The SPFL – Fan Fuelled Evolution

by Johnny Connelly

(As hosted on

It’s been a long, long time coming, but we’ve successfully reformed the structure of our professional football league format in this country. It’s all kicking off this week, and not a minute too soon.

That arduous, seemingly never-ending string of weeks where we find ourselves with a gaping football hole to fill is almost at an end. We kid ourselves that pre-season friendlies, and even old Youtube clips of bygone years will anesthetise us throughout the summer, but the truth is, nothing but the real McCoy will do. In Scotland, the fans need football; but more importantly, the football needs fans.

This interdependency has never been more apparent than it is now. The dark cloud of doom that lurked over Rangers throughout the Craig Whyte/Charles Green/liquidation saga served as a stark warning that all clubs can fall victim to the perils of the business aspects of the modern game. Yet, at the other end of that turmoil, we saw glimpses of the finest element of our game, the unwavering and unquestioning support of the fans.

Clubs in our country have been plagued by problems of their own, but we’re fighting through it together as football fans. The news this week that Dunfermline’s long standing threat of liquidation could be at an end is huge shot in the arm for our wavering game. The fact that the CVA came from ‘Pars United’, an ordinary group of Dunfermline supporters, further enhances the remarkability of this particular happy ending.


The New Way – Neil Doncaster showcases the new SPFL logo at Hampden

As we prepare to embark upon the new dawn that is the SPFL, it becomes apparent that fan power is more important than ever. Last season was resplendent with hints that the fans will have the final say when it comes to football in this country.

Last season we saw something of a siege mentality at Ibrox, as Rangers fans flocked to support the team in their darkest hour. Attendance records were challenged, and dare I say it, the much maligned Glasgow club seem to be through the worst of their troubles, all thanks to the fans.

Similarly, Dunfermline looked doomed just weeks ago, probably more so than Rangers, but the collective presence of likeminded fans have all but saved their club, albeit through the means of a CVA and by virtue of an empathetic set of creditors.

The SPFL’s big focus now should be channelling energy into finding a solution for Hearts. They too will sink or swim based on the actions of their fans. The effort and commitment so far from the Hearts fans has been overwhelming, and if they could somehow meet the desired monetary amounts to satisfy the creditors, we’d be witnessing a miraculous escape for one of our country’s most revered clubs.

Clubs defying the odds to survive thanks to fan power are perhaps somewhat sensationalised examples of what the common punter can achieve in the world of football. We can however, step back and see that the fans have the power to make the new SPFL a success, despite the apparent downgrading of our domestic game since the days of Larsson, Laudrup, De Boer, and Sutton.

As fans, we’ve faced debacles like the Setanta deal and uncertainties galore, yet here we are, on the brink of another glorious season. Excitement is cascading across the country in anticipation of the big kick off. Yes, there’ll be more problems, and yes, it’s far from the polished product that our neighbours across the border take in every weekend, but it can still be glorious in its own inimitable way.

Small steps are being taken in the right direction all the time. It’s looking positive for the start of the season, as there’s no clearer indication of support than a rise in season ticket sales. 7 of the 12 SPFL Premiership clubs have reported increases in season ticket sales so far, and another 3 SPFL Premiership clubs say their sales are on a par with last season.

Even without the presence of Rangers in our top division, the clubs do have something to attract their fans this season. Celtic, Motherwell and St Johnstone have a taste of European football. They’ll be looking to maximise their involvement this term, and ensure they get to participate again next time around.

Ross County and Inverness Caledonian Thistle will strive to continue their meteoric rise, challenging for 2nd place in the Premiership this season perhaps? Hearts, Hibs, Dundee United and Aberdeen will seek to right the wrongs of last season and finish in a position that befits their club stature; while St Mirren, Kilmarnock, and the new boys Partick Thistle will be well aware they’ve been touted to go down, so they’ll have fire in their bellies, and a will to escape the drop.

The road back to the big time for Scottish football is a long one, we may never get back to where we were, but football in this country is a labour of love. We’ll forever indulge in nostalgia, we’ll forever exaggerate the glory days, and we’ll forever dream of a product better than the one we current showcase.

Our excitement for football is insatiable, there’s nothing quite like those start of the season butterflies. This time around, we’ll take the bad news with a pinch of salt and remember that football is for enjoying.

It may not be perfect, but it’s our league, and we love it.


SPL/SFL Merger: Progress at last or a gamble we can’t afford?

By Johnny Connelly

At long, long last, a majority of SPL and SFL clubs have come to an agreement on the future structure of our domestic leagues. In a wrangle that felt equally as long-winded as the Rangers v HMRC tax debacle, a breakthrough was reached as 23 clubs voted in favour of new plans that’ll see the creation of a single governing body (the SPFL).

Audible sighs of relief (as opposed to the expected hubbub of optimism) rippled through the Scottish football community when this deal was reached. The big black cloud that loomed over our game’s future has been cleared from our skies at least temporarily, as we can now look forward a new exciting format that boasts financial redistribution, as well as the reintroduction of playoffs.

As much as I’m pleased to see the end of this, I can’t help but think back to the massive overhaul in structure that the fans and the clubs cried out for. The new, 12-10-10-10 structure just doesn’t match up to these demands in my eyes. If we look initially at the SPL and SFL Division 1 clubs, as far as I can see (playoffs aside) all that’ll change is the distribution of wealth amongst them.


When two become one – The SPL and SFL will be replaced by the SPFL


I see this as something of a gamble, although I do understand the strategy. Make some of the top placed teams in the SPL suffer financially in the short term, so as to financially boost the bottom placed clubs in the SPL and the rest of the SFL initially, and create a more holistically-centric, financially viable league structure in Scotland in the long-run.

The logic is sound, but we must hold our hands up and admit that it is a gamble of sorts. This process would be the golden ticket to revamping our game domestically if all the current SPL clubs were financially bloated, but we all know this isn’t the case. From a moral and idealistic standpoint, throwing money at the 1st Division clubs is without a doubt the right thing to do. It shows that the powers that be are thinking about the game’s success in the long term; but to disregard the threat this scheme poses to the top SPL clubs is foolish.

Here is how the money is expected to be redistributed throughout the current SPL and SFL Division 1 clubs:

1: £2,405,514 (13.39%, -£314,487)
2: £1,717,454 (9.56%, -£682,546)
3: £1,460,555 (8.13%, -£59,446)
4: £1,288,629 (7.17%, -£71,371)
5: £1,202,757 (6.7%, -£77,243)
6: £1,116,884 (6.22%, -£83,116)
7: £1,056,701 (5.88%, -£63,299)
8: £1,005,142 (5.6%, -£34,858)
9: £987,895(5.5%,+£27,895)
10: £902,023 (5.02%, +£22,023)
11: £816,150 (4.54%, +£16,150)
12: £730,277 (4.07%, +£10,277)

First Division

1: £386,248 (2.15%, +£318,248)
2: £343,132 (1.91%, +£276,132)
3: £300,016 (1.67%, +£234,016)
4: £256,900 (1.43%, +£191,900)
5: £240,731 (1.34%, +£176,731)
6: £188,633 (1.05%, +£126,633)
7: £172,464 (0.96%, +£111,464)
8: £154,499 (0.86%, +£94,499)
9: £138,331 (0.77%, +£79,331)
10: £120,366 (0.67%, +£63,366)

This looks good in theory. If we take only the top two Divisions into account, we see that 8 clubs will suffer initially, while the remaining 14 benefit substantially. The 2nd and 3rd Divisions tell a similar story, with some smaller clubs standing to make an additional £46,000 a year, while any decrease of revenue for clubs can be as little as £80.

