The battle for the Highlands

Today was a good day.  My team, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, have all but secured their highest ever finish in the SPL with a hard fought victory over their nearest rivals, Ross County.  In what was billed as the biggest Highland Derby ever before kick off (Both teams are fighting for the chance of European football, who’d have thought that ten years ago!), it certainly lived up to that title.  Not the prettiest game to watch, but the grit and determination shown by both sides resulted in an engrossing and tense affair.  Ross County sent a large contingent of fans across the Kessock bridge, which only added to the atmosphere.


Just before 3pm the teams came out and the wait was over.


It seems here that the wee boy got scared!

It didn’t take long for the action to start, when ICT took the lead after 5 minutes through Andrew Shinnie.  A corner from Leeds loanee Charlie Taylor (replacing the suspended Graeme Shinnie) met the head of Caley captain Richie Foran, who nodded it down towards goal.  County keeper Michael Fraser blocked the shot, but Andrew Shinnie prodded home from close range to make it 1-0.  

Caley kept the pressure up, and Billy McKay had a chance not long after to make it 2-0 but after turning his man curled his shot wide.

County kept battling on and after 35 minutes a soft free kick was given about 30 yards from goal.  Former Caley youth player Iain Vigurs squared the ball left to Paul Lawson, who unleashed a lovely strike which curled into the top left of the net to make it 1-1.  I don’t really know if Ryan Esson could have done much about it. I didn’t take a photo of this. I probably should have but hey, I’m more interested in Caley!

It didn’t get better for Esson, however, as he had to signal to the bench after picking up an injury. This meant a return for Antonio Reguero to the Caley net just before half time.

The second half begun much like the first, with both teams locked in a ding dong battle, but ICT having the slight edge.  The edge became an advantage around the hour mark when Charlie Taylor was (according to Derek Adams, I haven’t seen a replay) brought down in the box by County defender Mihael Kovacevic and referee Iain Brines awarded a penalty.  The decision resulted in a bit of argy bargy in the box, but Inverness’ top scorer Billy McKay calmly slotted the ball bast Fraser to make it 2-1 for his 20th league goal of the season.

Adams tried to change County’s tactics, throwing on Gary Glen to replace Grant Munro and the men from Dingwall kept trying to break Caley down, but their defence proved too strong.  The closest they came was a weak Sam Morrow header which was comfortably claimed by Antonio Reguero in the final minutes.

When the final whistle went, the victory was almost treated like a cup final win.  We beat our biggest rivals (who were on an 11 match unbeaten run) to virtually cement our place in the top 6 of the SPL, a first for a Highland club.  The joy could be seen on the faces of all involved with ICT, especially the manager.



So for the time being, the Highlands are STILL ours and Terry Butcher and the boys continue they’re march into the history books.

“Oh Inverness is wonderful…..”

If you’d like to see some of the rest of my photos from the game, they’re on this page – http://imgur.com/a/tM5hu

A weekend of massive games. Oh and a cup final.

Well, there’s some BIG games in Scotland this week. It all starts with Motherwell Vs. Hibs tonight in the SPL. Considering the form of Well’s Michael Higdon (Boo! His goal got us relegated.), Hibs’ Leigh Griffiths and the fact the last ten games between these two sides has resulted in 45 goals, an entertaining game is in order. Mind you, now that I’ve said that, it’ll be 0-0. I’m wanting anything but a Motherwell win tonight, only because we’re competing with them!

Then tomorrow we have possibly the biggest Highland derby (“El Kessocko” still doesn’t sound right to me and I shudder at “Cold Firm”) of ALL TIME with both teams fighting to cement a top 6 place and make a charge for European football! If you’d told me that at the start of the season I wouldn’t have believed you but both teams have been absolutely fantastic. Being a loyal ICT fan of course, I’ll be there, cheering on Terry and the boys. I’ll be doing a post on the atmosphere and game tomorrow, so watch this space. Especially if you’ve never experienced it. It promises to be an absolute belter.

In fact if you are able to go, GO! Scottish football needs your support!

Celtic host Aberdeen on Saturday in the other SPL game. There are some rumours going about that this could possibly be Craig Brown’s final game in charge, if Aberdeen are able to find a new manager soon, since he decided that he will be retiring at the end of the season. I personally can’t see that being the case and I reckon Brown will stay on for the remaining games of the season, due to the fact there’s not that many left.

