Monday, May 21, 2007

Week 38: Fin-tastic!!!

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once Pittodrie where Aberdeen clinched the final Uefa Cup place, and a money-spinning glamour trip to Tbilisi, with a convincing 2-0 win over Rangers.

Fortunately for the Dons, Walter Smith's side seemed to have already settled into the departure lounge ahead of their imminent post-season stateside friendly with the out-of-this-world LA Galaxy. David McCarthy in the Daily Record reckoned "Rangers had put their tools away all right but Aberdeen turned up with their donkey jackets on and their desire to get the job done was always going to outweigh the visitors' on a pulsating afternoon." The Herald's Ultimate Football Writer Darryl Broadfoot also thought "Rangers' token motivation ultimately proved insufficient to sustain them against a rabid Aberdeen side", after a "tepid start disguised as a contest that simmered gently before coming to a compelling boil." Did you see that - tepid to simmering to boiling? Fantastic stuff. I'm going to miss it.

At Easter Road Hibernian managed their first win since the discovery of Jupiter's moons, with a 2-1 victory over Celtic, in a match dominated by reports of the majesty of Scott Brown, who wasn't so majestic last week but that was before he was an Old Firm player. Elsewhere, Kilmarnock broke Hearts...I felt compelled to do that...with a 1-0 win at Rugby Park, while Dunfermline "got savaged" according to Scotland On Sunday's Tom English, by 3 goals to zip by Falkirk at East End Park.

Elsewhere though, people paid good money in expectation of a decent savaging, but were ultimately disappointed. Frank Gilfeather, who I feel for a great deal as he seems to have witnessed some of the worst games of association football ever recorded, was forced to sit through another dreadful 90 minutes of goalless action at Tannadice featuring the combined 'talents' of Motherwell and Dundee United, and could only conclude in his report in the Herald that "in the end everyone was happy to head for the nearest television set to watch the FA Cup final". Its quite quaint that Frank still thinks in terms of television 'sets' which conjures up images of chunky brown boxes with a big dial and three channels, which he probably has, underneath the flying ducks. Either that or a 60-inch Hi-Def Samsung, the other side of the hot-tub.

Sadly, Frank wasn't the only one left dissatisfied after the final game of a very, very, very, long, hard campaign that only a blind, and rather simpleminded, mother could love. The Herald's Graeme Telfer watched Inverness CT beat St Mirren by a single goal at Love Street before delivering this Beckett-esque pearl, which perhaps sums up the entire SPL season 2006/2007:

"The bulk of this contest was played to the backdrop of torrential rain and a howling wind that diminished any notion of entertainment to a cruel, schadenfreudic pleasure at seeing professional footballers reduced to thrashing around hopelessly in the maelstrom."

Ah, the press pups are hard to please it is true, for they are nothing if not critical.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Week 37: Do Dandy-droids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Neil Lennon's latest, but sadly not last, "big adios" to Scottish football took up most of column inches in reports of the penultimate weekend of the season. Apart from proving that the 35-year-old midfielder should perhaps consider a touring career as an insult comic, his almost-farewell gig also provided an example of the ugly, unacceptable divide that permeates the SPL, not just in the West of Scotland but across the entire nation - those journalists with book deals and those without.

Witness the following descriptions of Lennon's performance in Celtic's 2-1 defeat of Aberdeen at Celtic Park:

1) Martin Hannan in Scotland On Sunday and ghostwriter of "Man and Bhoy" the autobiography of Neil Lennon -

"Lennon was peerless in his holding midfield role."

2) Darryl Broadfoot in The Herald and not ghostwriter of "Man and Bhoy" the autobiography of Neil Lennon -

"It was hardly a vintage display."

Remember it's all about opinions, as listeners to football phone-ins are always reminded, in a vain bid to add some credence to the huge quantities of aural bile swilling around the regional, brackish backwaters of digital radio.

Luckily the sideshow of 90 minutes of football which accompanied Lennon's almost final farewell gave the assembled hacksters something they could come to some sort of agreement on. Patrick Glenn in the Observer thought it "one of the liveliest games seen in the premierleague in recent months", while the Sunday Herald's Natasha Woods noted "an entertaining encounter; the result not certain until the very end."