However, the likes of Motherwell punch above their weight, on a shoe string, with a threadbare squad. Every penny counts for them, yet if this structure was in place last season, despite them miraculously finishing 2nd Scotland’s elite division, the Lanarkshire club would be £682,546 worse off. This, although nothing compared to the money that the giants of European football are throwing around, is still significant when we put it in context that it would almost double the losses made by the club, bringing them up to a combined loss of over £1.2m for the season.

This year’s 3rd and 4th placed clubs would be dealt a similar hand, although not quite as severe. St Johnstone would have been almost £60,000 worse off for the year, and Inverness Caledonian Thistle too would be down by over £71,000. Again, these figures mean nothing without context, but when you see that St Johnstone have made six-figure sum losses in three of the last four seasons, that £60,000 becomes a sum of money that’s not to be scoffed at. Terry Butcher’s Inverness Caledonian Thistle too run on a shoe-string budget, but this projected loss of £71,000 represents around 18% of the club’s current overall debt.

On the other side of the coin, how can we be sure that the right clubs are benefitting if all we’re going on is their final league position over a season? Take Queen of the South for example. This season they cruised through the Scottish Second Division, thanks to a larger budget amongst other things. Under this new structure, the team in the 2nd Division that claimed the title thanks to greater financial muscle, would further be enhanced by a winnings pot of £102,401 (an increase of over £46,000 on the previous year).

I suppose we’ll never know how this’ll pan out until we stop speculating, and let it run for a few seasons. One thing that we all seem fully behind though is the revamp and reintroduction of playoffs across all of our divisions. Playoffs guarantee that the season has a focus and purpose, regardless of how far apart the clubs may be points-wise. A final showpiece and crescendo to the season is ensured, which should hopefully dispel the apathy that’s been creeping in over the past few seasons.

This season the SPL has been crying out for a playoff setup. Celtic won the league at a canter; and Dundee went down without a whimper. The whole league was a dead duck by Christmas. At least with playoffs, we’ll have something to get excited about right until the end of the season as teams will have something to play for right until the very last kick, and in all divisions too. The closest thing we had to excitement outside the SPL this season was the Ramsdens Cup final. What a great example of how to achieve excitement in football in a simple way. 10,000 people crammed in to Almondvale for the final, and thousands more watched live on BBC Alba. This proves beyond doubt that although we may not have the quality of the Premiership at our disposal, the route to success for our game in this country lies with generating excitement. Structuring the game correctly is the key to this, and we’ve shown from the likes of the Ramsdens Cup, that excitement trumps quality any day of the week.

My personal preference would have been for a bigger league, and the fans voted in their numbers for this. The fact is that we must bend over backwards to get bums on seats in football grounds all over Scotland. When you achieve that, the desired TV deals could well have followed, as we’d have injected the excitement back into the game that drew crowds, and would spur interest from further afield. Who’s to say this won’t happen in the future, but for now I’m happy that a cohesive approval from our top clubs will drive a united front for our domestic game to succeed. The formation of the SPFL could signal the start of a journey towards a prosperous league setup in Scotland, but if it’s to succeed, we must back it unwaveringly. It must be adjusted accordingly to generate as much revenue and excitement as possible, or we could find ourselves in the midst of another moribund spell of ‘reconstruction talks’ again before too long.

Is the penny finally dropping for Ally?

McCoist looks as though he’s learned lessons from last year’s flops

The long suffering Rangers fans of the modern era will no doubt continue to have their club dragged through the dirt in the coming season as more and more details of the Craig Whyte & Charles Green cavalcade of misdemeanors and skulduggery come to the fore. Sadly these club issues will wrangle on, but the last few weeks have had a silver lining of sorts on the actual football side of things, as Ally McCoist has made some impressive signings straight off the bat since the controversial transfer embargo has been partially lifted.

Rangers Manager Ally McCoist
Stern of face – McCoist has his work cut out for him

The past and continued involvement of Charles Green and Craig Whyte is a matter for the courts, and is well out of the fans and McCoist’s hands, but it would appear that there are signs of life as the manager has wasted no time in pressing on with strengthening his squad for life in Division 2, with one eye clearly on shaping a team that could compete in Division 1 and the SPL.

Gers fans haven’t had much to smile about over the last few years, broadly speaking, but the latest 4 players to join Rangers should bring a smile to even the grumpiest of supporters.  Although Rangers cruised to the Scottish 3rd Division title, even the most devoted of fans grew weary of the performances (or lack of) being put in by some of last season’s signings. A distinct shift in signing policy was required; and it looks as though it’s being delivered.

The likes of Fran Sandaza and Ian Black were never going to be wise choices to slot into a Rangers side facing a gruesome fight in the Scottish 3rd Division – for very different reasons of course. Sandaza, although a gifted goal scorer, has never been the most energetic player. His lethargic style of play led to him being a divisive character at Dundee United, and generally unpopular during his short spell at Brighton. There’s no doubt that he can stick them away when given a decent supply; but when be faced with a muddy park, playing against hard-nosed joiners and labourers who’d like nothing better than to put you on your backside, his effectiveness soon diminishes.

Ian Black too has struggled to win over the Ibrox faithful. He succeeds where Sandaza fails in terms of endeavour, but his blatant lack of ability and over-reliance on a style of play that borders on thuggery leaves him well short in terms of credentials to hold down a place in the Rangers midfield.  Of course there have been glimpses of promise from the likes of Dean Shiels and David Templeton, but the overall style and standard of signing has been lacking from a long-term perspective.

McCoist has wasted no time in securing the services of 3 top SPL players and a 40-goal striker from Queen of the South. Jon Daly, Nicky Law, and Cammy Bell have been joined by Nicky Clark as Rangers look to take the 2nd Division by storm.

Jon Daly is no spring chicken at 30 years of age, but with a goal tally of 58 from 167 appearances for Dundee United available on a free transfer, McCoist would be a fool to turn him down. Again in stark difference to Sandaza, Daly can throw his weight about and isn’t afraid to mix it up when it comes to tackling hard. His vast experience in England’s lower divisions while playing with Stockport, Bury, Grimsby, and Hartlepool will be drawn upon again as this same grit and determination will be required to guide Rangers up through the divisions here in Scotland.

Cammy Bell was something of a surprise when you consider Rangers already have a quality keeper in Neil Alexander. Ongoing contract debates with Alexander, and a propensity to concede goals due to lapses in concentration last season have clearly lead his manager to look for alternatives. In Scotland’s lowest division, Alexander managed just 12 clean sheets in matches where Rangers picked up all 3 points. Cammy Bell has his best years ahead of him at just 26 years of age, and could easily hold on to the no.1 jersey when Rangers eventually return to the SPL. His impressive performances over the last 7 years for Killie even led to peripheral inclusion in the Scotland setup. Bell will be around for a while at Rangers if he plays his cards right, but will come under the same scrutiny as Alexander if he fails to hit the ground running.

The acquirement of Nicky Law’s signature caught everyone off guard. Law was at the heart of the Motherwell midfield this season as they punched above their weight to finish 2nd in the SPL.  He’s attracted attention from the Championship, and reports even linked him with SPL Champions Celtic, so a move to the Scottish 2nd Division, albeit with Rangers, was a surprise to everyone. At just 25, he too could remain as a first team pick for McCoist when the club get back to the big-time. He’s shown himself to be strong in the tackle, but with a decent engine to go box to box, and with the ability to split defences with a clever pass. Law has cut his teeth in England’s lower divisions, having spent time with Sheffield United, Yeovil, Bradford, and Rotherham. He’ll be one to watch for Rangers this season and beyond, if his performances last season were anything to go by.

