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Scotland’s gold medal winning cyclist has taken up a new sport and this Easter Sir Chris Hoy left nobody in any doubt as to his intentions to go all the way in GT racing. He delivered a professional performance at the British GT season-opening weekend. The six-time medal-winner made his debut in a Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 in front of a big Easter Monday crowd at Oulton Park in Cheshire.

Sir Chris Hoy prepares to start the race

Sir Chris Hoy prepares to start the race

The Pro-Am status of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship calls for the non-professional driver to qualify for and take the start of the first of the weekend’s two one-hour races. Chris qualified in a very credible 14th place on a grid of over 30 cars.

When the race got underway, he made a storming start and was up three places to 11th by the end of the first lap. Throughout his run he held off a strong challenge from a hard-charging Ferrari before pitting from ninth place to hand the GT-R over to Alex Buncombe. Unfortunately the safety car came out at that point and split the race in two. Buncombe held ninth place but was a lap behind the leaders. He fought hard during the closing laps and crossed the line in ninth place at the chequered flag.

Commenting after the race Hoy said: “That was brilliant fun! There were a few exciting moments, especially when I got a touch from another car but he went off onto the grass. My rear view mirror was full of Ferrari for most of my run but I just focused on what I was doing and made sure I did the simple things correctly. It’s a beautiful sunny day here, there’s a great crowd and I feel like I’m a racing driver!”

Buncombe was at the wheel for the start of race two and had a strong and relatively uneventful run to 13th place before it was Chris’ turn to take the wheel.

“I had a problem pulling away from the pits,” said Hoy. “I lost a few seconds there and when I got onto the track I got forced onto the dirty stuff at Cascades and lost a few more seconds. The Safety Car came out during my run and I got caught up behind two GT4 cars who didn’t seem interested in keeping up with the pack so that was frustrating.”

When the Safety Car pitted with just six minutes to go Chris went on a charge, passing three cars on the run to the flag and taking 13th place across the line.

“Although the end results don’t say much we’re pleased with how the weekend went,” said Buncombe. “This isn’t a track that suits the GT-R but we got the best out of it and we’ll have our turn in future races. I was really pleased with the job Chris did today. He did even better than I expected so I’m really chuffed with his performance.”

“I’ve had an absolutely brilliant weekend,” concluded Hoy. “It’s a privilege to be here. I really enjoyed it and now I can’t wait for Rockingham. Those two races have just confirmed how much I enjoy this. I’ve definitely got the bug!”

Saturday
The conclusion to Scotland’s Six Nations campaign was instantly forgettable, a bit like Dan Biggar’s short-term memory after Lions full-back Stuart Hogg caught the Welshman with a cheap forearm smash that was more Hulk Hogan than Kenny Logan.

Stuart Hogg (Pic: Glasgow Warriors)

Stuart Hogg
(Pic: Glasgow Warriors)

Not surprisingly, referee Jerome Garces decided that Hogg was going off, yellow carding him before making it red on review, a decision no-one could complain about.

In changing his mind, with hindsight but mostly with the assistance of the video replay, Garces highlighted wonderfully the benefit of a review process at the highest level of sport. The risk of a bad call on the vast majority of occasions is taken out of rugby, American football, cricket and tennis, simply by using the technology to hand.

If only football would embrace the concept, how many dubious, game changing decisions would be eliminated from what is the biggest sport in the world. But then, those who officiate in soccer don’t make mistakes, do they?

Sunday
The first Grand Prix of the new Formula 1 season takes place in Australia and is, for a change drama-packed with breakdowns and retirements galore.

This was in the main due to the race being the first competitive run for the new 2014 specification cars, with the biggest and most noticeable change coming in the engine noise the cars make. I’m surprised people are critical of the sound, given that from my own experiences around F1, the first thing sponsors provide is a set of ear plugs!

Monday
Rangers progress, finally, to the semi-finals for the Scottish Cup, seeing off that mish-mash of tax inspectors, Asda staff and tradesmen that collectively are known as Albion Rovers.

Albion Rovers  Donated £10,000 to charity

Albion Rovers
Donated £10,000 to charity

The Coatbridge side kindly donated £10,000 of their hard earned wealth to Radio Clyde’s Cash For Kids appeal, a generous act, though I for one would have fully understood if they’d kept the money for one of the many rainy days that sweeps over that part of North Lanarkshire, by which I mean Cliftonhill.

The ground has changed little, or maybe that should be not at all, since I first clapped eyes on it in the late 60’s, watching St Ninian’s in the final of some Lanarkshire schools tournament.

Little had been upgraded or updated (thankfully) by the time my next memorable experience came, in the mid-80’s, which meant breaking out of the stadium having been locked in by the ‘jovial’ groundsman after overstaying my welcome while trying to make various newspaper deadlines as the local ‘stringer.’

Back to the present, and Rovers offered little in the way of resistance or threat as they had done a week before at Ibrox, which I was reliably informed, was down to the majority of their players having worked an eight-hour shift.

That isn’t really an excuse I buy, knowing the fitness levels achieved by countless amateur sportsmen. Of course, that ten grand Rovers gave away to good causes could have easily covered the cost of taking a day or shift off to prepare for facing Rangers.

As they say, sometimes charity begins in the home dressing room …

Tuesday
That Rangers win at New Douglas Park set them up with a Scottish Cup semi-final tie with Dundee United at ‘neutral’ Ibrox. Of course, United were none too pleased at this probability when the draw for the last four took place and complained to the SFA, who filed their protest under ‘B’ for bin.

