BY ANDY RITCHIE
Saturday, 31 May 2014
BY ANDY RITCHIE
Thursday, 29 May 2014
BY JIM BLACK
SCOTTISH sports journalism has lost one of its few remaining characters following Ian Broadley’s sudden death at his home in Aberdeen. He was 72.
Ian, from Dumbarton, was a newspaper man of 50 years standing and, during his time as the Herald’s golf writer, reported on all four major championships as well as the leading European Tour events and local championships.
Know as “Bonesy” or “Broads” to his closest colleagues, Ian was a larger than life character famous for his fiery temperament which brought him into conflict with football players, managers, golfers and colleagues in equal measure. Mercifully, his bark was often worse than his bite and underneath his at times gruff exterior beat a generous heart.
Sunday, 25 May 2014
NO GREY AREAS has made an exciting new signing...17-year-old freelance sports journalist Ben Palmer.
Ben’s Blog will be a regular feature and is the young voice of the website.
So, who is Ben Palmer?
LA LIGA and the Barclay's Premier League. Arguably the two top leagues in world football quality wise; certainly from an economic dynamic.
Questions have been raised on the ethics in either of these leagues recently. Man City look set to be fined 60 Million Euros for breaching the Financial Fair Play regulations, whereas Spain's crippling problems with racism continue to increase.
Beneath the blurred surroundings in which these leagues are played though, is still the fundamental trait mandatory for the top football leagues in the world: excitement.
Atlético Madrid won their first league title since 1996 – on the last day of the season in a winner takes all affair with Barcelona – and Manchester City won the English edition in similar circumstances, defeating West Ham. Not quite in the Hollywood style climax La Liga enjoyed, but a fitting finale nonetheless.
Essentially, these two leagues continue to flourish, continue to captivate and ooze excitement year after year. The spectators of each are lavished with sheer quality continuously.
In Scotland, however, we are being told that we have just experienced the most exciting season in years. That seemingly positive comment is merely a sad indictment of our nation’s number one sport.
The game, according to some, is blossoming, all because neither Celtic nor Rangers partook in a cup final.
Sure, it's great that we've been treated to St Johnstone winning the Scottish Cup and Aberdeen the League Cup - two formidable tasks - but the assessment that this is portraying this past season of Scottish football as being exciting is laughable.
The début Scottish Premiership season was a sham. Celtic being engraved as champions could have been done last summer, and Hearts were always condemned to relegation having to toil through a season with a bunch of teenagers and a 15 point deduction.
The main trophy in Scottish football never even had realistic potential to conceive excitement. The two most important positions in the league table had been determined before the leaves had started to drift off the trees; the period in the season where a team’s potential should become recognised.
Whilst Dundee United displayed sprinklings of their now recognised youthful zest, it didn't really matter at all in the context of the league – they would never win it.
Admittedly there was tension, excitement for a pessimist, at the bottom end of the league. Hibs downfall and tussle with Partick Thistle and Kilmarnock for the relegation play-off place grabbed attention.
But does that mean a season of Scottish football has been exciting because one of the biggest clubs in the country has sunk in a manner of Titanic proportions? Absolutely not.
Teams tussling for the league title is exciting; teams having a hope of escaping relegation is exciting; our clubs battling it out in Europe is exciting - Hibs having a bunch of incompetent footballers does not constitute exciting.
With this, I am not saying Scottish football is in an inescapable cul-de-sac. It is the proclaiming of this past season as the most exciting in years that I must refute.
Scottish football has perhaps enjoyed a better year; Aberdeen fans being thrown back to the 80's was a fun period, and Motherwell's steadiness is reassuring, but we must let the game reach its peak before we jump on our stallion and shout from the roof tops.
Will we remember the dogged battle Hibs have fought in 10 years time? Probably not. Will we remember La Liga's most thrilling conclusion in a decade? Absolutely.
Let's just settle ourselves down and leave the superlatives to the games that deserve it. With the progression we are currently making, it may not be long before we merit it ourselves.
Monday, 19 May 2014
By Andy Ritchie
THE gurus/gorillas at No Grey Areas have asked me to comment on the madness of the traditional managerial shuffle in both England and Scotland.
Well, this particular shuffle threatens to turn into a stampede. It began some weeks ago with the ousting of Malky Mackay at Cardiff and Davie Moyes at Manchester United, and has since gathered momentum.
And just think, we’re only just going into the close season, the traditional time for reassessing positions.
