.” And he added: “Did Gerry hand me a piece of music? No, he didn’t. In fact, most of what I played was an old blues riff.”
But when a re-mastered version of City to City was released months after Rafferty’s death, it included the original, electric guitar version of the song, confirming his authorship. And yet the hostility refuses to go away.

When I began writing the ebook, Gerry Rafferty: Renegade Heart, I resolved not to allow my allegiance to the musical genius to obliterate objectivity, and thus I contacted Ravenscroft. There again, we shared common ground in that I ’d also assumed potential bete noir status with some factions of the Rafferty family for having the temerity to become a biographer.

Rapha was suffering from a serious heart complaint at the time, so the matter went into abeyance. When he had recovered sufficiently, we re-engaged last Christmas and he agreed to do an interview on the telephone. I recorded it for this website. It was a lengthy conversation and he went into considerable detail about the contested riff, his relationship with Rafferty and the rancour directed against him.

Unfortunately, as a mobile phone was his sole means of communication, the quality of the recording was wholly unsatisfactory for website reproduction, so I determined that instead I would rewrite a new chapter of my ebook, alongside further disparate revelations.

Hereabouts, matters took an unexpected turn. Ravenscroft declared himself less than satisfied with events and asked if we could film the interview. A whole new ball game was in town and an expensive one at that. I agreed to fly down to meet him in his adopted home town of Exeter, but for some obscure reason he insisted on coming to Glasgow.

In retrospect, perhaps that decision was not so obscure. A date was settled and it was the wholly appropriate one of January 4 - the third anniversary of Rafferty’s death. I secured the services of a film crew to film at our flat, made the requisite airline bookings and secured him accommodation at a hotel which would meet his exacting standards: ie: the Central Hotel.

More disruption was on order, however. Rapha fancied having what he termed a “blow” on that Saturday evening (at least that‘s what I think he said). Feverishly, I began to explore the possibility of securing him a jam session that would satisfy his requirements. By now, I was experiencing the travails of a much put-upon roadie. For reasons too complicated to reproduce here, this was almost impossible.

Eventually, the Central Hotel generously agreed to stage a musical interlude in their Champagne Bar. I reported the news to Ravenscroft on another bad mobile phone line, but imagined that he was unimpressed. “I’m more into jazz,” he said. “They’ll be wanting me to play the Girl From Ipanema - and that’s not on.”

This somewhat distorted my best-laid plans: previously, I had contacted a television company and a big newspaper group about the arrival of a famous musician on their Glaswegian patch. I didn’t reveal his name, nor the relevant story behind it, but they were sufficiently intrigued and awaited confirmation of his arrival.

The trouble is that he didn’t arrive that day. I was woken at 7a.m., Ravenscroft informing me that his connecting flight from Manchester had been cancelled. Cue the abortion of Glasgow plans. But consolation was at hand: our musical man revealed he still favoured an in-depth interview.

In fact, he insisted on it. He texted me that his work diary was filling up rapidly, but that he had Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday free. We alighted on the next Saturday. I made all the necessary arrangements again and found everyone in an accommodating mood.

This time he would be flying into Edinburgh, so there I was ten minutes ahead of the appointed landing time of 9.40a.m. The flight arrived early and I espied a smiling Nicola Benedetti, complete with violin case. This was a good omen, I decided.

But omen are not always accurate. As the arrivals dwindled, there was no sign of the bold Rapha and suddenly my mobile began chirruping. A text message from Exeter read: “Bryan: following yesterday’s hospital procedure, I have now just been advised by the airport on call medic that in their view, I was presently unable to fly.”

Now, you cannot blame a man for being unfit to fly. But hadn’t he told me Friday was free? And why hadn’t he had the intelligence to inform the hospital of his travel intentions? And, crucially, why was he delivering a sackful of bad news 
almost four hours after he had been scheduled to take off?