Then on Sunday there’s a Dundee Derby at Tannadice. I’d imagine United to be the strong favourites, but some are saying that Dundee are having a mini revival.
It seems that the Dark Blues will be replacing Rab Douglas in goals with new signing Steve Simonsen, the former Stoke goalkeeper. There’s stories going around that new Dundee manager John Brown told Douglas to pack up and get out. If this is the case, it’s a pretty disgraceful way to treat a loyal servant of the club, regardless of his sub-par performances this season. The official line is that Douglas is carrying an injury and is being given time off to recover. Only time will tell as to what the truth is.

There is another game on Sunday. Just the small matter of the League Cup final. St. Mirren take on Hearts for the first trophy of the season at Hampden. St. Mirren will be attempting to win this trophy for the first time in their history, whilst Hearts are after their 5th. Given both teams form, I’d say the men from Paisley might be slight favourites, but the Caley Jags were favourites to beat Hearts in the semi-final and we were knocked out. I’d have to say I’d prefer a Saints win, if only because the Jambos knocked us out and the fact my great grandfather played for St. Mirren in the 1940′s.

It promises to be a good weekend of football in Scotland, so if you can GET TO A GAME!

Thanks for the memories Craig Brown.

So the big news today in Scotland is that Craig Brown will be retiring as Aberdeen manager at the end of the season, and moving upstairs to a non executive role on the board. I had a hunch that this would happen, seeing as he’s the oldest manager in the UK and this season has kind of fizzled out for Aberdeen. I’d like to wish him well in his “retirement” (we’ll no doubt still see him on the telly) as he’s always come across as a decent bloke and he took our national team to their last two major tournaments.
Thanks Craig. Definitely one of the good guys in Scottish football.

So who’s going to replace Broony? I doubt history will repeat itself and Aberdeen appoint another manager straight from Motherwell! Considering Stuart McCall’s record at Motherwell so far, I can’t see him moving to a club that has finished below his team 2 years in a row. Also he’s an ex-Ranger, so that might not go down too well with the Red Army!

There’s very strong rumours linking Ross County manager Derek Adams to the club he began his career at. I think he might be the bookies favourite, as he’s proven himself at this level with a limited budget, however a couple of other names to consider could be Alex McLeish and Owen Coyle. The former could be a really good shout, as he is an Aberdeen legend, but that’s not to say that Owen Coyle wouldn’t also be considered an excellent choice. Coyle’s record at St. Johnstone and Burnley would hold him in good stead.
The reason I think that Derek Adams will be favourite for the job is purely down to financial reasons, as McLeish and Coyle wages could be a bit higher than what Adams would cost.

Personally, I would like to see Adams remain at County, as he just seems the right “fit”. He left them before, to become assistant manager at Hibs (never understood that) but since his return he’s continued to take County from strength to strength. However the lure of one of Scotland’s biggest teams might be just enough to tempt him away.

Whoever Aberdeen’s manager will be next season, they’ll surely be tasked with getting Aberdeen back up to the top end of the table. It’s been a while.

There was some other news I saw today but I don’t want to talk too much about whining Rangers supporters clubs. It’s just getting old and boring. I’m not going to waste any more time on it, so if you want to read about them, the link is below.

http://www.scotland-mad.co.uk/news/tmnw/rangers_fan_group_threaten_sfl_clubs_787477/index.shtml

The latest flight of fancy

So what was it I was saying yesterday? Oh yes, I left on league reconstruction. After the news yesterday (http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/21763900) it seems that yet again Scottish Football is being led down the road of pandering to the Old Firm.

It seems the SFL are entertaining the idea of allowing two extra spaces in the league structure to accommodate a Celtic B and a Rangers B team. I’m sorry but in my opinion this is quite possibly one of the more insane ideas I’ve ever heard on how to fix our game. The Old Firm can start collecting two gates some weeks, and of course they need the money! Nevermind the fact that this proposal has been dreamt up because David Longmuir is scared that the Old Firm are going to leave us.
Here’s what he had to say -
“If both clubs were to leave without the legacy of a colt team and an annual financial settlement, then Scottish football as an industry would face significant drops in commercial, marketing and media investment.
“Our games may be more competitive with more clubs evenly matched, but that would come with a potential reduction in quality and resources.
“The legacy of a colt team would allow Scottish football to profit from the global success of the parent club or team, but also provide a level of domestic football which would be competitive, interesting and attractive to fans, sponsors and media alike.
“It would operate more along the lines of a community club.
“Only when the parent clubs moved out of Scotland, would the colt team then have the freedom to progress through the leagues unhindered, and based on their sporting success.”