We’ll return to Malky (and his unreserved apology to Cardiff owner Vincent Tan) in a minute. I’m gonna start with one directly out of left field: my forecast is that Guy Poyet will leave Sunderland and go to West Ham.
For that to happen, of course, Sam Allardyce, would have to leave Upton Park. He’s the man, remember, whose name is inevitably on the lips of every chairman who sees his club disappearing down the nearest plughole.
But, since he’s managed to haul West Ham away from that plughole, I suppose he’s sort of expendable. So, enter the impressive Uruguayan, the wizard of Wearside. Well, that’s my reading of the situation - I trust myopia is not overtaking me!
I think that Poyet may have made the decision eight to ten weeks ago, even when he thought that Sunderland had no chance of wiping its feet on the welcome mat of the Premier Division next season. Alongside that, he maybe discovered that this wasn’t the club that he thought it was.
Let’s be circumspect and say he would have suspected that West Ham were looking to make changes, and it went on from there. Anyway, it wouldn’t be the world’s greatest surprise to see him installed in East London next season.
I’ll return to the Stadium of Light soon. First, let’s take a trip down White Hart Lane. It seems Mauricio Pochettino will shake the hand of Tottenham’s executioner-in-chief, Daniel Levy, any day soon - provided he starts speaking in English, of course.
Hey, my information is that the Argentinian’s English is very good. Why he refuses to do it on television is anyone’s guess. Even people who are close to his situation at Southampton don’t understand it.
Maybe it’s to keep a shield between himself and the public; maybe it’s to avoid being, er, misquoted. The laugh is that he’s responding to an English question in his own language before the interpreter has finished translating.
Anyway, should Pochettino take the Levy shilling and start speaking the Queen’s, there will be a vacancy at Southampton, a club due to lose players like Luke Shaw and Adam Lallana. The rumour is that Harry Redknapp might fancy a return to the south coast.
It didn’t go too well for old ’Arry last time, when I believe he entered conflict with a certain Sir Clive Woodward. The rugby guru, evidently, had a hotline to the chairman’s ear at the time and that was never going to be the ideal situation.
Why would Harry want to leave QPR? Might I suggest that the aroma of a ten-pound note might have something to do with it? Hey, if Harry was getting more money to return to Bournemouth, he’d be right up there with the ice cream sellers on the prom.
The Championship play-offs will determine all, I’d imagine. If Rangers don’t make it, hauling your arse up and down the road to faraway places with strange names like Huddersfield doesn’t quite hold the same allure.
Still, I don’t think it’s tablets of stone stuff yet. Southampton may very well have gone beyond the stage of Harry Redknapp. They would maybe like to bring in someone of the same ilk as Pochettino.
Many jobs could be up for grabs, It seems to be the way of the Premier world. A run of good results makes a man the flavour of Belgian chocolate, a run of bad ones puts him under pressure and there’s no safety net.
Davie Moyes (alias Billy McMoyes) knows that better than anyone. I suspect that, having sampled the white sands of Mauritius, or wherever, he’ll be ready to return and he’ll get a job again, no danger.
He won’t penetrate the top six again at the moment, so it’ll be Newcastle or Aston Villa. It’s suffice to say that I don’t think Paul Lambert will start next season as manager of Villa. The new people won’t want a regime that was less than successful.
The majority of these changes are the product of poor results, but the fall-out between Malky Mackay and Vincent Tan ran a lot deeper. Cardiff were in a position of safety when Mackay left them. So now a settlement (did he get any money?) has been made and a fulsome apology thrown into the mix.
As far as we know, there was nothing for which to apologise, so why would you do so? I don’t suppose we’ll ever really know the real story: it’s just one of the many unexplained tales that surround this game. Anyway, Mackay is now clear to take another job, and I expect him to go to West Brom very shortly.
Meanwhile, up here in Scotland but not, maybe, for very much longer lingers the Neil Lennon situation. There will be positions open to him down south - Norwich in the Championship and Sunderland in the Premier Division.
Take your pick. My message to sports journalists is see that you don’t run out of ink. There’s a lot more to come.
There are questions marks over the futures of Terry Butcher, John Hughes and also Jackie McNamara. Blackpool has gone, but will the lure of the Championship prove too strong for him?
Finally, I come to my old club, Morton. Who will be the next manager? I’m stumped with this one at the moment: give me 64,000 dollars and I still couldn’t tell you. All I’ll say is this: after Allan Moore and Kenny Shields, who will be the next one that the chairman plucks out of notoriety and plunges into obscurity?