Two people disappeared into meltdown that day. I phoned my wife. She’d experienced the idiosyncratic behaviour of sportsmen for the last four decades, but now was confronted by the caprices of a musician. She was muttering vengeance on prima donnas everywhere.

Me? I immediately texted Ravenscroft with breaking news of my despond and told him he had cost me the best part of 800 quid. When I arrived back in Glasgow, my wife admitted that she had texted my would-be interviewee and perhaps had even been more vituperative than myself. I shuddered and concentrated on cancelling the photo shoot for a second time and also the hotel booking.

Just as I had completed those embarrassing tasks, another text arrived. “Dear Mr and Mrs Cooney, I’m presently aboard the 7.30 from Exeter to Glasgow, arriving at 17.07. I’m currently into my journey: my phone has just recharged.”
Another humiliating request: I was obliged to ask the film company if they could reschedule for Sunday morning. Happily, they could. But this was turning into a marathon of first elation and then disappointment. And still a happy ending eluded us.

Throughout the day, texts came through from Rapha. One said he was carrying both tenor and alto saxophones as requested (cripes! By this time I‘d forgotten all about an evening gig). Two more came from Trainline carrying exact details of his nine-hour-plus journey; another saying that he was nearing Edinburgh.

I drove to Queen Street station with all the assertion of an undecided Referendum voter. If there was apprehension in me, it expanded when I received another message from you know who asking me to explain the text which excoriated him for his behaviour. Rapha declared that he wasn’t accustomed to being spoken to like this.

Suddenly, the cutting edge of confrontation had been added to our meeting, but there was no point in a response, surely? It was after five and Ravenscroft was on his way. Or was he? The appointed train arrived. A diaspora of Saturday night folk alighted: theatre enthusiasts, football fans, shoppers, a few drunks and comic singers. But no Rapha.

I waited for the next four trains which came in at fifteen-minute intervals. Not a glimpse of a man with the trademark curls. Not a sighting of a sax, neither alto nor tenor.

Had my wife’s admonishment proved so stern that he had turned back eight hours into his journey? Or, perhaps a more persuasive thought, had he never placed his artistic body on the train in the first place?

There was nothing left to do but return to a woman who wore that intensely infuriating look of distaff self-satisfaction. Again I was confronted by humiliation: I reached for the telephone to cancel all bookings.

It’s now almost two months since I talked to Raphael Ravenscroft and, although it’s fair to say there will be a significant revision of my ebook, it’s difficult to see where our paths will cross again.

Do I stomp my feet and gnash my teeth at the mere mention of his name? Hardly. Would I revert like some to calling him The Saxophonist? I very much doubt it. But I must admit that any thoughts of dealing with him again make me wince.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Day Fergus Sought Darkened Rooms and Temazepan - By Andy Ritchie

YOU would have to get up early of a morning to put one over Fergus McCann. Better still, best not to go to bed in the first place.

Money, of course, was a major importance in his life and he duly treated it with particular reverence. While Celtic fans celebrate the 20th anniversary of the McCann-style revolution, however, it may be worth remembering the one occasion Fergus’s fingers were scorched, if not quite cremated.

Back then, football, to me as chief scout, was a priority. And it was likewise to the manager, Tommy Burns. We were in a hurry to get out there and buy players. To shop in what you might call the “big stores.”

But Fergus’s priority was putting the club back on a sound financial footing, so if you worked in the recruitment department, that wasn’t so great. Tommy, meanwhile, was experiencing exasperation We had signed Pierre van Hooijdonk from NAS Breda for a million pounds. Then along came Andreas Thom, from Bayer Leverkusen.

I can’t go into too many details about that particular £2.2million transfer in 1995, but let’s say that once it was all done and Fergus saw how football worked, I think he had to be led into a darkened room and fed a couple of Temazepan.

There was money flying everywhere. Fergus said that the longest talk he had about the deal was with four people from the Bank of England, who represented the player. Thom had come out of East Germany and he needed to make money quickly; he was paying massive amounts of his salary into a pension plan.

