For The Love of Ledley

Hoops fans should shed no tears over the departed Welshman

By Johnny Connelly

Joe Ledley in his Celtic days
Here today, gone tomorrow. Ledley sought pastures new

In the modern day soap opera that is football in this country, fans have learned the hard way that everything that comes out the mouths of players and managers should be taken with a pinch of salt.

One day a player can be your hero; the next, he’s the enemy. Football by its very nature is a fickle beast. There’s an element of showmanship and bravado from players and managers around transfer window time, that’s a given. When I read Joe Ledley’s parting comments about his ‘beloved’ Celtic, I did begin to wonder if he managed to articulate them with a straight face.

After a tedious potential contract extension saga, Ledley packed his bags, leaving the Champions League behind, opting instead for a relegation dogfight at Tony Pulis’ Crystal Palace.

The Welshman was quoted as saying he, “didn’t’ want to leave”, before subsequently doing so. Players come, and players go, but are the supporters in this country perhaps guilty of naivety when it comes to choosing their heroes?

When it comes to the affections of the fans, Ledley was debatably the most popular player in the squad. In years gone by, a hero at a big club was defined by sublime ability and unwavering loyalty. Does Ledley fit this mould?

The likes of Paul McStay and Lubo Moravcik stayed at the Parkhead club until the end of their playing days. Italian giants Fiorentina moved for Artur Boruc, and it took the lure of Barca to prize a tearful Henrik Larsson from Parkhead. Celtic fans seem only too happy when a player moves on for a bigger opportunity; but perhaps some of them should grudgingly admit that to lose a player like Ledley to a smallish English Premiership club like Crystal Palace does leave something of a bad taste in their mouths.

Don’t get me wrong, Ledley was a terrific talent. A dogged, professional midfielder who rarely looked out of place at the highest level; but he was also reportedly the highest paid player in the squad (alongside Scott Brown), so he was well looked after, and enjoyed the adoration of the fans.

The new Palace signing seems to have been a likeable, honest character who wouldn’t say a bad word about Celtic or anyone at the club. That said, it sadly looks as though Ledley’s raison d’être is to make as much money as possible in his career, rather than chase silverware.

It’s clear that Ledley ran down his contract at Cardiff to secure a big wage at Celtic, and ran down his contract at Celtic to better position himself for a move to Crystal Palace.

Playing for Celtic seems to be something that leaves a lasting effect on players. On his official twitter account, Ledley posted: “Thank you so much to all the fans for being so supportive throughout my time at Celtic. A truly amazing club”, and referred to the Parkhead faithful in a passionate sign off, tweeting: “Best Fans ever, will miss you all!”

Days into his move down south, he delved a little deeper about the move. He said: “It was a good deal for Celtic because they got some money, and it was a good deal for me too.”

Given the phenomenal sums of money that are thrown at top players these days, it’s hard to judge them. These guys are people too, they’re not made of stone, and it takes a lot to turn down an increase of several thousand pounds per week (and a rather juicy signing on fee).

Although players like Ledley shouldn’t be emotionally crucified for chasing money instead of trophies; they shouldn’t be held in the same high regard as the real heroes of yesteryear either. Ledley gave a good account of himself at Celtic, but was paid handsomely for it, and is in no way irreplaceable. His dignified and professional approach to his on the field exerts will ensure his lasting memory at Celtic Park is a positive one, but as far as hero status is concerned, he’ll always be left short.

In every crisis, there is opportunity, and with every big player that’s left a big club in Scotland, scope for an even greater player to fill his boots is created.

Shed no tears Hoops fans. A top earner has left, and the next chapter of your glorious club is ready to be written.

Killie’s Prodigal Son Could Seal Top 6 Finish

By Johnny Connelly

Alexei Eremenko
Alexei Eremenko – The key man?

As the eyes and ears of Scottish football fans turned towards Parkhead in expectance of an injection of excitement to the transfer window in this Scotland; the attention turned to the Ayrshire coast as Finnish international Alexei Eremenko secured an unexpected switch back to Kilmarnock.

Killie’s talisman playmaker of the 2010-2011 season joined Allan Johnstone’s men until the end of the season, and his technical ability has sparked hopes of a top six finish, as well as a bit more excitement in general at Rugby Park.