St. Mirren's 3-2 away win over Motherwell contained a similarly healthy suspense-to-minute ratio, featuring a suitably impressive rally from the visitors at 2-0 down, and, of course, guaranteed the Buddies another year in "the big-ish show". Sadly for their supporters, Motherwell are also condemned to another year of SPL football although there might not be that many of them around to watch next season as the Daily Record's Colin Duncan touched on in his report. "Fir Park was littered with seasonticket books at the final whistle," noted Duncan, "as the disgruntled home crowd expressed their disgust at a pitiful collapse by tossing them on to the pitch." Quite a gesture - throwing away your pass at the last home game of the season. As a protest, certainly right up there with Gandhi's best work.

Similarly unloved, although well-scarfed, Hibernian manager John Collins probably wishes he could throw away his entire goalkeeping staff after another mistake from Hibs No1. Andy McNeil contributed to a 2-0 defeat at Tynecastle to burly city-sharers Hearts. In fact the Sunday Herald's Alan Campbell reckoned "a whole new defence may be required after this dismal performance", while the Herald's Rob Robertson thought Hibs "were played of the park". Rangers also turned in a jaw-droppingly average performance to lose out to Kilmarnock in a 1-0 anti-thriller at Ibrox, while Falkirk bettered Dundee United 2-0 in a similarly meaningless affair.

Paris Hilton may be facing a 45-day spell in the cooler for her crimes against intelligence, but her plight pales in comparison to poor old Dunfermline who now face at least a year before any chance of parole in the Abu Ghraibh of soccer that is the Scottish Football League. The Pars conceded two late goals to lose their match with Inverness CT 2-1, but more importantly they gave up their Premier League status as well, just when it seemed they might just do enough to save themselves from the drop. Scott Davie in the Scotsman thought Dunfermline "metaphorically mimicked Steve McQueen crashing his motorcycle into the barbed wire just when he looked to be home free", in what was one of the slightly better "Great Escape" references of the day.

Sadly though, there was only one successful breakout at the weekend and he just walked out the door - quite slowly though, despite his little legs going like the clappers.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Week 36: Vote for the SPL! Independence works!

At a time when Scotland continues to reflect on the inability of her 'leaders' to organise an election, or indeed the proverbial brewery knees-up, it was comforting to note that the staging of decent football matches also appears to be somewhat beyond the borders of her ambition.

Witness the rather remarkable outpouring of angst by sportswriters following Falkirk's 1-0 home win over Inverness CT, a torrent of reflection not seen since the Buddha decided to pause for a while under a rather shady fig tree. In saying that, at least he got a religion out of it.

"There comes a point in every football supporter's life when they wonder what on earth drives them to bear witness to grown men toiling around a patch of grass," pondered Ryan Taylor in the Herald, the knife only inches from a major artery. Still he can always go round to Darryl's and watch grown men toiling around a patch of matting in a cage, which should be of some comfort. Nevertheless poor Ryan was not alone; an unhappy press pack were lining up to bash what little football was on display. The match inspired Alan Gallacher of Scotland On Sunday to bemoan "season by season a spirit-crushing league formation kept together by greed-fuelled self preservation, with scant, if any, regard given to the paying punter who has to pay hard-earned money to watch this sort of tired, jaded borefest." The game also led the Sunday Herald's Dave Hammond to put forward an end-of-season theory of his own: "Football does not have to be dull. Even end of season run-outs should contain something of interest. This is, after all - whether you like it or not - part of the entertainment industry."*

*I agree with 1) as I have been fortunate enough to see football played anywhere else other than the SPL, and I can confirm that despite warnings circulating to the contrary, it is possible to make three consecutive passes without exploding. As regards 2), how about a seal who can do keepie-uppies with a haddock. Sadly 3) is too weird to even speculate on - imagine Scottish football being 'entertaining'?

In a country which struggles to put a cross in a box, it was refreshing to see the Polish master of the art, Artur Boruc, make another tit of himself following Celtic's ignominious 2-0 defeat to Rangers at Ibrox. Sadly Boruc's post-match flag show - now that's entertainment - failed to distract attention from another poor performance from the visitors, and the assembled scribes were in no mood to let a prime opportunity to criticise slip through their slightly mangled and most certainly grubby paws.