But I think that financial arrangement put Fergus off all the rest of the deals that had to be done during his time at Celtic Park. I think he’d been dragged over a barrel as far as Thom was concerned. But, fair play to him, he learned oh, so quickly as Paulo Cadete and Paolo di Canio would learn.

I certainly liked him. He didn’t mess about. Ever. A spade was a shovel with that wee man. I don’t think you’d want to stand too long with him at a bar, engaged in jovial conversation, but he did what he said he would do. My memory tells me he put £8 million in and took £40million out. He built a stadium and stopped Rangers from winning ten in a row.

Sure, having to deal with Hooijdonk, Cadete and Di Canio obviously had him reaching for his pills. I mean, Hooijdonk came in quite a quiet boy who would hardly lift his head to speak to anybody. But, within a couple of years, prompted by the adulation he got at Celtic Park and no doubt by his agents, he was complaining that his wages weren’t good enough for the homeless.

Certainly, there was a bigger change in Pierre than there was in Fergus in that time. The latter understood what footballers are like. They give the impression of loyalty to the fans with their kissing of the badge, but in reality the big ones are managing directors of their own companies. Wee Fergus was one of the first to see through that nonsense. I think he could spot a fraud very, very quickly.

But I’ve got to say he did me a couple of favours. He came to see me in my wee office one day and said: “I’ve got a bit of a situation here. I’ve got two people coming to interview me, Chic Young from the BBC, and Davie Provan from Sky. I don’t want them putting their heads together, so when they arrive put the BBC in the boardroom and ask Sky to wait down the tunnel.”

My son was working in the reception at the time. I went down there and told him to see that the orders were carried out. Some time later, I met him and he told me that Provan had wanted to go into the boardroom and not down the tunnel. When he insisted that this was the arrangement, he claimed Provan told him to eff off.

We cut a long story short here, I was buzzing with anger and caught up with Provan. Angry words were exchanged. He called my son a liar. That did it. I took my jacket off and ordered Provan to follow me outside where we would sort the matter out in time-honoured fashion. I had entirely lost the plot. “Hey, that’s my son there and he doesn’t deserve to be spoken to like that!”

No blows were actually thrown that day, but the next morning I was in my office when George Douglas, the head of security, knocked on the door. Fergus had sent him, wanting to know about the altercation I’d had with Provan. I told him what happened and said that the altercation had been because of him. “That’s not what he told Fergus,” said George.

He said he would need to report to Mr McCann again. Just as he was going out the door, he said: “Wouldn’t you think that a wee apology would suffice?” I shot back at him. “Listen, George, if Davie Provan wants to apologise, that’s fine by me!” George told me he’d be back down. I never heard another word.

Many years after, I met George and he gave me the real SP. Fergus, apparently had said there wasn’t much he could do about it and that at least I had offered Provan a one on one compromise. My guess is that he didn’t fancy the running to schoolteacher bit.

But that wasn’t the last favour Fergus did me. There used to be a corridor from outside his office that bypassed the front door reception area. No one was allowed to use it apart from himself. One day, running late for a Monday morning meeting, I nipped up that way. Who should I meet but Fergus?

He looked at me in that certain way that promised I was going to get a row. Instead, he asked me if I’d bought shares in the issue. I said I had and still had them. “Hey,” he says, “those shares are worth about five times what you paid for them, It’s probably a good time to sell. A very good time.”

So I sold them. He didn’t half do me a favour. See about a day after that they were worth three bangers and a balloon. No, any time I had dealings with him, he was very fair. I have good memories of Fergus McCann. Hey, he wasn’t universally liked. People knew he had a lot of money and they wanted him to puts lots in, but that was never the template of the plan.

And what about his parting shot? When he left, someone asked him what he would miss about Glasgow and Scotland. He looked the guy straight in the guy and said: “I’m gonna miss all the free advice!” Just brilliant!