Friday, 16 May 2014
By Bryan Cooney
THIS somewhat deranged world of Scottish football is occasionally predisposed towards wild exaggeration.
The Highland News, for instance, recently reported that Inverness CT manager John Hughes had drawn comparisons between his prolific striker, Billy McKay, and the little guy employed to do similar business for FC Barcelona: Lionel Messi.
No, this is not a misprint. You imagine McKay pulling the duck-feather duvet over his head when he read that one. Can you imagine the stick he received when he next popped that head around the dressing room door at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium?
Anyway, a similar form of hyperbole was employed in Aberdeen recently when Stewart Milne and some of his acquaintances from the business community toasted the club’s League Cup victory.
Now, aside from an impressive flourish of solidarity from over 40,000 fans, it had been a less than convincing conclusion at Hampden. The Dons just about crawled over the line, extra time and penalties being required to deny the muscular challenge of the aforementioned Inverness.
Yet the jubilation within Milne, no doubt encouraged by the massive turn-out in the city for the homecoming, was unconfined. I understand he astounded his chums by announcing that, in Derek McInnes, he’d found a manager who belonged to the same league as Alex Ferguson.
That statement put the chairman so far over the top that he effectively joined the space race. Had he totally lost his senses? Or, might he have been positively pixilated at the time of speaking?
Whatever, some form of empathy certainly can be distributed towards the man from Alford: he has experienced several torrid years, forfeited a sizeable chunk of his £400 million fortune and, it was whispered, come close to business oblivion.
His record as a football leader, meanwhile, has been so impoverished that it was comparable with the UK’s annual performance in the Eurovision Song contest. Eight managers in 19 years: that’s infiltrating the pedigree of real estate owned by the likes of Daniel Levy and Rod Petrie.
Still, with economic growth encouraging legitimate expectations and the building empire and bank balance rapidly replenishing themselves, Milne at last had discovered a man who certainly knew his way around the sporting block.
But does the fact that McInnes has won a League Cup and finished third in the Premiership, comprehensively outflanked by Celtic and marginally by Motherwell, mean they’ll be singing loud hosannas in the Granite City from here on in? It’s a possibility but some way from a probability.
Does it mean it’s acceptable to mention McInnes and Ferguson in the same sentence? No, it’s not. Listen, it’s impossible to imagine anyone taking such a claim seriously. Least of all the pragmatic McInnes.
However, there is a suggestion that the dual winner of the Manager of the Year awards is already fashioning himself in the image of the great man.
He appears to have adopted the unfortunate trait of phoning up those journalists who are not tuned into his personal wavelength. Anyone daring to query his tactics or his choice of playing personnel are liable to be in receipt of an assault of the auditory system.
Last week, it’s claimed that the phone lines between Glasgow and the South were particular busy. Radio pundit Allan Preston seemingly voiced his reservations about McInnes winning the manager awards and was rewarded with a few minutes of vituperation. From what I hear, Preston, alias The Biscuit, insisted on biting back.
Look, this is not a campaign on behalf of the media - its representatives are robust enough to look after themselves. But just remember, despite what many fans think, most of those reporters do their jobs as objectively and honestly as possible. Most of them are inveterate fans themselves.
But how robotic would we be if there was agreement on every citizen’s lips? This country still preserves its reputation as a democratised society: it is not Putin’s Russia, And, because of that, everyone is entitled to their beliefs, even it if conflicts with others.
Perish the thought that anyone should be stripped of his or her opinion by any football manager, no matter his status.
Many fans are unlikely to agree with these observations because of an inherent dislike of the media, But the habit into which McInnes is falling is ill advised, Taking issue in this manner tells you a lot about a man. It represents hubris and arrogance. But it can also suggest insecurity and paranoia.
None of these things look good on the figurative C.V. of an ambitious young thruster. And I suspect this young man is bristling with ambition.
Now, I introduced myself very briefly to McInnes at Sunday’s football writers’ dinner. I was immediately impressed. He’s a clean-cut, articulate figure who has taken on the good work initiated by Craig Brown and Archie Knox and directed the team onto the next platform.
Most fans have bought wholeheartedly into his style, after their initial suspicions. The popular mantra has now become: In McInnes We Trust. There remain a few worrying issues, however.
Being a Dons fan for 60 years and more, I told him that I was a great admirer of his team. I could have said a lot more had the situation been more appropriate. Asked him a few questions.
For instance, who recommended that Calvin Zola should ever wear an Aberdeen jersey, and how much research went into that signing?