Patrick Glenn in the The Observer watched "a defeat that betrayed the Scottish champions' frailties as currently incurable" in "a largely pedestrian and untidy contest", while The Scotsman's Glenn Gibbons thought Celtic's "lameness of their resistance to Rangers' ambition dishonoured their status as champions". Phil Gordon in the Independent On Sunday carried on the shoeing, seeing the performance of Gordon Strachan's side as "a meek and shoddy capitulation to their rivals that will be unacceptable to their fans", and the Daily Record's Keith put it in all it's tabloid short-sentenced glory: "This was not just a defeat. This was an embarrassment." Take that.

Talking of embarassing, Hearts were unable to put any further pressure on Aberdeen for a UEFA Cup place following the 1-1 draw between the sides at Tynecastle, while St Mirren enhanced the likelihood that they will be playing SPL football next season - lucky them - with a 2-0 away win at Dundee United.

Sadly these games didn't produce any tears unlike Kilmarnock's 1-0 win over Hibernian at Easter Road. "How [this] Hibernian side did not win this match is beyond comprehension," wept a disappointed Richard Moore in Scotland On Sunday. "Seldom can a team have had so much possession, showed so much skill, energy and ideas, only to end up with absolutely nothing." Much like the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party then. Sad times.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Week 35: Fight for your right to party!!!

The SPL title assured, Celtic staged their title barn dance on Sunday but sadly for the happy hoopers, the biggest bunch of cowboys in Scottish football were due in town and they weren't in the mood to stand at the back quietly.

"Hearts confirmed their status as Scottish football's least desirable house guests," reckoned Stephen Halliday in the Scotsman, "as they plundered what may prove to be a highly significant victory from Celtic Park to take the shine off the SPL champions' title celebrations and trophy presentation." The 'Kaunas Krew' are
obviously unfamiliar with the right long established by custom that if there's a football party going on, and there's any pooping to be done, then the press have an exclusive monopoly. I believe the entitlement was first mentioned in a letter to King James VI from a privy councillor in 1605: "It being well nown the right to defekait, doth rest sole with the furth estate."

The scene after Hearts' 3-1 win was even enough for the Daily Record's Keith Jackson to go all Martha Stewart: "Here's a tip. Next time you're throwing a party do yourself a favour and remember not to ask Hearts," no doubt throwing the guest lists of East-coast party planners into chaos. The result also set Jackson up for a journey into the sublime as he noted that the "visitors had managed to rain on the parade. In fact, you could say they Pospisiled all over it." You can't learn that, you're either born with it or you're not.

At Easter Road, Hibernian continued their policy of flattering to deceive with another decent performance and another diappointing result - this time a 3-3 draw with Rangers. Mark Guidi in the Sunday Mail thought Hibs "played some lovely stuff and passed Rangers off the park," while The Observer's Patrick Glenn was transfixed by the " fluidity about Hibs' movement, with players changing positions at will, which often wrong-footed their rather pedestrian opponents." Michael Grant of the Sunday Herald summed the home side up as "vibrant, intoxicating and typically flawed", and Sheriff Tom English of Scotland On Sunday enjoyed "a raucous ol' affair, played at a dizzying pace".

At least the reporters at Easter Road could wag their tails a bit on the way home, as was the case for those who took in Motherwell's 3-3 draw with Falkirk. The game was " a bit of a thriller" according to Alan Campbell in the Sunday Herald, and Scotland On Sunday's Martin Hannan enjoyed "a wee belter of a match". Shame it took 35 games.

After all this 'enjoyment' in the SPL, it was with relief that Dundee United's 1-1 draw with Inverness CT was "lacklustre" according to Richard Moore in Scotland On Sunday, while Aberdeen's 3-0 win over Kilmarnock could barely summon an adjective from the watching scribes. The Dons are playing Hearts next week though - hope they weren't thinking of having a party. Things are looking up though for Dunfermline-based events organisers after the Pars' 1-0 win over St. Mirren at Love Street, a result which ensures some interest at the bottom of the table at least in the coming weeks. Who wants to fight for their right to party safe in the knowledge that no one from Gorgie will be invited? We shall see.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Week 34: We have a number one (and twos)

In a weekend that saw 100 million litres of sewage pumped into Scottish waters, we should remember that a similarly toxic effluent has been swilling inside SPL stadiums for most of the season, passing itself off as a game called 'football'. But I suppose at least the league has a champion at last; a team whose treatment station seems to have functioned better than most - but not much.