First time around, it was then manager Mixu Paatelainen who used his homeland contacts to procure Eremenko on loan from Metalist Kharkiv. The midfield dynamo wasted little time in making his mark, scoring the winner on his debut against St Mirren with a tantalising free kick.

After the match, Eremenko said: “ I made some good passes at the start of the game which gave me confidence. It was an okay performance from me, but I can even play much better than this.”

He wasn’t kidding. Eremenko went on to light up what was then the SPL, carving out a place in Scottish football folklore as potentially the most gifted player to grace a Kilmarnock shirt in 20 years.  He scored a handful of goals that season, and transformed Killie’s attacking play with his ability to split defences with precision passes.

His skills drew crowds and plaudits, so much so that both Celtic and Rangers made enquiries about acquiring the player’s services. A big money move to Rubin Kazan ensued, but he failed to hold down a place in the team, presumably as a result of the options available thanks to the club’s vast wealth.

Eremenko’s record for the Finland national team (59 caps and 14 goals) also proves that the silky flair player can perform at the highest level, and now has invaluable experience that would benefit any club in Scotland.

Killie currently sit 8th in the SPFL. They’ve had an inconsistent season so far, and are widely considered as safe from relegation, but with Kris Boyd having netted 15 times so far, the introduction of an attacking playmaker like Eremenko could push him up over the 20 goal mark, and move Killie into the top half of the table.

With any luck Eremenko’s return will bring about an increase in crowds at Rugby Park, but at the very least, his sublime skills will improve the profile of our league overall.

During his last loan spell, Eremenko helped guide the Ayrshire club to a comfortable 5th placed finish in the SPL. There’s a bit of work to do to replicate that feat again, but it’s far from impossible. Allan Johnstone’s men are edging away from the pack at the foot of the table as each week passes, and now find themselves just 9 points behind a wayward Dundee United who haven’t won any of their last 6 matches in the SPFL.

As Eremenko parted ways with Killie last time around, he made a promise to return. He is certainly a man of his word. This week he also said: “I don’t think I played against Kris (Boyd) when he was at Rangers the last time I was here. But I watched Saturday’s game with Inverness and I think I can make him score even more goals.”

Everyone at Kilmarnock will be hoping that he continues to be a man of his word, as this partnership with Boyd could make the difference between them finishing in the top and bottom 6 come May.

With just 8 games remaining before the split, the clock is ticking for Killie and Eremenko.

Extending An Olive Branch to Jorge Cadete

Is it time to kick-start a support network for ex-Celts?

by Celtic fan, Kes Devaal

Thanks to the boom & bust world we live in, all too frequently we’re hearing of people from all walks of life falling on financial hard times. At the tail end of last week, we learned that even former Celtic superstars aren’t exempt from this peril.

Jorge Cadete scores for Celtic
He puts the ball in the netty – Jorge Cadete at his peak

When the news broke that Jorge Cadete is now flat broke, moved back in with his parents, and living on benefits, I felt saddened.

As a Celtic fan, I remember Cadete’s playing days fondly, but I was shocked to see an element of the Hoops’ support reacted bitterly towards his misfortune. Comments on blogs and social media sites showed that there is a contingent of Celtic supporters that feel the manner in which Cadete left the club in some way justifies the player’s hardship now.

This is not the Celtic way, and I’m beginning to think that the club (both fans and officials) should look to create a support network for ex-players.

It was the late, great, Tommy Burns who brought Jorge Cadete to Celtic, back in the mid 90’s. Burns inherited a wounded Celtic who were limp competition to a dominant high spending Rangers side. The fans suffered through the disappointment and turbulence of the Brady and Macari years, but Burns injected hope and excitement back into Celtic with a flamboyant style of play, and by attracting players with the boisterous dynamism of Jorge Cadete.

The fact that this period yielded limited silverware seemed almost insignificant at the time, as our beloved Celtic were back, scoring goals, playing lucid, attacking football, and for the first time since the late 80’s, challenging a stellar Rangers side.