Why was Gregg Wylde discarded with such haste and so little explanation?
Why is the lone striker system persevered with at home, when invariably there are two rows of double-decker buses parked just in front of the opposition’s penalty area? Why does he seem reluctant to alter tactics when a stalemate ensues?
Don’t misinterpret matters. I’m not anti-McInnes. Far from it. Overall, he’s performed so much better than most of his predecessors. A welter of fine work has been achieved and a smile is returning to the faces of the people of Aberdeen. But these faces are mercurial by nature.
Last Sunday, the Dons threatened to sweep Motherwell into the North Sea. By doing that, they’d have finished second in the Premiership. Ultimately, they were denied by a refereeing blunder of the first order, so they were left in third spot.
This was the last game of the season and it’s traditionally a festive occasion where players celebrate with the fans. But, five minutes after the final whistle, there were almost no Aberdeen fans with whom to celebrate.
McInnes should take that on board. The wind is firmly in his favour at this moment. He should harness it effectively rather than trying to fight it.
Tuesday, 13 May 2014
BY JIM BLACK
FOOTBALL has become an increasingly dirty game - and I am not talking about the physical nature of the sport.
Back-stabbing and blatant wheeling and dealing by individuals out to make a quick buck at the expense of those who support the once great game has turned football into a shadowy, grainy image of its former self.
But even by the current standards of duplicity and dirty tricks, recent distasteful events have cast another dark shadow over Scottish football.
My initial instinct was to say hell mend Hearts for the club’s treatment of its former manager, Gary Locke, his backroom staff, and several players.
Likewise, St Mirren, for their treatment of Danny Lennon, and Hibs chairman Rod Petrie, for immediately distancing himself from the latest Easter Road crisis.
Rangers Football Club, meanwhile, continues to be run in a manner that beggars belief and suggests that the inmates have indeed taken over the running of the asylum!
One is tempted to hope that good fortune deserts those responsible for discarding Locke and Lennon, Petrie, for his cowardly refusal to stand up and be counted, and Rangers’ chief executive Graham Wallace and an incompetent bunch of directors - some of whom are patently unfit to hold the role – for their continued bungling.
But to do so would be disrespectful and unfeeling towards the thousands of loyal fans who follow the fortunes of the aforementioned clubs at considerable expense.
After the Hearts fans had shown a loyalty above and beyond the call of duty to keep the club alive, they were rewarded with renewed hope of a much brighter future under Ann Budge, the new owner with a successful business background.
Their optimism was sadly misplaced. Budge has shown herself to be a “Hearts-breaker” rather than a visionary.
The Budge revolution has begun with the axing of loyal staff, most notably Locke, a Jambo through and through, and man who did a quite remarkable job in largely impossible circumstances.
Hearts were never going to survive in the Premiership on the back of a 15 point deduction and a signing ban. That they managed to stave off relegation for as long as they did was largely down to Locke and his assistant Billy Brown.
They also departed Tynecastle having left behind a rich legacy of young players who, I believed, would have made Hearts a good bet to be promotion contenders next season.
Robbie Neilson has replaced Locke as first team coach. Craig Levein has been appointed to the role of director of football.
Remember Levein? He is a former Hearts footballer who achieved some success as a player, but precious little as a manager, including a disastrous and largely hugely embarrassing spell as Scotland coach.
Budge attempted to explain her betrayal of Locke and the others in a waffling statement that added insult to injury.
Bottom line is the 66-year-old so-called Queen of Hearts has behaved in a manner little better than that of a cut-throat.
She is guilty of a huge misjudgement. She emerged from her first day in charge without a shred of credit and already thousands of Hearts fans are questioning the future under the new Iron Lady.
Will she eventually hand over control, as promised? Don’t bet on it. She appears to already have been caught out in a lie when she claimed she had not spoken with Levein prior to her takeover.
But Budge will do well to remember that the majority of Hearts fans regard Locke as one of their own and will be quick to round on her if the expected renaissance fails to happen.
Personally, I would not be at all surprised if Hearts is plunged into a new crisis a year from now although I hope, for the fans’ sake, I am wrong.
Officially, St Mirren did not sack Danny Lennon they simply did not renew his contract. It was Lennon’s reward for winning the League Cup and keeping the club in the Premiership.
What more can a provincial club with limited resources expect? I know the chairman Stewart Gilmour reasonably well. Indeed, I have socialised with him and find him pleasant company. But Stewart is in danger of taking up residence in La-La Land if he imagines that his beloved Saints can do very much better under the stewardship of a different manager.