Dundee United LogoUnited might have had a better case had they highlighted the possibility of Rangers, or for that matter Celtic, being involved in the latter stages of the competition when the semi-final and Final venues were announced, back in October.

They may also have strengthened their hand had they not asked for just 8000 tickets for the semi-final tie at Ibrox, and, had they managed to get some kind of continuity in their argument for moving to another neutral location with a 50-50 split in tickets.

Ordering 8000 tickets then demanding both clubs get an equal share? In effect, United put up a very good case for downsizing the semi-finals of Scotland’s premier knock-out Cup competition and completely underplaying the sponsor’s involvement. Just what Scottish football needs …

The irony in all of this of course was that when Hampden was previously undergoing its many transformations in 1990’s, the Old Firm contested Cup semi-finals on ‘neutral’ venues belonging to their arch rivals. And apart from Rangers manager Walter Smith’s ‘Take 2’ coin-tossing with then-Celtic assistant Joe Jordan (I might explain that one on Twitter later), there was nothing contentious about who would get what.

If only things were that simple today …

Wednesday

Aberdeen's first silverware (Pic: from Vimeo)

Aberdeen’s first silverware
(Pic: from Vimeo)

Is there no end to the celebration and jubilation surrounding Aberdeen’s first silverware in 19 years?

On the back of their hugely significant League Cup success over Inverness Caley Thistle at Parkhead on Sunday, the Dons fans were also congratulating themselves for the social media campaign that carried The Human League’s ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ into the iTunes top 5.

Aberdeen fans had subtly changed the lyrics to “Peter Pawlett Baby”, making it their terracing chant for the Final, even though Pawlett missed the final through injury.

The Human League’s Facebook page posted a message that said: “Amazing stuff you Aberdeen FC fans, simply amazing.” It was, and in the process completely blew any notion that Aberdeen or their fans were stuck in some kind of 80’s time warp …

Thursday
I couldn’t help but notice Derbyshire (county cricket club) had just secured a naming rights deal around their home venue in conjunction with the UK’s national training provider for apprenticeships. So from this summer, Derbyshire will now play their home fixtures at the 3aaa County Ground.

I’m not 100% sure how 3aaa will be communicated in a sporting context, as the ‘3 A’s’ belongs to athletics, while Triple A is associated with minor league baseball.

Still, Derbyshire collect a ‘six-figure’ sum for concluding what is described as being an ‘innovative’ sponsorship agreement, in much the same way as all such deals are lucrative and innovative. Namely, the club collects the money and everyone still calls it the County Ground …

Friday
Twenty years ago fantasy football was all the rage. Today it’s called the Champions League.

The quarter-final draw for this year’s tournament left Manchester United – the English champions – and Borussia Dortmund, runners-up in the tournament just 12 months ago, as the outsiders to lift the famous old trophy.

The World Cup in a few months has a lot to live up to …

The late Sir Tom Finney in action
(Pictures from his memorial site)

Saturday
And the football world mourns the passing of Sir Tom Finney, aged 91.

The film footage played in tribute to Finney, his sport and his skill looked from a bygone age, unrecognisable to today’s game in more ways than one. Finney played 569 club games, all of them for Preston North End (although Palermo tried to buy him in 1952), a concept today’s footy fan may toil to get their heads around.

Sir Tom in his later years

Sir Tom in his later years

He also had a real job, a plumber to trade, although he did get a company vehicle as a perk of the job – when he was serving as a tank driver with the 9th Lancers during the Second World War.

I never saw Finney play, my knowledge limited to that crackling film, books and the opinion of those who did see him grace the international stage.

Finney won 76 caps for England, when for much of that time, Sir Stanley Matthews filled the right-wing berth. So Finney played on the left, or as an inside forward, or in the middle.

“Imagine the best players you ever saw and then think of Tom Finney as the sum total of their ability. That’s the player he was,” the late Bob Crampsey once told me. Something I still toil to get my head around …

Sunday
A week after they were tonked 5-1 at Anfield, Arsenal gain a measure of revenge by knocking Liverpool out of the FA Cup. While happy at his team’s performance, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers was upset that referee Howard Webb didn’t award his team a second penalty after Luis Suarez was fouled by Arsenal’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. It was as they say, a decent shout as you will see here – although maybe Suarez’s slightly theatrical neck spring put some doubt in Webb’s mind …

Brendon McCullum  Unique cricketing talent (from Vimeo)

Brendon McCullum
Unique cricketing talent
(from Vimeo)

Monday
New Zealand cricket has had some many fine batsmen, but none in the Test match arena had ever scored a triple-hundred until now.

Brendon McCullum hits 302 against India in Wellington to become the first Kiwi batsman to join that select band, but in doing so the 32-year-old became a member of an even more exclusive club. Having scored a double-ton in the First Test, McCullum becomes just the third cricketer in Test history to follow a two hundred with the three hundred in consecutive matches.

The other two? Walter Hammond and Donald Bradman. Now, is that keeping exclusive company or what …

Tuesday
And the SPFL has a bit of a stooshie on their hands after it was revealed that Inverness Caley Thistle would only receive 8000 tickets for the League Cup Final against Aberdeen. Not just that, it looked as if they’d be stuck in a corner at Celtic Park while 30,000 Dons fans enjoyed the run of Parkhead. ICT’s fans demanded an increase in their allocation, 10,000 was the arrived-at number – considerably more than the 1458 who arrived at the Caledonian Stadium for their Scottish Cup replay against Stranraer.

Caley Thistle LogoBy my calculations, that’s 14.58% of what they were demanding for their big date in Glasgow. See me, see arithmetic!! Of course, it was all just a misunderstanding and with no sponsors to get in the way, and a 60,000 capacity at Parkhead, Caley Thistle fans will get as many tickets as they like – which should see a 40,000 ‘sell-out.’