Cadete arrived at Celtic with a CV that failed to fill Hoops fans with optimism. The Sporting Lisbon striker was on loan at Brescia, and managed just a single goal for them in a calendar year, before Burns made the move to bring him to Celtic. He hand’t kicked a ball in 5 months, yet his debut against Aberdeen was unforgettable…

The Portuguese international came off the bench to net the fifth in a demolition of Aberdeen at Celtic Park, and went on to net 34 times in 44 appearances the following season. Cadete was easily the most exciting Celtic striker since the days of Brian McClair and Charlie Nicholas. Complete with iconic spaghetti haircut and unmistakeable celebration, and goals-a-plenty, Cadete soon became a hero.

I appreciate that the nature of Cadete’s departure at the time left many Celtic fans feeling a bit raw and generally let down, so it’s understandable that some might want to stay detached from his unfortunate circumstances. I also appreciate that it’s a players responsibility to manage their money responsibly during their career. That said, it has made me ponder about what clubs can do, in particular, Celtic.

Wouldn’t it fit perfectly within the ethos of Celtic to put in place a structured support scheme to guide and support former players who’re in danger of falling on hard times?

By this I don’t mean writing cheques to further line their pockets, but investment advice, emotional support and an ongoing relationship with the club that could mutually benefit Celtic, the fans, and the former player.

The subsequent years since Cadete’s time at the club have been joyous for the most part. The magic of players like Cadete and managers like Burns played a huge part in the evolution of the club, a part that we must never forget.

Without question there have been thousands of Celtic fans down the generations who’ve carried the charitable/goodwill torch for the club with unconditional service. There are too many legitimate examples of this to mention, and that in the main remains intact. My concern is that there is a growing undercurrent of the Celtic support being selective.

In my opinion I sense there is a ‘pick & choose’ mantra amongst the Celtic diaspora of which ex Celts receive our support . Celtic Football Club, and the fans are relentless in broadcasting our proud all inclusive charitable ethos.

The mixed response to Jorge Cadete’s sad news however conflicts with that notion. There is a long list of ex-Celts whose careers at Paradise have maybe ended awkwardly, or where they have been a shade economical in engineering a sharp exit down London Road for more money elsewhere. Yet for reasons that remain unclear, these individuals seem immune to any criticism or hard feelings from the support.

Without sounding like some idealistic moral crusader,  I believe these servants to the club deserve a support mechanism. Making initial support, training, and professional advice available for them would show the football world that we genuinely are what the morally rich club that we say we are.

The relationship between the fans and the players we take on as heroes is a true loyal bond that stays with us for the entirety of our existence.

If Celtic truly are up there with Barca to be considered as “Més que un club” (More than a club), then perhaps we should start to prove it with gestures such as this one, showing undeniable and unconditional compassionate support.

Catch Up With The Football Show – SPFL Live Commentary – 02/11/13

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Missed the football yesterday? Catch up with all the action on Peter & Roughie’s Football Show. Peter Martin, Alan Rough, and Gordon Duncan provide live commentary from Celtic’s clash with Dundee United. Live updates also included from every match in the SPFL, including updates from yours truly as Terry Butcher’s Inverness Caley Thistle took on a resurgent Killie in the Highlands… 

Listen here.

The SPFL – Fan Fuelled Evolution

by Johnny Connelly

(As hosted on http://www.plzsoccer.com/news)

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.

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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.

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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:

SPL
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.

We Fade to Gray

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

By guest blogger, ‘Kes Devaal’

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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.

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The ‘Out of Contract’ SPL Select

Motherwell Striker, Michael Higdon

By Johnny Connelly

09/04/13

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.

McCall Proves That The Steelmen Are Well Worth 2nd Place

By Johnny Connelly

McCall

Hats off to Stuart McCall. Friday night’s 4-1 demolition of Hibs at Fir Park surely proves that his Motherwell side are worthy of a top 6 finish in the SPL, and could be a springboard for the Lanarkshire club to go on and secure the runner-up spot in Scotland’s elite division.

Barring a cataclysmic implosion, Motherwell will finish in the top 6 for a fourth consecutive season, and are within striking distance of a club record points total. With just 7 games left to play, they sit comfortably in 2nd place in the SPL, and are widely expected to finish there come May. This sustained stability and success is a wonderful achievement for the club, especially when you consider that their very existence came under threat thanks to administration back in 2002.

