August 28, 2010

My apologies for the delayed blog, once again I’ve spent my weekend commentating (and I will be commentating again on the Cruz Azul v Tigres match tonight, too) so I have not had an opportunity to dissect Thursday night’s atrocity. Before I start, I’m sure some of you didn’t get to see the game thanks to it not being available on TV, so here is the YouTube highlights clip.

So what can I say that hasn’t been said before? Truth be told, not much at all. It was a woefully inept performance, and the great promise from the previous week’s comfortable victory had disappeared after 20 minutes. I don’t know about you, but after the second penalty had been given, I knew that only one side were going through.

But then there are the goals themselves. The first one was a naive challenge from Hooiveld, a guy who seems to have a mouth as wide as the Clyde, and he gave the referee a question to answer after just 12 minutes. (I’m sick of hearing about Hooiveld’s opinions in the press, declaring that he wants to be ‘our leader’ and the like, when he is frankly ordinary on the field. Here’s a hint, Jos, if you want to be skipper EARN it. Show us some leadership on the park instead of the press conference.)

The second penalty was even worse. There’s an infamous saying when learning the game of football of “if in doubt, kick it out”. I’m not sure what the Polish, or indeed, the Korean version of that saying is, but I’d suggest that Lenny looks it up pronto. Both Zaluska and Cha had an opportunity to put the ball out of play for a throw in, yet instead they manage to give the ball away and a silly penalty is the result.

Then after the second half kicks off, Lennon’s words surely ringing in the players’ ears, and the phrase “keep it tight” was surely that very message, we concede another ridiculous goal. Why could none of our defenders get a challenge in, or at the very least bring the winger down on the half-way line before he can get to the edge of our box? OK it’s cynical, but why not? Italian sides have done it since the dawn of time. At 3-0 the game is done, and the fourth doesn’t even need talking about.

So we have no European adventure, either in the cash-rich Champions League or the consolation prize of the Europa League.  Now I’ve heard many fans try and be bullish about this, claiming that our defeats will make us stronger over the course of the season, and that without the distraction of European football the squad will become more focused on the league title. What utter tripe.

The effect of this defeat will not be felt this season, but next, and the year after that. No, I’m not talking about the financial side of the defeat, but about the club’s reputation around Europe. Celtic is still a massive name, but that only gets you so far. Players of quality will not sign unless they feel the move can benefit their career, sometimes financially, but also on the field. Will a move to Celtic right now help anybody’s international prospects? Of course not, you’d be better off in the English Championship. The lack of European football this season will make players think not just twice, but three times or more about a move to Parkhead. Why move to a club that cannot give you that platform of Europe to play on?

However, the problem is not just limited to Celtic. Motherwell, Dundee United and Hibs are all out of Europe before September as well, and as much as it pains me to say this, Scottish football is a joke. Although it is becoming more competitive, this is simply because the standards of both Celtic and Rangers have slipped beyond recognition. Changes need to be made now from the SFA, the SPL and the SFL (having one football body would be a good start.)

We also need to move the time of the season. One of the reasons so many clubs struggle in these early preliminary rounds is because they are still rusty from pre-season. Clubs in Scandanavia and Russia start their seasons early because of the weather, but if the Scottish season began in May then late June or early July European games would see all of our clubs in full swing of the domestic campaign, and as such, rustiness is no longer an issue.

Sure, there are possible problems to this (the transfer window for one, and the possibility of a 12 month season if one of our clubs is lucky enough to make a European final again, and of course, the World Cup) but it has to be worth investigating, especially now there is only one Champions League spot up for grabs, and it could take THREE qualifying rounds.  This can hopefully lead to a couple of sides sneaking into the European arena again. This in turn will see a return of prestige, and more importantly, cash to the Scottish game.

This really isn’t a new idea, and that I accept, but without urgent changes the Scottish league will become as prestigious of that in Wales. Dark days then for the game north of the border, and it’s time for fans to make their voices heard.

A complete revolution is the only answer.

Earlier this week, Everton manager David Moyes backed a proposal to allow both Celtic and Rangers to enter a second tier to the English Premier League. Personally, I’m conflicted by the latest idea, especially as there is a plan to remove relegation. However, with a few amendments I think the idea could work. That said, I fear after the actions of a minority of Old Firm supporters this week (I use that term very loosely) Moyes’ yes vote will be as rare as the Giant Panda.