Chief pumping sensei Shunsuke Nakamura's injury-time free kick gave Celtic a 2-1 win over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park, and the long-overdue SPL title which has been slowly decomposing on the table for weeks. But not for the first time this season it was a victory dipped in doubt over Celtic's genuine pedigree. Glenn Gibbons in the Scotsman thought it was "only the thrilling climax and the celebrations which followed that distinguished this match from most of the others his team have contested in recent times". The title party also prompted Gibbons into a little philosophical enquiry: "It is one of the most notable paradoxes of occasions such as these that a universally recognised inevitability - in this case Celtic's retention of the title - can be accompanied by so much uncertainty." Wisley steering clear of any 'musings', The Herald's Lead Soccer Swami Darryl Broadfoot preferred to linger on the positives noting "the resilience that has characterised the champions' season was in plentiful supply" and "with the smell of freshly-polished silver lingering in the air, Nakamura, inevitably, providing the season's sheen." In fairness, there was a whiff of something else but I won't dwell on it.

Apart from a finely crafted opening goal, Hearts put in another suitably noxious performance at Ibrox where Rangers ran out 2-1 winners. Mark Guidi in the Sunday Mail thought "the Tynecastle men were far too negative and boring to watch," while Sunday Herald's Michael Grant noted the traveling support witnessed a "superb opening goal, only for their team to retreat into themselves and barely create another threat". Sadly, apart from Barry Ferguson's acrobatic winner, the home side complimented Hearts lack of flair beautifully. Patrick Glenn in the Observer saw a surplus of "pedestrianism about much of the home side's play" and "a conspicuous lack of inventiveness in the Rangers midfield". A golden age indeed.

Events at Pittodrie, where Aberdeen and Hibernian drew 2-2, were similarly bereft of artistry, but at least Hibs had the consolation of solid reviews for their youthful line-up. At East End Park, Dunfermline gave themselves a chance of staying in the division with a 1-0 win over Dundee United and a display that Natasha Woods in the Sunday Herald thought was an "inspired and impassioned performance". It even led Scotland On Sunday's Richard Moore to ask "would you rather be a Dunfermline fan or a St Mirren supporter right now?" I believe they ask a similar question to captive individuals in Tennessee which involves choosing between a needle and a chair.

In Inverness, Alasdair Fraser of Scotland On Sunday watched "a disappointing game of football" as the home side beat Motherwell 2-0. Fraser thought the visitors were "lifeless and lacklustre", while Motherwell manager Maurice Malpas felt embarrassed enough by the display to state that "if the youth team played like that they would be dumped". Hopefully not in the Firth of Forth. Bit stinky.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Week 33: Krummier v. Krummier

The country is divided once more. Upstairs - downstairs. Haves - have nots. The rubbish - the rubbisher.

But at least in week 33, in the last burp of egalitarianism in the SPL before the league splits, all 12 teams were focussed, united and committed to a final collective display...of mediocrity.

"For long periods this match was a synopsis of everything that has been wrong with a low-key SPL campaign," muttered the Guardian's Patrick Glenn, after a particularly harrowing 90 minutes, where Rangers squirmed past St. Mirren for a 1-0 win at Love Street. According to poor Patrick, whose Easter weekend was further ruined by a Sunday visit to Celtic Park - "a largely tedious thirty-third outing of the season" - St. Mirren were "untidy and bereft of class" while "woefully short of spark in the final third". Qualities which should stand them in good stead for next season should Dunfermline fail to catch their basement buddies in the next five games.

The Pars certainly made their cause more attainable with a 1-0 win over Hibernian at East End Park, while fellow bottom-sixers Inverness CT and Falkirk shared the points in a largely unremarkable 1-1 draw at the Caledonian Stadium.

All this talk of the the 'split' may have inspired Aberdeen's Lee Miller to give his rear cheeks an outing after the Dons' 4-2 home defeat to Dundee United, an act which the Herald's Frank Gilfeather referred to as an "epilogue", although perhaps not in the Herman Melville tradition. At least Ewan Smith in Scotland On Sunday had a good afternoon, labelling it "one of the most watchable games of the season" although it wasn't clear if this was applicable to the game as a whole or just the final flourish.