Away from the SPL, Queen of the South striker Nicky Clark also joined the ranks at Ibrox this week. McCoist shattered the delusion that Rangers would simply be cherry picking players from the SPL, as he opted for Clark who shone in the 2nd Division and Ramsdens Cup last year. He rattled in 40 goals last season, and knows only too well the pressures of playing for Rangers if he’s been listening to his father, Sandy Clark. It’s fair to say he’s not proved himself at the highest level, but finding the net 40 times in a season at just 21-years of age makes him a hot prospect for the future. It’ll be interesting to see if he can replicate or better his tally this season, given the increase in pressure brought on by playing for a bigger club.

Given the way the last 3 years have gone, we know that there’ll be more twists and turns to come in this seemingly never-ending saga of ownership, debt, EBTs, title deeds, liquidation, and every other sensationalised story that’s landed at the gates of Ibrox in recent times, but credit must be given to McCoist on this occasion for competently dealing with the task at hand – strengthening his squad. The road back to the big-time for Rangers will be a long and arduous one, and if success is to be achieved, then McCoist will need to deliver the right type of performance from the right type of signing. The real pressure starts now, and his latest signings will be expected to explode into action next season.

Lay off Allan Johnston

The Queen of the South Gaffer is a Worthy Winner

By Johnny Connelly

Isn’t it funny how every armchair supporter becomes an expert when it comes to the awards season in football? No sooner had Allan Johnston picked up his PFA Manager of the Year award, before a legion of disgruntled fans of SPL clubs registered their disgust at the outcome, some even branding it a farce.

Allan Johnston points on the touchline
Top Dog – Johnston scooped the top managerial award in Scotland

In what must have been a close run vote, Johnston trumped Neil Lennon, Stuart McCall, and Terry Butcher to claim the first managerial prize of his career.  All nominees made it to the shortlist purely on merit. Lennon guided Celtic to a fairly straightforward SPL title win, as well as some wonderful European nights, most notably against Barcelona. McCall continued to defy the odds with a miniscule budget and squad size to secure 2nd place in the SPL, while adhering to an attractive style of play along the way. Butcher similarly galvanized an under-resourced club to punch above their weight, and should be commended for pushing Motherwell all the way in the battle for 2nd spot.

Each nominee’s achievements should be commended, but none overwhelmingly eclipse those of Allan Johnston this season, on a pound for pound basis at least. Johnston’s Queen of the South team romped their way to the 2nd Division this season, scoring goals for fun, and insisting upon an expansive style.  Johnston’s men were the first team in the United Kingdom this season to win their league. If there was ever a leveller for all managers to be compared by up and down the country, surely this is it. Even with Celtic having no Rangers to contend with, Queen of the South had their title in the bag long before the Parkhead club, or any other title winners across the country.

The Scottish 2nd Division trophy was joined by another piece of silverware that everyone and their granny expected to reside in Ibrox by now, the Ramsdens Cup. Although not the most prestigious tournament in world football, the achievement of a 2nd Division club winning the Ramsdens Cup is certainly at least noteworthy. Knocking out tournament favourites Rangers early on was as much of an achievement as lifting the cup itself in that unforgettable final against Partick Thistle. Even the top sides in the country came across tangible difficulty when playing against Queen of the South this season. A single goal was all that separated the Doonhamers against Dundee United and Killie in the League Cup and Scottish Cup respectively. The 2nd Division outfit even managed to go one stage further against Hibs in the Scottish Cup, securing a 2-0, and another feather in Johnston’s cap.

Away from cup competition, their league form has been outstanding, both in terms of results and performances. They’ve lost just twice in the league, chasing a points total just short of 100! Along the way, the style of play has attracted plaudits from the media as well as Johnston’s peers. His expansive style as a player has been replicated in his first management role, as his focus would appear to be entertaining the fans, and simply outscoring the opposition. On their way to the title this year, the fans have been treated to a glut of goals, currently sitting with a goal difference of +69, and having scored 3 or more goals in a game on 17 occasions.

Some sections of supporters within the Scottish Football realm have turned their noses up at a 2nd Division manager and team being rewarded on the PFA front at all. I do wonder, if Rangers go on to win the 2nd Division and Ramsdens Cup next season in style, would people be so quick to discount the achievements of Ally McCoist and his players?

Another criticism leveled at those who voted for Johnston is that Queen of the South do have something of a wider resource pool than all other clubs in the division. While this is a clear advantage in some ways, it brings with it a huge pressure to win by a healthy margin. The Doonhamers boss has thrived under this pressure, and delivered on all fronts.  I find it strange that the resource inequality argument isn’t leveled at the likes of Neil Lennon’s Celtic side, Jupp Heynckes’ Bayern Munich side, Tito Villanova’s Barcelona side, or Carlo Ancelotti’s PSG side for example. Surely it’s such a common issue that you’d have to criticise everyone in question, or swallow your pride and admit it when a manager has done a good job?

Perhaps the ‘fresh air’ factor of Allan Johnston’s performance this season is what set him apart from the others on the shortlist? The Queen of the South journey has been something of a whirlwind at a time when our game was beginning to seem a little stagnant. As much as Lennon, McCall and Butcher’s achievements have been laudable, there was nothing ground breaking about any of them (domestically speaking at least).

Those who voted for Johnston for the PFA award clearly felt that the game in Scotland developed a much needed, exciting young manager. Shame on anyone who berates a man who’s trying to play the game the way it should be played. Long may he continue to inject this new life into our game, and with any luck we’ll see a few more developing managers of his ilk strengthening the quality and appeal of the game in Scotland.

We Fade to Gray

How the powers that be are strangling the life from Scottish Football

By guest blogger, ‘Kes Devaal’


Rugby fans enjoy a beer
What’s the problem? Ok at rugby; but not at football…

España 82’. What a wonderful time to be introduced to the beautiful game. I remember as a child being overcome with excitement as the colour and noise of this wonderful event had me glued to the screen. The pizzazz of Platini, Rossi, Zico & Socrates laid out in front of me for the first time, a real splendorous feast of football, whetting my footballing appetite for life.

Fast forward 24 years, and this time I had the pleasure of getting to savour the flavour for myself with a few mates at The 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany. Amidst all the excitement and drama of what unfolded that summer, what really left an indelible mark on me was the coming together of thousands of fans from countries all across the globe embracing the occasion in the correct spirit & obviously over a cold Schofferhofer or two.

The fact that this was able to happen in a safe, family-friendly arena without an intense Police presence exponentially added to the wonderful carnival experience. It’s with this sentiment that I ponder over the possibility of ‘The Impossible Dream’ making it to our country – i.e. getting to watch the game I love in a Scottish stadium packed with men, women & children, with an optional cold beer in hand.

Having listened to Les Gray, The former head of The Scottish Police Federation on Monday’s edition of ‘Scotland Tonight’ it’s clear that long arm of the law still harbours doubts that the Scottish Football fans’ social behaviour has evolved since The Hampden riot of 1980. Going by this absurd logic, we might as well deter people from visiting Germany for a city break since we were at war with them 74 years ago.

Gray of course is no stranger to explosive diatribe. In fact his spurious blurb following the Lennon v McCoist touchline handbags following the March 2011 Old Firm match was central to the kneejerk legislation passed by First Minister Alex Salmond. The ‘Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Bill’ was intended to address anti-social behaviour at football, but now only serves to choke the very spirit of our domestic game. Innocent football fans have, and continue to be treated with mistrust as a consequence of a lazy narrative shoehorned by The Scottish Government and police, fulfilling criteria that generates nothing more than additional paperwork to file.

Worryingly for thousands of ordinary punters like me who strive to see the Scottish game flourish on the park, Mr Gray thinks your average Scottish Football fan cannot be trusted with alcohol whereas our friends who follow the oval ball can. We aspire to experience a modern sporting day out at the football, comparable in value and pleasantness to that of a day at the races, golf, or rugby. The fact that those in authority see fit to prohibit any progress on this front is nothing short of a slur on the working class. I thought that kind of approach of contempt for the working class punter was supposed to have died in November 1990, when the late Margaret Thatcher was dislodged from No.10.