Since that time, the Motherwell fans have endured watching their beloved amber & claret clad heroes finishing bottom of the league (although not relegated thanks to Falkirk’s stadium not meeting SPL criteria), and saw the club part company with no less than 6 managers.

Despite the high regard the manager is held in now, many people seem to forget that Stuart McCall’s arrival at the club was something of a muted one. The fans were reeling at losing Craig Brown to Aberdeen, particularly after the wily ex-Scotland boss had vehemently denied any interest in the Pittodrie hot seat.  Taking on McCall was something of a risk for Motherwell. McCall was extremely inexperienced as a manager, and despite some early positives and difficult circumstances, left his previous post at Bradford as the club languished in the bottom half of League 2.

Fair play to the powers that be at Motherwell Football Club, they clearly saw something in McCall. That same grit, determination, and passion for the game that made him a success as a player proved to be assets that would transfer well to the Fir Park dugout. In his first full season, he guided the club to finish 3rd in the SPL. This alone was enough reason to celebrate for the long suffering Well fans, surely he couldn’t go one better this season, could he?

Motherwell are firing on all cylinders right now. Their form has been steady from start to finish (broadly speaking), with the occasional flash of brilliance, like Friday night’s demolition of Hibs.

Motherwell 4-1 Hibs – Highlights

They’re now unbeaten in 4 games in the league, including a win over current Champions Celtic, and have scored more goals at home this season than any other SPL club outwith the Glasgow giants. The more you analyse this Motherwell side; the more you can see McCall’s influence. In McCall’s first season, a club record 20 clean sheets were recorded with keeper Darren Randolph between the sticks. Throw in a couple of exciting attacking players like the returning James McFadden,  the shrewd loan signing of Kallum Higgingbotham and formidable target man like Michael Higdon, and you find yourself with what could be the strongest Motherwell side since the Scottish Cup winning side of ’91.

Like all other clubs up and down the country, McCall has had to work with a shoe string budget, and with a tiny squad (the smallest in the league), making his achievements this season all the more impressive.

TEAM CURRENT SQUAD SIZE (excl loans in/out & youth players)
Celtic

31

Dundee

29

Hearts

28

Aberdeen

26

Kilmarnock

24

Inverness Caledonian Thistle

23

Hibs

23

Dundee United

23

St Mirren

23

St Johnstone

22

Ross County

21

Motherwell

18

Yes, a basic squad of just 18 players! It doesn’t get much more threadbare than that. McCall has kept the wage bill down, and has a net spend of £0 on transfers (excl loan fees etc) which could modestly be described as difficult parameters to worth within. The financial downturn in football has meant that every club in the SPL and beyond have had to cut their cloth accordingly, Motherwell have done this with a modicum of success, operating sustainably, while clubs like Hearts and Kilmarnock continue to make noises about ‘going to the wall’.

Sometimes in football we get bogged down with the negative aspects and the seemingly ubiquitous question, ‘where is the game headed?’

Perhaps if we had more guys like McCall in the Scottish game, the situation wouldn’t look quite so perilous. The SPL needed some new blood, and the Motherwell boss duly delivered. I’ve detailed his positive ‘on-the-field’ aspects above, but his community interest at the club and media-friendly nature give the Lanarkshire club something of a unique glow.

The Well gaffer holds regular meetings with fans of the club to help shape the future of the club within. He hasn’t subscribed to the archaic notion of the manager being somewhat aloof and untouchable to the fans. It turns out that he’s even got a sense of humour too.

How many other SPL managers would muck in and get involved with a music video for an up-and-coming band from the local area?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9BefcAIjN0Y

He even laughed off this timeless gaff from his Bradford City days…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EI4SDBKY38

It’s early days for him in management, but he’s ticking all the boxes at Motherwell. He’s a breath of fresh air, and a shining example to all managers in Scottish Football. It seems that some of the ‘bigger’ clubs in the SPL could do with adopting his style. With a fraction of their resources, he’s comfortably outstripped the likes of Hearts, Hibs, and Aberdeen for the second year on the bounce. He’s galvanised a small group of players, creating an underdog, siege mentality that serves the team well going into every game.

Long may it continue, as his impending contract extension will benefit Motherwell Football Club, and our wavering game in this country as a whole.