From that statement, I’d like to highlight this sentence -
“Our games may be more competitive with more clubs evenly matched, but that would come with a potential reduction in quality and resources.”
So Mr Longmuir, rather than creating a competitive league, which would be entertaining and therefore more marketable (over time), you would rather we continue making sure that our league is one of the most uncompetitive in the world, whilst also allowing the Old Firm to have teams in another league, keeping their pockets lined, while Scottish football is left with the “reserves”?
The arrogance and utter contempt for our game by the men at the top seems to know no bounds. Non Old Firm clubs are regularly informed that we are holding the Old Firm back, as if our clubs mean nothing. This attitude is what’s holding our game back. Do they forget that Aberdeen once beat Real Madrid to a European trophy? That Dundee United reached a UEFA cup final? These are clubs with a proud history, but now seem to be treated simply as “Diddy clubs”. I understand that back then, our game was stronger, but as we found out recently, Rangers were so dominant because they weren’t playing on the same financial playfield as everyone else. The “Holier than thou” (HAH!) attitude of the Old Firm and the protection afforded to them has allowed our game to get to this state. Every non Old Firm fans know that both Celtic and Rangers ideal league is not in England, but a league in which they play each other 18 times a season.
That’s all they want.

Also, why is Mr. Longmuir scared that the Old Firm will be off anyway? England doesn’t want them. Even if they did, they would have to begin at the bottom. Which isn’t League 2. It also isn’t the Conference North. It’s about 5 levels below that.
I can’t see them accepting that, because then they really would be playing against pub teams.
To be honest, I think there’s a growing feeling that we don’t even want them in Scotland. Rather than trying to improve our game as a whole, they’d rather improve themselves, which by their reckoning is improving our game as a whole. It can’t continue like this.

I’m going to be blunt, but I think the Old Firm are the cancer of Scottish Football. We need to cut them out before we lose the whole thing. Sure, our league would be weaker financially for a while, many clubs would struggle and we wouldn’t be as competitive in Europe (seeing that’s only really ever the Old Firm anyway) but over time, competition will allow our game to blossom once more, and fans will start to come back, when they realise the game is no longer rigged against them and their clubs. I would rather see this, than the continuation of the status quo.

Which is why I wanted to highlight that sentence. Mr Longmuir and his pals are so out of touch with the game and the fans that they are willing to risk the long term survival of our game for the short term financial benefits for a couple of select clubs.

It’s good to see that a few SFL clubs, like Raith Rovers and Falkirk have said that these proposals are irresponsible. It’s just going to distract from the bigger picture of our whole game.
St. Mirren’s Stewart Gilmour has said “If there’s to be colt teams, fine, but for everybody and there’s a colt league, it’s as simple as that. We’ve no desire for some clubs to have colt teams and others not.”. Which is a fair point. It also reminds me that we have no reserve league in Scotland. I understand it was stopped for financial reasons, but we NEED a reserve league. It’s one of those things which is fundamental for developing our game I believe.

We need to make sure that when the inevitable league reconstruction happens, it’s for the benefit of all clubs in the long term, not just the few to protect their privileges.

OK, on a more lighthearted note I absolutely loved this video

C’mon boys! Listen to Terry! Let’s get out there and beat them!

The difficult second post

Football. It’s our national game. We turn out in droves to watch our national team play the finest teams Europe and the world has to offer. We sometimes win, we sometimes lose, but we remain loyal to following Scotland, wherever it takes us. We love our game.

So why is it in the shambolic state it’s in now?

Just yesterday, Dunfermline Athletic held a meeting to discuss how to save their club from crippling debts of around £8.5 million pounds. How does an SFL club get to having debts of that magnitude? Now I’m not a financial expert but that’s just screams “poorly run”. Dunfermline haven’t been the only club either who haven’t been able to balance the books.
We all know about Rangers’ problems (so much so that that’s all I’m saying about it. The details are on the net for you to find, if so inclined), Dundee have been in administration twice in my living memory and Motherwell have also struggled badly in the past. That’s not even mentioning the case of Clyde, who are rumoured to be moving to East Kilbride and renaming themselves to EK Clyde, for financial reasons. I haven’t even mentioned Hearts.

So can it be said that money is the root of all of our problems?