To compound matters, you can attend virtually any sport in Scotland and be permitted to consume alcohol. Should you have the luxury of disposable income then you can enjoy a beer at the football, but only in the Corporate/Hospitality areas. Again this promotes a dangerous class divide, a false notion that only affluent wealthy classes can be trusted with alcohol.

Sir David Murray embarked on an egotistical spending crusade at Rangers to outdo Celtic’s 9 in a row and achieve European Cup success. He did so by being economical with the rules of the game and spending money that wasn’t there. The cost of failure was the very existence of Rangers Football Club when they were liquidated in 2012. The cost to the Scottish game was that our member clubs had to gamble with finances to compete with Rangers, and we now find ourselves in a very precarious financial reality. With this in mind, the Scottish game now, more than any other time, needs to do two things to sustain a bright future. On the park we need to get back to the model that served us well: Operating within our means and investing in youth. To be fair to most SPL clubs, the penny has at last dropped and they are embracing this policy. The second component, which is equally critical, is that we need to look after the paying public and give them a match day experience that compels them to return. The introduction of controlled, responsible drinking I believe would go a long way to making the paying customer feel as if they are being catered for. As they do across all Premiership stadia, SPL clubs would control responsible drinking largely with stewards, which is a straightforward process, and one that causes little or no trouble south of the border.

Championing the cause, Peter Lawell will most likely need to call upon the services of a Johnnie Cochran style lawyer with supreme powers of persuasion to stand any chance of altering the opinions of the powers that be in this country. As the finances of the game in Scotland continue to dwindle, as does the time we have to right this wrong. The dream of having an all-encompassing football infrastructure that allows the likes of alcohol to be sold within the grounds is in no way an unrealistic target, but now is the time to act if we’re ever to make the change.



Get the Hawk outta Here

Why I Hope the SPL will never introduce Goal-Line Technology

By Johnny Connelly

Hawkeye camera
Coming to a match near you? The Premiership has given the nod to Hawkeye

So Hawkeye’s revolutionary goal-line technology is to be introduced to the self-proclaimed ‘best league in the world’ – Let’s hope it doesn’t creep over the border.

It feels as though the beautiful game is slipping further and further away from the romantic notion of the sport that traditionalists love and hold dear. This latest challenge to the integrity and flow of the game comes as an unwelcomed addition, in my opinion at least.

A day at the football is unparalleled when it comes to the fast-paced, high-energy, passionate encompassing of sportsmen and 10’s of thousands of fans exerting themselves for 90 minutes. It’s exhilarating. It’s enthralling. It’s football! And it’s exactly the way it should be.

Compare the magnificence that is football with the likes of cricket, tennis, or rugby. What sets our beloved game apart from lesser sports is the flow of the game. The introduction of goal-line technology will only hamper that. The days of referees having to make split second decisions to judge if the ball is over the line would be a thing of the past. Needless pauses in football are kept to a minimum by design for the good of the game. Yet now, we’d be actively encouraging such things!

When we’re fully integrated with the concept of goal-line technology, what comes next? Where else could we implement technology to ‘improve’ our game? How long before we question the purpose of referees at all? Would we write off the latest officiating innovation of goal-line assistants? And linesmen! Would we replace them with automated machines that run the line for us with a 0% chance of error? It’s a scary train of thought to meander down.

While we’re on the subject of officials; what would be left for our referees and linesmen to aspire to if big decisions like debatable goals were decided by technology? Football needs top referees. The development of officials is just as important as the development of players. What must they be thinking just now? To become the next Pierluigi Collina, youngsters must work incredibly hard. Their fitness must be on a par with that of a top player, and they must know every nook and cranny of the rule book. This won’t be the case if we start to lean on technology to enforce the rules and make the big calls. The refereeing aspect of football would be in serious danger of floundering before our very eyes.

Off the field it’d create problems too. Being a football fan is a 24/7 occupation. The fans live and breathe the game. A single match lasts but 90 minutes, so it’s a long wait between the full time whistle and the following Saturday’s kick off. To fill the void, the game needs talking points. Pundits, colleagues, and friends alike will endlessly debate things like whether the striker was offside, whether the player handled the ball, and of course, if the ball was indeed, over the line. The introduction of goal-line technology will make the “was it or wasn’t it in” talking point all but extinct. Further delving into technological advances in football will chip away at our other talking points, until we’re left with nothing but speculative conjecture to exchange on the way home from work, the pub, or the stadium.

As much as football is resplendent with examples of skill, camaraderie, and a sense of justice when the Goliaths of the game are somehow toppled by the plucky little Davids; we cannot discount or ignore some of football’s historical events that were in direct violation of the rulebook. As Scots, we’re painfully reminded all too often that England won the World Cup back in 1966, all thanks to a dubious Geoff Hurst goal.

Yet in the same breath, they’ve suffered heartbreak when Frank Lampard’s long range effort was disallowed against Germany in 2010, and who could forget that famous time when a little Argentinean relied on, as he alluded to, some divine intervention to topple England in 1986?

Can you imagine football without incidents like those? Surely over the course of time the decisions balance themselves out.

So what if goal-line technology would ‘right a few wrongs’ in terms of goals being awarded? Doesn’t the best team always win the league every year anyway?

Removing the potential for human error in the game is removing the simplistic beauty of the game itself.  If football was supposed to be perfect, there’d be no need for yellow & red cards, offsides, penalties, stoppage time, or any of the other subtle little nuances and imperfections that make our game what it is… absolutely brilliant!

The ‘Out of Contract’ SPL Select

Motherwell Striker, Michael Higdon

By Johnny Connelly


It’s no big secret that the game in Scotland has seen better days financially. The lavish spending that saw Scottish clubs trying to lure players from the Premiership and beyond is well and truly at an end. Now, more than ever, the ability to be shrewd in the transfer market is of paramount importance, as SPL clubs look to get as much bang for their buck as possible.

This summer, an astonishing 124 players will leave SPL clubs, admittedly some of these will be loans expiring, but the vast majority will form a huge pool of potentially promising free transfers is there to be trawled through. The difference between success and failure in the SPL can boil down to just a few clever signings, so you can be sure that all SPL managers will be casting a speculative eye on the list of players who’re out of contract this summer.

Unquestionably, there are some players among the 124 that could still be a major force in the SPL. Check out our top ‘Out of Contract’ SPL Select below:

Goalkeeper: Darren Randolph (Motherwell)

Between the sticks for our dream team, we have the man who’s smashed records for Motherwell, and been a major factor in their meteoric rise under Stuart McCall. Darren Randolph has been in fine form again this term, and only last season recorded a club record, 20 clean sheets.  He’s continued to pull off big saves in big games, especially away from home. He’s conceded the fewest away goals in the SPL this season (Celtic apart), and seems to be improving all the time. Neil Lennon is a known admirer of Randolph, and a move for the player was considered before Fraser Forster took the Parkhead jersey on a permanent basis. At just 25, his best years are most certainly ahead of him. Motherwell will be hard pushed to find a replacement of his ilk, but his release from Fir Park will be music to the ears of clubs in search of a top goalkeeper. Given the player’s current stature and form, a move south of the border, perhaps to the Championship, appears to be a more likely outcome. However, if another SPL club could somehow secure Randolph’s signature, he’d be an asset to them, and the league in general.