Yes, one tier, in the Lisbon Lions stand at Celtic Park, will remain empty. Let’s hope there are not too many high balls then. Needless to say, this ‘non-fiasco’ played into the hands of those who would have you believe that the Ramsdens Cup final – featuring Rangers and Raith Rovers – has been earmarked for Easter Road to avoid any possible embarrassment that the lower league knock-out tournament would attract more of a crowd than the SPFL’s premier cup tournament.

Some people have too much time on their hands. Obviously, me amongst them …

Graeme Obree More available to uphold the students' cause (Pic; Wikipedia)

Graeme Obree
More available to uphold the students’ cause
(Pic; Wikipedia)

Wednesday
And intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden is elected to the post of student rector at Glasgow University, succeeding former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, and beating cyclist Graeme Obree, author Alan Bissett and Scottish Episcopal clergyman Kelvin Holdsworth in the poll. I listened to and read various explanations as to why the former US National Security Agency contractor gained the student’s support. Some said he was a hero, others pointed to his bravery.

For me, Obree ticks both of those boxes, and a few more; a sporting hero who made cycling’s rulers rewrite their rule book, who then admitted to being gay, showing bravery with that admission, and daily with the abuse he is subjected to. And he is available at short notice, unlike Snowden, who currently is demonstrating his bravery on a daily basis hiding in Russia …

Thursday
I’ve often thought the phrase of pictures saying a thousand words was commissioned by some TV exec to sell their football coverage – with this goal from Salzburg’s Jonathan Soriano being a classic example. The pictures say it all!

Friday
So it wasn’t to be for David Murdoch’s Team GB quartet out in Sochi. Still, at least there was a silver medal at the end of it. Oh, and the knowledge that in four years time, he won’t have to return as defending champion wondering if he should represent Britain or Scotland …

Is there something wrong at the heart of Scottish Rugby

Saturday
Let me take you back 24 hours to the televised Scottish Cup tie at Ibrox between Rangers and Dunfermline Athletic.

Dunfermline Athletic  Away Strip

Dunfermline Athletic
Away Strip

Imagine my surprise when the Pars appeared, not in their traditional black and white vertical stripes, but in pale blue shirts with dark blue shorts. While not a complete colour clash with their hosts, this blue on blue attack was one which hardly helped my viewing experience. Imagine my surprise again the following evening when I tuned into BBC Scotland’s Sportscene to see the highlights of Saturday’s Cup ties, one contest played out between Forfar Athletic and St Johnstone.

Ironically, Forfar’s home outfit wasn’t too far removed from that donned the previous evening by Dunfermline. It would follow, would it not, that St Johnstone therefore could have played in their traditional home kit which to be honest, isn’t too different from that of Rangers – except the Saints were wearing their ‘AC Milan’ number of red and black vertical stripes.

Why?

For as the smarter kiddies amongst you will have spotted, Forfar– St Johnstone in traditional garb offered a possible clash of colours – even though we’d watched Rangers-Dunfermline in those very costumes the previous evening. So forget all this guff about a change of strip helping the referee identify opposing players and the likes. As we always knew, away or change kits are for the most part nothing more than an excuse football clubs to extort money from supporters – even if they appear willing victims to this ‘hoodwinkery.’

As for third kits, my take on those haven’t changed since first I saw Rangers’ ‘lilac whine’ number, which came with the guarantee ‘for European use only.’ Hence it was only ever worn once, at Motherwell …

Team GB started well...

Team GB started well…

Sunday
And Team GB can celebrate a success in Sochi when Jenny Jones claims a bronze medal in the snowboard slopestyle event.

It didn’t take long before we were being informed the 33-year-old was Britain’s first ever Olympic medallist on snow – which came as a bit of a surprise to those of us who still believe that honour rests with Scots skier Alain Baxter. Just that someone decided to take it off him again!

It didn’t take long either before the complaints rolled into the BBC about the biased, slightly- jingoistic and upsetting (to liberal, Home Counties listeners only) commentary on the Beeb that accompanied Jones’ medal winning run.

For the record, I found nothing wrong with the screams and cries of Tim Warwood, Aimee Fuller and Ed Leigh as they acclaimed Jones’ success although I can see why some might have choked on their gin …

Six Nations - Disastrous start  for Scotland

Six Nations -
Disastrous start
for Scotland

Monday
Lights. cameras, action. Oh and make-up, liberally applied as I am invited to take part in the debate on Scotland Tonight about the debacle that was Scotland’s Six Nations loss to England along with former Scotland captain and European Cup winner Andy Nicol (I’m only protecting his modesty by not mentioning his place on the bench for the British Lions) and my erstwhile colleague and good mate Rob Robertson from the Daily Mail (watch it all here)

We reflect on how painful Saturday’s loss was, where selections might have gone wrong, and what the Scots might do to improve what has been a disappointing tournament so far.

I have to say it wasn’t all bad on Saturday as I got to spend some time with the delightful Caroline Henderson, and England former England internationals Mark Regan, John Bentley (who scored that magnificent try for the Lions in ’97 and who is now the proud owner of my mini-tyre compressor!) and Simon Shaw (MBE) who quit not so long ago after just the 304 games for Wasps, although I never got the chance to ask if Wasps had a ‘B’ team …

A thorough gent, Simon was telling me of his latest business venture, a bar-diner called Stokes and Moncrieff. If you didn’t know, they were the names of the English and Scottish captains in the very first international between the two nations back in 1871 at Raeburn Place, watched by around 4000 spectators – roughly how many were still in Murrayfield when the final whistle sounded at the weekend.