Petrie, meanwhile, is Scottish football’s Teflon Don. Having launched a verbal assault on his manager, Terry Butcher and the Hibs players for the abject failure to avoid the SPFL play-off, he conveniently forgets that he is the man who appoints and then sacks managers at a rate that is almost as dizzying as a roundabout.
So, Hibs current plight has nothing do with Petrie, then?
And, finally, Rangers – that once great club situated on Glasgow’s south-side.
There was a glorious opportunity to begin again post-David Murray and rebuild a strong foundation. Instead, those who have followed have dangerously weakened the existing one.
The general consensus is that it will take Rangers a decade to reassert themselves as a power in Scottish football, capable of challenging Celtic.
From where I’m sitting, under the present regime, that is an extremely optimistic time-scale!
Friday, 9 May 2014
BY JIM BLACK
WHEN it comes to sheer hypocrisy and the practice of double standards, America leads the world.
It took Lockett 43 minutes to die inhumanely at the hands of the state when it botched his execution.
BY ANDY RITCHIE
THE buzz is that Craig Levein is set to return to Tynecastle as manager under the new regime.
If so, it will be an act of sheer madness. Hearts are on a roll under Gary Locke and the signs are extremely encouraging.
Locke is a Jambo through and through. I’m sure if you cut him he would bleed maroon.
He knows the club inside, out and he’s respected. The fans want him to stay and, more importantly, so do the players.
Several of them have come out publicly to pledge their support and that tells you the manager has the respect of the dressing room.
Consider the facts. Hearts were behind the eight ball right from the very start. Financial turmoil, the threat of liquidation, a 15 point deduction for going into administration, and a signing ban before a ball had even been kicked.
What hope did they have of avoiding the drop? Not a snowball’s chance in hell. It was always just a question of when their fate would be sealed.
That must have been extremely demoralising for all concerned. The psychological damage of knowing they had to win six matches just to put points on the board must have been huge.
It was as if once the death sentence had been pronounced all that remained was for the date of execution to be set.
But Hearts earned several reprieves before being forced to bow to the inevitable and that says much about the spirit in the camp.
It would have been easy for the players to have thrown in the towel and given it up as a bad job. Instead, they rolled their sleeves up and tried to achieve the virtually impossible and Locke must have been the inspirational force.
Just imagine if Hearts had begun their current remarkable revival six games sooner. We might have been talking about the Great Escape.
As it is, Hearts are heading for the Championship with all guns blazing and Rangers will do well to avoid a bullet or two next season.
I am not saying Hearts will sweep straight back into the top flight, but they’ll certainly be a handful.
Circumstances forced Locke to give the youngsters their head and they are a year older and wiser and less prone to naivety and basic errors.
Young players are also resilient and the recent winning run will have boosted their confidence no end.
There’s no shortage of talent either as far as I can see. Locke clearly has an eye for spotting potential and he’s exploited that talent.
So, what would be the point in changing the manager before Locke has even had a chance to test himself on a more even playing field?
He deserves another season at least for the splendid job he has done during one of the most difficult and testing periods in Hearts’ history.
So, my message to Ann Budge is this: Stick with what you have rather than risk fresh instability.
Talk of instability, what the hell’s going on at my old club Morton?
One truly did fly over the cuckoo’s nest when Kenny Shiels oversaw a humiliating 10-2 defeat at Hamilton.
Kenny fancies himself as a psychologist. After that result the entire management team and players should have been forced to consult a shrink.
At least Shiels did the honourable thing and fell on his sword - or at least we are told he resigned. But it was clearly one of those ones - jump before you’re pushed!
The signing of Garry O’Connor alone was grounds enough for being given the sack. Those amongst the older generation of Morton fans who questioned my fitness and training methods must be misty eyed at the memory of the goals I scored when they look at O’Connor.
But while Shiels was culpable, players and officials must also shoulder part of the blame for the club’s dramatic decline – even the chairman.
Douglas Rae has done a lot for the club and deserves due credit from the people of Greenock. Without his financial support, Morton might well have ceased to exist.
But he appointed Shiels in the first place and bought into Kenny’s mumbo jumbo so can’t escape criticism.
But I’ve heard on the grapevine that Morton is going to remain full-time next season and that’s heartening if it is the case.
However, I fear for the long term future of the club, for they aren’t going to find it easy to claw their way out of League One.
Attendances have plummeted in the wake of this season’s results and it’s going to be extremely difficult regaining the confidence and support of the locals.