Defender: Alan Maybury (Hibs)

At 34, Maybury is no spring chicken; but what he lacks in youthful exuberance, he makes-up for in experience. The Irishman has plied his trade in the SPL, on and off, for the past 12 years. He made his biggest impact in his younger days on the other side of the Edinburgh divide at the mainstay of the Hearts defence. His no nonsense style and ability to play anywhere across a back-4 made him a hit at the Tynecastle club, and a good solid prospect for some of the lesser SPL clubs to this day (despite his advanced years). Having also spent time at Aberdeen and St Johnstone, before ending up at Hibs, Maybury knows better than most what the SPL is all about. His experience in England, as well as for Ireland at full international level would be a welcome addition to most SPL dressing rooms. He’s failed to reproduce his top form for Hibs this season, but his ‘steady-eddy’ approach could be appealing for clubs fighting the drop next season as his grit and determination is something all managers look to install in their defence.

Defender: Thomas Rogne (Celtic)

Norwegian international, Thomas Rogne, has divided opinion amongst the Parkhead faithful in his 2 and a half year spell at the club. On one hand, a promising, young, commanding centre-half with his best years infront of him; and on the other, an injury prone, frustrating enigma of a player. Rogne was picked up by Celtic during the ill-fated Tony Mowbray regime. Initially he impressed, so much so that he was dubbed as, “the best young talent to come out of Norway in the past 10 years”, by ex-Celt Vidar Riseth. Since Neil Lennon took the reins at Celtic, Rogne has fallen out of favour, and has been hampered by a string of long term injuries. He’s yet to have been given a significant run of games this season, and when he rejected a contract extension based on salary, his exit from Parkhead seemed to be sealed. At just 22, and with the raw talent he’s shown (albeit on a limited basis), he could prove to be a shrewd signing for clubs in the Scottish top flight or beyond. Assuming of course his relatively high wage demands could be met, and his injury hell, a thing of the past.

Defender: Andy Webster (Hearts)

Experienced defender Andy Webster will leave Hearts for the second time in his career this summer, albeit in slightly less controversial circumstances this time. The rough and tumble centre half has been a regular for the Hearts side of late, replicating the decent form he captured during his first spell at the club between 2001-06. He’s no world-beater, but a consistent performer that’s tough in the tackle, and plays to his strengths, without over-stepping his mandate on the field. Webster played only a handful of times at Wigan and Rangers before coming back to Hearts to make his mark. Despite having bags of experience, at 30 years old, he’s still got a good few years left in him, and wouldn’t look out of place in most SPL defences. He’s been capped for Scotland 28 times, and has been on the periphery of the squad several times in the past few years. He’ll be keen to stay in the SPL if possible, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility for him to earn a place in Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad once more.

Defender: Mihael Kovacevic (Ross County)

Given the fantastic season Ross County have had, it’s something of a surprise that they’ve succumbed to letting a player as solid as Kovacevic slip through their fingers. The 6ft 4in fullback has been a regular in Derek Adams’ back 4 this season, and something of an unsung hero at times. The Swiss defender offers little going forward, but ensures that he gives his opposite number a formidable challenge each time he takes to the field. He game seems to have developed considerably since his Dundee United days, as the 25 year old’s ball distribution and positional sense have been lamented this term. Kovacevic’s home form in particular has caught the attention of many, and the stats also back up his performances. At home this season, Ross County have conceded the 2nd fewest goals, picking the ball out the net just 14 times since August. This’ll have gone some way to helping Ross County pick up the £500,000 windfall guaranteed by finishing in the top half of the SPL. Kovacevic will be a sore loss to the Staggies, but their loss could well be another SPL club’s gain.

Midfielder: David Wotherspoon (Hibs)

Pat Fenlon’s transfer policy at Hibs since he took over seems to have connotations with the revolving door of a popular department store. David Wotherspoon and 7 others will head for the Easter Road exit when the season draws to a close, and the young Scotsman is expected to be amongst the more sought-after Hibs departees. He has pace, a willingness to get forward, and seems to turn on the flair in big games (most notably scoring a late winner against fierce rivals Hearts earlier in the season). Perhaps a little lightweight, and his goals return leaves a lot to be desired, but his ability to beat players and pick a pass is unparalleled in the current Hibs team. His summer departure will mark the end of a 6-year spell at the Hibees, and his preferred departure remains as yet unknown, but offers from the more frugal SPL clubs are to be expected.

Midfielder: Andrew Shinnie (Inverness)

Definitely the surprise package of the SPL this season, Inverness Caley Thistle’s Andrew Shinnie catapulted the Highland club to a remarkable top-6 finish, and could yet aid them to finish in 2nd place if he can recapture his early season form. The attacking midfielder exploded into form as the SPL 2012/13 kicked-off. He found the net 9 times in the first half of the season, and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty with the less attractive side of the game too. His form this season has showed that the 23-year old is on the up, making Rangers potentially regret deeming the player ‘surplus to requirements’ back in 2011. His Tulloch Caledonian Stadium departure was purely by choice, after the creative midfielder rejected an extension to stay under the watch of current gaffer, Terry Butcher. Aberdeen have already expressed an interest in the player, but it appears as though Shinnie won’t be rushed into deciding where his next move will be.

Midfielder: Paddy McCourt (Celtic)

When the grand history of Celtic Football Club comes to be written, few players will be considered to have been more of an enigma than their current cult hero/zero, Paddy McCourt. His aptitude for skipping past players and scoring spectacular goals with relative ease endeared him to sections of the Parkhead support, but his never-ending fitness issues have blighted his career to a point where Neil Lennon has decided not to retain his services. His seeming inability to play 90 minutes on a football field at an age when most football players hit their physical peak is baffling to say the least. However, when it comes to dribbling ability, there are only a handful of players in the SPL that can hold a candle to the Northern Irishman. Rumours of Premiership interest in the past, including Liverpool and Wolves on several occasions have hovered around the player, but with a matter of weeks remaining on his contract, it seems as though the ‘Derry Pele’ may yet continue to ply his trade in Scotland, if a suitable SPL suitor can be found. Signing him would be a gamble for SPL clubs, but if the player’s fitness could be resolved and maintained, McCourt could yet light up the SPL for seasons to come.

Midfielder/Forward: James McFadden (Motherwell)

Faddy’s return to Fir Park just a few months ago was the nearest thing to a marquee signing that our ailing league has seen for many years. The Motherwell fans were euphoric to welcome home their prodigal son, all the while wondering if the former Scotland talisman still had some magic left in his locker. Much to the relief of Stuart McCall, he’s turned it on, more and more as each game passes. Perhaps not as quick as he once was, and certainly needing to shift a few pounds, but anyone it’s clear he’s still a cut above the majority of the competition in the SPL. He’s still a goal threat from free-kicks, as he proved against St Mirren last week, and he still possesses the touch and drive of a player with something to prove, and trophies to win. Given the sense of apathy from English clubs for McFadden over the past few years, an SPL club could be his ticket back to the Scotland squad, as he seeks to recapture the form that secured him the big move to Everton all those years ago.

Striker: Kris Boyd (Kilmarnock)

Ok, he’s not the lean, sprightly Rangers and Kilmarnock goal machine he was in the past; but still at just 29 years old, and with the commendable record of being the top scorer in the history of the SPL, Kris Boyd on a free transfer must at least be worth a thought for some clubs in Scotland’s top flight. Since leaving Rangers just a few years ago, Boyd has had a frustrating time down south with Middlesbrough & Nottingham Forrest, a nightmare of a time in Turkey with Eskisehirspor, and a farcical time in the MLS with Portland Timbers. Kenny Shiels saw an opportunity to pick up a cut-price proven goalscorer for Kilmarnock, and it almost paid dividends, as they missed out on a top 6 position in the SPL by the skin of their teeth. Boyd has found the net for Killie upon his return, and given that his stock is low pretty much everywhere except Scotland, there’ll never be a better time to pick up a bargain basement priced striker capable of scoring 30 goals a season. The risk for any interested parties would of course be the player’s attitude and general enthusiasm for the game at that level. Still, the rewards greatly outweigh the risks, and I’m sure we’ll see offers for the player in the coming weeks, assuming of course Killie don’t opt to take the plunge themselves.