At Tynecastle, where thankfully all arses were kept hidden from view, with the exception of [insert name here...take your pick] of course, Richard Moore of Scotland On Sunday noted the Hearts "supporters had spent much of the afternoon in various states of puzzlement, anger and indignation" which is what they pay the £20 for after all. Nevertheless the home fans 'enjoyed' a 1-0 win over Kilmarnock which Rob Robertson of the Herald thought was "scrappy" and "ill deserved", unlike Jose Goncalves' red card which was another sublime refutation of Hearts' reputation as less of a football team and more of a mob in shorts.

As touched on earlier, events were no happier at Celtic Park where the champions elect took another agonising step towards the title with a subdued 1-0 win over Motherwell. Hugh Keevins in the Daily Record witnessed a display from Celtic which was "dire and fell well beneath what should be an acceptable level of performance", while the Sunday Herald's Michael Grant thought Gordon Strachan's side were "pedestrian and unconvincing in victory". As for poor Patrick Glenn, he could only note the "general blandness" of proceedings.

At least, thanks to the split, Patrick and the rest of us have 'meaningful' games to look forward to in the final weeks of the season. Pity they're not in the SPL.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Week 32: Sacre Boo !!!

'Le Gaffer' may have ended his sorry winter tale some months ago - pursued by a Govan bear or two - but the spirit of the Paul Le Guen era, or lack of it, returned to Ibrox on Saturday as Rangers blundered their way to a 1-1 draw with 10-man Inverness CT.

"For the first time since Walter Smith returned to Ibrox, the sound of boos could be heard echoing around this famous old stadium as Rangers fans expressed their frustration at an insipid performance more akin to the sort turned in during the troubled tenure of Paul Le Guen," noted Natasha Woods in the Sunday Herald. The boos probably reminded Walter of the last time he was manager at Ibrox, before he exited stage right - pursued by a Govan bear or two. Nevertheless, The Sunday Mail's Euan McLean also reported "a performance straight from the bad old days under Paul Le Guen", as opposed to the good old days under Alex McLeish and Dick Advocaat, who both left, history tells us, pursued by a bear or two.

As for praise for Inverness, Darryl Broadfoot, The Herald's Chief Football Inspector, wasn't quite Shakespearean but he did go a bit medieval, in his eulogy to the honed mediocrity pedalled by the visitors: "Trapped in the pitiful, pointless dungeon of the bottom six, the Highlanders overcame their condemned status to inflict more untimely misery on another Rangers manager." Who would have thought that the phrase "pitiful, pointless dungeon" would ever feature in a report on football? Then again, it seems quite apt for the SPL.

Celtic's claim to be the biggest bad boy in the open prison that is the top six was futher disputed by a Dundee United side who scored late to share the points in a 1-1 draw at Tannadice. The Sunday Herald's Michael Grant thought Gordon Strachan's side "fluffed their lines again", in what is proving to be a tedious final act for Celtic, but Patrick Glenn in The Observer reckoned "the combination of United's spirit - complemented by forceful football - and their opponents' awkwardness on the pitch brought a contest that was precariously balanced and relentlessly intriguing."

Slightly less intriguing was Aberdeen's 2-1 away win over Kilmarnock, where "for an alarmingly large portion of this encounter, the prospect of winning the half-time draw prize of a McDonald Brothers CD was the most promising on the immediate horizon," according to The Herald's Richard Winton. Sadly, Falkirk's 2-0 home win over St Mirren and Motherwell's victory over Dunfermline at Fir Park, by the same scoreline, didn't even have that in their favour - not even a Chico single.

In the 'showpiece' game on Sunday, Hearts shylocked their way to a 1-0 win over Hibernian in a game that the Herald's Hugh MacDonald reckoned was "a series of fouls sometimes interrupted by a football match", although in fairness the interruptions were kept to a minimum. Nevertheless, Stuart Bathgate of the The Scotsman saw enough of something to come up with this pseudo-philosophical musing:

"Some old bloke with a crown on his head proved long ago that you cannot turn the tide, but Hearts proved something for themselves yesterday: that the contrasting fortunes of football teams are not akin to forces of nature, and that with diligence and desire it is possible to prevent what others may have regarded as inevitable."

Or maybe it just proved that it is possible to run a circus of a football team and get a bit lucky now and again.
"Fortune brings in some boats that are not steered," said the Bard - submarines obviously included.