Stokes and Moncrieff does have a bit of a ring to it –although I do wonder what kind of clientele they might have attracted had the taken their Christian names instead, Frederick and Francis …

Sir Chris Hoy

Sir Chris Hoy

Tuesday
I remember being in conversation once with Chris Hoy and members of a TV crew when we got on to the subject of crashes. Hoy himself had been smashed up a few times, but highlighted the dangers of his sport if you crashed doing 70kph. “At best it will hurt – a lot. At best …” he said.

Maybe he didn’t want to sound too sensationalist, but you could work out for yourself that hitting solid boards with equally quick pieces of metal around had the potential for tragedy. Alas, we found out today just how dangerous track cycling could be when South African track cyclist Jeanne Nell died following a crash while attempting to qualify for this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Nell fell during a keirin race at the Bellville Velodrome in Cape Town. He was 30.

Wednesday
And Lazio have threatened legal action against those who have questioned the legitimacy of the age of their 17-year-old player Joseph Minala who it was claimed by an African website, was really 41.
For the record, Minala – who has netted five times for Lazio’s youth team this season, comes from Cameroon. Now, if he’d been from Saudi Arabia, I might have believed it …

Elise Christie Disqualified in the spped skating

Elise Christie
Disqualified in the spped skating

Thursday
Upset and tears in Sochi when Elise Christie missed out on an Olympic silver medal after being disqualified from the women’s 500m short track skating final after taking down two rival competitors.
The Livingston skater collided with Italy’s Arianna Fontana and South Korea’s Park Seung-hi, sending all three of them in to the barriers. Ironically, the 23-year-old Scot had said earlier that she would have to be more physical in her approach to races. What we didn’t know was that meant tackling like Doug Rougvie …

Friday
We’re only halfway through February but already my eyes are focused in on a date in May, the 31st to precise. That’s when George Groves will get the opportunity to match-up against British super-middleweight rival Carl Froch after the latter had retained his WBA and IBF titles with a ninth-round stoppage of Groves in November. As I said at the time, I had no issues with the outcome, based on a split-second judgement by a referee who had to choose between a winner and a loser, the latter possibly of their life.

Since Sky and other satellite channels took ownership of British boxing, many have lost track of who the stars are in the UK fight game. Indeed, some might not even have seen Froch or Groves. That this rematch is probably the biggest all-British contest since the second meeting of Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank twenty years ago, only emphasises the significance of this fight. Will the second instalment be worth another twenty quid on pay per view? I don’t know. I’ll pay for it somehow.

Oh, and before I sign off, sorry the Valentine’s Day gifts weren’t up to their usual high standards …

Good looking male cyclists more likely to win?
(Picture: Wikipedia)

Saturday
The abuse aimed at Celtic manager Neil Lennon at Tynecastle was everything that is bad about Scottish society let alone Scottish football.

Neil Lennon (Creative commons)

Neil Lennon
(Creative commons)

But how quickly did some attempt to turn this incident into an anti-Irish, racist or sectarian attack? Probably the same people who believe that every act or crime committed within a footballing environment has to be categorised under one of those headings.

I’m sorry, but football does attract it’s share of eejits, idiots, numpties, bampots and wee neds, their actions dictated not by hate, racism or sectarianism, but because they are eejits, idiots, numpties, bampots and wee neds. And usually drunk with it. If only the same time had been spent legislating against them …

Sunday
Scotland kick-off their Six Nations campaign in Dublin, and kept pace with the Irish until just before half-time. Well, it was good while it lasted …

MetLife Stadium 2A bit like the contest at the MetLife Stadium in New York where the Seattle Seahawks crushed Denver Broncos 43-8 to take Super Bowl XLVIII. In a game dominated by stats, perhaps the numbers that resonated most with Scots viewing this TV spectacular was that each 30 second advert during the match cost $4m to air. Or put another way, three adverts is the equivalent of the SPFL’s current TV deal, give or take a few quid.

Of course, this isn’t a true comparison or measurement as the adverts during the Super Bowl come from sponsors. Something the SPFL don’t have to deal with …

Monday
Perhaps it wasn’t expected with his side sitting level on points with Falkirk at the top of the SPFL Championship, but John Brown quits as Dundee boss, confirmed in one of those standard issue press releases.

“Dundee FC and manager John Brown have today announced they are to part company by mutual agreement,” added their statement. Mutual agreement yes. I do wish someone would measure how much mutual respect there was between both sides when someone loses their job. Now, that would be worth releasing …

Michael Laudrup

Michael Laudrup

Tuesday
In Wales, Swansea admit they have “parted company” with manager Michael Laudrup, the Dane leaving the club with immediate effect following a decision that chairman Huw Jenkins said was “taken reluctantly”. Last season, Laudrup won the League Cup and this season, knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup. But one win in 10 Premier League matches left the Swans facing the prospect of a relegation battle.

Maybe Laudrup’s star has falling a bit. Maybe Swansea are just finding their true level. And maybe, some clubs should just realise how good they have had it at times …

Wednesday
And findings published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters reveal that good looking male cyclists are more likely to finish first in a bike race than less good looking guys. Scientists came up with these findings after asking men and women to rate the attractiveness of 80 professional elite cyclists who finished the 2012 Tour de France. The study took the form of an online survey, each one containing the photos of 40 of the cyclists in a random order, so confirming a relationship between attractiveness and performance.