Striker: Michael Higdon (Motherwell)

Unfortunately for Motherwell, Michael Higdon is the 3rd player of theirs to make it into our ‘Out of Contract Select’.  Higdon is one of many top, dependable players exiting the Lanarkshire club this summer, and he’s done himself no harm at all career-wise when you analyse the shift he’s put in for the Steelmen. The big scouser will win few awards for his artistic approach to the game (or lack of), but firing home 25 goals so far this season for Motherwell has perched him at the top of the SPL goal scoring charts, and has helped his side to get to within touching distance of 2nd place in the SPL. His presence in the penalty area is unmistakable. He’s a handful for any and all defenders in the league, and he gives 100% at every 50/50. His attitude is what makes him the player, and the asset he is. Motherwell will struggle without him next season, and his phenomenal goal scoring record this season will no doubt have attracted attention from his homeland. For the good of the SPL, I for one hope Higdon extends his stay in Scotland, and keeps on banging in the goals.

How Not to Run a Football Club – Lessons Scottish Football can learn from Chelsea, Man City & QPR

By Johnny Connelly

These days it seems to be something of a rare occasion when the farcical nature of the beautiful game supersedes that of our own football north of the border. But this, my friends, is one of those times.

The seemingly never-ending chronicles of the Rangers tax-case appear to be finally put to bed, Celtic are just 1 win away from reaching the last 16 of the Champions League, Hearts live on to fight another day, our ‘dysfunctional’ & widely discredited league format is expected to change, and the national side have parted company with their most unenthusiastic and least successful manager in history. Yup, things are looking up in Scotland.

Many more significant successes could be thrown in too, such as Craig Brown transforming Aberdeen, and Terry Butcher working wonders within the constraints of crippling financial resources. But let’s take this moment to poke fun at the complete and utter shambles that some of the ‘bigger’ clubs in the ‘best league in the world’ have embroiled themselves in.

We all know, and we’ve known for some time, that the unsustainable nature of spending south of the border puts football institutions that have existed for well over 100 years in danger. Danger they wouldn’t have faced otherwise.  It’s abundantly clear that Premiership clubs have two primary income sources. The first is the comically over-inflated TV deals from Sky; and the second is the cash in hand payouts from the band of billionaires who’ve taken over these clubs to fill their egotistical void for an elaborate human, emotional, and living plaything.

The second of these income sources currently is what sets the clubs apart in terms of silverware (by in large, as a rule of thumb). The clubs with the biggest money men have had the advantage when competing for honours in recent years, but what a hollow existence for a football fan. To watch your team, strewn with passionate journeymen, battling bravely against relegation one second; to then be catapulted towards competing for the title and signing the most expensive players in the world, just as soon as the money man sees fit to turn on his magic money-tap.

Both of these income streams are not secure. What happens when Sky get bored of the big money payouts? When they don’t feel the product they’re being given is worthy of the hefty price they’re paying? Or when they themselves come across financial difficulty in years to come thanks to the ever-developing world of digital entertainment?

The money man issue is less secure still. At least Sky & EPSN’s involvement is based on a tangible Return on Investment. Like a spoiled child that knows they can get anything they want, a time will inevitably come when boredom sets in. The brat will want a new toy, and the deluded football fans will be left pondering how on earth their beloved team will ever clear debts of hundreds of millions of pounds, and pay the remainder of their top stars’ £120k per week contract.

It genuinely baffles me how most Premiership football fans feel any connection at all with the product their team is putting out for them to support on a Saturday. This week has been a classic example for them.

Look at Chelsea. By hook or by crook, Roberto Di Matteo led them to win the Champions League. They weren’t the best team in Europe; they weren’t even the best team in England. But he did it, and he did it with camaraderie and a likeability factor – something that hasn’t been seen at Stamford Bridge since the days of Gianluca Vialli or Claudio Ranieri’s tenure.

Di Matteo – Good, but not good enough

Roman Abramovic arrived and transformed a middle of the road, semi-likeable club into a glory-hunting, unmitigated machine of imperialistic endeavour. Chelsea started spending Abramovic’s millions, signing players who’d never have touched the club with a bargepole previously, and accepting nothing less than 100% success. Mourinho came and went, followed by Avram Grant, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Ray Wilkins, Guus Hiddink, Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas, and of course, Roberto Di Matteo. Now, the club have taken on another big name manager, Rafa Benitez. They’ll spend yet more money chasing the impossible dreams of a disengaged Russian billionaire, he’ll fail, and then the cycle will continue all over again. What a horrible existence for a football fan to endure, regardless of the standard of the product on the pitch.

Man City are finding themselves being pulled down the same road of despair. Without going into too much detail, the current owner, billionaire Sheik Mansour, propelled a club that typically finished between 10th-16th in the Premiership, into a club that signs players for in excess of £30m, and pays players like Toure around £250k per week!  It’s almost unbelievable, yet it’s what is being put to the average football fan as ‘the way the game is headed’. People forget that Mark Hughes was ousted in bizarre and immoral circumstances as City manager. Now, after the owner has spent over £1bn on the club, it’s Hughes’ successor, the once untouchable Roberto Mancini who is hanging by a thread. Mancini to his credit delivered City’s first ever Premiership title; but has floundered in Europe, and now looks as though he could go the way of the Dodo, (or as we mentioned above, the Roberto).

Hanging by a thread – Mancini could be next for the chop

QPR too parted company with their manager this week, and again it was Mark Hughes who was the victim. Hughes was correctly sacked after failing to secure a Premiership win 4 months into the campaign, but the nature of his departure was despicable. Hughes was sacked, and his successor named all the space of 24-hours. What a cold and pre-meditated way to run a business, especially a football club. But before anyone begins to feel a modicum of sympathy for Hughes, let us remember that his appointment at Loftus Road to replace Neil Warnock was conducted in a similarly horrible manner.  When ‘loveable’ cockney rouge and purveyor of many a brown envelope bung deal, ‘Arry Redknapp’s phone rang about the QPR job, he must have been elated. How this man hasn’t been convicted for his abundantly clear dodgy dealings is beyond me, but for him to be appointed another Premiership job with a fortune to spend on players in January is almost laughable.


Sacked – Mark Hughes was shown the door after no wins in 4 months

Surely nobody has forgotten that this man drove Portsmouth to the brink of obliteration? But has everyone forgotten his failure at Southampton? The man took over Saints on December 8th  2004, picking up just 12 points from 16 games. He relegated the club without a whimper, finishing bottom of the English Premier League. Watch this space for yet more comical spending and ‘unproven’ allegations of irregular financial conduct this season on ‘Arry’s watch. Of the 3 aforementioned exorbitantly spending clubs, QPR concerns me the most, as it’s the one that would stand the least chance of survival if and when the money men catch the next train out of town.

The irony is, stability at these clubs isn’t an impossibility. The correct application of corporate branding, developing your own talent, living within your means, and having a clever man pulling the strings is all that’s required to succeed on all fronts in England.

Look at Manchester United. Despite the challenges of having to battle against these big spenders, being taken over by the Glazers, and the huge changes in the game over the last 20 years, Fergie has ensured that his team are successful.

Sir Alex has outlasted 5 British Prime Ministers, 5 American Presidents, 10 Liverpool managers, 18 Chelsea managers, and 19 Man City managers, while picking up 37 trophies  along the way.