I have to say I’ve always been uncomfortable with the religious and political aspects of both Celtic and Rangers, and have felt embarrassed by sectarian songs on both sides of the divide. I mean, what EXACTLY do paramilitary groups have to do with football? However, yesterday’s events really got to me.  In case you haven’t seen what I’m talking about, there’s a video below.

Now I understand that Celtic are a club that transgress the borders of Britain. I’m fully aware that Celtic were formed to aid the poor Irish immigrants of Glasgow, many of whom had fled oppression and hunger to start a better life in Scotland. And I know the British Army have a somewhat murky history on the Emerald Isle. However, I STILL feel that the actions of the few yesterday were a disgrace.

In the lead up to the game, it was widely reported that the Celtic board had requested a minutes’ applause rather than the traditional silence, presumably to avoid this scenario. It fills me with great sadness that we are the only club in the country who are unable to adhere to this most important tradition. Indeed, I personally feel a minutes’ applause is inappropriate in such circumstances. These people died, they didn’t win some mindless TV talent show, or even a European Cup.

No, Remembrance Sunday is a day where we respect the men and women who laid down their lives to protect this country. Ironically, many of those who died in the First World War were Irish. Some of whom lied about their age so they could stand up for what they believed in. To boo or heckle a minutes’ silence dedicated to those brave souls is a horrific insult. Yes, I know there is a right of protest in this country, a right which was earned by the actions of these very people. However, to choose to protest in this manner does nothing but damage the integrity of Celtic Football Club, an entity most of these clowns confess to loving.

Maybe I’m biased here. After all, I come from a military family, with both my Father and Brother having served in Iraq, and my Grandfather served around the time of the Second World War. Despite the family’s rampant atheism, Remembrance Sunday was the only day of the year where we felt it was genuinely appropriate to go to church. Maybe that’s why this angered me so much. However, my family also originate from the north of Ireland, before emigrating to Glasgow.

That is where my Grandfather was born, which is how the McKenna love affair with this great club began. I can assure you all that if he had been alive today he would have shared my disgust. I think it’s worth noting that in England (and the rest of Scotland, for that matter) the minutes’ silence has been impeccably observed, and it is the English who Celtic must appeal to if they are to get their greatest wish: entry into the Premiership. It would be naivety in the extreme to think that this will have gone unnoticed.

And then of course there’s the other club of this great schism.

Like most of the followers of Celtic, the vast majority of Rangers fans are thoroughly decent people. There are many differences, but both sets of fans are passionate about their clubs, and travel in vast numbers across the globe to urge their side on. However, every genuine Rangers fan will be devastated by the actions of the few on Wednesday night in Romania. Again, in case you missed it there is a video below.

Of course, Rangers ‘fans’ (again, the term is used loosely) have form for this. Indeed, I’d expect the residents of Manchester to flee for the hills the next time Rangers are due in town after the events of the UEFA Cup Final in 2008. Then Rangers fans have also have been found guilty by UEFA of sectarian songs in Pamplona and Villareal, and it is this past form which led to UEFA charging Rangers for the acts of last week. This charge could lead to anything from a large fine, elimination from European competition this season, being forced to play home games behind-closed-doors or even being banned from Europe.

Once again, this is not attractive to the powers-that-be who run the English Premier League. I mean, who wants to invite mindless violence and bigotry into the ‘best league in the world’? However, it would seem once again that the Rangers board are deflecting the issue, rather than taking it head on. Indeed, I agree with most of the points made by Graham Spiers in his Times piece.

What is needed now is a drastic clean up operation. There has yet to be a reaction from Celtic about yesterday’s events, and Rangers have been somewhat meek in their condemnation of their fans’ conduct. Instead, there MUST be action from both clubs.

Anybody found to be causing trouble should have their season-tickets removed from them, and should be banned from every stadium in the country. I firmly believe that supporters of both clubs should aid the Old Firm to weed out the trouble-makers. These parasites may claim to be football fans, but they are nothing but baggage. Under the weight of this baggage, both clubs will eventually buckle, and it is time this particular weight was jettisoned at the door.

If it isn’t, there’s a great danger that the Premiership flight will take off without them. For the good of both Celtic and Rangers, that cannot be allowed to happen.

Scottish failures: A retort

November 6, 2009

Now then, my good friend Mr Mantle has recently posted a direct response to my latest blog about Scottish football on the European scene.