I am delighted to say then that my love for Chris Hoy is entirely scientifically based. I’m sure he is equally delighted by that fact …

Caley Thistle LogoThursday
League Cup finalists Inverness Caley Thistle suspend their youth team defender Joe Gorman after he posts a sectarian comment on Twitter. Gorman had viewed Ross Kemp’s ‘Extreme World’ programme on Sky One, which visited Belfast and Londonderry. He then posted a comment stating: “Ross Kemp in Belfast talking about the troubles … wouldn’t you love to open up on all them orange men.”

Just how unlucky was Gorman that folk not only read his comment, but also took screen grabs. And now the polis and Vincent Lunny at the SFA are taking an interest. At least he hasn’t claimed that he was set up, or that his account was hacked, yet …

Friday
Talking of hacking, Eric Djemba-Djemba’s Wikipedia page suffered a bit of rewriting. Remarkable how it remained untouched and unscathed, until he arrived in Paisley. It’s occasionally difficult on Wiki to work out what is fact and what is fiction, but it reliably informed me yesterday that the former Manchester United player and now St Mirren new boy had been educated at Eton.

I’m sure someone will ask him about that at his first post-match presser …

England’s women performed much better than the men in Australia
(Picture: Creative Commons)

Saturday
This far I have managed to steer clear of mentioning ITV’s Saturday evening light-entertainment sporting offering ‘Splash.’ However, I have been worn down and must confess I find the show hugely entertaining. That could be because it is different and doesn’t feature Ant & Dec, while I have still to work out if the show’s main attraction is the dedication and bravery shown by the amateur competitors, or, the possibility of one (or some) of them suffering health-threatening injuries.

Given this week’s offering, and especially the damage done to Pollyanna Woodward, I fear the later may have me tuning in again this weekend …

Stanislas Wawrinka Unexpected Champion (Picture: Wikipedia)

Stanislas Wawrinka
Unexpected Champion
(Picture: Wikipedia)

Sunday
The Australian Open tennis tournament turned out to be a real sporting tale of the unexpected. No-one really saw Stanislas Wawrinka emerging as champion when faced by Rafael Nadal in the final. Indeed no-one saw Wawrinka – or anyone else – being presented with the trophy ahead of the tournament, never mind the final.

For never mind the weight of Nadal’s shots; Wawrinka had the burden of history and statistics to contend with as well. And overcoming them, perhaps even more than the blistered Spaniard, made Stan’s success all the more amazing.

For starters, Wawrinka’s win against Nadal made him the first player in 21 years – since the 1993 French Open at Roland Garros – to beat both the world No. 1 (Novak Djokovic) and 2 in the same Slam event. That also made his the first player ever to defeat Djokovic and Nadal in the same Grand Slam tournament.

He also became the first player since Juan Martin del Potro in the 2009 U.S. Open from outside the ‘Big Four’ – Andy Murray, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic – to lift a Grand Slam trophy, with 34 of the previous 35 Grand Slams dating back to 2005 belonging to that quartet.

So not without good reason was the ‘Stan’s The Man’ headline fully merited …

The weather has played havoc with the schedules

The weather has played havoc with the schedules

Monday
Live football from Scotland tonight, brought in to our living rooms by BT Sport. Or not as is the case, when the pitch at Tannadice is deemed unplayable ahead of the Dundee United – St Johnstone game. While BT’s coverage has been terrific – especially now that Gary McAllister rides shotgun with the equally excellent Derek Rae – the Fickle Finger of Fate has poked the BT boys in the eye a few times. The cancelation of the United game added to the growing list of ‘no-shows’ from BT Sport this season north of the border.

Firstly the lights went out at Ross County’s Global Energy Stadium (you couldn’t make that one up) during their Highland derby with Inverness Caley Thistle, then Stenhousemuir’s Ochilview wasn’t up to the wind ahead of their TV game with Rangers. After ‘flooding’ put pay to events at Tannadice, one of my friends (in the loosest possible sense) did suggest that BT, Derek and Co should maybe be sponsored by Aviva or Direct Line …

Tuesday
Ovenight Down Under, England’s women cricketers clinch their Ashes series against the locals. Congratulations all round. I doubt though if certain elements of the sporting press and media have ever been as desperate to thrust England’s women cricketers in to the limelight. I mean, when you are listening to Chris Evans on Radio 2 you hardly expect the lead story on their sports bulletin to be about women’s cricket …

Cycling Scotland's Advert fell foul of the ASA

Cycling Scotland’s Advert fell foul of the ASA

Wednesday
And Cycling Scotland find themselves under a bit of a cloud – more than a hat – when the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) ban the peddlers of pedal power’s latest advert because a rider was shown in the ad not wearing a helmet. According to the ASA, this could have encouraged behaviour “prejudicial to health and safety.” Cycling Scotland counter-claimed the wearing a helmet was not a legal requirement. Oh how many parents will enjoy that line being hurled back at them now!

Eventually, the ASA decided to suspend their ruling, but stressed the advert could still not be broadcast in its current form. Some would, naturally, see the ASA as having overplayed their hand on this one. Others, though, would have told Cycling Scotland to just do their own thing and completely ignore any findings, decisions or judgements passed by the ASA. By ‘others’ I should explain, I do mean certain groups within the Celtic family …

Bizarre goings on

Bizarre goings on

Thursday
Many will have witnessed the bizarre start – and finish – to the Copa del Rey quarter-final between Racing Santander and Real Sociedad with the Racing players refusing to play because they had not been paid. From the first whistle the Santander players made for the centre circle, forming a huddle along with reserve players and backroom staff, so forcing the abandonment of the second-leg tie.