To hark back briefly to Chelsea as a comparison, during the Abramovic era, the London club spent more money (approx £90m) hiring and firing mangers, than Man Utd have spent on players (Net transfer spend). Everton too show themselves to have a successful model. Davie Moyes receives plaudits year on year, not least for his current team that plays exciting and endearing football. The Merseyside club’s attention to financial detail is in stark contrast to that of Chelsea, having spent less money on players in their entire Premiership existence, than the European champs have spent hiring and firing gaffers in the last 8 years. Wenger’s Arsenal are another great example of how it can be done, but the pressure is certainly mounting on the Frenchman to adopt the seemingly trendy, reckless approach to spending.  I hope for the Gunners’ sake, they keep their faith in the Arsene’s approach.

We could analyse the dichotomy between the spending styles until the cows come home, but as I initially stated, it’s clear that the Chelsea, Man City and QPR approach isn’t a morally objective one, and leaves those clubs with a finite lifespan.

North of the border, we’ve suffered in silence. Never really having the power to compete for their players (with the exception of the O’Neill years at Celtic, and the Advocaat years at Rangers) in modern times, but we’re certainly on the right track. Whether they like it or not, Rangers have been forced to start from scratch, and they’ll do anything to avoid a repeat of the strategy that led to the club being liquidated. In the coming years, they’ll adopt the same approach as Celtic, which is proving as successful as could be hoped for. Don’t count on TV money, as it could disappear tomorrow. Count on a good scouting and youth system that allows you to sell players on for exponentially more than it cost to acquire/produce them. Count on a clever global and European marketing strategy to expand your brand and tap into new revenue streams. And finally, focus on keeping the product entertaining for the fans. If the fans can buy into what your club is trying to achieve, then a prosperous future is secured.

At this point in time, Scotland has an exciting league setup. Every team in the top flight is taking points off everyone else. The honours are very much up for grabs, and the relegation battle will likely go to the wire. This, together with the ongoing work to restructure the league to be more commercially viable, Celtic’s impressive form against Europe’s elite, and the opportunity to appoint a new Scotland manager with fresh ideas, puts Scottish football in a very good position indeed.

So let the English media poke fun at the SPL and the national side if they wish. We’ve identified the problems and are working to fix them. All this, while our friends on the other side of the border sit blissfully unaware of the ticking time bomb that is their current league setup; as they pompously preach about the ‘best league in the world’, truly believing theirs is an infallible football industry. How wrong they are.

Is McCoist running out of time in the Ibrox dugout?

This whole notion of Ally McCoist’s managerial ability being cast into question is being reported by the mainstream media as though it’s a new phenomenon. I ask you, have these cynics been living under a rock since the former Question of Sport panelist took over at Rangers?

True enough, the Ibrox club have been a shambles in the early part of this season, what with embarrassing draws against Peterhead and Berwick Rangers in the first month of their unprecedented new campaign in Division 3. But the team’s capitulation under McCoist throughout last season could have been enough to remove him from the hot-seat.

The Gers held a commanding lead in the league, only for cracks to emerge, giving a resurgent and blood-hungry Celtic side the impetus to go on and claim the title.

With the vast majority of his top players still pulling on the Rangers jersey, McCoist’s men succumbed to 3 SPL defeats and a draw in quick succession:

  • Losing 1-0 at home to Killie
  • Losing 2-1 at home to Hearts
  • Losing 2-1 to Dundee United at Tannadice
  • and a 0-0 draw with Motherwell at Ibrox

These results aren’t those of a team challenging for a title, and I’m sure alarm bells would have been ringing if the club and the Scottish media in general hadn’t been engulfed by the financial issues surrounding the club.

Ally McCoist
The pressure mounts – McCoist has a tough job on his hands

McCoist’s failings didn’t just start towards the end of last season. Rangers’ Scottish Cup participation ended when a hungrier Dundee United side rose to the occasion to claim a 2-0 victory. The League Cup also eluded McCoist’s men at an embarrassingly early stage in the season, thanks to a plucky Falkirk side managed by former Rangers player, Steven Pressley. The Bairns stunned McCoist’s men as early as September in a five-goal thriller. Yet for some reason, it was put down to a minor blip.

These errors and poor performances had damaging effects on Rangers, in terms of morale and of course revenue, but McCoist’s card was marked earlier still, in a shambolic European campaign that lasted all of two fixtures.

If ever there was a season where Rangers needed a run in Europe, it was last season. The club were on the brink of financially instigated oblivion. The fans knew it, McCoist knew it, the players knew it, and the board knew it. Despite this, the manager failed to inspire his players to overcome mediocre Swedish outfit Malmo, losing out 2-1 on aggregate, and losing any hope of the estimated £15m windfall that comes with Champions League football.

Yes, the Malmo result was bad, but what was to ensue next bordered on laughable. Minnows NK Maribor were all that stood between Rangers and a slot in the Europa League Group Stages. We all know what happened next

Some of the more defiant and stubborn pockets of the Rangers support would have you believe that McCoist’s troubles came as a result of Craig Whyte’s reluctance to release funds for players. While this was partly true, McCoist DID have money to spend, the fact is, he simply spent in poorly.

Last season’s signings:

  • Juan Ortiz – £500,000 from Almeria
  • Lee Wallace – £1,500,000 from Hearts
  • Alejandro Bedoya – Undisclosed from Orebro
  • Carlos Bocanegra – Undisclosed from St Etienne
  • Matt McKay – Undisclosed from Brisbane Lions
  • Mervan Celik – Free transfer from GAIS
  • Dorin Goian – Undisclosed from Palermo

Of those 7, how many would you give pass marks to? Goian and Bocanegra certainly. Lee Wallace, perhaps. But the remaining 4 were without question, poor choices by McCoist.

So, does his signing policy instill confidence in the Ibrox faithful this year? Espeically Given that these guys will need to be the men who guide Rangers back to the big time?

Ian Black, Fran Sandaza, Kevin Kyle and Dean Shiels should be a cut above their current opposition, and we know little of Anestis Argyriou. None of the SPL signings have shown the skills that would lead you to believe they usually ply their trade 3 divisions higher than they are currently being asked to.

As much as it’s admirable for McCoist to stand by the club he loves, even when he knew it was a sinking ship, his catalogue of errors, poor decisions, and general tactical ineptness would lead any Gers fan to worry.

Had it not been for the financial troubles, the Craig Whyte (remember him?) debacle, and the Rangers tax case media circus, McCoist would long have been out a job.

A hard-nosed journeyman like Kenny Shiels, Billy Davies, or Terry Butcher was the appointment required to steady the ship in these choppy waters.

If Rangers have learned nothing else over these past few years, it’s that their club is a business, and a results driven business at that.

Gone are the days when the club could make a sentimental appointment like McCoist. Whoever took over from Walter Smith was going to have a huge task on their hands, and it’s starting to look as though this job is too big for McCoist. His endeavors in a Rangers shirt have no bearing on his ability as a manager.

I have no doubt that Rangers will win the 3rd Division title this year, but McCoist will make it a harder chore than it should be. His pool of resources dwarfs all of the other Third Division clubs’, even when added together.

The time for taking risks is over, but it leaves Charles Green with an unenviable dilemma to resolve.

Getting rid of McCoist would all but destroy the rapport he’s worked so hard to build with the support, but would allow Rangers to appoint someone who’s fit for purpose. Someone who’d utilise the resources at his disposal, and make the shrewd (sometimes unpopular) decisions that’d see Rangers ascend back up through the divisions in a prompt fashion.

Keeping McCoist, and giving him the short term vote of confidence would further adhere him to the Ibrox faithful in a way that Craig Whyte could only dream of. It would however jeopardise the future of the club, given that a convoluted route back to the SPL in the long term could plunge Rangers back into the financial difficulty that landed them in the Scottish Third Division in the first place.

The route back for Rangers will be a long and arduous one, and to my mind, McCoist will be more of a hinderance than a help along the way.

How old media killed Rangers FC….and how new media danced on its grave.