He makes some good points, it must be said. Scottish football is dying a death, and the squeeze the Old Firm have had on Scottish trophies does it no favours at all.  However, arguably the decline of the Old Firm has breathed some life into the game north of the border.

After all, the league is now genuinely competitive for the first time in a generation. Both Celtic and Rangers have deteriorated to such an extent that a trip to Motherwell is now tricky, not to mention a visit to Tynecastle or Easter Road. Last season, both clubs dropped points no fewer than 26 times between them. This is more or less unheard of in seasons gone by.

There are, of course, pros and cons to this. The biggest pro of all is that the league has some excitement, and both Celtic and Rangers have lost that aura of invincibility that they had previously had over the rest of the league. However, this is not because the rest of the league has improved, but because the Old Firm have declined drastically even since Martin O’Neill’s time in the Parkhead hotseat.

The figures are there to prove this. In Martin O’Neill’s first year, Celtic spent £18m on Sutton, Lennon and Hartson, and another £3 million on Alan Thompson. This kind of investment is now unheard of, and Celtic even struggle to compete with English Championship sides in the transfer market. Indeed, the latest TV deal means that Celtic earn roughly £3 million a year through Sky and ESPN. Compare this to Hull City’s £15 million and you’ll see where the problem lies.

However, Ross does have a point. The lack of prestige in the Scottish league makes it monumentally difficult to attract quality continental and home based players, partly because they don’t fancy a trip to St Mirren on a cold Tuesday evening, especially when their wage packet is significantly smaller than it would be in England.

A few years ago, the Old Firm were able to punch above their weight and compete on the European scene. Indeed, since 2003 both clubs have made the UEFA Cup Final, and qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League 3 times between them. However, this is not enough. Both clubs need a change of ethos, concentrating on youngsters and bringing the best coaches available to Glasgow.

Without this, the Old Firm will swim in a sea of mediocrity, on a slow journey to their death. The catch 22 is the more the two clubs decline, the better the SPL will become. On the flip side, Scotland will lose the automatic Champions League spot it currently enjoys, and yet more clubs will be thrown to the wolves.

What is needed is further investment, into clubs individually and Scottish football in general. However, one area where Ross and I do agree is an emergency Old Firm move is inevitable.

The question over whether they’ll survive the ambulance journey is open to debate.

Scottish Failures.

November 6, 2009

While life is largely constructed of a series of unpredictable events, we all need our certainties. We need to know, for example, that Monday is always preceded by Sunday and that the TV on Saturday night will be crap. Another one of life’s necessary certainties is that the Scottish clubs will perform dismally in Europe.

Rangers are currently propping up Group G, behind such Euro-powerhouses like Unirea Urziceni (no, me neither) and Celtic are languishing at the wrong end of Group C of the Europa League, let’s be honest, results are what matter, not performances.

Elsewhere in this rather fantastic blog, Mike McKenna eloquently discusses Hamburg and their investment of £12 million on the young forward Marcus Berg, for the apparent purpose of warming their bench. Mike then bemoans the lack of comparative investment in Celtic’s own squad, to a degree, Mike is absolutely correct in this. According to American money magazine, Forbes, Celtics’ revenue for 2009, so far, stands at $145 million (£87 million). Not a small amount of money, but Hamburg’s revenue currently stands at $202 million (£122 Million). 

However, to point the finger at a lack of investment is slightly avoiding the real reason why Scottish clubs fail to perform at the highest levels. The real reason that Scottish clubs bomb in Europe is because of the lack of competition in their domestic league.  Maybe it’s the case that us Sassenachs were spoiled down here with a “Big Four”, at least it’s twice as good as a “Big Two”, and with the mega-bucks of Manchester City, we may even see a “Big Five” down here, great stuff.

Of course, there’s none of that kind of drama up in Haggis-land. Our Scottish friends happily watch the likes of Georgios Samaras and Kenny Miller (12 Premiership goals between them) and they tolerate the bizarre Glasgow “cartel” that has seen the Scottish title dominated by the Glasgow clubs for the last 23 years. Sadly, as they play in Europe and get smashed most seasons, they’ll fail to attract the best players and they’ll continue to get beaten. It’s a vicious circle that’ll see the “Old Firm” clubs move down to the Premiership eventually.

It’s the best thing for them, they can compete on a genuine world stage in a genuinely competitive league. And who knows, maybe Celtic fans might be able to stop dining out on 1967 and Rangers fans might be able to celebrate winning something other than another Mickey Mouse league title.

But don’t count on that happening soon