I did wonder whether they would have employed those tactics to highlight their plight had they been 3-1 ahead from the first leg rather than trailing by that margin. I also wondered whether Racing Santander vs Real Sociedad will replace Estonia vs Scotland as the world’s most famous ‘What Happened Next’ kick-off scene …

Friday
The transfer deadline timer is running again today on Sky Sports News, but it isn’t the only countdown clock I find online. Eklipse Sports Radio is now hours away from launch, advertised to take place on Saturday (February 1). I wish them well, having been an avid watcher of their site for months as various launch dates came and went; from July, to the start of the season, then to this autumn, and finally the tried (I almost said tired) and tested ‘coming soon’.

Will the wait have been worth it? I’ll tell you once I’ve heard the team and seen the schedules, both of which remain ‘closely guarded secrets’ as I write. Or are they closely guarded for a reason?

Rangers Team stayed at the Carnoustie Hotel
before their match against Forfar Athletic

Saturday
I think I know what BBC Radio Scotland’s Liam McLeod meant when he said during his ‘Sportsound’ commentary something along the lines that all that was left for Motherwell to do in the closing minutes against Celtic was ‘to try and soil Fraser Forster’s clean sheet.’

Robbie Shepherd 'Take the Floor' makes the journey home easier

Robbie Shepherd
‘Take the Floor’ makes the journey home easier
(Pic: Wikipedia)

As I say, I think I know what he was trying to say!

Sunday
Moving on, another of BBC Scotland’s products grabbed my attention this Sunday evening with an hour of telly time dedicated to Robbie Shepherd and a tribute to him in the shape of ‘I’ll Be Looking for You.’

And where does the host of Radio Scotland’s ‘Take The Floor’ fit into my sporting day? Actually, it’s more where he dovetails into my sporting life.

Over the years, believe it or not, Robbie has kept me company on many a miserable winter journey hame from various football venues across the land, accompanied by some of the most colourful music this nation has produced with equally colourful titles such as Mrs Grieve of Howdan, Gibby Lang’s Jig, A Trip to Murcia, Tug Argan Gap and Ma’ Granny Deep Fried The Tattie Scones.

Okay, the last one was made up, as I was regularly when the signal on medium flavour in the middle of nowhere would crackle then pick up accordions and fiddles playing to a three-four beat.
Made many a trek home most enjoyable. And for that I will never have a bad word said of Robbie Shepherd.

Players rejected a pay cut

Players rejected a pay cut

Monday
Much is made of Rangers’ decision to book in to the four-star Carnoustie Hotel ahead of their league contest against Forfar Athletic. The news angle to this was of course that it came just a few days after the Rangers players had knocked back a 15% pay cut to alleviate the club’s financial strains.

Manager Ally McCoist could always point to the fact that it was part of his the preparations ahead of his team gathering another three points on the way to back-to-back championships and promotions.
He could also say, that such rest bite was nothing new. I can remember then assistant manager Walter Smith playing dorm warden at the Grosvenor back in the days of Souness, when McCoist himself was a player.

Me, I didn’t see anything wrong with a few hours in Carnoustie, just as I never did when previous Rangers squads checked in to the Moat House or Huntingtowers in Perth, or various locations in Aberdeen. After all, it was probably the one time you knew where they would be and you could have a chat with them, uninterrupted. It sounds glamorous, but being cooped up in a hotel is for most players as boring as hell and they’d do anything to break the monotony – even speak to journalists!

What's the future for the games?

What’s the future for the games?

Tuesday
And the Commonwealth Games Federation voices concerns about a lack of interest from member countries in hosting future Games. So far, no member country has expressed serious interest in hosting the 2022 event ahead of a March deadline.

But didn’t we know already that this was how the Commonwealth Games was going?

I think some of us realised it when Glasgow ‘won’ the bid to host the year’s games back in November 2007, seeing off the rival bids from Abuja, Nigeria and, er, Abuja, Nigeria. Halifax, Nova Scotia,
had grabbed their hat out of the ring when they took fright at the projected operating costs reached $1.7bn.

Good job Scotland’s show will come in on, or under budget … won’t it?

Won on penalties

Won on penalties

Wednesday
The Manchester United versus Sunderland League Cup semi-final is eventually decided by a penalty shoot-out; ten kicks taken, only three converted as United tumbled out to add to the woes of David Moyes. Naturally, as it a) involved Manchester United, b) was played in England and c) took place in a World Cup year, then this really had to be the worst penalty kick competition of all time.

Sorry, but it didn’t even come close to the example I (and Hamilton Academical doyen of all things Academical, Scott Struthers) quoted, namely Accies shoot out win over Meadowbank Thistle in the 1992 B&Q Cup semi-final.

That night at Douglas Park, of the 14 kicks taken, ten were saved and one missed – leaving the home side 2-1 winners. I am glad Scott and me could put United’s loss and that penalty kick disaster into some context – a whole day and a bit before some media outlets picked up on it. Oh, the power of social media …

Picture of elegance Norway's curling team

Picture of elegance
Norway’s curling team

Thursday
In the run up to the Independence Referendum much has been made of how Scotland should be copying the financial and social model of other nations, one of them being Norway. Another part of the Scottish Governments white paper on Independence set out the case for Scotland competing as a separate nation at the likes of the Olympic Games.

Mix those two topics together and the SNP just might have lost a few votes, especially amongst the curling fraternity if Scotland standing alone, financially and sportingly means this (see pic left!)

And the Norwegians have so much going for them? Aye, right …

Friday
And well done to Coventry City boss and my old mate Steven Pressley for extending the hand of friendship to Arsene Wenger ahead of the FA Cup tie with Arsenal. ‘Elvis’ has a special bottle of single malt for the Frenchman, which he hopes Arsene will consume – before the game. Good ploy. But I fancy Steven should have bought a case and made friends with the entire Arsenal starting XI!