PART 1 – How old media killed Rangers FC

by Mr Custard – a Hitthebyline contributor

A grand title with lofty claims. How can this debutant guest writer live up to such outlandish claims and roll with it? No bother at all. The truth is out there. The internet bampots have had their whiff of power and they like it. The new media do it for the love, do it because it feels right, do it for the banter and incessantly because they want to. The old, tired media have been caught with their pants down. They have had their day in the sun. Technology has caught up. Move over Grandaddy. The people are the new media; more power to them.

David Murray in his pomp had the Scottish media in his back pocket, and in many respects this was to be expected. A brief rattle through the history of time here:

The Murray/Souness era began in 1986, and after 9 barren years, they won the Scottish title at first ask. This was helped in no small part to the free spending of Murray, backed by the riches of his then thriving steel empire and the accidental advantage of being able to offer top English internationalists European football during the post Heysel English ban. It was a mighty roll call and it brought in the honours and fans, leaving in the dust the like of Celtic, Aberdeen and Dundee united who had dominated the last decade of the Scottish game with the latter two successful in Europe also: Butcher, Woods, Steven, Stevens, Francis, Wilkins, Roberts……they crushed everything before them. All bow to David Murray, the chequebook ruled supreme, he had invigorated the Scottish game? Hail to him! Without going over old ground, we have heard all the quotes ad nauseam lately… “deep pockets”, “succulent lamb”, “for every fiver…..”, “there is a massive moonbeam of success waiting for us” etc etc. Rangers and Murray could do no wrong as a sycophantic and compliant media knelt on their very knees to grace the new messiah.

On the other side of the city an old, tired, going nowhere family dynasty was being ousted by fan power, who were sick of being second best to their loud next door neighbours and demanded change. Rallies and organised boycotts appeared within a siege mentality to counter the newspapers who week after week, season after season, put the boot in, mocking the hoops, their biscuit tin mentality, “celts in crisis” endlessly bannering each sports page, staging a hearse photoshoot outside Celtic Park. There was an uprising, people putting their money where their mouths were to force change. With the club finally on the up, Wim Jansen’s Celtic stopped 10 in a row. A sleeping giant had finally woken up, and now had a shiny new stadium boasting the highest capacity football ground in the land.

The height of Rangers big spending was during the Dick Advocaat ‘Oranje boom’. With a bruised ego due to failure to reach ten in a row Murray dealt with the defeat in the only way he knew – by spend, spend, spending. Circa £60m in funding obtained from ENIC and Joe Lewis helped this. 5 out of 6 domestic trophies were won in Dick’s first two seasons and still the big signings kept coming. Nothing could go wrong, or could it?

Murray the ‘money man’ enjoys a good laugh – and with good reason.

Indeed, what could go wrong? Just sit back and watch the carnage unfold. After the hit and miss of Jo Venglos’s tenure and the flop of the Dalglish/Barnes partnership Celtic finally struck gold with Martin O’Neill winning the treble in his first season and overturning the points deficit in his first season by 35 points. O’Neill’s first signing was Chris Sutton, a snip at £6m from Chelsea. The team was further galvanised by the signings of Valgaeren, Thompson, Agathe, Douglas and teacher’s pet, Lennon, who joined the existing players of calibre of Lambert, Boyd, Petta, Moravcik, Petrov and Larrson. The first derby meet in August ended 6-2 to the new pretenders with Chris Sutton scoring in almost the first minute. So how did David Murray react to this? True to his word he literally spent a tenner for Celtic’s fiver. He outdid Celtic doubly by paying Chelsea £12m for Tore Andre Flo. A symbol of a last throw of the dice gamble to try and stop the switch of power across the city. An epic fail. In total Advocaat spent over £80m on transfers, meaning an unsustainable £50m net spend. Ouch. And also a debt of £50m too.

So what happened next? With Celtic in rude health and able to meet and exceed Rangers spending power something had to be done. Over the next few seasons Rangers began to try and gain back their spending advantage by playing fast and loose with an EBT scheme, the brainchild of flamboyant pornographer Paul Baxendale-Walker to bypass the traditional PAYE and NI route that football clubs traditionally took, necessitating the use of dual contracts that weren’t lodged with the SFA. So that was a saving made. What about a share issue? Well that didn’t work. How about selling the jerseys and closing the Rangers shops and doing a deal with JJB to gain £18m short term? Who cares about the long term? Murray being such a good salesman would have offloaded the club by then wouldn’t have he? How about selling Barry Ferguson and Jean Alain Boumsong for a tidy total of £15.5m to Blackburn and Newcastle United? Who just happened to be managed by Graeme Souness who for some reason was himself a beneficiary of the EBT scheme a decade after he left the club. Things that make you go hmmm indeed!

And so it carried on, still no alarm bells ringing anywhere. No press questions, even in 2007 when there were simultaneous City of London police dawn raids at Portsmouth, Newcastle United and Rangers FC no press questions were asked. It seems the Boumsong transfer the catalyst for the HMRC investigations. The normal check and tests were not conducted. The media stood idly by. No wait, they did more than that. The media were rampant cheerleaders. Year after year after year of published yearly losses did not result in any probing questions. Hugh Adam’s prophetic words were put down to being the mad ramblings of a disgruntled ex-employee. David Murray had the cheers ringing in his ears and in this vacuum, with no-one there to reign in these stupendous shows of grandeur more liberties were taken and like the boozed up betting addict in the bookies chasing his Friday pay poke doon the swannee the further into trouble he fell, the more dangerous and desperate he got. Criminal are we about to find out?

In 2008 amidst all this debt the redtops circulated stories of £700m super stadiums with floating pitches and Chelsea like villages and super-casinos. Sheer unadulterated propaganda. Anyone with common sense knew this to be a nonsense. People were now awakening to the internet and were reading the source stories on Newsnow and fans forums a full day before the mainstream media put their spin on it. People were now making their own mind up.

So there we are, the “for sale” sign outside Ibrox for year follow year. When the “big tax case” story broke in 2010 we were told there was nothing to worry about. It was being appealed so wasn’t a real bill, and anyway even if it was a bill it would be picked up by MIH. Simples! Murray insisted he would only sell to those who would have the money to progress Rangers forward and along comes Craigy Boy Whyte. The press told us he was a success story, a” billionaire” no less…no scrap that…”off the radar wealth”. So Rangers FC were bought for the princely price of £1 with her Majesty’s head on the back of it. Given that David Murray had priced Rangers FC at anywhere between £150-£200m to the normal guy in the street this seemed a bit strange and still the old media asked no questions. In any vacuum of space something usually comes along to fill this. Rangers Tax Case appeared in this vacuum number 2. Someone had taken to t’internet to raise his concerns on these seeming irregularities. Very quickly there was a groundswell of research and digging which found out by fans of all clubs in Scottish football who knew something was a amiss. With just a few google searches it was quickly apparent that the bold Craigy boy was indeed a shyster. Far from being a success story the t’internet bampots could ascertain he had fled the country leaving a trail of destruction behind of failed companies involving cleaning companies run from portacabins in Bellshill and was heavily involved in Tinkerbell baby clothing shop in Motherwell. Still the media sat on their hands, denied any knowledge of the information now shared in the public domain. They instead printed bogus stories about warchests and the like. The Rangers fans were being openly deceived by the media, if the truth had come out there might be a Rangers still here today, there is not. Rangers FC as we know it were liquidated. A company called Sevco have bought the assets which may yet be reversed by the liquidators and still haven’t secured a place in Scotland’s fourth tier.

The printed lies are being bought less and less, the comedy phone-ins are dropping like flies too. The old media killed Rangers. Goodbye Rangers, goodbye old media. Dressed to kill, and guess who’s dying?

This was the story of how old media killed rangers. Keep your eyes on this week for part two: “How the New Media danced on Rangers’ grave”.

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