I’d say no. Financial mismanagement is. Most fans in Scotland are understanding of the situation we’re in. We’ve got the worlds biggest spending league on our doorstep in the English Premiership, and for a few years in the 90′s some of our clubs tried to compete on that level. It couldn’t last. To remain competitive against a VERY strong Rangers team at that time most clubs started to spend outwith their means a bit. Instead of strengthening our infrastructure, there were a lot of foreign imports. I don’t think our game has fully recovered from this time. How many international tournaments have we qualified for since then? I believe that’s part of the reason why.

However, I still think the future can be bright for our game, but I find it hard to believe we will ever be as strong as we were pre 1990′s. There are some clubs that in my opinion are going about the game in the right way. St. Johnstone, Saint Mirren, Ross County, and my beloved Inverness CT for instance make a point of living within their means. I also think it’s interesting to note that the two Highland clubs haven’t yet been in the league structure for 20 years but are both challenging for Europe now, with players from both clubs pasts having made names for themselves in Scotland or within the English Leagues.

(I find it interesting how Neil Lennon was grumbling about being a “feeder” team to bigger clubs. OK, he wasn’t really grumbling but he wasn’t happy he had to accept the reality. That’s how other Scottish clubs have felt for years.)

So what does the future hold for our game? At the moment anyway, it seems that league reconstruction is going to play a part. Reconstruction is inevitable, but we really need to make sure we do it right. The current proposal of 12-12-18 doesn’t sound like the way forward to me. It just doesn’t sound like there’s enough for fans to shout about there. Meaningless seasons become a possibility, which will lower gates and interest, which is the last thing we want. I personally would like to see something akin to the Portuguese league. Not the largest league, and also not the smallest, in recent years the standard of football there among the “lower” teams has risen. And they don’t play each other 4 times a season.

I hope common sense takes hold and the right solution for the future of our game is reached. However, this is Scottish Football, I wouldn’t be surprised if the league structure facilitates the ascension of Rangers so that the old status quo can resume and in another 20 years we’ll still be having the same conversation about how to change our game for the better.

Kicking off

Look at that title.  LOOK AT IT.  It’s possibly gone way over everyone’s head.

Yes, it took me all of 2 seconds to equate my first post proper, with kicking off.

You’re still here?  Great.

I’ll begin (kick off? – I’ll stop) with where I suppose would be a natural starting point.  Last weekend’s action.  The big talking points would be Ross County’s defeat of Celtic and Leigh Griffith’s phantom goal in the Edinburgh derby.  Now, regarding the first game, I have to say I’m disappointed that the overall media position has been to discuss how poor Celtic were, rather than giving Ross County the rightful credit for coming back to win after being 2-0 down.  This has always been the case though in Scotland, that very rarely is a team given credit for defeating the Old Firm, it’s nearly always that the Old Firm didn’t turn up.  So I’ll say well done to County.  However they have no chance on Saturday, when ICT are gonna smash them in the derby.

On to the Edinburgh derby and Hibs.  Let’s face it, it wasn’t the most exciting of games yesterday, barring the non allowance of an absolute beaster of a free kick from Leigh Griffiths.  A good bit over the line, but one of the assistant refs couldn’t guarantee it was over.  Can’t say it’s the first time I’ve seen terrible officiating in the SPL.  Credit to Leigh Griffiths too, he didn’t lose his head.  He’s without doubt been one of the best players this year and he’s definitely a character.  It’d be good to see him stay in the SPL, but if Wolves continue to be as bad as they are, they might need his goals next season in League 1.

Also credit to another Hibs player, Kevin Thomson.  It’s been revealed he’s signed for his former club until the end of the season, without pay.  It’s fantastic to see.  He said he understands the current financial climate so has decided to help put the club first.  It’s great for him also because he can get games, stay fit and put himself in the shop window.

It makes you wonder why we haven’t seen something similar from Craig Gordon, the last I heard he was on the coaching staff at Dumbarton.  Are his wage demands too high?  I  can’t believe no one seems willing to take a risk on him.

Well that’s my first post done.  Thanks for reading.

 

Welcome to the Paul Paps football blog

Welcome.  Wilkommen.  Bienvenue.

To anyone reading this, thanks for visiting.  What exactly are you visiting though?

Well, the purpose of this blog is to give my individual perspective on Scottish football (with a liberal sprinkling of Inverness Caledonian Thistle bias) as well as some thoughts about the global game in general.

Our game’s not the most technical.  It’s not always the prettiest.  It is bloody entertaining though.

I hope this blog will be too.