Scotland’s professional rugby teams – ‘not good enough’
(Picture – SRU)

So that’s it for another year. No Scottish interest in Europe beyond the pool stages of the Heineken Cup yet again.

There is no use pussy-footing around on this issue. It simply is not good enough. Scotland’s professional teams have been competing in the Heineken Cup for 18 years. Although Edinburgh have made to the quarter finals twice and once made it to the semis, Glasgow have never gone beyond the pool stages.

Both teams had excuses when the funding for Scottish professional rugby was poor but that is not the case now. Edinburgh and Glasgow have more money and deeper squads than ever before and while they cannot match the big-spending French, they should be more than a match for the English and the Welsh and possibly even the Irish.

So what went wrong?

1) You have to win your home games

Both Edinburgh and Glasgow failed to do this.

For Edinburgh, it was the overwhelmingly depressing 12-23 defeat to Gloucester at Murrayfield on December 8. Having done the hard job and beaten Munster, Edinburgh rolled over against Gloucester and let in two of the softest tries ever conceded by the home team at Murrayfield. Had they won this game, then they would surely have been in the Amlin Cup and still in Europe with a trophy to hunt now.

For Glasgow it was the horrible 7-9 defeat to Cardiff Blues on 13 December. No-one really knew Glasgow could play this badly – but they did and, in doing so, extinguished their Heineken Cup hopes for another year.

2) You have to dominate up front

Glasgow had a chance of toppling the champions from Toulon last Saturday but were destroyed in the setpiece. Four of Jonny Wilkinson’s five successful kicks – which decided the match – came from Glasgow problems at the scrum. Toulon have a massive front five with Andrew Sheridan on the loosehead at his destructive best but, if Glasgow has managed at least parity, they might have come away with a win.

3) You have to pick up bonus points where you can

It is a sobering statistic that Edinburgh managed to get no bonus points this year neither for tries scored nor for finishing within eight points of the winning side. Three or four bonus points could have seen them scrape into second place and into the Amlin Cup. The only other sides not to pick up any bonus points were the two Italian sides. Nuff said.

4) You have to turn your home ground into a fortress

Glasgow have at least come close to this at Scotstoun but Murrayfield is the least intimidatory place for any team to go. Even with Edinburgh pulling in crowds of 7,000 or even 10,000 for European games, the atmosphere is still ghostly. The only time it has ever worked to Edinburgh’s favour was when Toulouse came calling in the quarter final two years ago when more than 30,000 came to watch. The lesson here, surely, is that Edinburgh can attract the crowds if they are successful but, at the moment, that looks some way off.

5) Playing Munster at Thomond Park

It’s still the hardest place to get a result in European rugby. Oh, what Edinburgh would give to have the sort of raucous support Munster enjoyed on Sunday with more than 20,000 red-shorted Irishmen and women cheering them on in a packed Thomond Park. The team responded – how could they not? – with a six-try demolition of Edinburgh. That is what Edinburgh have to aim for. Everything that is needed to win in Europe was in evidence there: winning home games, dominating upfront, picking up bonus points and turning your home ground into a fortress.
Unfortunately, neither Edinburgh nor Glasgow are any nearer uncovering the Scottish form of that success than they have been for years.

Mark Selby won the Masters – on the ‘red button’

Saturday
Most people woke to the tragic news that former Dundee, Rangers and Dundee United midfielder Ian Redford had been found dead, aged just 53.

Ian Redford - RIP

Ian Redford – RIP

Redford was the most expensive transfer between two Scottish clubs when he moved from Dens Park to Ibrox in February 1980 for £210,000 – ten grand more than the figure Rangers had rejected by Dundee the week before!

Arguably however, his best days came with Dundee United, part of Jim McLean’s team that reached the UEFA Cup final in 1987, Redford scoring the winner in the semi-final against Borussia Monchengladbach. And he wasn’t finished as a winner either, helping Raith Rovers to both the First Division title and most famously, beating Celtic in the League Cup final in 1994.

I go back to his Rangers days though, a time which for Redford yielded medals and some truly wonderful goals, outrageous in their delivery, sheer gallus in their execution. A time when he was often paired alongside Davie Cooper. Coop was genuinely amused with how disinterested Redford seemingly could be at times with football, and once admitted he thought that if Ian ever won the pools, he’d buy Ibrox and turn it into a nature reserve and deer park.

Like Cooper, Redford has left us far too early. Like Cooper, perhaps we didn’t realise how good some of the players of that generation were, Ian Redford definitely being one of them …

Sunday
TV companies, cameramen and producers, do like to focus in on managers these days, often coming up with a study of gritted teeth and nasal hair. And on occasions, something they had hadn’t bargained for.

Alan Pardew (Picture from Wikipedia)

Alan Pardew
(Picture from Wikipedia)

Like Alan Pardew’s language during the Newcastle United – Manchester City game when the irate Magpies boss was seen to mouth several obscenities in the direction of his opposite number – Manuel Pellegrini – including use of the ‘C’ word. Oh yes! Pardew apologised later, but not quite as much as the various Sky commentators and presenters had to.

I’ve mentioned before, especially in boxing, that if you stick cameras and microphones under the noses of sportsmen, coaches and managers in the heat of battle, you are asking for trouble. Maybe it’s time that kind of edit was hidden behind the red button?

Talking of red buttons, it only took one afternoon of The Masters before snooker fans were being instructed to reach for the remote in order that they could watch the deciding frame of the match between defending champion Mark Selby and Mark Davis. Ski Sunday, a recorded highlights package, was apparently more important than live coverage of the sudden-death 11th frame, which Selby won. I know most TV’s and devices are fitted with the red button facility. But why not stick the skiing on there and leave the snooker uninterrupted?

Or are there few snooker fans amongst BBC execs?

Monday
Cristiano Ronaldo wins the Ballon d’Or, beating Lionel Messi and Franck Ribery. It was the outcome most predicted given the year the Real Madrid star has had.

I have to admit I was more interested to see who the various managers and captains voted for. England boss Roy Hodgson and his captain Steven Gerrard both went for Ronaldo, while Scotland coach Gordon Strachan and international skipper Scott Brown voted for Messi.

I suppose it’s all about personal taste – or being able to identify winners ahead of also-rans …

Tuesday

Andy Murray

Andy Murray

Andy Murray is relatively untroubled in beating Japan’s Go Saeda to get his Australian Open campaign off to a winning start. I say relatively untroubled if you ignore the searing temperatures which has ball boys fainting, some of the women players burning their bottoms on the uncovered seats, and Murray himself claiming that if players were asked to continue in such heat, the consequences could be tragic.

It was nice then, given the extreme conditions, to see Murray being watched by one gentleman in a ‘See You Jimmy’ bunnet and wig. Nothing like being properly attired for the setting …

David Goodwillie

David Goodwillie

Wednesday
After Dundee United had shipped loan striker David Goodwillie back to Blackburn, Rovers boss Gary Bowyer stated he wasn’t sure what the next move could be for the Scotland striker, but that he could even be in his squad for the FA Cup tie against Manchester City, managed by the ‘old c***’ Manuel Pellegrini. In the end he wasn’t, and City won 5-0. I couldn’t help thinking though that had Goodwillie played, it would still have been 5-0 …

Thursday
Once again I am honoured to be invited on to Scotland Tonight presented by Rona Dougall as a guest, this time to talk about the Rangers players refusing to accept a 15% wage cut.

Once again, that dreadful ‘C’ word appears. But rest easy, not over the airwaves thankfully, but on my Twitter timeline, as in ‘you’re never aff the telly ya **** talking about Rangers.” Of course, such a perceptive comment didn’t come from a fan of the Ibrox club. Neither did it come from anyone very perceptive either given that I have appeared on the show talking about drugs in sport, snooker, the Commonwealth Games, the SPFL, the Tartan Army, ‘Ballboygate,’ Sir Chris Hoy, Andy Murray and Celtic, twice.

This would also slightly dent the observation that the programme is ‘always talking about Rangers,’ – although that was made by a follower of that club, for a change …

Dunkin’-Donuts-Logo CroppedFriday
Liverpool announce a global sponsorship partnership with Dunkin’ Donuts, which immediately sparks protests from some quarters that this send out the wrong message to children and ultimately could cause lasting health issues.

Well, I have news for those individuals concerned about what those round delicacies might do to you. A couple of dozen Dunkin’ Donuts a week, even a day, wouldn’t be as detrimental to your wellbeing as a round or two with Duncan Ferguson. And no-one complained about him being in the city. Liverpool I mean, not Glasgow …

The test series comes before the European Championships

Scotland Senior Women Head Coach Gordon Shepherd has selected a squad of twelve players for a four match international series against England in Perth from 17-19 January and the EuroHockey Indoor Nations Championship II in Lithuania from 24-26 January.

Vikki Bunce in Action

Vikki Bunce in Action

Dundee Wanderers’ indoor specialist Vikki Bunce will captain the side during the two tournaments, one that features a mixture of experience and youth as Shepherd looks to test his charges against their English rivals this weekend, before travelling to Siauliai to face Russia, Slovakia and Ukraine in the European competition next week.

Nicola Cochrane, Susan McGilveray, Morag McLellan and Jennifer Eadie of Milne Craig Clydesdale Western are also included, while CALA Edinburgh quartet Amy Brodie, Mairi Drummond, Sarah Robertson and Louise Campbell are also named in the squad.

Gordon Shepherd  Scottish Hockey Coach 'Every game will be tough'

Gordon Shepherd
Scottish Hockey Coach
‘Every game will be tough’

Looking forward to the forthcoming international action, Scotland Senior Women Head Coach Gordon Shepherd said, “We have six of the U21 squad in the side for this weekend and indoor Europeans, a step up for them which will be key in helping their development in both the indoor and outdoor game. We also have fantastic experience amongst the side with six players who have competed in Europe before, so there is a good balance in the squad.”

“Our main target for Europe is remaining in group B and at a stretch qualifying for group A. It is very much unknown what may happen, as all the teams are very good in the group and every game is going to be tough. It’s going to be challenge and it will come down to who can adapt best and quickest to the new rules.

“This weekend will be good preparation for the team. England are a developed team so it will be a challenge but our overall concern for the weekend is gelling as a team and playing well.”

Scotland Senior Women: Nicola Cochrane (Milne Craig Clydesdale Western), Siobhan Cowie (Merlins Gordonians), Becky Ward (Dundee Wanderers), Amy Brodie (CALA Edinburgh), Mairi Drummond (CALA Edinburgh), Vikki Bunce (Dundee Wanderers, captain), Sarah Robertson (CALA Edinburgh), Louise Campbell (CALA Edinburgh), Heather Elder (Dundee Wanderers), Susan McGilveray (Milne Craig Clydesdale Western), Morag McLellan (Milne Craig Clydesdale Western), Jennifer Eadie (Milne Craig Clydesdale Western).